Water is Life Addendum: The Diné Bizaad (Navajo) Verb

As noted on Episode 42: Water is Life, the verb in Diné Bizaad is quite complicated. For example:


‘someone jerked me outdoors’

This verb is made up of a stem (-dazh) and a bunch of prefixes (things attached to the front of something).

                                                                                                         verb stem

ch’í                             shi       di                       ni          ɫ                     dazh

out horizontally     me       arms and legs  modal  causative    move in a jerky manner

You can see from this example that verbs can be internally very complicated. Young and Morgan (1987) provide us with a template* with up to 17 slots:

Screenshot 2019-03-13 12.08.05

However, the maximum number of prefixes on a stem appears to be 8 (so 9 slots).

Does this template make your eyes cross? Mine too, and I’ve looked at it for over 20 years. It’s not very transparent. Which is maybe why the Japanese were unable to crack Navajo Code.

One thing to remember is that Diné verbs must be at least two syllables long, and so the verb stem on its own is not enough, but the verb stem doesn’t need every slot to be filled.

For example:




‘I cry.’





‘I’m dragging or towing it along.’

Our first example had 5 prefixes, and 6 is easy to find as well




‘someone jerked me outdoors’





‘I lean him standing against it.’

You get the point. It’s complicated! Which is all the more reason to love Diné (and all Athabaskan languages).

* There are non-templatic ways to analyze the Diné verb, but I don’t know enough about them to even attempt to describe them.

** WordPress is messing up the tone on nasalized vowels, so this data is not quite right.


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