More plurals in O’otham

March 17, 2017


Huhugam Heritage Center



In a previous article last year we talked about the difference between one and many in O’otham, and described how O’otham uses a different process than English when forming plural nouns.


In English when we want to make a difference between one item and many we add an –s suffix at the end of the word. This distinguishes one item (dog, cat, car) from many (dogs, cats, cars). O’otham ñeok uses a completely different system where you don’t add anything to the end of the word, but instead you double (or partially double) the beginning of the word.


For example, when you want to talk about one dog you use the word goks but to talk about many you double the first syllable to create the plural noun gogoks. This process of transforming the word by doubling (or partially doubling) the word is called reduplication and is a common process among the languages of the world.


Indonesian, for example is another language that uses reduplication by doubling the entire word to create plural nouns as seen in the following pairs: pulau/pulau-pulau ‘island/islands”, anak/anak-anak “child/children”, apel/apel-apel “apple/apples.”



Reduplication in O’otham is unique in that there are a number of different doubling patterns that are used to create plural nouns. The most simple and straightforward are those examples where the first syllable (usually the first two sounds) is doubled to create a plural.


This is seen in the single and plural words for dog (goks/gogoks), cow (haivañ/hahaivañ) and horses (kaviyu/kakaviyu). This is not the only pattern as some words become plural by doubling and then dragging the vowel to where it is longer than the vowel sound in the original word.


This can be heard in the singular and plural words for child (maḍ/ma:maḍ) and coyote (ban/ba:ban). There is also a third pattern where the first syllable is doubled but the vowel in the middle of the word is deleted and not pronounced. This is seen in the word for packrat (koson/kokson), javelina (thasikol/thathsikol) and shoulder (kothva/kokthva).



One of the most interesting patterns for forming plurals happens with words that have a “v” sound at the beginning. These words also use a doubling pattern to create plural nouns but have a unique twist. With these words an unexpected “p” sound will be pop up in the middle of the word and take over the expected “v” sound.


Take for example the word for irrigation ditch vaika. Knowing how plurals are formed in O’otham we would expect the plural to sound something like *vavaika but that isn’t what is heard. What is heard instead is vapaika, which means “irrigation ditches” and which you’ll notice as you say the word it has an unexpected “p” sound that pops up in place of the original “v” sound in the singular word.


Another example is the word for arrow bag/quiver which is vogsha. The plural word to refer to many quivers is vopogsha, not the expected *vovogsha. Again, notice as you say the word how the “p” sound pops up in the middle of the word.


This pattern where a “p” takes over an original “v” only happens with words that start with a “v” sound and is very consistent with only one or two exceptions (vamaḍ “water snake” becomes vahammaḍ “water snakes”).



More examples with words that start with “v” show the same range of doubling patterns that we see with other nouns. There are examples where the vowel that is doubled will be dragged out and sound longer. An example of this is the word vag which means “hole, burburrow.”


The plural word for many holes is va:pag which you’ll notice as you say it is pronounced with an “a” vowel that is dragged out slightly longer and also has an unexpected “p” sound in the middle. Another pattern is seen in the single and plural words for cotton rat (vosho/vopsho) and wheat straw basket (vashom/vapshom).


Notice how the plural nouns in these words both lose a vowel in the middle of the word. Finally there are words that don’t change in both their single and plural forms. These examples include the word for hummingbird (vipismal), mesquite beans (viohog) and body hair (vopo). The words are the same whether you are talking about one or many.



Plural nouns like everything else in our language will vary from speaker to speaker based on dialect so it is always best to ask your elders how you say these words in your area. Pay attention to the different patterns of forming plurals and don’t be afraid to ask another speaker if you’re not sure. Now that you’ve learned a bit more about plurals try your hand at this month’s word match to learn about more plurals that start with an initial “v” sound.