Literacy Project/2012-04-27 Notes/Oromo grammar

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Oromo language
partly fFrom Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Denise Umans
April. 2012
Summary of Oromo Grammar relative to English

Grammar, Nouns, Gender

1. Unlike English, Oromo has two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine, and all nouns belong to either one or the other. English is therefore, easier in the sense that this distinction is not made.

2. Oromo has singular and plural number, but, unlike English, nouns that refer to multiple entities are not obligatorily plural. That is, if the context is clear, a formally singular noun may refer to multiple entities: nama "man" or "people", nama shan "five men" or "five people". Another way of looking at this is to treat the "singular" form as unspecified for number.

When it is important to make the plurality of a referent clear, the plural form of a noun is used.

3. As in English, noun plurals are formed through the addition of suffixes. The most common plural suffix is -oota; a final vowel is dropped before the suffix, and in the western dialects, the suffix becomes -ota following a syllable with a long vowel: mana 'house', manoota 'houses', hiriyaa 'friend', hiriyoota 'friends', barsiisaa 'teacher', barsiiso(o)ta 'teachers'.

The advantage for learning is that these children already add an element to the word to create a plural noun, which will make it a more natural transition in learning plurals. The rules and exceptions in English may, of c ourse, pose a challenge but this is a good start.

4. Definiteness: Oromo has no indefinite articles (corresponding to English a, some), but (except in the southern dialects) it indicates definiteness (English the) with suffixes on the noun: -(t)icha for masculine nouns (the ch is geminated though this is not normally indicated in writing) and -(t)ittii for feminine nouns. Vowel endings of nouns are dropped before these suffixes: karaa 'road', karicha 'the road', nama 'man', namicha/namticha 'the man', haroo 'lake', harittii 'the lake'. Note that for animate nouns that can take either gender, the definite suffix may indicate the intended gender: qaalluu 'priest', qaallicha 'the priest (m.)', qallittii 'the priest (f.)'. The definite suffixes appear to be used less often than the in English, and they seem not to co-occur with the plural suffixes.

This may result in children omitting the indefinite articles. In addition, the English definite article ‘the’ is a separate morpheme, which precedes the noun, unlike in oromo where a suffix is added to the end of the noun. Added to this is the /th/ sound for which they have no corresponding phoneme. So teaching this concept may be a challenge and we may want to create a more focused task to teach this specifically.

5. Case: English does not have the complexity of case as does Oromo and it seems that it will therefore be relatively easy for the children to learn English but it is difficult to anticipate what errors may arise and they will need to be dealt with during the course of learning.

Nominative: The nominative is used for nouns that are the subjects of clauses.

Genitive: The genitive is used for possession or "belonging"; it corresponds roughly to English of or -'s. The genitive is usually formed by lengthening a final short vowel, by adding -ii to a final consonant, and by leaving a final long vowel unchanged. The possessor noun follows the possessed noun in a genitive phrase. Many such phrases with specific technical meanings have been added to the Oromo lexicon in recent years.

Note again that there is some similarity in the underlying priciples for expressing possessiveness and this will help in learning English.

Dative: The dative is used for nouns that represent the recipient (to) or the benefactor (for) of an event. The dative form of a verb infinitive (which acts like a noun in Oromo) indicates purpose.

Instrumental: The instrumental is used for nouns that represent the instrument ("with"), the means ("by"), the agent ("by"), the reason, or the time of an event. The formation of the instrumental parallels that of the dative to some extent.

Locative: The locative is used for nouns that represent general locations of events or states, roughly at. For more specific locations, Oromo uses prepositions or postpositions. Postpositions may also take the locative suffix. The locative also seems to overlap somewhat with the instrumental, sometimes having a temporal function. The locative is formed with the suffix -tti.

Use of prepositions to indicate location in English may parallel some of the uses of Oromo in this way, which would be helpful.

Ablative: The ablative is used to represent the source of an event; it corresponds closely to English ‘from’. However, rather than using a separate morpheme and one that precedes the noun in English, Oromo changes or adds a suffix to the noun to create this.

 mana 'house', buna 'coffee', mana bunaa 'cafe', mana bunaatii 'from cafe'

    
6. Pronouns/Personal pronouns

In most languages, there are a small number of basic distinctions of person, number, and often gender that play a role within the grammar of the language. Oromo and English are such languages. We see these distinctions within the basic set of independent personal pronouns, for example:

English I, Oromo ani;
English they, Oromo isaani
and the set of possessive adjectives and pronouns, for example,
English my, Oromo koo;
English mine, Oromo kan koo.

As in English, in Oromo, the same distinctions are also reflected in subject–verb agreement: Oromo verbs (with a few exceptions) agree with their subjects; that is, the person, number, and (singular third person) gender of the subject of the verb are marked by suffixes on the verb. (Because these suffixes vary greatly with the particular verb tense/aspect/mood, they are normally not considered to be pronouns and are discussed elsewhere in this article under verb conjugation).

This will help the learning of English a great deal: subject-verb agreement is often difficult to teach in English (it is often omitted by the learner) where the speaker’s first language does not have these constraints.

In all of these areas of the grammar—independent pronouns, possessive adjectives, possessive pronouns, and subject–verb agreement—Oromo distinguishes seven combinations of person, number, and gender. Because Oromo has only two genders, there is no pronoun corresponding to English ‘it’; the masculine or feminine pronoun is used according to the gender of the noun referred to. The children may tend to use either ‘he’ or ‘she’ in place of ‘it’.

Unlike English, Oromo is a subject pro-drop language. That is, neutral sentences in which the subject is not emphasized do not require independent subject pronouns: kaleessa dhufne 'we came yesterday'. The Oromo word that translates 'we' does not appear in this sentence, though the person and number are marked on the verb dhufne ('we came') by the suffix -ne. When the subject in such sentences needs to be given prominence for some reason, an independent pronoun can be used: nuti kaleessa dhufne 'we came yesterday'.

Note: For the first person plural and third person singular feminine categories, there is considerable variation across dialects.

The possessive adjectives, treated as separate words here, are sometimes written as noun suffixes.

As in languages such as French, Russian, and Turkish, the Oromo second person plural is also used as a polite singular form, for reference to people that the speaker wishes to show respect towards. A distinction that is made in many languages. In addition, the third person plural may be used for polite reference to a single third person (either 'he' or 'she').
 
This relates to a cultural distinction in terms of relationships and different levels of respect between speakers. English may include this in a more contextual and informal way such as use of more formal language in addressing a superior. However, it does not apply to relationships within families etc.

For possessive pronouns ('mine', 'yours', etc.), Oromo adds the possessive adjectives to kan 'of': kan koo 'mine', kan kee 'yours', etc. as opposed to having a separate word to express this.

Reflexive and reciprocal pronouns
Oromo has two ways of expressing reflexive pronouns ('myself', 'yourself', etc.). One is to use the noun meaning 'self': of(i) or if(i). This noun is inflected for case but, unless it is being emphasized, not for person, number, or gender: isheen of laalti 'she looks at herself' (base form of of), isheen ofiif makiinaa bitte 'she bought herself a car' (dative of ‘of’).
The other possibility is to use the noun meaning 'head', mataa, with possessive suffixes: mataa koo 'myself', mataa kee 'yourself (s.)', etc.

Oromo has a reciprocal pronoun wal (English 'each other') that is used like of/if. That is, it is inflected for case but not person, number, or gender: wal jaalatu 'they like each other' (base form of wal), kennaa walii bitan 'they brought each other gifts' (dative of wal).

Demonstrative pronouns
Like English, Oromo makes a two-way distinction between proximal ('this, these') and distal ('that, those') demonstrative pronouns and adjectives. Some dialects distinguish masculine and feminine for the proximal pronouns; in the western dialects the masculine forms (beginning with k-) are used for both genders. Unlike in English, singular and plural demonstratives are not distinguished, but, as for nouns and personal pronouns in the language, case is distinguished.

Teaching the ‘th’ will be the one challenge here but the linguistic concept is equivalent. And they may use z/th as a substitute which would be intelligible and just a dialectal issue.

7. Verbs and Tenses
An Oromo verb consists minimally of a stem, representing the lexical meaning of the verb, and a suffix, representing tense or aspect and subject agreement. For example, in dhufne 'we came', dhuf- is the stem ('come') and -ne indicates that the tense is past and that the subject of the verb is first person plural.

As in many other Afro-Asiatic languages, Oromo makes a basic two-way distinction in its verb system between the two tensed forms, past (or "perfect") and present (or "imperfect" or "non-past"). Each of these has its own set of tense/agreement suffixes. There is a third conjugation based on the present, which has three.

Note: Oromo does not permit sequences of three consonants. There are two ways this is important in forming tenses: either the vowel i is inserted between the stem and the suffix, or the final stem consonants are switched (an example of metathesis) and the vowel a is inserted between them. For example, arg- 'see', arga 'he sees', argina or agarra (from agar-na) 'we see'; kolf- 'laugh', kolfe 'he laughed', kolfite or kofalte 'you (sg.) laughed'.

Note that this same approach may be used in English where there are 3 consonants in a sequence.

An Oromo verb root can be the basis for three derived voices, passive, causative, and autobenefactive, each formed with addition of a suffix to the root, yielding the stem that the inflectional suffixes are added to.

8. Passive voice
    The Oromo passive corresponds closely to the English passive in function. It is formed by adding -am to the verb root. The resulting stem is conjugated regularly. Examples: beek- 'know', beekam- 'be known', beekamani 'they were known'; jedh- 'say', jedham- 'be said', jedhama 'it is said'.

This differs from English in the way it is formed grammatically ie. The position of ‘be’ as a morpheme preceding the verb versus a suffix added on.

Causative voice
    The Oromo causative of a verb V corresponds to English expressions such as 'cause V', 'make V', 'let V'.

The infinitive is formed from a verb stem with the addition of the suffix -uu.
Again, this differs from English in that they add a suffix to the verb and English precedes the verb with a morpheme ‘to’. But it is helpful that they are aware of that element and add an element to indicate its presence.

English Prepositions
These are important for us to teach specifically once a corpus of nouns and verbs has been acquired. They are important in English, not always predictable in form and often difficult for ESL learners.

Phrasal Verbs
In English, phrasal verbs ie. verb plus preposition may be important to think about in teaching verbs eg., the verb ‘turn’ changes when a preposition is added and these can almost be considered as ‘units’ and are useful to teach as such because they cannot be derived from the verb ‘turn’ in isolation and are difficult to guess:

Turn around
Turn to
Turn over
Turn into
Turn toward
Turn away
Etc.

In addition, they sometimes take on metaphoric uses which can be confusing for English language learners, eg., ‘turn over a new leaf’.

Common phrasal verbs to teach eg. BRING, CARRY, COME, CUT, DO, FALL, GET, GIVE, GO, HOLD, KEEP, LAY, LOOK, MAKE, PASS, PULL, TAKE and TURN.

Adjectives
It may be useful to introduce these fairly early once a basic corpus of nouns has been acquired (and as we continue introducing new nouns) so that the adjectives can be applied flexibly across nouns and the beginnings of grammar are simultaneously introduced. (Similarly with noun plus verb combinations etc).

Additional issues
Additional more complex areas areas such as use of metaphor in Oromo, multiple meanings, amongst other things, can be considered at a later stage.

Each of the above areas will be reconsidered and re-evaluated in more depth as we go about deciding on a sequnce for teaching along with the sounds of the language.

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