Manchu Grammar Overview


11/21/2020 08:23

This document is intended to be a brief overview of Manchu grammar. Of course, the example that is provided does not contain all of the components of Manchu grammar, but it does contain what you need to begin reading. Please utilize this text as a quick reference when you are unsure of a noun case or verb form. For an in depth analysis, please view Grammatical Points, starting on page 355 of “Manchu: A Textbook for Reading Documents” by Gertraude Roth Li. 

Noun Cases:

A Case is a grammatical value that reflects the function of a noun or pronoun in a phrase, clause or sentence. There are five cases in the Manchu language. Nominative, Genitive, Instrumental, Accusative, Dative/Locative and the Ablative case. 

That covers the basics of Manchu nouns cases. Now let’s move on to verb tenses. There are many verb tenses in Manchu, but the eight most common are what we will look at today. In order to understand how verbs are formed in the Manchu language, it is imperative to understand vowel harmony. 

 

Vowel harmony is a phenomenon that happens in some languages in which all the vowels in a word are members of the same subclass, for example front vowels and back vowels (google definitions). Manchu words consists of back vowels (a, o, ū) or front vowels (e, u, i). Words in Manchu can contain both front and back vowels, but when dealing with verb stems, we must look at terminating vowel, or the final vowel in the verb stem. The terminating vowel will decide the which ending we choose for the verb. Let’s look at some examples:

Verb Stem            Terminating Vowel

Tuwa - to see             a

Banji - to live              i

Tokto - to pacify         o

Du - to strike              u

And so on….

 

Verb Tenses 

ara

Verb stem (动词词干)

write

ara 

Imperative (命令语气)

write!

arambi

Present tense (现在式)

I write

araha 

Perfect participle 

(过去式,过去分词)

I wrote

arara

Imperfect participle 

(将来式,现在分词)

I will write, (arara niyalma) the person who writes

arame

Coordinative converb (并列不定式)

(arame sehe) [he] wrote and said

arafi

Subordinate converb(完成式)

(Arafi, xyz) I wrote and then xyz

araci

Conditional converb (条件不定式)

if/when I write

araki

desiderative/polite imperative 

(祈愿态)

Let me write/please write

These are the most common verb tenses that occur in the Manchu language. Please look in Möllendorf’s grammar for a complete list on pg 9, or look in the grammar section in the back of Roth Li’s text book. 

As with any language, irregular verbs exist. The irregularities are generally listed in most dictionaries that we have access to. Similarly, a list of all irregular verbs can be found in Möllendorf’s grammar on page 11.

Disregarding irregularities, let’s look at how vowel harmony happens within verb tenses. For instance, look at the perfect participle (ha, he, ho). As stated early, the verb form that you use is decided by the terminating vowel of the verb stem. That is why ara becomes araha. 

    -ha: verbs with back vocalic roots (a,o, ū) and i;

    -he: verbs with front vocalic roots (e, u);

    -ho: verbs with o in all syllables (found in Gertraude Roth Li's textbook )

Examples:

    Tuwa - tuwaha

    Gisure - gisurehe

    O - oho

The same rules apply for the imperfect participle as well. I.e. arara, tuwara, gisurere, ojoro (irregular).

Negation of Verbs

Present tense

Perfect participle 

Imperfect participle

** All of this will become clearer once you begin translating. The best way to learn is by doing, so let’s translate the text I have prepared below!

Transliteration:

Manju gisun i sara niyalma jalan de wasiha jakade, manju hergen be kicen i tacici, buru bara boobai baksi de banjime ojoro. Ere bithe be tuwafi, te ci xuturu ejeki. Kice! 

Grammar Breakdown: *verbs are explained in the vocabulary list below as well*

Manju gisun i (genitive) sara (attributive[a verb acting as adjective]) niyalma (nominative) jalan de (locative) wasiha (past tense) jakade, manju hergen be (accusative) kicen i (instrumental) tacici (if/when), buru bara (adjective) boobai (nominative) baksi de (indirect object) banjime (concessive converb) ojoro (future tense). Ere bithe be(accusative) tuwafi, te ci (ablative) xuturu ejeki (desiderative). Kice (imperative)! 

Vocabulary:

Manju

Manchu

Gisun

Language

Manju Gisun

Manchu Language

Sara (-ra form of v. sambi)

To Know

niyalma

people

Sara niyalma

“The knowing people”/people who know

jalan

world

Wasiha (-ha form of v. wasimbi)

To decline

jakade

because

hergen

alphabet/script

kicen

diligence

Tacici (-ci form of v. tacimbi)

To learn

Buru bara

hidden

Boobai (寶貝)

Treasure 

Baksi (博士)

Scholar 

Banjime (-me form of v. banjimbi)

To appear

Ojoro (-ro form of v. ombi) *irregular

To exist

ere

this

Tuwafi (-fi form of v. tuwambi)

To see

te

now

xuturu

grammar

Ejeki (-ki form of v. ejembi)

remember

Kice (imperative of v. kiss cembi)

To be diligent, to work hard

 

Translation:

Because the people who know the Manchu language are declining, if you study the Manchu language with diligence, hidden treasures will be revealed to (and exist) the scholar. Now that you have read this text, please remember the grammar. Work dilligently!

 


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Manchu
manchu, academia, east asian languages, grammar