The order of elements in the Songhay noun phrase is: possessor-noun-adjective-numeral-demonstrative.
(1) aɪ haɪla be:ri ta:cà: weɪ
1.SG cat big four.DEF DEM
'These four big cats of mine' lit. 'My these four big cats'
Number and definiteness is marked on the rightmost element that is not the demonstrative (see ).
A possessor always precedes the possessum, and requires the possessum to be definite. The possessor itself may be a noun phrase with modifiers:
(2) haɪla hennà: boŋò:
cat pretty.DEF head.DEF
'The pretty cat's head'
Demonstratives in Songhay alternate based upon presence and proximity to the speaker. They are divided into proximal, distal 1, which is used for far objects that are currently present, and distal 2, which is used to denote far objects that are not present. The proximal demonstrative [wo] has a separate plural form [weɪ], while the other demonstratives do not. The following is a listing of the Songhay demonstratives:
The following examples show the two proximal demonstratives, with the singular shown in (1), marked with /wo/, and the plural shown in (2), marked with /weɪ/. Plurality is also marked with the suffix -eɪ on the noun tureɪ ‘tree’.
(1) aɪ zigi turò: wo boŋ
1.SG climb.PAST tree.DEF DEMPROX head
‘I climbed this tree.’
(2) aɪ zigi tureɪ weɪ boŋ
1.SG climb.PAST tree.PL.DEF DEMPROX head
‘I climbed these trees.’
Sentences (3) and (4), provide examples for the first distal demonstrative /hetti/, which denotes those objects which are far from the speaker but still present. As is shown, the same demonstrative is used for both singular in (3) and plural in (4). Plurality is instead marked only on the noun.
(3) aɪ zigi turò: hetti boŋ
1.SG climb.PAST tree.DEF DEMDIST1 head
‘I climbed that tree.’ (tree is present)
(4) aɪ zigi tureɪ hetti boŋ
1.SG climb.PAST tree.PL.DEF DEMDIST1 head
‘I climbed those trees.’ (trees are present)
The next two sentences provide the same information for the second distal demonstrative, which is used to denote those objects which are not only far away from the speaker, but also not present. As with the first distal demonstrative, there are no separate forms for singular and plural. Plurality is again marked only on the noun.
(5) aɪ zigi turò: din boŋ
1.SG climb.PAST tree.DEF DEMDIST2 head
‘I climbed that tree.’ (tree is not present)
(6) aɪ zigi tureɪ din boŋ
1.SG climb.PAST tree.PL.DEF DEMDIST1 head
‘I climbed those trees.’ (trees are not present)
Definiteness is marked in Songhay with the suffix –ò:, a vowel carrying a low tone. Consonant-final nouns add the suffix, while vowel-final nouns replace their final vowel with [ò:]. There are two systematic exceptions to this rule:
- Nouns ending in [a] mark definiteness by lengthening the final vowel and adding a low tone, [a] ~ [à:].
- Nouns ending in [o] mark definiteness by replacing the final vowel with [à:], [o] ~ [à:].
There are also at least two other exceptions to this rule: the definite form of the noun [ɟe:ɟa] `load’ is [ɟe:ɟè], and the definite form of the number [ta:ci] `four’ is [ta:cà:].
Plurality is marked by use of the suffix –eɪ.
- Nouns ending in [a] add the glide [w] between their final vowel and the plural suffix, [a] < [aweɪ].
In nouns that end in a diphthong definiteness and plurality are not marked by replacing the final vowel like all other nouns but rather by attaching the markers at the end of the word, as shown below. This pattern is also found for at least one noun that ends in the high vowel [i]. An analysis of diphthongs as vowel-glide sequences may explain this pattern.
|[ʊ] or [w]
|[ɪ] or [j]
Definiteness and plurality are marked on the noun, but if the noun is modified by an adjective they are marked on the adjective.
Definiteness in adjectives:
(1) a. ciraʊ bula
`a blue bird'
b. ciraʊ bulà:
`the blue bird'
(2) a. ciraʊ cireɪ
`a red bird'
b. ciraʊ cirà:
`the red bird'
(3) a. aɪ na ham ka:na ŋa bi
1SG PFV meat tasty.INDEF eat yesterday
`I ate tasty meat yesterday'
b. aɪ na ham kanà: ŋa bi
1SG PFV meat tasty.DEF eat yesterday
`I ate the tasty meat yesterday'
(4) a. hugu me da:ba-nta
house mouth close-PTCP.INDEF
`a closed door'
b. hugu me da:ba-ntà:
house mouth close-PTCP.DEF
`the closed door'
Plurality is also marked on the adjective. Example (5) shows the definite form while examples (6)-(7) show the plural form. Plural forms are definite.
(5) a. ciraʊ bibi
`a black bird'
b. ciraʊ bibò:
`the black bird'
(6) ciraʊ bibeɪ
`the black birds'
(7) aɪ di: bari ba:rijeɪ bi
1SG see horse big.PL yesterday
`I saw the big horses yesterday'
Relative clauses follow the noun they modify in Songhay. They are introduced with the complementizer kaŋ. Their internal structure depends on the type of relativization that obtains. As (1) shows, subject relativization — meaning that the modified noun is interpreted as the subject of the relative clause — requires a gap (indicated by an underscore).
||aròː kaŋ ___ diː hanɕi bi
man.DEF COMP see dog yesterday
‘the man that ___ saw a dog yesterday’
Some transitive verbs, like diː ‘see’, precede their direct object (2). When relativizing this type of verb’s object, either a gap (3) or a resumptive pronoun (4) is possible.
||aɪ diː aròː bi
1SG see man.DEF yesterday
‘I saw the man yesterday.’
||aròː kaŋ aɪ diː ___ bi
man.DEF COMP 1SG see yesterday
‘the man that I saw ___ yesterday’
||aròː kaŋ aɪ diː a bi
man.DEF COMP 1SG see 3SG yesterday
Literally: ‘the man that I saw him yesterday’
Other verbs, like kar ‘hit’, follow their direct objects. Resumption is the only possible strategy for object relativization from this type of verb. (This fact is only apparent when the relativized noun is plural: the resumptive for a singular noun would be a ‘he/she/it’, but this pronoun may become contracted into the TAM particles, which all happen to end in /a/)
||aròː na hanseɪ kar
man.DEF PERF dog.PL hit
‘The man hit the dogs’
||hanseɪ kaŋ aròː n-i kar
dog.PL COMP man.DEF PERF-3PL hit
‘the dogs that the man hit [them]’
||*hanseɪ kaŋ aròː na ___ kar
dog.PL COMP man.DEF PERF hit
Attempted: ‘the dogs that the man hit ___’
For postpositional relativization, either a resumptive pronoun or a gap may occur — but the two strategies differ in word order. Resumption leaves the postpositional phrase where it would appear in an unmarked declarative context (8), but gapping requires that the stranded postposition appear immediately after kaŋ.
||zaŋkeɪ goma goro turòː cire
child.PL PROG sit tree.DEF under
‘the children are sitting under the tree’
||turòː kaŋ zaŋkeɪ goma goro a cire
tree.DEF COMP child.PL PROG sit 3SG under
‘the tree that the children are sitting under [it]’
||turòː kaŋ ___ cire zaŋkeɪ goma goro
tree.DEF COMP under child.PL PROG sit
‘the tree under which the children are sitting’
Possessor relativization patterns like postpositional relativization. The possessor may be expressed with a resumptive pronoun in situ (12), or with a gap, in which case the possessed element appears between kaŋ and the focus particle no.
||Fanta na wojòː buròː ŋa
Fanta PERF woman.DEF bread.DEF eat
‘Fanta ate the woman’s bread’
||wojòː kaŋ Fanta na ŋga buròː ŋa
woman.DEF COMP Fanta PERF 3SG.POSS bread.DEF eat
Literally: ‘the woman that Fanta ate her bread‘
||wojòː kaŋ ___ buròː no Fanta na ŋa
woman.DEF COMP bread FOC Fanta PERF eat
‘the woman whose bread Fanta ate’
The numerals 1-10 appear with the prefix /i/ in isolation, as seen above. The prefix is dropped when these numerals appear non-initially in longer numbers.
|iwei cindi fo:
|iwei cindi hiŋka
|iwei cindi hinza
|iwei cindi ta:ci
|iwei cindi gu
|iwei cindi: d:u
|iwei cindi: j:e
|iwei cindi jaha
|iwei cindi jaga
cindi means ‘to leave behind’ so iweɪ cindi fo: is literally ‘ten leave one’. Numeral formation up to 100 is regular.
||zaŋgu hiŋka nda fo:
||two hundred and one
|zaŋgu nda fo:
||hundred and one
nda means ‘and’, so zaŋɡu nda fo: is literally ‘hundred and one’. Without nda the numeral is modifying how many hundreds there are. Numeral formation in the hundreds is regular, following the same pattern as before with cindi for the tens digit.