Languages

Kiribati

Fact corner

  • Language: Kiribati
  • Alternate names: Gilbertese, I-Kiribati, Ikiribati
  • SIL-code: Ethnologue:gil
  • Language family: Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Central-Eastern, Eastern Malayo-Polynesian,
    Oceanic, Central-Eastern Oceanic, Remote Oceanic, Micronesian, Micronesian Proper, Ikiribati
  • Number of speakers: 71,550
  • Script: Latin script

Introduction

Kiribati is a language from the Austronesian family, part of the Oceanian branch and of the Nuclear Micronesian subbranch. It has a basic verb–object–subject word order.

The Kiribati language has two main dialects: the Northern dialect and the Southern dialect. The main differences between them are in the pronunciation of some words. The islands of Butaritari and Makin also have their own dialect. It differs from the standard Kiribati in both vocabulary and pronunciation.

The Kiribati Verb

All transitive verbs are indexed for person and number of direct object (by suffixation), and all "finite" verbs (except the imperative) are indexed for person and number of subject (by preposed particles). Both sets of morphemes are shown in the above table. These indices are obligatory, independently of whether subject and object are represented in the sentence by NP constituents (i.e. determined common nouns, proper nouns, or pronouns). The subject index particles are (in my opinion wrongly) referred to as pronouns in the sources available to me.

Ekarao-atebatateaomata.
SPI3smake-OPI3sARThouseARTman

The man builds a house.

Nnanako(ngai).
SPI1sTAMgoI

I will go.

The inclusion of the personal pronoun ngai in the preceding example is only required if for emphasis ('I myself will go'). These examples shows that TAM morphemes occur optionally between the subject index and the verb.

The third-person indices given in the table are those used in the absence of an overt indexed NP (i.e. corresponding to a third-person pronoun in English). When a coreferent NP is present, the third-person object indices are distinct, differentiating between singular (-a) and plural, and in the plural between animate (-ia) and inanimate (-i): Neboia! 'Exalt him!', Neboiia! 'Exalt them!', Neboa te king! 'Exalt the king!', karaoa in the example given above, A oreia ataei 'They are hitting the children', Ko ataia? 'Do you know it?', I atai abamakoro akanne 'I know those islands'. Since some object index is obligatory in transitive verbs, the minimal index -a forms part of their citation form: nebo-a 'exalt [someone/something]', ore-a 'hit [someone/something]', etc. The picutre given here is sometimes obscured by a few morphological irregularities.

Both preposed subject indices and suffixed object indices recur in many EO languages, and the position of TAM morphemes is likewise typical.

Voice

Transitive verbs are passivized by the suffix 'aki, e.g. nor-a 'see', nor-aki 'be seen'. Agents of passive verbs are marked by the proposition irou':

Aoekitan-akiteaineirou-ianati-naakeuo-man.
andSPI3sleave-PASARTwomanby-PPI3pchild-PPI3sLIGtwo-NCL
'And the woman was left by her two sons.'

Transitive verbs are often formed with the causative prefix ka-, e.g. nako 'go', ka-nako-(a) 'send', mate 'die', ka-mate-(a) 'kill'. Intransitive reciprocal verbs are formed by the prefix i- with stem-reduplication and the stem-final vowel -i (in place of the transitive object indices), e.g. tangir-(a) 'love', i tangitangiri 'love one another'.

Ka- corresponds to, and is surely cognate with, the ubiquitous EO prefix va(ka)-, faka- etc. one of whose most constant functions is the formation of causatives.

Negation

 Verbs are negated by aki immediately preceding them. Negative imperatives use a special morpheme, tai, which seems also to be used in some negative subordinate clauses.

Non-finite Forms

While there is no clearcut, morphologically marked finite/non-finite distinction, such a notion is syntactically justified. There are at least two non-finite constructions, one more infinitive-like and the other functioning as a verbal noun. As an "infinitive" the verb is preceded by n(i), while as a verbal noun it (with its clause) receives the syntactic treatment due to noun phrases, i.e. is determined. Kona 'can' may govern either construction: I kona n/te anene 'I can sing'. The "infinitive" can be used attributively, e.g. uma n reirei 'school', literally 'house of teaching', as a complement, e.g.

Arabakaunreirei.
SPI3pskilfulINFteach
'They are skilful in teaching',
'They teach skilfully.'

or to express purpose, e.g.

Tirokonreirei.
SPI1pcomeINFlearn
'We have come to learn.'

In the following example the object of the infinitive (te wa 'the canoe') has been raised into the matrix clause:

Buok-atewantabek-iarake.
help-OPIARTcanoeINFraise-OPI3sup
'Help to lift up the canoe.'

Many serial-type constructions involve chains of two or more verbs connected each to the preceding one by n(i), e.g.

Etabenikoroboki.
SPI3sbe.engagedIINFwrite
'He is engaged in writing.'

The "verbal noun" may be determined by either the article te or a construct possessive, which is interpreted as the verb's subject if this is intransitive or as the object if transitive.

Ainanoratangira-miro-u!
ohdeepwhatlove-PPI2sby-PPI1s
'How deep is my love for you!'

Copula

There is no copular verb, except that mena 'remain, be (in a place)' forms predicates of place, e.g.

Emenaiao-ntetaibora.
SPI3sremainattop-CSTARTtable
'It is on the table.'

Possessive Predicates

Possessive predicates are constructed using an existential predicate in two variant constructions. In one, the possessum is the existential subject and the possessor determines the object possessed as a regular possessive attribute:

Iaia-uboki.
EXLPOS-PPI1sbook
'I have a book.'

literally 'My book exists'. In the other, the possessum again figures as existential subject, while there is a prepositional complement (with irou-) containing the possessor:

Iaitebokiiro-u.
EXLARTbookby-PPI1s
'ditto'

literally 'A book exists by me'.

Auxiliaries

Some items might be identified as TAM auxiliaries with at least some verbal features. They are preceded by the obligatory subject index and optional TAM particle like regular verbs, and govern an "infinitive", e.g.

Ikonanikarao-ia.
SPI1scanINFread-OPI3s
'I can read it.'
Iatiannor-iko.
SPI1sTAMCPLINFsee-OPI2s
'I saw you before.'

Other items showing comparable syntactic behaviour express quantitative rather than TAM notions, e.g.

Abanentei-rake.
SPI3pallINFstand-up
'They all got up.'
Erangnnano.
SPI3sveryINFdeep
'It is extremely deep.'

References

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