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Three North Samoyedic prohibitive auxiliaries: nenets no-, no-, nu-, nu-, nganasan ne- and enets i-.

According to the M. A. Castren's Samoyedic grammar, a part of North Samoyedic prohibitive stems was very restrictedly used in his time. Those included the Nenets no-, no-, Nganasan ne- and Enets i- (Castren 1854 : 436-437, 493-494, 518.) Their use appears in Table 1, in which I have underlined the forms of respective stems to make them prominent.

Peter Hajdu considered their initial consonant n as secondary (Hajdu 1982 : 127). (5) However, among the listed prohibitive auxiliaries the Nenets no-, no- is exceptional because it does not match the general tendency in North Samoyedic as it states that the secondary n precedes palatal vowels as the o is a velar vowel. Therefore the no-, no- should be an n-initial primary stem (*no-), and not a secondary version of the stem o-(the latter being yo- altogether). Certainly, an exception from the general tendency cannot be excluded (see also Sammallahti 1988 : 497) but there seems to be no obvious reason for any exception. Therefore I regard it as possible to suppose that etymologically the Nenets no-, no- does not belong to other North Samoyedic negative auxiliary stems with the secondary initial consonant n- (Nenets ni-, Nganasan ni-, Enets ne-), but is a separately standing independent word no-, no- (< *no-), instead. Quite a different question is raised in connection with the etymology of this word which in the given case should be an independent prohibitive verb.

On the other hand, Hajdu gave modern examples about the Nenets negative imperative, all of which were formed only from the stem no(not partly from ni-, ni-) (Hajdu 1968 : 71-72, cf. equivalents of similar verb forms also in Tepememco 1965 : 908). In grammars of Nganasan after Castren the prohibitive stem ne- does not come forth any more and the stem ni- is used instead (cf. first of all Tepememco 1979 : 215, 260--262). As far as Enets is concerned, Castren's grammar of Samoyedic languages (1854) has remained the most systematic source for the topic. According to Castren, the Enets imperative in all forms of Sg2 used the prohibitive auxiliary stem i- only (infinitive and gerund, also, used the stem i-).

If all the data by Castren is truthful, it may be a reference to the option that the prohibitive verb stems of the Nenets no-, no-, Nganasan ne- and Enets i- were very restrictedly used in his time, and that later their spheres of use in imperative usually broadened. In subject literature researchers did not pay any special attention to the limited use mentioned. Certainly, the Castren grammatical data in question may have concerned only some of the dialectal variants (of the period) or may just have been erroneous. However, it is conspicuous that the spheres of use of the Nenets no-, no-, Nganasan ne- and Enets i- coincide in Castren's treatment: only for the 2P. Such an overlapping may confirm the truthfulness of that earlier limited use, and the coincidence of the limited use in three languages may not at all be accidental.

However, the etymological adherence of the Enets i- to the Nenets no-etc. and Nganasan ne- is opposed by the initial vowel: owing to i-stem it may be related to the South Samoyedic Kamass prohibitive verb/particle i- (see e.g. Mikola 2004 : 128). The relative coincidence of the use of the Nganasan ne- with the use of the Nenets no- etc. speaks for the relationship with the latter, however, in this case it is hard to explain considerable difference of stem vowels (o, u vs. e). Besides, the Nenets ni-, ni- and Nganasan ni- with the secondary initial consonant (both of them come from the primary form *i- without any initial consonant) are more compatible with the Kamass i- mentioned above. In several respects, among Samoyedic negative stems, the Nenets no- etc. and Nganasan ne- form a fully independent group and both of them descend possibly from some kind of primarily n-initial word stem (*nV-).

P. Hajdu brought out a number of circumstances about Nenets negative auxiliaries that may attract interest from the view of the origin of no-, noin question. Namely, several optional suffixes or particles that seem to have an emphatic or determinative function precede or follow the Nenets negative auxiliaries (Hajdu 1982 : 113, 121), e.g. (here and henceforth, I have used bold to make them in examples more prominent) nonwa xan 'don't go out' (Hajdu 1982 : 122), pi jamban wunisa xonu 'he didn't sleep during the night', man winiseam meator' 'I didn't ask' (Hajdu 1982 : 120). In Toivo Lehtisalo's papers a variant of the last sentence was found without a negative auxiliary stem thus the sentence lacks a verb altogether: man wiseam meator'--the preterit suffix -sea- and sg1 suffix -m immediately follow (either due to sound assimilations, contractions or a language error?) the element wi- (Lehtisalo 1956 : 73b).

Among the Nenets emphatic or determinative elements one can find also n-initial ones, e.g. ninni pin' 'yet is s/he not afraid?' (Lehtisalo 1956 : 327a), man nimno' manije' 'I really don't see it' (Hajdu 1982 : 122), ninun to' 'don't come' (Hajdu 1982 : 116). In the case of Forest Nenets words ni-nu-n 'don't' (Lehtisalo 1956 : 327b) and -ninun 'don't' (Sammallahti 1974 : 84), the common prohibitive stem vowels o, o were replaced by u, u, that could be explained by the vowel alternation o, o ~ u, u (mainly Tundra Nenets ~ Forest Nenets) (see e.g. Hajdu 1968 : 18). (6) As can be seen, the forms of the elements in question may also be -no and nu(Hajdu 1982 : 121), e.g. mata nino yad' 'his tent really cannot be seen' (Hajdu 1982 : 122), nunor mada 'don't cut it through' (Hajdu 1982 : 116). Thanks to their similarity with the Nenets prohibitive stem no-, no-, nu-, nu-, the latter arouse a particular interest. Namely, we need to give attention to Karoly Redei's supposition about the descent of the Hungarian ninitial negation words from the Uralic demonstrative pronoun *na (MSzFE III 1978 : 464--466; UEW 1986--1988 : 70, 30; Etymologisches Worterbuch des Ungarischen 1993-1995 : 1022), which is quite possible (see Honti 1997 : 164-165). Emphaticity and determinativity are not far from demonstrativity and it is possible that the Nenets emphatic/determinative element no, nu has become a prohibitive auxiliary. (7) Certainly, it is just one possible explanation among many.

For the purpose of a summarizing overview, I gathered stems of Samoyedic negative auxiliaries in Table 2.

doi: 10.3176/lu.2010.2.04


Castren, M. A. 1854, Grammatik der samojedischen Sprachen, St. Petersburg.

Etymologisches Worterbuch des Ungarischen I--II, Budapest 1993--1995.

Hajdu, P. 1968, Chrestomathia Samoiedica, Budapest.

--1982, On the Syntax of the Negative Auxiliary in Samoyed.--Hungarian General Linguistics, Amsterdam-Philadelphia (Linguistic and Literary Studies in Eastern Europe 4), 109--130.

Honti, 1997, Die Negation im Uralischen II.--LU XXXIII, 171--176.

Katz, H. 1970, Zwei Etymologien.--NyK LXXII, 147-150.

Lehtisalo, T. 1956, Juraksamojedisches Worterbuch, Helsinki (LSFU XIII).

Mikola, T. 2004, Studien zur Geschichte der samojedischen Sprachen aus dem Nachlass heraugegeben von Beata Wagner-Nagy, Szeged (Studia Uralo Altaica 45).

Sammallahti, P. 1988, Hisrorical Phonology of the Uralic Languages with Special Reference to Samoyed, Ugric, and Permic.--The Uralic Languages. Description, History and Foreign Influences, Leiden-New York--Kobenhavn-Koln, 478-554.



(1) In South Samoyedic the prohibitive auxiliaries were preserved only most rudimentarily, therefore possible traces of respective limited use (like in North Samoyedic) are impossible to find in those languages.

(2) The reason of the long vowel occurrence in the Nenets variant ni- is not clear.

(3) The long i in the Enets general prohibitive auxiliary (Castren 1854 : 518) has obviously emerged through adherence of the plural marker *j that designates any plural object, on the one hand, and the marker *j of reflexive conjugation, to the original stem vowel e (ni- < *ne-j-), on the other (see e.g. Mikola 2004 : 123--126). The reason of the long vowel occurrence in the Enets variant ne- is not clear.

(4) According M. A. Castren, the stem i- is used also in the Enets conjunctive (Castren 1864 : 516-517), whereby the length of the stem vowel (i-) is most likely caused by adherence of the conjunctive marker ji to the primary stem vowel i (i- < (see e.g. Mikola 2004 : 111-112). The use of the stem i- in the conjunctive could be explained by some kind of special development in Enets and should not substantially mar the picture about the relative unity of the North Samoyedic "limited usage" in question.

(5) P. Hajdu has quite right written that "In Northern Samoyed a tendency prevailed (to a varying degree, depending on the language or dialect in question) which resulted in the elimination of the vowels from word initial position by attaching y- to initial velar vowels and n- to initial palatal vowels. This process applied to loanwords as well" (Hajdu 1982 : 127).

(6) In subject literature no discrimination is often made as to if the data submitted comes from Tundra Nenets or Forest Nenets. Yet the discrimination appears often necessary (and possible), as in this case.

(7) Likewise, it is possible in the case of the above form wiseam that here the element wi- has also become a prohibitive auxiliary.



Ago Kunnap

University of Tartu

Table 1
North Samoyedic prohibitive auxiliaries according to Castren 1854 (1)


                      Sg                   Du          Pl

Indef. conj.:     2P  no-n                 no-di'      no-da'
                  3P  ni-jea               ni-jaha'    ni-jea'
Def. conj.        2P  no-r                 no-ri'      no-ra'
  (singular       3P  ni-mda               ni-mdi'     ni-mdu'
Def. conj.        2P  ni-hijud etc.
  (dual object):  3P  ni-hijumda etc.
Def. conj.        2P  ni-n etc.
  (plural         3P  ni-mda etc.

Infinitive: ni-s (2)


                      Sg                   Du          Pl

Indef. conj.:     2P  ne-'                 ni-niri     ni-nire
                  3P  ni-na'               ni-na'agai  ni-na
Def. conj.        2P  ne-ta'               ni-niri     ni-nire'
  (singular       3P  ni-na'ade            ni-na'adi   ni-na'aden
Def. conj.        2P  ni-keina etc.
  (dual object):  3P  ni-na'ageit'i etc.
Def. conj.        2P  ni-na etc.
  (plural         3P  ni-na'ait'i etc.
Reflexive conj.:  2P  ni-din etc.
                  3P  ni-nai etc.

Infinitive: ni-se
Gerund: ni-fi'

                      Sg                   Du          Pl

Indef. conj.:     2P  i-'                  ne-[??]i'   ne-[??]a'
                  3P  ne                   ne-ggo'     ne-'
Def. conj.        2P  i-ro                 ne-[??]i    ne-[??]a'
  (singular       3P  ne-dda               ne-ddi      ne-ddu'
Def. conj.        2P  i-huno               ne-huri     ne-hura
  (dual object):  3P  ne-hura              ne-huri'    ne-huru'
Def. conj.        2P  i-nu                 ni-ri'      ni-ra'
  (plural         3P  ni-'ira              ni-'iri'    ni-'iru'
Reflexive conj.:  2P  i-ro'                ni-ri'      ni-ra'
                  3P  ni-'iddo             ni-'iddi'   ni-'iddu (3)

Infinitive: i-si
Gerund: i-bu (4)

Table 1
Samoyedic negative auxiliaries
with possible North Samoyedic reconstructions

According to Castren 1854:

General use                       Special limited use in imperative

ni-, ni- (< * i-)                 no-, no-, nu-, nu (< ? *nV-)


ni- (< * i-)                      ne- (< ? *nV-)
ne- (< *e-)                       i- (< ? * i-) (also in all Sg2
                                                 forms and in all
                                                 conjunctive forms)

According to different sources:

General use                       Use in imperative


as((s)a) etc.                     [??]k([??]), [??]g([??])
  (loan from Even,
  Katz 1970 : 149-150)


e-                                i-


i-                                ?
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Publication:Linguistica Uralica
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Date:Jun 1, 2010
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