Word Order in Dakelh

One of the ways in which Dakelh is very different from English is word order. The order of words within a sentence is quite different. So is the order of clauses when they are combined into complex sentences.

The examples here are in the Nak'albun/Dzinghubun (Stuart/Trembleur Lake) dialect. Although Dakelh dialects vary considerably in other ways, there is little if any difference in word order.

A Dakelh sentence may consist of nothing but a verb, as in (1). If a subject noun phrase is present, it precedes the verb, as in (2). An object noun phrase also precedes the verb, as in (3).

(1) 'Us'alh.
I am eating something.

(2) Ts'eke 'u'alh.
woman she-is-eating-something
The woman is eating something.

(3) Musdoostsung us'alh.
beef I-am-eating
I am eating beef.

If both subject and object are present, the subject normally precedes the object, as in (4).

(4) Ts'eke musdoostsung u'alh.
woman beef she-is-eating
The woman is eating beef.

Dakelh does not have prepositions. It has words with meanings similar to those of English prepositions, but in Dakelh these words come after the noun phrase that they govern. Therefore, they are called postpositions. For example, in (5) the word that means "for" is ba. Notice that it comes after the noun phrase Lazar 'ink'ez Mary "Lazar and Mary".

(5) Ts'oodune Lazar 'ink'ez Mary ba hujun.
children Lazar and Mary for they-are-singing
The children are singing for Lazar and Mary.

Similarly, complementizers follow the clause that they go with. For example, in (6) we have two clauses joined by 'et huwa "because". Notice that in Dakelh the reason "we are poor" precedes 'et huwa and the consequence "we frequently eat muskrat", follows it.

(6) Tets'ul'en 'et huwa lhelhghun tsek'et ts'u'alh.
we-are-poor because frequently muskrat we-eat
Because we are poor we frequently eat muskrat.

These examples also illustrate that complement clauses precede the main verb. We can see the same thing in (7), which contains the "want to" construction. The verb "to want" follows the verb "to go fishing".

(7) 'Oosjas hukwa'nuszun,"
I-go-fishing I-want-to
I want to go fishing.

One exception to the generalization that verbs are clause-final are verbs of quotation. The subject must follow verbs of quotation, as in (8) and (9).

(8) "T'acho whet'o," ni duneyaz.
mallard-duck flew-away said boy
"The mallard duck flew away," said the boy.
(9) Ts'oodun taoolts'it junih hutni oodusne.
child you(1)-let-fall-into-water don't they-said her-parents
"Don't let the child fall into the water" said her parents.

Another exception to the usual word order is that in the construction "to be glad that", the complement clause follows the verb "to be glad". Not only is this order grammatical, as exemplified by (10), but the usual order is ungrammatical (11).

(10) Ts'uhoont'i' whusainya.
we(3+)-are-glad you(1)-arrived
We are glad that you have come.
(11) *Whusainya ts'uhoont'i'.
you(1)-arrived we(3+)-are-glad
We are glad that you have come.


Yinka Dene Language Institute 2001

Yinka Déné Language Institute © 2006