An Abakwi Grammar

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Shunj'abwangga q'abwa.

-Ubani Tata

“The Abakwi language is spoken in two villages, or tribes, in a remote area of the Mamberamo basin of Irian Jaya, on the Island of New Guinea. It does not seem to me to be related to any other languages I have come across, and it may not have been dealt with before, linguistically or otherwise. The grammatical sketch I am providing here is intended to provide basic materials in an area of New Guinea that is sorely undescribed.” -James Macbeith Finlay, from Notes on the Language of the Ndake

The following is a basic descriptive grammar of the language, based on the unpublished work of J.M.Finlay, who travelled extensively in the area of New Guinea in the late 19th and early 20th century. I will attempt to cover the basics as I understand them, as well as provide a few translations of my own, which should in no case be considered authoritative or even of merit.

I might add that the supposition that this language is a creole has no basis in fact, although its simple structure might lead one to suppose that to be true.


Sentence Structure
Parts of Speech
Relative Clauses
Miscellaneous Notes
Stories and Translations

Pronunciation, Transcription of Abakwi

I have attempted to provide a simple transcription of the sounds of Abakwi, which should be almost transparent to most readers familiar with the Roman alphabet.


(These are pure vowels, with no glides.)


Note:the consonant groups nd, mb, ngg, nj are common and may appear initially.
ngg represents two sounds, as in English "finger".
ng represents a single sound, as in English "ring".
The groups sk, nt appear rarely, in probable loan-words.
Unvoiced stops p,t,k are unaspirated.
l represents a clear l as in 'like', not dark as in 'cool'.
q , the glottal stop, represents the sound you hear instead of 't' in some British pronunciations of "bottle", or initial in the German "Aber".
I have not chosen to indicate the final unreleased stop (usually alveolar, sometimes bilabial), as it bears little linguistic significance.

Here is a better approximation of the sounds:

high  i       u
mid     e   o
low       a
             labial  lab-dnt   dental  alv   alv-pal  velar glottal 
stop           p b             t d                     k g     q
fricative              f v             s z    sh zh    h gh
affricate                                     ch j
approximant      w                     r l    y  
nasal            m             n                       ng


Stress is fairly weak and normally occurs on the vowel before the last consonant of a phrase (explained under Structure). A heavier stress may be placed in the same location when at the end of an utterance.
Certain modifiers tend to receive stress in other positions, especially the last modifier in a phrase.
In some cases, the shifting of stress will change the meaning of a phrase, in other cases, its position may be altered for emphasis.

Bakánga (Bak-ang'a) He is not speaking.
Bakangá (Bak'a-nga) No one is speaking.

Ba kungása? (B'a kung-as'a) Did he kill it?
Ba kungasá? (B'a kung'a-sa) Which did he kill?

Remember, these are only rough approximations. I have attempted to indicate stress by using punctuation, and am aware that there is much variation in quality of vowels and to a lesser extent consonants based on the position within a phrase. Often a final 'a' will appear close to inaudible. Also 'e' will approach 'i' and 'o' will approach 'u' in many cases.

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Sentence Structure

Abakwi has an extremely regular grammar, with very few exceptions to its rules. Sentences are made up of one or more phrases. Each phrase consists of a verb (optionally followed by modifying particles) and a subject (optionally followed by modifying particles).

Abakwi phrase structure can be represented as follows:

(V(v)S(s)) where





Phrase order within a sentence is rather loose, but subjects always follow their verbs within a phrase, and modifiers always follow their heads.

Exception #1:

The subject, if understood, can be omitted at the end of an utterance: Panam = "It is raining." Panam! = "Rain!" Yal'u q'i ="Help me", Yal! = "Help!" Kim = Kim'u = Come!
An utterance can be anything from an interjection to a complete story, but it always ends in a pause. If the subject is not omitted, the final vowel is often stopped, with a sound similar to the T in 'spot' (an unreleased alveolar stop). This signals "I am done speaking" and is considered polite, although it is sometimes abandoned in energetic, excited speech. Among some speakers, especially the elderly and children, this becomes a bilabial stop.

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Parts of Speech

    There are four distinct parts of speech in Abakwi:

  1. Verb
  2. Noun
  3. Verb-Modifier
  4. Noun-Modifier

What about adjectives,adverbs,prepositions,etc?

Verbs :

Abakwi relies on verbs and their modifiers to express many subtleties of meaning, the Abakwi verb can generally function as a verb, adjective, or preposition, but the rules of use are very simple. In fact, verbs do not conjugate or change form in any way. Many of the common ones are monosyllabic, or even shorter.

Bak'i q'Abakwi."I speak Abakwi".

(Two phrases, VS VS)

Bak verb Speak
'i noun I
q verb meaning roughly "to be acted upon","to be affected by some action", "to be equated with", a marker for the accusative case, usually.
'Abakwi noun "Our Language", literally "what we speak"

(A better translation might be "I am speaking Abakwi" or "I was speaking Abakwi", or more likely, "I made myself clear" but more on that later.)

Note that nouns are preceded by a tick mark ( ' ) and modifiers are preceded with a hyphen, as an aid in reading. This does not affect pronunciation directly, but may help to indicate where stress is likely to occur (often on the last modifier in a phrase).

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Nouns :

Nouns are also very simple. Like verbs, they do not change form. Pronouns and proper nouns behave identically to all other nouns. You've seen two, 'i and 'Abakwi.

'i is of course a pronoun, and here are some useful ones, along with the verb sh, "to be":

sh'i I am
sh'u you are
sh'a he/she/it is
sh'ala he is
sh'ara she is
sh'wi we (you and me) are (pronounced as English "we"!)
sh'ay we (not you) are (pronounced as English "I"!)
sh'una* you (plural) are
sh'ana* they are
sh'alana* they (masc.) are
sh'arana* they (fem.) are
sh'wija(na)** one is,we all are
sh'e which is

* Exception #2: Final (a) is almost always dropped at the end of an utterance.
**wija/wijana are interchangeable, wija being more common.

e is a relative pronoun.

Note: sh can mean "exists (there is)" or "is the same as, is identified as" or "has the quality of being, is a member of a group".
When used with the last meaning, the group is preceded by q' rather than sh'.


Sh'akira j'ibo. There is a dog near the tree.
Sh'akira-ja. It is that dog.
Nd'ugu sh'akira. There is a dog somewhere.
Sh'a q'akira. It is a dog.
Sh'i sh'Ifune. I am Ifune (a proper name).
Sh'Ifune. It is Ifune.
Sh'i sh'abwandu. I am chief of the village.
Sh'i q'obayange. I am a hunter.

Gender is usually only expressed for clarity.
-la and -ra can be added to other nouns to express gender:
'uruha-la "male weasel"
'amifa-ra "queen bee".
Also, they may be applied indirectly, as in 'iKwonchacha-ra "Kwonchurch woman"

Also, the plural marker -na is often omitted if the meaning is clear from the context.

These are Noun-Modifiers , which are covered later.

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Verb Modifiers :

Verb modifiers always follow the verb, and are commonly used to express tense, aspect, mode, etc. Some verb modifiers,with kum, to go and mob, to eat:

-ang negative kum-ang'i I am not going
-am future kum-am'i I will go
-ab past kum-ab'i I went
-as question kum-as'i am I going?
-ungg intensifier mob-ungg'i I am chowing down
-ingg de-intensifier mob-ingg'i I am snacking
-war ability kum-war'i I can go
-wal possibility kum-wal'i I might go
-ej obligation kum-ej'i I should go
-wej necessity kum-wej'i I must go
-ezh probably,likely kum-ezh'i I will probably go
-aj present/now kum-aj'i I am going now
-eng if (possible) kum-eng'i if I were going
-ish if (but not) *irrealis kum-ish'i if I had gone
-und progressive, continuing mob-und'i I am still eating
-it finished (perfect) mob-it'i I am done eating
-uzh more mob-uzh'i I am eating more
-izh less mob-izh'i I am eating less
-azh equally, also, as much as mob-azh'i I am eating also
-wah too much mob-wah'i I am eating too much
-imb too little, not enough mob-imb'i I am not eating enough
-esh want kum-esh'i I want to go
-ond like to kum-ond'i I like to go
-eh hate to kum-eh'i I hate to go
-umb try to,attempt kum-umb'i I am trying to go
-uz so that, in order to kum-uz'i so that I go
-um because, since kum-um'i because I go
-ul then,therefore kum-ul'i therefore I am going
-ind begin,become mob-ind'i I begin to eat
-il while mob-il'i while I am eating
-unj as if, seem to mob-unj'i as if I am eating
-ij until, before kum-ij'i before I go
-enj instead,rather,but kum-enj'i instead I am going
-wad instead of kum-wad'i instead of going
-ong unless kum-ong'i unless I am going
-end then,thereafter kum-end'i then I am going
-and previously, already kum-and'i I had already gone
-inj so long as kum-inj'i so long as I am going
-ush be allowed kum-ush'i I am allowed to go
-anj repetitive kum-anj'i I go all the time
-angg well, enough mob-angg'i I am eating well
-wam always mob-wam'i I am always eating
-ol to undo mob-ol'i I vomit (un-eat)
-waj to be about to kum-waj'i I am about to go
-wik stop oneself, cease(not prevent) mob-wik'i I stop eating
-wab to intend to kum-wab'i I intend to go
-ik suddenly kum-ik'i I suddenly left

There are many idiomatic expressions using the modifier -ol:
Bayang-ol'a q'ebi. (He un-hunted the tree-kangaroo) meaning he drove them deep into the forest.

The past-tense marker -ab is often omitted.

Tense-modifiers in general are used less than in English. In a narrative, often the time frame will be set with an expression like Kum'ehe-zhu... (many years ago..) etc. and then the tense remains in the "unmarked" present (tense markers are omitted). The marker -aj is only used to emphasize present tense, as in "right now".

So, 'I (am able to) speak Abakwi' would be: Bak-war'i q'Abakwi.
Bak-ab'a q'atapisi.He spoke in Tok-Pisin.

Verb modifiers can be combined to express many shades of meaning:

sh-ab-ang'i =I was not
sh-ungg-ang'i =I am not at all
sh-am-ang'i =I will not be
tak-ab-ungg'i =I knew long ago
tak-ab-ingg'i =I just found out
kim-am-ang-ungg'i =I will definitely not come
kum-ab-anj'i =I used to go
mob-ol-enj-ab'i =Instead I vomited.
kum-ond-am'i =I will like going
kum-am-ond'i =I hope to go
kim-ab-und'i =I was coming
kim-am-it'i =I will have come
mob-ang-wam-'i =I never eat.
mob-wam-ang-'i =I am not always eating.
mob-wab-ang-'i =I ate it accidentally.

Compound Sentences (Subordinate Clauses)

Subordinate clauses are expressed with verb-modifiers.

Dibwik-ab-il'e q'ijalu, bik'a q'akira mutuk'e. While he was spearing mudbugs, he heard a dog singing.
dibwik=to spear, to hunt with a pointy stick.
bik=to hear.
mutuk=to sing.

D-esh-eng'u q'ambu-kwi, b-ej'u sh'ambu-du. If you want good beer, you should make your own beer.
d=to have.
ambu=beer. (-kwi=good, -du=your)
b=to cause.

Nik-ab'i q'emanara juk'amibe, nging-umb-ab-il'i q'ebasa.
While looking for tubers, I saw a nun in a clearing.

nik=to see.
nging=to find.

Mob-eng-ab'u q'wanabu, nggesh-wal-ul'u.
If you ate the toad (which you might have), you might get sick.
Mob-ish'u q'wanabu, kung-ul-it'u.
If you ate the toad (which you didn't), you would be dead.

nggesh=to be sick.
kung=to die.

Comparative, Superlative

Rokok-uzh'abasa-ja. That fruit is redder.
Rokok-uzh'abasa-ja q'arani. That fruit is redder than blood.
Rokok-uzh'abasa-ji q'amu. This fruit is reddest of all.
rokok=to be red.

Ndak'a. It is long.
Ndak-ungg'a. It is very long.
Ndak-uzh'a. It is longer.
Ndak-uzh-ungg'a. It is much longer.
Ndak-uzh'a q'amu. It is longest.
Ndak-wah'a. It is too long.
Ndak-angg'a. It is long enough.

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Noun Modifiers :

Noun modifiers always follow the noun, and are commonly used to further identify or express feeling about the noun. Some noun modifiers:

-ra female
-la male
-na plural, several
-nwa one,a
-pa pair of, both
-ji this(by me)
-ju that(by you)
-ja that(over there)
-sha same
-twa other,different
-mbe next
-ngge last
-sa which?
-nga no, not one
-mu all,every
-zhu many, much
-zhi few,little(quantity)
-kwe group, collection, mass of
-ke piece of
-za sort, kind of
-pwa bad,unpleasant
-mba small,diminutive,dear
-ndu big
-gwa lacking respect,damn
-kwi good, pleasant, "regular"
-ngga so-called
-bwa person,human
-cho spirit,ghost
-ko inanimate, material, stuff
-vi abstract
-ga tool
-jwa food
-zu venerated (honorific)

These are as close as Abakwi gets to having gender, and may be used to link pronouns (a, e etc.) to the nouns they refer to , but they are always optional.

The 'plural' marker, -na is used less than in English, and would never be combined with markers such as -pa, -mu (dual, all).

The 'honorific', -zu may be applied to objects but rarely to persons, except as a form of wabeche.

These markers can be stressed for emphasis, especially -sa, -ja, -sha.
-sa usually receives stress wherever it appears.

Nik-ab'i q'abala-nga. I saw no house.
Nik-ab-ang'i q'abala(-nwa). I did not see a house.
Nik-ab-as'u q'abala? Did you see the house?
Nik-ab'u q'abala-sa? You saw which house?
Nik-ab'u q'abala-za-sa? You saw what kind of house?


Possessives are formed by -d+pronoun :
adungga-di my drum
adungga-du your drum
adungga-da his/her drum
adungga-dara her drum
adungga-dana their drum
adungga-na-dala his drums
a-di mine

Of course, there is really no difference between the noun-modifier -di (my) and the phrase d'i (I have). All noun-modifiers may have originally been phrases, some of them becoming reduced through frequent use.

In the ordering of noun-modifiers, "unbound" ones (-di, -ji, -sha, etc.) which are clearly derived from phrases, can be freely ordered for emphasis, and always follow "bound" modifiers (-ra, -la, -na, etc.)


aba-ji This bone
aba-ju That bone (by you)
aba-ja That bone (over there)

aba-na-ji These bones


-ji,-ju,-ja, -sha may function as definite articles, though the definite article is usually omitted.
-nwa, -na, -pa, -twa may function as indefinite articles (a, some, a couple of, another).

aba-nwa A bone
aba-na Some bones
aba-dara-ji, aba-ji-dara Her bone here, this bone of hers


Reflexive pronouns are formed with the noun-modifier -sha, "same":

Buk'a k'a-sha. He spoke to himself.
These are also used in an "emphatic" sense:
Buk'a-sha (q'a). He himself said it.

-sha will normally receive stress.

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What about other parts of speech?

Verbs in Abakwi tend to take over roles normally given to other parts of speech. For instance,


"I am thirsty" becomes "I thirst"
Swar'i. I thirst.
ndak = to be long.
Ndak-ind'a. It became long.
rokok = to be red.
Mob-ab'i q'abasa rokok'e. = I ate the red fruit.


Gwal-ab'i swar-unj'e. I drank as-if I thirst .I drank thirstily.
Kum'a pis-unj'e. He left quietly.
pis = to be quiet

prepositions, conjunctions

Here are some common verbs used as prepositions:

j beside, with
jik in, inside
juk outside, around
jak on (touching)
jib over, above
jub under, below
jid before, in front of
jud behind, in back of
jim near
jum far from
juv to the left of
jiv to the right of
jav between, among

j-ang not with, without
jak-ang off of
Kum-ab'i j'ala. I went with him.
Kum-ab'i j-uz'ara. I went to be with her.
j'a-sa? = with what?

By replacing initial j with k you express movement rather than position:
kuk outward
kak-ang to move off of
kav to go through

B'i jub'a. I put it down.
B'i jak'a. I attached it or placed it on.
Kub'u. Sit down.
Kib'u. Get up.
B'i kib'a. I made him get up.

j "with" is used for the conjunction "and".
j-enj, j-ong, j-wad express "or".
wama j'abasa meat and fruit
wama j-enj'abasa meat or fruit
wama j-ong'abasa meat unless fruit
wama j-wad'abasa meat or fruit (exclusive or)
"And" is not translated between phrases:
Pis'u mob-end'u q'aguma. Be quiet and eat your snake-head soup.
"Or" in this case is expressed with a verb modifier:
Kum'u pak-wad'i. Go away or I'll hit you.

Nik-ab'i q'anicho jim'ubula. I saw an anicho near the stream.
anicho = "white demon".
ubula = stream.

To take zhik from or come kim from : "from" may be expressed as kum or k depending on whether the object moves as a whole or is divided. Examples of usage:
Zhik'a q'ebi-tipa chabak'e kum'oku. She took the three roasted tree-kangaroos from the fire.
Kim'apadwange k'oborighwala. The dry wallop comes from downriver mudbanks.
Kim'i kum'ugu. I come from there.

Important: Verbs are often opposite in meaning from the preposition used in English prepositional phrases. Just remember that the following noun is the subject of the verb.
jik = to be in.
Jik'i q'abala. I'm in the house.
Jik'abala-di q'atare. My house is in the forest. (Not: *Sh'abala-di jik'atare.)
'abala juk'atare. the house in the forest (the house that the forest is around).
'ajacha jik'abala fire that house is in
'ajacha juk'abala fire in the house

Note: ajacha=blaze, oku=cooking-fire.

Lushak-ab'i q'ozabi d'Ubani-Tata kuk'ambu. I poured Uncle Ubani's ashes into the beer.
lushak = pour
ozabi = ash
ambu = beer

Tata, Aunt or Uncle, is a common title given to older members of the clan, whether closely related or not.
Another title is Bwandu, Head-man or head-woman, which is conferred on anyone especially skilled or respected. It is also used sarcastically to indicate someone overly full of himself.

I have prepared a page dealing with kinship terms and terms of address in general.

nd is another verb used as a preposition (to be at,in ,for etc.)

nd'ubu-sa =for what reason, why?
nd'umu-sa =in what way, how?
nd'ugu-ju =at that place, there.
nd'uzhu-sa =how many, how much?
nd'ugu-sha, nd'ulu-sha =same place, same time.
Mob'i nd'ulu-nga q'akira. I never eat dog.
Mob'i nd'ulu-mu q'ebi. I always eat tree-kangaroo.
(more emphatic than Mob-wam'i q'ebi.)

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Relative Clauses

The pronoun 'e is used as a resumptive pronoun in relative clauses. It generally refers to the subject of the previous phrase or the main subject of the sentence. Note that the word order is not changed and the pronoun is never omitted, as is common in English. Here are some examples:

Kelek-ab'a q'aba duk-ab'i q'e k'a. He broke the bone which I gave him.
(Break-did'he q'bone give-did'I q'which to'him).
Mob-ab'i q'abasa rokok'e. = I ate the red fruit.
(Eat-did'I q'fruit red'which).
Q'abwa pikak'e jub'ogo jiv'e.The man had a cut over his left eye.
Lik-umb-'a q'aba d'Anicho duc-ab'i q'e k'a juk'atare.He studied the bone of the anicho which I gave him in the forest.

Kul'a sh'e q'Edoba q'e mbenwabech'ara nubak'i q'e.
The one who is Edoba thinks that she whom I live with is stupid.
kul = think (believe, have an opinion)
mbenwabech = to be stupid (meaning to act stupidly against one's own interests, not in the sense of being uninformed of fact)
nubak = to live with
Edoba = a neighboring tribe/village

tak-ingg = to think, implies probable truth, while kul does not.
tak-ingg also can mean "be acquainted with". tak-angg means "be familiar with".

tak-ingg'e q'i he who knows me.
tak-ingg'i q'e he whom i know.

Note "adjectives" are often relative clauses which immediately follow the modified noun:

Duk-ab'i q'aba twamb'e k'abwa-ra. I gave the strange bone to the woman.
Duk-ab'i q'aba k'abwa-ra twamb'e. I gave the bone to the strange woman.
twamb = to be strange.

Of course 'e can be followed by noun-modifiers like any other noun, which can reduce ambiguity.
e-ra, e-la-na, e-ko = woman which, men which, thing which .

With certain verbs (to think, know, say, believe etc.),'e usually refers to the following phrase as a whole.

Buk'u q'e buk'i q'e kum-it'a. You said that I said that he left.

In the above, stress is shifted to the subject of each phrase ( u, i ).

Note: Q'e is sometimes translated as "let".

Q'e mob'wi. Let's eat.

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Miscellaneous Notes


Interjections are reduced forms of phrases.

Yes, No

Yes= Ke, Sha, Qa etc.
No= Nga, Shang, Qang etc.
Often the answer is expressed with a sentence:
Do you have beer?=Q'ambu d'u ?
Yes=D'i (I have)
No=Nga (quite rude)
Dang (neutral, I don't have)
Desh (polite, I wish)

Other Common Interjections

Sa, She huh?
Pwa yuck
Hu you don't say.
Kwi great.
Ngga no way.
Gwa no good.
Yaye ouch.
Qe, Ghe hey.
Ma, Maja expression of admiration.
Ya expression of sadness.

Common Expressions

Bash'anti. Thank God (Lit., forest-god provides)
Sh-angg-as'u? How are you?
Nd'ugu-sa? Hello (Lit., Where are you going?)
Q'a-sa bash'u? What is your name?
Bash'i q'Ufune. My name is Ufune.
Mob'i q'udu-du! So glad to see you again! (Lit., I eat your feces)
(Kum'u) Kim-end'u Good-bye (to one leaving)
Bwareng. Please (If you can).
Duqinda. Thank you.
Paki qisha. I'm sorry.
Sh-angg'i. I am fine.
Pwang'i Not bad.
Nik-anj'. Goodbye.(see you)
Kum-angg. Goodbye.(farewell)
(Q'u) J-ond-ungg'i. I love you.
Shwala. Maybe.
Duk-war-eng'u q'abako. Please give me a cigarette.
Bula. Here, take it.
Bwibwi. Never mind.
Pis. Shut up.

Obwibwi refers to the "polite conversation" taken up before getting to the "topic".

Note: the verb bash, "to provide", also means "to be named".

Cultural Note:
Abwa-di, Abwa-na-di "Fellow tribesman", "My people" is how the Andake commonly refer to themselves.
Andake , Andake-na "The long one(s) is the correct way for outsiders to refer to them. This is a reference not to their stature but to the 'udwanggu , or penis-gourd.


Numbers are noun modifiers:

-nga zero
-nwa one
-pa two
-tipa three
-jana four
-bula five
-shapa six
-toka seven
-mila eight
-gachi nine
-chi ten
-hachi hundred
-chindu thousand

abwa-chi-pa twelve men
asho-tipa-chi-bula thirty-five days
abwa-hachi-nwa one hundred and one men
asho-tipa-hachi-chi-nwa three hundred eleven days
abwa sh'e-tipa third man
a-tipa threesome, trio
nd'ulu-tipa three times, thrice
a-pa-je-tipa two thirds

Expressions of Time

Tense markers are often replaced by time expressions. Here are a few of the more common ones:

asho-ji today
ashonga-ji tonight
ashongge or kum'asho yesterday
ashombe or kim'asho tomorrow
king'asho morning
kung'asho evening
king'ashombe tomorrow morning
ashongangge last night
ago month
ehe year
kung'ehembe end of next year
kum'ehe-chi ten years ago
kim'ago-pa in two months
ekweche is a term for twelve years, commonly used to refer to someone's age.
A person's 24th birthday would be called ekweche-pa.

Ordering of Phrases

Phrase order is rather loose in Abakwi:
Mob-am'i q'abwangga. I will eat pig.
Q'abwangga mob-am'i. It is pig that I will eat.

A "passive" construction can be produced by a change in phrase order:
Kelek'a q'aba. He broke the bone.
Q'aba kelek. The bone broke/was broken.
Q'i pwek. I was bitten.
Q-esh'a pak. He wants to be beaten.

aba kelek'a q'e. The broken bone.

Phrases can generally be omitted from a sentence, and are never grammatically required:
Duk'i q'abasa k'imbe.I gave the fruit to the child.
Duk'i k'imbe. I gave (it) to the child.
Duk'i q'abasa. I gave the fruit.
Q'abasa k'imbe.The fruit was given to the child.
Duk-aj'u q'aba-ndu. Give (me) the big bone now.

Causative Constructions

Constructions with b , to cause,make:
B'i sh'ambu. I am making the beer.
B'i mob-ang'a. I am keeping him from eating.
B-am'i kung'a. I will kill him.
B'u kung'a-sa? What did you kill?

Note: In English, some verbs can be transitive or intransitive, as in "The house burned" or "I burned the house". In Abakwi, a causative construction is used:

Kulum'abala. The house is burning.
B'i kulum'abala. I am burning the house.

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Generic Verbs

As English often uses the verb "to do" in place of other verbs to show some action by the agent, Abakwi uses a set of "generic" verbs to show grammatical relationships. These are used constantly, and here are the main ones:

b = to make, cause, do as agent (nominative)
q = to be a patient,direct object(accusative), be a member of a group (with sh )
k = to be an indirect object (to, dative)
nd = to be peripherally related to an action (to be at,in ,for etc.)
d = to have, own, (to be of,genitive)
g = to be used (instrumental)

Of course, verbs like q,k,d,g can be thought of as markers for the accusative, dative, genitive or instrumental cases, but they may be followed by verb modifiers and should be considered verbs.
Mob-ang'i q'ugwana. It is not I who ate the sago-grubs.
Mob'i q-ang'ugwana. It was not the sago-grubs that I ate.
Mob'wija q-ang'akira. We do not eat dog.
Q-esh'a pak. He wants to be beaten.
abwara d-am'i. the woman that I will have.

These can also be replaced by other, more specific verbs:
Duk-ab'i q'aba k'akira = Duk-ab'i q'aba dik'akira. I gave the bone to the dog.

The Verb-Modifiers are useful for expressing new concepts, as with
-umb , to try, attempt :

lik learn lik-umb study
bik hear bik-umb listen
nging find nging-umb look for

I/U Opposition

Many word pairs in Abakwi reflect a distinction based on the i/u vowel opposition:


Often there is a neutral form with the vowel a .

dik take duk give dak exchange
kim come kum go kam move (oneself)
zhik catch zhuk throw, let go zhak toss around, etc.
tib read tub write tab read and write
bik hear buk speak bak converse
lik learn luk teach
nging find ngung lose
king be born kung die
dikwand call (for) dukwand send (away)

There may be words that fit into the empty spaces, but they are unattested.
tib, tub originally referred to a system of cord-knots and twig-notches, more of a tally or map than a writing system. It now refers almost exclusively to literacy.
lik, luk refer to formal instruction, or education by rote.
tak-ind is used for "learning by doing":
tak-ind'i bayang'i. I learn to hunt.
b'a tak'i. he teaches me / shows me.


Abakwi does not form compound words in the usual sense, but uses the verbs d (to have) or j (to be with) or sh (to be) to join nouns together:
Ibo j'akobo Tree of skulls.
"Cassowary thighbone dagger" could be expressed as isho sh'aba d'inganwa d'anggawa , "dagger of bone of thigh of cassowary", but the normal term is ishungga.
ugwine d'abwa the man's beard
abwa j'ugwine the bearded man

Sh'abwa sh'abwangga.=The man is a pig.
abwa shunj'abwangga =the piggy man.
abwa sh'abwangga =the pig-man.

Cultural Note:
The Andake would find these expressions somewhat humorous, but not insulting. They seem to have an inordinate fondness for pigs, treating them almost as members of the family. They are also an important symbol of wealth and good luck. Referring to someone as anggawa, or cassowary, on the other hand, could be a serious insult.

Creating Nouns from Verbs

A noun can be created from a verb root, as with mob , to eat:

omobe eater
omobaqe food, thing eaten
omobulu eating-time
omobugu eating-place
omoba act of eating
omobage eating instrument
omobuke portion of food, meal
omobumu manner of eating

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Stories and Translations in Abakwi

Babel Story

This is an attempt at translating a story commonly used to demonstrate invented languages, not a Bible translation per se.

Nd'ulu-ja d'araba-mu q'abaka-nwa j'abaka-kwi.
Kam-il'abwa-na kim'onggwo, nging'ana q'ekika juk'aShinara sh-und'a nd'ugu-ja.
Bak'a, Kim'wi b'wi sh'etwe, haket-ungg'wi q'edoba. G'etwe g-wad'agake, g'ojwejage jabul.
Bak-end'a, Kim'wi b'wi-sha sh'umara, j'iskara kim'ulama, b-uz'wi q'aya d'wi-sha, kwanak-ang'wi jak'araba-mu.
Kimbad-enj'ulugu nik-uz'a q'umara j'iskara b-und'abwa-na q'e.
Buk'ulugu, sh-eng'abwa-kwe-nwa bak'abaka-sha b-ind-ul'a q'a, sh-ang-war-ang'e j'ana b-wab'a.
Kim'wi, kumbad-wi shekesh-wi q'abaka-da bak-war-ang-uz'ana.
Kwanak-ul'ulugu q'a kum'ugu-ja jak'araba-mu, b-wik'a sh'umara.
Sh-ul'aya q'aBabela -- shekesh-um'ulugu q'abaka d'araba-mu. Kum'ugu-ja kwanak'ulugu-ja q'a jak'araba-mu.

At that time, the whole world had one language and a good language at that.
As people moved to the east, they found a flat place in Shinar and moved in.
They started talking and said, "Come, let's make bricks, let's cook mud and cook it good." They used brick not stone, and stuck it together with tar.
Then they said, "Come, let's build ourselves a city with a tower to the sky, so that we may make our story known and not be scattered over all the earth."
But a demon came down to see the city with the tower that the men were building.
The demon said, "If as one people speaking one language to each other they have begun to do this, then nothing they intend to do will not be done.
Come, let's go down and shatter their language so they will be unable to speak to each other."
So the demon scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.
Therefore it is called Babel -- because there a demon shattered the language of the whole world. And from there that demon scattered them over all the earth.

Here is a gloss of the Babel Story.

The story of Udanami and the pig thieves.

(Nd'adikwahe d'abwangga j'Udanami sh')

Kung'asho-ja, nging-war-ang'Udanami q'abwangga-sh'enwa-da, Dikwand'a kim-ang'a dikwand'a kim-ang'a. Kum-ul'a q'egulu sh'Elele buk'a k'a q'e, Nging-eng-am'u q'abwangga-di, duk-ul-am'i k'u q'ashabwa. Bulak'a q'a, mbishit'a juk'ago shok'e. Zhik-ul'Elele q'aba d'ubandanduta j'a shunj'unaru kum'a juk-ungg'atare. Kim-end'a buk'end'a q'e, Nik'a q'abwa-pa, b'a-pa kung'abwangga mob-und'a q'. Bar-ab'arani. Buk'a q'e q'abwa pikak'e jub'ogo jiv'e. Kub'a nd'ugu-ja d'warwa. Buk'Udanami, Tak-angg'i q'abwa-ja. Sh'Edoba. Kum'a nd'ugu-ja, abwa-pa-ja manggan-und'a pul-und'a kundog'a sabad-wah'a d'abwangga-jwa. Kamak-it'abwa-pa-sha-ja, tutungg-ang'a, buk'a, zhik-ab-ul'a q'abwa-pa-ja-gwa, b'a kung'a, b'a kung-ungg'a mob-end' a q'.

It happened one evening, Udanami could not find his best pig and he called the pig and it would not come.
So he went to the witch Elele and told him, if you could find my pig I would give you my pig tusk necklace and he held it and it glistened in the moonlight.
So Elele brought out the bone of his great grand uncle and took the form of a sugar-glider and went deep into the forest.
Then he returned and said he had seen two men, and they had killed the pig and were eating it. Blood was everywhere.
He said one man had a cut over his left eye. They were sitting in the flying fox place.
Udanami said I know those men. They are Edoba. He went to the place and the men were lying on their backs asleep, fat and full of pigmeat.
These two men had had their own private pig-roast, it was not right, he said.
So he caught those two men, he killed them dead and then he ate them.

Sayings of Ubani Tatamba

Mob-ang'wi q'udu, nd'ubu-sa bik-umb-ej'wi q'e-gwa?
We do not eat excrement, why should we listen to it?
Kum'u kim'abala buk-ungg'u bik'ulugu-mba zwang'e.
Go home and pray to your feeble god.
D'ubara-di q'ichi ket-wal'anggawa, haket-war-angg'a.
My mother had a face that would frighten a cassowary, but she was a fine cook.
Tak-ungg'u q'e, makamak-ul'Edoba q'ubara-sha, shatash-ang-ish'e.
You well know, that the Edoba would feast on their own mothers if it were not tabu.
Sh-angg'ikela, mob-war-ang-enj'wija q'.
Shell money is fine, but you can't eat it.
Bayang-azh ulugu d'ananggi q'imbe pis-ang'e nd'ashonga.
The river demon also hunts children that are not quiet at night.
Shunj'akinda nd'ulu-kwi q'amera d'atare.
Friends in good times are like the leaves of the forest.
Kim'amu hingg'e kum'ananggi, kum'amu hungg'e kim'atare.
All new things come from the river, all old things go into the forest.
Sh'ojonda q'onjage jik'abulamba, sh'anja q'onjage jik'alemba, sh'odaqe q' onjage jik'afalamba-pa.
Friendship is a rope around the wrist, marriage is a rope around the neck, wealth is a rope around both ankles.

MACBETH, From Act 5, Scene 5.

Another translation on my part, I can't guarantee that the grammar is correct.

Kung-ab-enj-ish'a nd-end'ulu;
Sh-ab-it-and'ulu ng'aya-kwi.
J'asho-mbe, j'asho-mbe, j'asho-mbe
Kim-ingg-anj'e kim-imb'e kum'asho kim'asho
K'aya-mba ndak-uzh'a d'ulu tak-und'a q'e,
B'asho-ngge-mu-kwi shok-ab'e q'ubwama
K'okunga sh'adwako. b-wik'u, b-wik'u, gh'asholage-mba!
Sh-azh'okinga q'ashoke-nga kam'e, sh'obakebwa-pwa
Kam-ungg'e kul-ungg'e q'ulu-mba jak'obakege
Q'a bik-wik'e: sh'obukake
Buk'ubwama q'e, buk-ungg'e j'oha,
Buch'e q-ang'.

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.


Ghulugu ngede ngede kuji qaba kamaji
Ghuloba ndaji ghuloba ngede kabalaga
Makanak ulugu
ngulugu makak

Sorry, no translation on this one.

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Babel story translation
Babel story gloss
common expressions
compound sentences
compound words
kinship terms
Macbeth translation
miscellaneous notes
noun modifiers
nouns derived from verbs
order of phrases
parts of speech
parts of speech (other)
reflexive pronouns
relative clauses
sentence structure
stories and translations
subordinate clauses
verb modifiers

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