Word Structure
Image source: Aerial view of a village on Atka island one of the Aleutian islands by Mike Boylan of U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, via Wikimedia Commons.

What is word stucture?

Fun fact: word structure is also known as morphology.

Morphology is the way in which words are formed through smaller units called morphemes.

Story time: Ulax̂

Little house.

This story, written and illustrated by Nadesta Golley, is entitled ulax̂. It is part of a collection of stories in the book Hilada (which translates to 'Read') and was produced in Atka Village in 1973. The book is currently housed at the Alaska Native Language Archives (ID No. ALW973G1973b).

Hint/ ← Hover/click to reveal hint!

Part I: Meaning & Parts-of-Speech

Consider the following sentence:

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Let's break it down!

  • sabaakax̂: dog
  • ulax̂: house
  • alakux̂: he/she/it needs, wants

Can you figure out what the sentence means now?

Using this knowledge, we can identify words that function similar to nouns (NOUN/N):

And words that act like verbs (VERB/V):

Part II: Morphological Relations

Let's take a closer look at the nouns:

Notice that both of these words end with .

An ending like -x̂ is called a suffix (SUFFIX/SUF) and the first part of the word that these suffixes attach to is called the stem (STEM):

Now let's consider the following verb:

Verbs are the most complex part of the language, but they are also the most important because they pack the most information.

Let's break alakux̂ down:

  • ala-: the most essential piece of the verb is the stem which provides the meaning of the verb.
  • -ku-: the suffix which can indicate the present tense.
  • -x̂: the suffix that holds information about the person and number of the subject of the sentence.

These morphemes and their functions can be represented in the following way:

This may be a lot to take in so here's a brief summary:

  • ala-: meaning of the word (he/she/it needs, wants)
  • -ku-: present tense (he/she/it needs, wants)
  • -x̂: marker of person and number of the subject (he/she/it needs, wants)

Note that you might not be able to find words with the exact form in the dictionary. For example, if you look up the Unangam Tunuu word meaning 'to need, want' in the dictionary, you'll find the following form:

The verb alalix can be broken down into the following units:

Verbs in the dictionary contain the so-called conjunctive suffix -lix.

For now, it isn't important to know the functions of the conjunctive suffix. What is important to keep in mind is that to locate the correct definition in the dictionary, you will need to first identify the stem of the Unangam Tunuu word; if you tried looking up the word alakux̂ in the dictionary, you won't be able to find it!

While the dictionary may be daunting to use at the initial stages, it is an essential resource for learning Unangam Tunuu and I encourage you to take the time to understand how to navigate through this valuable language learning tool.