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7 State Verbs


In previous chapters we have already provided much information about the meaning and use of Palauan state verbs. Thus, in 5.1.13 we emphasized the opposition between state verbs, which describe states, qualities, or conditions that temporarily or permanently characterize someone or something, and action verbs, which designate actions, activities, or events in which someone (the doer or agent) participates. We also saw that both state verbs and action verbs can be either transitive or intransitive, although the class of transitive state verbs is rather small. Finally, we noted that the two types of verbs can be distinguished from each other according to the way in which their past tense forms are derived: while state verbs use the auxiliary word mle ‘was, were’, action verbs infix the past tense marker -il- or -l-.

Whereas we have a fairly clear picture of the meaning and use of Palauan state verbs, we have not yet paid much attention to their internal structure. In other words, we still need to examine the various ways in which morphemes—verb stems and affixes—combine with each other in the formation of state verbs. So far, we have only dealt with simple state verbs and with state verbs containing the verb marker and a verb stem (cf. 6.1). After review­ing these two types briefly, we will look at various classes of state verbs whose internal structure is more complex.

Simple state verbs are those which consist of a single mor­pheme, or meaning-bearing unit, as in the following examples:

(1)   ungil   ‘good’   songȩrengȩr   ‘hungry’
    klȩbokȩl   ‘beautiful’   chȩtngaid   ‘thin’
    dȩchudȩch   ‘dirty’   cheisȩch   ‘stained’
    dibus   ‘away, absent’   chȩrodȩch   ‘noisy’ 171
    sȩkool   ‘playful’   ngodȩch   ‘strange, different’
    chuodȩl   ‘old’   ngeiasȩk   ‘young’

State verbs consisting of the verb marker and a verb stem can be classified into two types, depending on whether the verb stem is bound or whether it occurs independently as a noun. In the examples below, all the verb stems are bound—i.e., they cannot be used as separate words:

(2)   mȩkngit   ‘bad’   mȩkeald   ‘warm’
    mȩrur   ‘ashamed, shy’   kmeed   ‘near’
    mȩdai   ‘poor’   chuarm   ‘suffer’
    mȩrau   ‘rich’   dmak   ‘together’
    mȩkreous   ‘precious’   dmik   ‘move out, be thrown out’

By contrast, the verb stems in the following examples are not bound, but can occur independently as nouns. By prefixing mȩ-to each of the nouns below, we derive a state verb which designates a state or condition characterized by the presence of whatever the corresponding noun refers to.

(3)   State Verb   Related Noun
    mȩched   ‘shallow’   ched   ‘low tide’
    milkolk   ‘dark’   ilkolk   ‘darkness’
    mȩdakt   ‘afraid of, fear’   dakt   ‘fear’
    mȩses   ‘industrious, strong’   ses   ‘industriousness’
    mȩsaul1   ‘tired’   saul   ‘tiredness’
    mȩchuu   ‘shady’   chuu   ‘shadow’
    mȩkȩrior   ‘unfortunate’   kȩrior   ‘misfortune’
    mȩduch   ‘able to, skilled at’   duch   ‘ability’
    smechȩr   ‘sick’   sechȩr   ‘sickness’
    smau   ‘comfortable with, used to’   sau   ‘liking’

In the state verbs of 2 and 3 above, the verb marker appears in several different forms (cf. 6.12). In most cases, it is a prefix (mȩ- or m-); but with certain verb stems it metathesizes to a posi­tion following the initial consonant of the stem and appears as -(ȩ)m- or -u-.

The state verbs of 1 through 3 can be used in sentences such as the following: 172

(4)   a.   A mubi a ungil.
        ‘The movie is good.’
    b.   A sensei a mle dibus.
        ‘The teacher was out.’
    c.   Ak kmal mle {songȩrengȩr / mȩsaul}.
        ‘I was very {hungry / tired}.’
    d.   A bilek a mla mo cheisȩch.
        ‘My clothes have gotten stained.’
    e.   A bȩchik a smechȩr ȩr a tȩretȩr.
        ‘My wife is sick with a cold.’
    f.   A Toki a chuarm ȩr a dȩlȩngchȩklel.
        ‘Toki is suffering because of her living conditions.’

While 4a, 4e, and 4f describe present states or conditions, 4b and 4c, which contain the past tense auxiliary mle ‘was, were’, describe past states or conditions. In 4d, the use of mo ‘go’ before the state verb designates a change of state (cf. 5.1.3). In 4e and 4f, the state verbs are accompanied by the relational phrases ȩr a tȩretȩr ‘be­cause of a cold’ and ȩr a dȩlȩngchȩklel ‘because of her living condi­tions’, which explain the cause of the state (see 14.5).


Several simple state verbs which refer to size or dimension must take the prefix mȩ- if their subject is plural. This mȩ- is probably an instance of the verb marker prefix, but one which has the unique function of indicating the plurality of the subject. Observe the following pairs of sentences:

(5)   a.   A mlai a klou.
        ‘The canoe is big.’
    b.   A mlai a mȩklou.
        ‘The canoes are big.’
(6)   a.   Tia ȩl oluchȩs a chȩtngaid.
        ‘This pencil is thin.’
    b.   Aika ȩl oluchȩs a mȩchȩtngaid.
        ‘These pencils are thin.’

In 5a and 6a above, the (unprefixed) simple state verbs klou ‘big’ and chȩtngaid ‘thin’ are associated with singular subjects, while in 5b and 6b the state verbs with mȩ- are associated with plural subjects. A state verb referring to size or dimension must 173take the prefix mȩ- if its subject is overtly plural, but must remain unprefixed if its subject is overtly singular. The subject of 6atiaȩl oluchȩs ‘this pencil’—is overtly singular because it contains the demonstrative (or pointing) word tia ‘this’, which automatically refers to one single thing. By contrast, the subject of 6baikaȩl oluchȩs ‘these pencils’—is overtly plural because the demonstrative word aika ‘these’ always refers to two or more things. Thus, in 6a the singular state verb chȩtngaid ‘(is) thin’ agrees (or corresponds) with the singular subject tiaȩl oluchȩs ‘this pencil’, while in 6b the plural state verb mȩchȩtngaid ‘(are) thin’ agrees with the plural subject aikaȩl oluchȩs ‘these pencils’. In 5a-b, the situation is somewhat different, since the subject mlai ‘canoe’ contains no demonstrative words and is therefore neither overtly singular nor overtly plural. In such cases, the speaker must add mȩ- to the state verb if he is talking about a plural subject; thus, in 5a-b, the difference in meaning is determined solely by the presence or absence of mȩ-.

Other state verbs which must take mȩ- to identify a plural subject are illustrated in the following sentences:

(7)   a.   A rȩchad ȩr a Merikel a mȩ(ke)kȩmangȩt.
        ‘Americans are tall.’
    b.   A chiul a Toki a mȩ(ke)kȩmangȩt.
        ‘Toki’s hair is long.’
    c.   A kall ȩr a uum a kmal mȩkekȩrei.
        ‘The quantities of food at the cafeteria are very small.’

The state verbs given in 7 are (ke)kȩmangȩt ‘tall, long’ and kekȩre ‘small’. In both of these verbs, the initial syllable ke- results from repeating (or reduplicating—see chap. 11) part of the verb stem. This repeated initial syllable is required in kekȩre ‘small’, but is optional in (ke)kȩmangȩt ‘tall, long’ (hence, our use of parenthe­ses). The alternate forms kȩmangȩt and kekȩmangȩt do not show any difference in meaning.2 In the sentences above, mȩ- is pre­fixed to the state verb either because the subject is overtly plural or because the speaker is referring to something plural. In 7a, the subject noun phrase rȩchad ȩr a Merikel ‘Americans’ is overtly plural because it contains the plural noun rȩchad ‘people’, which consists of the plural prefix rȩ- (cf. 2.5) and the human noun chad ‘man’. And in 7b and 7c, the speaker is talking about plural sub­jects: chiul a Toki ‘Toki’s hair’ does not refer to just one strand or piece of hair, but to many; and kall ‘food’ refers to the different kinds of food available at the cafeteria. 174

Though it does not refer to size or dimension, the state verb kikiongȩl ‘dirty’ (which also appears to contain a repeated portion ki-) is sometimes observed to take mȩ- if a plural subject is in­tended. Thus, with 5a-b, for example, compare the following pair of sentences:

(8)   a.   A blatingel a Toki a kikiongȩl.
        ‘Toki’s plate is dirty.’
    b.   A blatingel a Toki a mȩkikiongȩl.
        ‘Toki’s plates are dirty.’


A small number of Palauan verbs have two past tense forms, one with the auxiliary word mle ‘was, were’ and the other with the infixed past tense marker -il-. Since these two different ways of deriving the past tense characterize state verbs vs. action verbs, respectively (cf. 5.1.3), we must conclude that the verbs in question can function as either type. In some cases, use of one or the other of the past tense forms results in a very clear-cut difference in meaning, as in the examples below:

(9)   a.   A ngalȩk a mle mȩkar.
        ‘The child was awake.’
    b.   A ngalȩk a milkar ȩr a chȩrrodȩch.
        ‘The child woke up from the noise.’
(10)   a.   A Droteo a mle dmik ȩr a blil a Toki.
        ‘Droteo was living away from Toki’s house.’
    b.   A Droteo a dilik ȩr a blil a Toki.
        ‘Droteo moved out of/got thrown out of Toki’s house.’

In 9a and 10a above, the auxiliary mle ‘was, were’ makes it clear that the verbs mȩkar ‘be awake, wake up’, and dmik ‘live away from, move out of’ are being used as state verbs: therefore, mle mȩkar ‘was awake’ and mle dmik ‘was living away from’ describe past states. By contrast, the infixed past tense marker -il- in 9b and 10b tells us that mȩkar and dmik are functioning as action verbs: here, milkar ‘woke up’ and dilik ‘moved out of’ denote actions or events rather than states.

There are several other Palauan verbs which have two past tense forms, but unlike the cases above, the use of one or the other form usually has no effect on the meaning. Thus, most speakers use the sentences in each of the following pairs interchangeably: 175

(11) a.    A John a mle mȩchiuaiu ȩr a ulaol. ‘John was sleeping on the floor.’
  b.   A John a milȩchiuaiu ȩr aulaol.  
(12) a.   A Hermana a mle dȩngchokl er tiang. ‘Hermana was sitting here.’3
  b.   A Hermana a dilȩngchokl er tiang.  
(13) a.   A Droteo a mle kie ȩr a Guam. ‘Droteo was living/lived in Guam.’
  b.   A Droteo a kilie ȩr a Guam.  


As we saw in 5.1.2, the class of Palauan transitive state verbs is quite small. Transitive state verbs can be identified by the fol­lowing two features: first, they take objects because they are transitive; and second, their past tense forms are derived with mle because they are state verbs. Both of these identifying features are observed in the sentences below:

(14)   a.   A John a mle mȩdȩnge a tȩkoi ȩr a Siabal.
        ‘John used to know Japanese.’
    b.   A Satsko a kmal mle mȩduch ȩr a ochur.
        ‘Satsko really used to know (how to do) math.’
    c.   Ak mle mȩtitur a tȩkoi ȩr a Merikel er se ȩr a taem ȩr a mȩkȩmad.
        ‘I didn’t know English during the war.’
    d.   A Droteo a mle mȩrur ȩr a sȩchȩlil.
        ‘Droteo was ashamed of his friend.’
    e.   A sȩchȩlik a mle mȩdakt a bisȩbusȩch.
        ‘My friend used to be afraid of lightning.’

All of the transitive state verbs given above—mȩdȩnge ‘know’, mȩduch ‘know how (to), be skilled at’, mȩtitur ‘not know how (to), not be capable of’, mȩrur ‘ashamed of’, and mȩdakt ‘afraid of’—involve mental states (knowledge of something, fear of some­thing, etc.) or abilities.

The transitive state verb mȩdȩnge ‘know’ has a full set of perfective forms—i.e., mȩdȩngȩlkak ‘know me’, mȩdȩngȩlkau ‘know you’, mȩdȩngȩlii ‘know him/her/it’, etc. (cf. 4.9.4, ex. 53). The use of these perfective forms is illustrated in the sentences below: 176

(15)   a.   Ak mle mȩdȩngȩlii a Toki er se ȩr a kngar ȩr a Guam.
        ‘I knew Toki when I was in Guam.’
    b.   Ak mle mȩdȩngȩltȩrir a rȩsȩchȩlil a Droteo er se ȩr a kngar ȩr a Hawaii.
        ‘I knew Droteo’s friends when I was in Hawaii.’

As 15a-b and 14a above show, the object noun phrase following mȩdȩnge ‘know’ can be either human (e.g. Toki in 15a) or in­animate (e.g. tȩkoi ȩr a Siabal ‘Japanese (language)’ in 14a).4


A few state verbs can be formed by adding the prefix bȩ- to a verb stem. In most cases, the verb stem can be used as an independent noun, as in the following examples:

(16)   State Verb   Related Noun
    bȩchachas   ‘sooty’   chas   ‘soot, ash’
    bȩchochod   ‘fragrant’   chochod   (type of tree from which incense is made)
    bȩralm   ‘watery, fiat-tasting’5   ralm   ‘water’
    bȩsokȩl   ‘infected with ringworm’   sokȩl   ‘ringworm’

As you can see, the derived state verbs in 16 describe states or conditions characterized by the presence of whatever the corres­ponding noun refers to (cf. the state verbs of 3 above): for in­stance, bȩralm ‘watery, flat-tasting’ describes a condition resulting from the presence of too much ralm ‘water’ in food, etc. Notice that the noun chas ‘soot, ash’ has to be partially repeated (or reduplicated—see chap. 11) before the prefix bȩ- can be added.

Certain state verbs in bȩ- are derived from other state verbs, but unlike the examples in 16 above, the meaning of the derived state verb cannot be predicted in any consistent way. Note the following examples:

(17)   State Verb   Related State Verb
    bȩcheleleu   ‘white’   cheleleu   ‘pale’
    bȩchachau   ‘empty’6   chachau   ‘stunted, empty (of nuts)’

A few state verbs in bȩ- do not seem to be related to any noun or to any other state verb. Therefore, bȩ- is followed by 177bound verb stems in words like bȩtimȩl ‘slow’ and bȩlils ‘high, piercing’.

7.6. THE PREFIXES bȩkȩ- AND sekȩ-

Although Palauan has a fairly large number of state verbs derived with the prefixes bȩkȩ- and sȩkȩ-, the use of such words appears to be declining, especially among younger speakers. These prefixes may be related to each other (note that they share the syllable -kȩ-), but their development is not clear; furthermore, bȩkȩ- may contain the prefix bȩ- discussed in 7.5 above. State verbs formed with bȩkȩ- and sȩkȩ- are very difficult to analyze because many Palauan speakers have different opinions about their acceptability and their meaning.

In some cases, both bȩkȩ- and sȩkȩ- can be prefixed to the same verb stem, resulting in state verbs which are distinct from each other in meaning. Observe, for example, the sentences below, which contain state verbs derived from the stem rurt ‘running, race’:7

(18)   a.   A ngalȩk a bȩkȩrurt.
        ‘The child is a good runner.’
    b.   A ngalȩk a sȩkȩrurt.
        ‘The child runs a lot.’

In 18a, the prefix bȩkȩ- derives a state verb which expresses the subject’s ability or skill in doing the activity referred to by the verb stem: thus, bȩkȩrurt means ‘good at running’. In 18b, how­ever, the prefix sȩkȩ- derives a state verb with quite a different meaning: here, sȩkȩ- implies that the activity designated by the verb stem is something which the subject does often or likes to do—hence, the English equivalent ‘run a lot’. A parallel distinction is found in the following pair of sentences, which have state verbs derived from the bound stem tungȩl8:

(19)   a.   A Toki a bȩkȩtungȩl.
        ‘Toki has a keen sense of smell.’
    b.   A Toki a sȩkȩtungȩl.
        ‘Toki likes to smell things.’

Examples of contrast between bȩkȩ- and sȩkȩ- such as those given in 18 and 19 above are relatively uncommon. More often, we find that either one or the other of these prefixes occurs with a particular verb stem. In the majority of such cases, the derived 178state verb refers to the subject’s frequent pursuit of an activity (‘do…a lot’) rather than his skill in doing it. In the list below, some of the most commonly-used state verbs with bȩkȩ- and sȩkȩ- are given, together with the related verb stem; if the verb stem occurs independently as a noun, it is provided with an English gloss.

(20)   State Verb       Related Stem
    bȩkȩtȩkoi   ‘talkative, talk a lot’   tȩkoi ‘word, language’
    bȩkȩsius   ‘swear a lot, talk vividly’   sius ‘swearing’
    sȩkȩrael   ‘travel a lot, go from place to place, can’t settle down’   rael ‘road’
    bȩkureor9   ‘work a lot, hard-work­ing’   ureor ‘work’
    bȩkȩtaut   ‘good at shooting’   taut ‘aim’
    bȩkȩsȩchȩlei   ‘have many friends, friendly’   sȩchȩlei ‘friend’
    sȩkȩboes   ‘go shooting a lot’   boes ‘gun’
    sȩkȩbuachȩl   ‘boast a lot about having a girlfriend or boyfriend’   buachȩl
    sȩkȩngim   ‘drink a lot (of liquor)’   ngim
    sȩchiuaiu10   ‘sleep a lot, sleep late’   chiuaiu

Since the derived state verbs of 1820 simply have the struc­ture bȩkȩ/sȩkȩ + verb stem, they automatically preserve the initial consonant of the verb stem. For example, the t of tȩkoi ‘word, language’ is retained in bȩkȩtȩkoi ‘talkative’, but deleted in mȩ-lȩkoi ‘talk’, the corresponding imperfective verb. This verb has the basic structure + l + tȩkoi—i.e., verb marker + im­perfective marker + verb stem. As we saw in 5.5, the imperfective marker appears as l before verb stems like tȩkoi ‘word, language’, which begin with t; once the correct form of the imperfective marker has been chosen, the initial consonant of the verb stem is deleted. Therefore, the imperfective verb mȩlȩkoi ‘talk’ shows no trace of the initial consonant t of the verb stem tȩkoi. For similar reasons, the initial consonants of verb stems like boes ‘gun’ and ngim (a bound stem meaning ‘drink’) are preserved in derived state verbs like sȩkȩboes ‘go shooting a lot’ and sȩkȩngim ‘drink a 179lot (of liquor)’, but are lost in the corresponding imperfective verbs omoes ‘shoot’ and mȩlim ‘drink’.

In a small number of cases, state verbs with bȩkȩ- and sȩkȩ- can only be derived if all or part of the verb stem is repeated (or reduplicated—see chap. 11). Observe the following examples:

(21)   State Verb   Related Stem
    bȩkȩlilangȩl   ‘cry a lot’   langȩl   ‘crying’
    bȩkȩsechȩsechȩr   ‘get sick a lot’   sechȩr   ‘sickness’
    bȩkȩbȩsbes   ‘forgetful’   bes   ‘forgetfulness’
    sȩkȩrker11   ‘ask questions a lot’   ker   ‘question’

As a native speaker of Palauan, you have undoubtedly found that some of the derived state verbs listed above are unacceptable to you, or that the meanings provided by the English glosses do not match your own interpretations. This is because the use of the prefixes bȩkȩ- and sȩkȩ- is gradually dying out—or, as linguists say, becoming less productive. For this reason, many speakers are no longer sure of the correct form and meaning of state verbs derived with these prefixes.

7.6.1. State Verbs with bȩkȩ- Denoting Smells

The prefix bȩkȩ- has another function unrelated to that described in 7.6 above. This prefix can also be added to nouns to derive state verbs which refer to various kinds of smells which are con­sidered to be unpleasant or disagreeable. Some examples, together with the related nouns, are given below:

(22)   State Verb   Related Stem
    bȩkȩbau   ‘smell of rotten meat or fish’   bau   ‘smell’
    bȩkȩriamȩl   ‘smell of football fruit (i.e., sweaty)’   riamȩl   ‘football fruit’
    bȩkȩkatuu   ‘smell of a cat’   katuu   ‘cat’
    bȩkȩuel   ‘smell of turtle (after eating turtle)’   uel   ‘turtle’
    bȩkȩchȩluch   ‘smell of coconut oil’   chȩluch   ‘coconut oil’
    bȩkȩngikȩl   ‘smell of fish’   ngikȩl   ‘fish’

In addition to the above, a small number of state verbs denoting smell contain bound stems; a typical example is bȩkȩsȩngorȩch ‘smell of a male pig’. 180


In the sections above we have examined certain classes of Palauan state verbs which are derived with the prefixes mȩ-, bȩ-, bȩkȩ-, and sȩkȩ-. In this section we will discuss resulting state verbs, which involve the infix -(ȩ)l-. The meaning of Palauan resulting state verbs will be easy to understand if we compare the following sentences:

(23)   a.   A Toki a mȩlatȩch ȩr a ulaol.
        ‘Toki is cleaning the floor.’
    b.   A ulaol a nglatȩch.
        ‘The floor is clean(ed).’

While 23a describes an action (mȩlatȩch ‘clean’) which is directed at an object (ulaol ‘floor’), 23b describes the state which the object is in as a result of this very same action. In other words, nglatȩch ‘cleaned’ of 23b tells us that the floor has undergone the action of cleaning and is now clean. Because forms like nglatȩch ‘cleaned’ focus on the state resulting from some completed action, they are called resulting state verbs.

Before discussing how resulting state verbs are derived, let us look at some further pairs of sentences which parallel 23ab above:

(24)   a.   A Droteo a mȩluchȩs ȩr a babier.
        ‘Droteo is writing the letter.’
    b.   A babier a lluchȩs.
        ‘The letter is written.’
(25)   a.   A John a mȩngat a ngikȩl.
        ‘John is smoking the fish.’
    b.   A ngikȩl a chȩlat.
        ‘The fish are smoked.’
(26)   a.   A Droteo a ulȩmoes a bȩlochȩl.
        ‘Droteo was shooting pigeons.’
    b.   A bȩlochȩl a mle bloes.
        ‘The pigeons were (injured from being) shot.’

As 2326 show, resulting state verbs can only be formed from transitive action verbs (cf. 5.1.1) like mȩlatȩch ‘clean’, mȩluchȩs ‘write’, mȩngat ‘smoke (fish)’, omoes ‘shoot’, etc. Furthermore, while the transitive a-sentences have the agent (or doer) as subject, no mention of the agent can be made in the b-sentences, which contain resulting state verbs. This is simply due to the fact that the b-sentences focus our attention solely on the resulting state; the person who brought about this state is irrelevant and need not be mentioned. 181

Resulting state verbs are derived simply by infixing -(ȩ)l- after the initial consonant of the verb stem. The ȩ must be included if the preceding consonant is ch, s, t, or d; otherwise, an unpro­nounceable consonant cluster would result (cf. 1.4.5). In the list below, a representative sample of resulting state verbs is given; for purposes of comparison, the related transitive action verb (in the imperfective form) is also provided.

(27)   Resulting State Verb   Related Transitive Verb (in imperfective form)
    klimd   ‘cut’   mȩngimd   ‘cut (hair)’
    chȩlsbrebȩr   ‘painted’   mȩngȩsbrebȩr   ‘paint’
    lleng   ‘borrowed’   mȩleng   ‘borrow’
    sȩlesȩb   ‘burned’   mȩlesȩb   ‘burn’
    lub   ‘spat’   mȩlub   ‘spit’
    dȩles   ‘sliced’   mȩles   ‘slice’
    rruul   ‘made, done, fixed’   mȩruul   ‘make, do, fix’
    blurȩch   ‘speared’   omurȩch   ‘spear’

Since the resulting state verbs in 27 consist only of the resulting state infix (italicized) and the verb stem, they preserve the stem-initial consonants k, ch, s, t, b, etc. These stem-initial consonants disappear, however, in the corresponding imperfective verbs because they are deleted after the imperfective marker (cf. the discussion following ex. 20 in 7.6 above). In rruul ‘made, done, fixed’ the resulting state infix appears as r due to assimilation with the preceding verb-stem-initial r.


Another type of state verb which can only be formed from transi­tive action verbs is the anticipating state verb. Anticipating state verbs are derived by adding a suffix of the form -(ȩ)l or long vowel +l to the verb stem; in addition, they involve some com­plicated phonetic changes, as we will see below. In order to under­stand the meaning of anticipating state verbs, let us compare the following two sentences:

(28)   a.   A Toki a mȩlatȩch ȩr a ulaol.
        ‘Toki is cleaning the floor.’
    b.   A ulaol a ngȩtachȩl.
        ‘The floor is to be cleaned.’ 182

Sentence 28a (which we discussed above as 23a) describes an action (mȩlatȩch ‘clean’) which is being directed at an object (ulaol ‘floor’). By contrast, 28b does not describe an action which is actually being performed at the present moment, but instead focuses on the object as something which is expected to undergo (or should undergo) the action at some future time. In other words, ngȩtachȩl ‘is to be cleaned’ of 28b tells us that the floor needs cleaning or should be cleaned—i.e., that it is “waiting” to undergo the effect of the action of cleaning. Because forms like ngȩtachȩl ‘is to be cleaned’ refer to states which the speaker ex­pects or anticipates, we will call them anticipating state verbs.

The use of Palauan anticipating state verbs is illustrated fur­ther in the sentences below:

(29)   a.   A mlik a tȩlȩmall mȩ ng kirel ȩl ruoll.
        ‘My car isn’t working, so it needs to be fixed.’
    b.   A blim ng ruoll ȩr ker?
        ‘Where is your house to be built?’
    c.   Aika ȩl bilek a kirel ȩl mo sȩlokȩl.
        ‘These clothes of mine need to be washed.’
    d.   A chiuk a mle kmudȩl.
        ‘My hair was to be cut.’
    e.   Ngika a beakl ȩl babii.
        ‘This is the pig which is to be shot.’

As the sentences of 29 show, the italicized anticipating state verbs are more or less equivalent to English expressions with ‘need to be…’ or ‘is to be…’ Since these sentences are used primarily to focus our attention on the fact that something needs to (or should) undergo the effect of some action, knowledge of the agent is considered irrelevant. Therefore, sentences with anticipating state verbs, like those with resulting state verbs (cf. 7.7 above), cannot include any mention of the agent.

As we mentioned above, anticipating state verbs are derived by suffixing -(ȩ)l or long vowel + l to the verb stem. In the list below, some typical anticipating state verbs are given; for purposes of comparison, the related transitive action verb (in the imperfec­tive form) is also provided. Stressed syllables are marked because they will be of importance in the subsequent discussion.

(30)   Anticipating State Verb   Related Transitive Verb (in imperfective form)
    kmúdȩl   ‘is to be cut’   mȩngímd   ‘cut (hair)’
    lȩngíil   ‘is to be borrowed’   mȩléng   ‘borrow’ 183
    sȩlókȩl   ‘is to be washed’   mȩsílȩk   ‘wash’
    sȩsóbȩl   ‘is to be burned’   mȩlésȩb   ‘burn’
    chȩtúul   ‘is to be smoked’   mȩngát   ‘smoke (fish)’
    lȩchúkl   ‘is to be written’   mȩlúchȩs   ‘write’
    ruóll   ‘is to be made, done, fixed’   mȩrúul   ‘make, do, fix’
    beákl   ‘is to be shot’   omóes   ‘shoot’
    brúchȩl   ‘is to be speared’   omúrȩch   ‘spear’

Because the anticipating state verbs in 30 have the basic structure verb stem + anticipating state suffix, they of course preserve the stem-initial consonants k, ch, s, b, etc. Can you explain why these stem-initial consonants have disappeared in the corresponding imperfective verbs?

There is no way of predicting whether the anticipating state suffix (italicized in 30) will occur as -(ȩ)l or as a long vowel (e.g. ii or uu) followed by l.12 If the suffix appears as -(ȩ)l, it is never stressed; therefore, in anticipating state forms like kmúdȩl ‘is to be cut’, sȩlókȩl ‘is to be washed’, sȩsóbȩl ‘is to be burned’, etc., the stress falls on the vowel in the syllable preceding the anticipating state suffix -(ȩ)l. If we compare forms like sȩlókȩl ‘is to be washed’ and mȩsílȩk ‘wash’, we notice two cases of vowel alterna­tion. First, in the anticipating state form, the full stressed vowel o appears between l and k, while in the imperfective form, a ȩ appears between these same consonants in an unstressed syllable. Second, in the imperfective form, the full stressed vowel i is found between s and l, while in the anticipating state form, a ȩ appears between these two consonants in an unstressed syllable.

We can explain the above vowel alternations if we propose that the verb stem for ‘wash’ has the basic stem silok. The basic stem silok does not occur in actual pronunciation or writing but represents a kind of “abstraction” or “phonetic formula” from which we can predict those full vowels which will appear in stressed syllables in the related forms of a verb.13 In the example under consideration, the imperfective form mȩsílȩk is stressed on the next-to-the-last syllable. Here, the i of the basic stem silok appears as the full vowel i in the actual pronunciation because it occurs in the stressed syllable; on the other hand, the o of the basic stem silok appears as the reduced vowel ȩ because it is found in an unstressed syllable. In the anticipating state form sȩlókȩl, however, the situation is exactly the reverse. In this word, it is the o of the basic stem silok which appears in the stressed syllable and therefore gets pronounced as the full vowel o, while the i of silok is reduced to ȩ in an unstressed syllable. 184

As the above discussion shows, we can explain the com­plicated vowel alternations in forms such as mȩsílȩk ‘wash’ and sȩlókȩl ‘is to be washed’ in terms of the process of vowel reduction (cf. 1.4.4 and 3.4), which is perhaps the most important phonetic process in Palauan. Just as we set up the abstract basic stem silok to explain the vowel alternations in mȩsílȩk and sȩlókȩl, so can we set up abstract basic stems to account for the other pairs of words listed in 30. A few examples are given below:

(31)   Basic Stem   Anticipating State Verb   Imperfective Verb
    sesob   sȩsóbȩl   ‘is to be burned’   mȩlésȩb   ‘burn’
    luchus   lȩchúkl   ‘is to be written’   mȩlúchȩs   ‘write’
    kimud   kmúdȩl   ‘is to be cut’   mȩngímd   ‘cut (hair)’

The basic stems sesob and luchus given above are just like silok in their behavior: in the anticipating state verb, the second vowel of the basic stem appears as a full vowel under stress, while the first vowel of the basic stem reduces to ȩ in an unstressed syllable; and in the imperfective verb, exactly the opposite situation occurs. The basic stem kimud given above behaves somewhat differently, since one or the other of its vowels disappears com­pletely when unstressed, rather than reducing to ȩ. Thus, in the anticipating state verb kmudȩl ‘is to be cut’, the i of the basic stem kimud is deleted when unstressed; and in the imperfective verb mȩngímd ‘cut (hair)’, the u of the basic stem is similarly deleted. Since vowel deletion can be considered an “extreme” form of vowel reduction (cf. 3.4.1), the behavior of kimud is not really very unusual.

There are several other phonetic changes which occur in the anticipating state verbs of 30 that should be mentioned. If we compare the forms mȩlúchȩs ‘write’—lȩchúkl ‘is to be written’ and omóes ‘shoot’—beákl ‘is to be shot’, we observe an alterna­tion between a final s in the imperfective forms and a k in the anticipating state forms. This alternation is due to a rather unusual phonetic rule of Palauan which changes s to k before l. Thus, a form like lȩchúkl is derived by the following steps:

(32)   luchús + 1       (basic form = basic stem + anticipating state suffix) →
    lȩchús + 1      (vowel reduction) →
    lȩchúk + 1     (change of s to k before l).

This same phonetic change is observed between the noun sils ‘day’ and its possessed form klsel ‘his holiday’: in the possessed 185form, the vowel i is deleted, resulting in the consonant cluster sl, which then changes to kl.

In some of the anticipating state verbs of 30, we observe vowel clusters whose origin is difficult to explain. Such clusters are found in ruóll ‘is to be made, done, fixed’ and béakl ‘is to be shot’.

7.8.1. The Anticipating State Suffix -all

The anticipating state verbs derived with -(ȩ)l or long vowel + l which we discussed above are still commonly heard, although another pattern of formation has come into fairly wide use, especially among younger speakers. This pattern involves adding the suffix -all to the verb stem; since this suffix is always stressed, anticipating state verbs which are derived with it always show ȩ for the full vowels of a basic verb stem, since these come to appear in unstressed syllables. In the list below, some commonly used anticipating state verbs in -all are given; for purposes of compari­son the alternate anticipating state verb is also provided.

(33)   Anticipating State Verb in -all   Anticipating State Verb in -(ȩ)l
    sȩsȩbáll   sȩsóbȩl    ‘is to be burned’
    lȩchȩsáll   lȩchúkl   ‘is to be written’
    ngȩtȩcháll   ngȩtáchȩl   ‘is to be cleaned’
    kȩmȩdáll   kmúdȩl   ‘is to be cut’
    lȩchȩtáll   lȩchótȩl   ‘is to be tied’

For some verbs, the only existing anticipating state form is the one in -áll. Some examples include bridáll ‘is to be scattered’ (cf. imperfective omriid ‘scatter’) and didáll ‘is to be followed’ (cf. imperfective omdid ‘follow’).

7.8.2. Resulting and Anticipating State Verbs as Nouns

Many of the resulting and anticipating state verbs discussed above can function as nouns—e.g. chȩlat ‘smoked fish’ (cf. mȩngat ‘smoke (fish)’), ilumȩl ‘beverage’ (cf. mȩlim ‘drink’), kall ‘food’ (cf. mȩnga ‘eat’). In addition, certain state verbs can be formed by adding both the resulting state infix -(ȩ)l- and the anticipating state suffix -(ȩ)l to a stem simultaneously. State verbs derived in this way appear to be identical in meaning to the corresponding resulting state verb: for example, ngȩltachȩl ‘cleaned’ means the 186same as nglatȩch, klȩmudȩl ‘cut (of hair)’ means the same as klimd, chȩltuul ‘smoked (of fish)’ means the same as chȩlat, and so on. Many of these state verbs have come to be used as nouns with special meanings. The use of resulting and anticipating state verbs as nouns will be discussed in detail in the following chapter.


A rather large number of Palauan transitive verbs are derived from simple state verbs merely by adding the verb marker and the imperfective marker. Such derived verbs usually have a causative meaning: that is, they describe actions in which the subject of the sentence causes someone or something to be in the particular state designated by the related state verb. The following derived transitive verbs are used commonly:

(34)   Transitive Verb (in imperfective form)   Related Simple State Verb
    mȩngikiongȩl   ‘make dirty’   kikiongȩl   ‘dirty’
    mȩlȩchudȩch   ‘make muddy’   dȩchudȩch   ‘muddy’
    mȩlȩkimȩs   ‘make wet’   dȩkimȩs   ‘wet’
    mȩngeisȩch   ‘make stained’   cheisȩch   ‘stained’
    mȩngȩtom   ‘make (a knife, etc.) blunt’   kȩtom   ‘blunt’
    mȩngȩdeb   ‘shorten’   kȩdeb   ‘short’
    mȩngȩmangȩt   ‘lengthen’   kȩmangȩt   ‘long’
    mȩlodȩch   ‘change’   ngodȩch   ‘different, strange’
    mȩngȩdidai   ‘make higher, pile up’   kȩdidai   ‘high’

In a few cases, verb stems which combine with the verb marker to form state verbs (cf. 23 above) also can combine with the verb marker and the imperfective marker to form transitive verbs. Observe the examples below:

(35)   Transitive Verb (in imperfective form)   Related State Verb
    mȩngeald   ‘make warm, heat up’   mȩkeald   ‘warm’
    mȩngȩlȩkolt   ‘make cold, cool down’   mȩkȩlȩkolt   ‘cold’
    mȩngȩsa   ‘make busy, occupy’   mȩchȩsa   ‘busy’


    a.   Ak mle smechȩr.     ‘I was sick (but no longer am).’
  b.   Ak silechȩr.   ‘I’ve been sick (and still am).’
Ng bȩralm a rȩngul a sȩchȩlim.
‘Your friend is lazy/unmotivated.’
502See 17.4 for more details.

Ng bȩchachau a bdȩlul a John. ‘John is stupid/empty-headed.’

*12. Wilson 1972: 89–90 proposes that in cases such as lȩngiil ‘is to be borrowed’ and chȩtuul ‘is to be smoked’ the basic forms of the verb stems are vowel-final—i.e. lengi and chatu. In forms which do not contain a suffix, such as the imperfective verbs mȩleng ‘borrow’ and mȩngat ‘smoke (fish)’, the stem-final vowel is deleted. If there is a suffix, however, as in the anticipating state forms, the stem-final vowel remains and becomes long.

*13. This analysis is based on Dyen 1971:248, where the concept of “morphophonemic formula” is introduced.

1. The state verb mȩsaul ‘tired’ is found in the commonly-used ex­pression kmal mȩsaul. This sequence, which literally means ‘You are very tired’, is used as an equivalent of English ‘Thank you’.

2. The same is true for kȩdeb and kekȩdeb, both of which mean ‘short’.

3. Some speakers feel that 12a and 12b differ in meaning as follows. In 12a, mle dȩngchokl denotes a completed past state: in other words, it is implied that the subject (Hermana) was sitting here at some time in the past but is no longer sitting here at the present moment. By contrast, dilȩngchokl designates a past action whose effect is still continuing: that is, the subject sat down here and is still sitting here. For some speakers, the following two sentences differ in a parallel way:

4. For further information on the grammatical properties of certain Palauan transitive state verbs, see 16.3 (mȩduch and mȩtitur followed by object clauses) and 21.2 (mȩdȩnge followed by various structures).

5. When associated with the word reng ‘heart, spirit’, the state verb bȩralm describes someone’s personality, as in the sentence

6. When applied to a person, the state verb bȩchachau can mean ‘stupid’, as in the sentence

7. The related intransitive action verb is rȩmurt ‘run’, in which the verb marker has metathesized and appears as the infix -ȩm- (cf. 6.2).

8. The related transitive verb, in its imperfective form, is mȩlungȩl ‘smell’.

9. The second ȩ of bȩkȩ- is deleted before the initial vowel u of the stem ureor ‘work’.

10. In this word, sȩkȩ- has unexpectedly shortened to sȩ-.

11. If we consider the basic form of this word to be sȩkȩ + kȩr + ker, where the stem ker ‘question’ has been totally repeated, then the actually-pronounced form sȩkȩrker is derived by dropping one of the two identical sequences -kȩ-.

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