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24 Modifiers


In 23.1 we observed that relative clauses serve to modify, specify, or provide identifying information about the head nouns which they follow. Since relative clauses are ultimately derived from whole sentences (cf. our discussion in 23.2), they reflect major Palauan sentence types such as transitive sentence, intransitive sentence, passive sentence, and the like. For instance, in the fol­lowing sequence of the form head noun + relative clause

(1)   buik ȩl milkodir a bilis
    ‘the boy who killed the dog’

the italicized relative clause has been derived from the transitive sentence

(2)   A buik a milkodir a bilis.
    ‘The boy killed the dog.’

The sequence head noun + relative clause of 1 of course has its source in the structure below, where the transitive sentence 2 appears as a bracketed sentence1 following the head noun buik ‘boy’:

(3)   buik [a buik a milkodir a bilis]
    (‘the boy who killed the dog’)

Can you explain how the abstract structure of 3 is transformed into the actually-spoken sequence of 1?

Just as a relative clause can have its source in a transitive sentence, as 13 above illustrate, so can a relative clause be derived from an intransitive sentence containing a state verb. Thus, as we saw in 23.5, we can have sequences like the following:

(4)   a.   delmȩrab ȩl kikiongȩl
        ‘room which is dirty’ 462
    b.   blai ȩl bȩches
        ‘house which is new’
    c.   chad ȩl smechȩr  ȩr a tȩretȩr
        ‘person who is sick with a cold’
    d.   sensei ȩl mȩringȩl a tȩkingel
        ‘teacher who is strict’

Since the italicized relative clauses of 4 contain intransitive state verbs, the bracketed sentences from which they are derived must necessarily be intransitive sentences containing these very same state verbs. Thus, 4c, for example, is derived from the source structure

(4c’)   chad [a chad a smechȩr ȩr a tȩretȩr]
    (‘person who is sick with a cold’)

by deleting the identical subject noun phrase chad ‘person’ of the bracketed sentence and inserting the relative clause introducer ȩl.

Now, in addition to the relative clause structure of 4, Palauan has sequences in which a state verb (or an expression containing a state verb) precedes a given noun and is linked to it by ȩl. Thus, with 4ab, which have the structure noun +ȩl + state verb, com­pare 5ab, in which the word order has been switched to state verb +ȩl + noun:

(4)   a.   delmȩrab ȩl kikiongȩl
        ‘room which is dirty’
    b.   blai ȩl bȩches
        ‘house which is new’
(5)   a.   kikiongȩl ȩl delmȩrab
        ‘dirty room’
    b.   bȩches ȩl blai
        ‘new house’

Though some Palauan speakers feel that the opposing word orders of 45 result in a significant meaning difference,2 many others think that the two word orders merely represent a difference in style which has no effect on the meaning.

We will introduce the term modifier to distinguish the se­quences of state verb +ȩl in 5 from the relative clauses (ȩl + state verb) in 4. As we will see throughout this chapter, it will be convenient to have a separate term such as modifier to refer to a number of grammatical constructions in which a word or group of words is linked by ȩl to a following noun. The term “modifier” is used because the constructions in question function to modify, 463specify, or give further information about the noun which they precede. Although relative clauses perform the same function of modifying or specifying a noun (cf. 23.1), we will not classify them as modifiers because they follow rather than precede the modified noun. In other words, we are using modifier primarily as a cover term for any construction which precedes a noun and is linked to it by ȩl. So far, we have seen how the word ȩl joins or relates dependent clauses (cf. chap. 15), object clauses (cf. chap. 16), and relative clauses (cf. chap. 23) to a preceding independent clause or head noun. Now, as we examine Palauan modifiers, we will see that ȩl can also be used to relate a word or group of words to a following noun (also called a head noun).

The type of modifier shown in 5ab—namely, a single in­transitive state verb followed by ȩl—is very common in Palauan. Some further examples are listed below:

(6)   ungil ȩl eangȩd
    ‘good weather’
    mȩkngit ȩl tȩkoi
    ‘bad/dirty word’
    klou ȩl bilas
    ‘big boat’
    ngodȩch ȩl chad3
    ‘strange person’
    bȩkȩsius ȩl chad
    ‘person who swears a lot’
    mȩduch ȩl kȩrrȩkar
    ‘strong tree/wood’
    kekȩre ȩl blai
    ‘small house; (slang) toilet’
    kekȩmangȩt ȩl mlai
    ‘long canoe’
    mȩses ȩl buik
    ‘diligent boy’

Certain common expressions (i.e., groups of words) contain­ing intransitive state verbs can also be used as modifiers. Note, for example, how the italicized expressions in the sentences below

(7)   a.   A sensei a {mȩringȩl/beot} a tȩkingel.
        ‘The teacher is {strict/easy-going}.’ 464
    b.   A ngalȩk a bȩralm a rȩngul.
        ‘The child is lazy.’

are used as modifiers in the following examples:

(8)   a.   {mȩringȩl/beot} a tȩkingel ȩl sensei
        ‘{strict/easy-going} teacher’
    b.   bȩralm a rȩngul ȩl ngalȩk
        ‘lazy child’


As we saw in 24.1 above, many Palauan modifiers consist of a state verb, or an expression containing a state verb, followed by the “linking” word ȩl. Not all modifiers containing verbs require state verbs, however. For example, a few intransitive action verbs such as me ‘come’ and mo mȩrek ‘end, stop’ are commonly used as modifiers (italicized) in cases like the following:

(9)   tia ȩl me ȩl rak
    ‘next year’
    tia ȩl mlo mȩrek ȩl buil
    ‘last month’

The sequences in 9, you will recall, are used with the relational word ȩr to form temporal phrases (cf. 14.6). In addition, we oc­casionally find Palauan speakers using sequences like the follow­ing,

(10)   mȩngitakl ȩl chad
    ‘man who is singing’
    mlȩchȩlebȩd ȩl buik
    ‘boy who was hit/beaten’

in which a transitive action verb in its imperfective form (mȩngitakl ‘sing’) or ergative form (mlȩchȩlebȩd ‘was/got hit/beaten’) is part of the modifier construction.

In 24.34 below, we will examine two major types of nouns—demonstratives and number words—which are regularly used as modifiers. In addition to these two types, certain other relatively minor groups of nouns can appear in modifier constructions. Thus, in the sequences below, a word or expression designating a quantity is used to modify the following head noun: 465

(11)   bȩtok ȩl kall
    ‘lots of food’
    bȩtok ȩl chad
    ‘many people’
    kȩsai ȩl malk
    ‘a bit of chicken’
    di tȩlkib ȩl kall
    ‘a little food’
    rokui ȩl taem
    ‘all the time’

And in the examples below, the question words ngara ‘what (kind of)?’ (cf. 20.3.1, ex. 46) and tela ‘how much/many?’ (cf. 20.4, ex. 58) function as modifiers:

(12)   ngara ȩl tȩkoi
    ‘what language?’
    ngara ȩl hong
    ‘what kind of book?’
    tela ȩl klok
    ‘what time?’
    tela ȩl udoud
    ‘how much money?’

All of the sequences given in 56 and 812 above are “ex­panded” noun phrases with the structure modifier + head noun (cf. our discussion of head noun + relative clause sequences at the end of 23.1). Because they are noun phrases, sequences of the form modifier + head noun have distributional features identical to those of simpler noun phrases: that is, they occur as sentence sub­ject or object, or following ȩr in relational phrases. The sentences below illustrate these three distributional “slots”:

(13)   a.   A ngodȩch ȩl chad a dȩngchokl ȩr a bita ȩr a Toki.
        ‘A strange person is sitting next to Toki.’
    b.   A Satsko a mirruul a bȩtok ȩl kall ȩl kirel a party.
        ‘Satsko was preparing lots of food for the party.’
    c.   Kȩ mo ȩr a che ȩr a tela ȩl klok?
        ‘At what time are you going fishing?’


Palauan has a special group of words which speakers use when 466they wish to point out or draw attention to a particular person, animal, or thing. Such demonstrative words (or demonstratives for short) are used in simple (equational) sentences like the following:

(14)   a.   Tia a olȩchȩsek.
        ‘This is my pencil.’
    b.   Se a blil a Droteo.
        ‘That is Droteo’s house.’
    c.   Tirke tȩ rua tȩchang?
        ‘Who are those people?’
    d.   Tia kid a hong.
        ‘Here is a book.’
    e.   Ngka kid a Droteo.4
        ‘Here is Droteo.’

As the examples of 14 show, Palauan demonstratives (e.g. tia ‘this’, se ‘that’, ngka ‘this person’, tirke ‘those people’) are never preceded by the word a, which introduces most other Palauan nouns and noun phrases (cf. 2.6).

In order to use demonstratives correctly, the Palauan speaker must take three factors into account. First, he must choose a different set of demonstratives depending on whether what he is referring to (i.e., the referent) is a person, animal, or thing. Second, he must use different forms for singular vs. plural referents. And, finally, he must consider the relative distance of the referent from himself and the hearer.

When making reference to non-living things, the Palauan speaker uses the set of demonstrative words given below. In considering the relative distance of the referent from himself and the hearer, the speaker must make a three-way distinction. Thus, different demonstratives must be used to designate (i) something near both the speaker and hearer, (ii) something near the hearer but not the speaker, and (iii) something far from both the speaker and hearer. These three categories of distance are listed across the top of the chart below:5

(15) Demonstratives Referring to Things
  Location of referent:    near speaker and hearer    near hearer but far from speaker    far from speaker and hearer
  singular   tia ‘this’   tilȩcha ‘that’   se ‘that (over there)’
  plural   aika ‘these’   ailȩcha ‘those’   aike ‘those (over there)’ 467

Demonstrative words referring to human beings can be classi­fied in a parallel way, as the following chart shows:

(16) Demonstratives Referring to Human Beings
  Location of referent:    near speaker and hearer    near hearer but far from speaker    far from speaker and hearer
  singular   ng(i)ka ‘this person’   ngilȩcha ‘that person’   ng(i)ke ‘that person (over there)’
  plural   tirka ‘these people’   tirilȩcha ‘those people’   tirke ‘those people (over there)’

If we compare the demonstratives of 1516 with each other, we immediately notice some significant structural patterns. Most of these words are composed of two morphemes (or meaning-bearing units), the first one specifying the type of referent (person or thing, singular or plural), and the second specifying the relative distance of the referent from the speaker and hearer. Looking at the demonstratives found in the second column—namely,

(17)   tilȩcha
    ‘that (thing)’
    ‘those (things)’
    ‘that person’
    ‘those people’

—we may conclude that the shared part -lȩcha (or perhaps -ilȩcha) is a distinct morpheme which conveys the meaning ‘located near hearer but far from speaker’ common to these four words. The difference in meaning among the demonstratives of 17 must there­fore be due to the fact that different morphemes (ti-, ai-, ngi-, and tiri-) are prefixed to the shared morpheme -lȩcha. These four morphemes have distinct meanings, as follows:

(18)   ti-   ‘non-living thing—singular’
    ai-   ‘non-living things—plural’
    ngi-   ‘human being—singular’
    tiri-   ‘human beings—plural’

The different morphemes of 18 combine with the morpheme -lȩcha to form the contrasting demonstrative words of 17. 468

The fact that Palauan demonstrative words are organized according to a “logical” system becomes clear to us when we see that the four morphemes of 18 (which specify whether the referent is a person or thing, singular or plural) recur just where we would expect them. While ti- ‘non-living thing—singular’ is somewhat exceptional (see below), the three remaining morphemes occur consistently as follows:

      a.   ai- is found in all demonstrative words referring to plural nonliving things—i.e., aika ‘these (things)’, ailȩcha ‘those (things)’, and aike ‘those (things) (over there)’,
  b.   ngi- is found in all demonstrative words referring to a singular human being—i.e., ng(i)ka ‘this person’, ngilȩcha ‘that person’, and ng(i)ke ‘that person (over there)’.6
  c.   tiri- is found in all demonstrative words referring to plural human beings—i.e., tirka ‘these people’, tirilȩcha ‘those people’, and tirke ‘those people (over there)’.7

We can now see that in addition to the morpheme -lȩcha ‘located near hearer but far from speaker’, Palauan demonstrative words also contain the distinct morphemes -ka ‘located near speaker and hearer’ and ke- ‘located far from speaker and hearer’.

The morpheme ti- ‘non-living thing—singular’ is associated with some irregularities. Thus, where we would expect the demonstrative word *tika for ‘this (thing)’, we instead have tia, in which the k of -ka ‘located near speaker and hearer’ has been lost. In addition, we do not have any demonstrative word like *tike for ‘that (thing) (over there)’, but the totally unrelated word se, which consists of one morpheme only. The three demon­stratives referring to singular non-living things are distinguished from other demonstratives in that they commonly appear in locational phrases (cf. 14.2) with ȩr, as illustrated below:

(19)   ȩr tia
    ‘here, in this place’
    ȩr tilȩcha
    ‘there, in that place’
    ȩr se
    ‘over there, in that place (over there)’

Although Palauan demonstrative words referring to animals do not involve any new morphemes or morpheme combinations, they represent an unusual (and unexplainable) mixture of terms from the two sets already given (15 and 16). The demonstrative words referring to animals are listed below: 469

(20) Demonstratives Referring to Animals
  Location of referent: near speaker and hearer near hearer but far from speaker far from speaker and hearer
  singular ng(i)ka ‘this animal’ ngilȩcha ‘that animal’ ng(i)ke ‘that ani­mal (over there)’
  plural aika ‘these animals’ ailȩcha ‘those animals’ aike ‘those animals (over there)’

As the chart in 20 shows, demonstratives referring to singular human beings (see 16) are also used to refer to singular animals, while demonstratives denoting plural things (see 15) also serve to denote plural animals.

One of the most commonly-occurring modifier constructions (cf. 24.2 above) in Palauan consists of a demonstrative word linked by ȩl to a following head noun. Sequences of this kind are used when the speaker wishes to identify a person, animal, or thing in terms of where it is located with relation to himself and the hearer. The following examples are typical:

(21)   tia ȩl hong
    ‘this book’
    se ȩl kȩrrȩkar
    ‘that tree (over there)’
    aika ȩl kahol
    ‘these boxes’
    ng(i)ke ȩl ngalȩk
    ‘that child (over there)’
    tirilȩcha ȩl sensei8
    ‘those teachers’
    aika ȩl charm
    ‘these animals’

Can you explain why tia (but not ng(i)ka) is required before the head noun hong ‘book’, why ng(i)ke (but not se) is required be­fore the head noun ngalȩk ‘child’, and so on?

Because the sequences of 21 are “expanded” noun phrases with the structure modifier + head noun, they have the distri­butional features common to all noun phrases. Thus, in the sentences below, the sequences of 21 are used as sentence subject or object or as part of a relational phrase with ȩr:

(22)   a.   Aika ȩl charm a babii.
        ‘These animals are pigs.’ 470
    b.   Ng(i)ke ȩl ngalȩk a milosii a malk.
        ‘That child (over there) shot the chicken.’
    c.   Ng tȩcha a lilȩchȩsii tia ȩl hong?
        ‘Who wrote this book?’
    d.   A bȩlochȩl a silebȩk ȩr se ȩl kȩrrȩkar.


Palauan numbers are used, of course, to count or specify the number of persons, things, etc. being considered. They are much more complicated than English numbers because different sets must be chosen according to the type of thing being counted. In this respect, Palauan numbers resemble Palauan demonstratives, which—as we saw in 24.3 above—occur in three sets depending on whether the referent is a person, animal, or thing.

The numbers of Palauan are found in three major sets, which most speakers use frequently and in a uniform manner, and several relatively minor sets, which show considerable variation from one speaker to another and which certain speakers (especial­ly younger ones) no longer even use. Like the demonstratives examined above, Palauan numbers by and large form a system in which various morphemes consistently recur. As we will see below, most number words contain a morpheme specifying a number plus another morpheme (a prefix or suffix) identifying the class or category of what is being counted.

One major set of Palauan numbers is used for counting various units of time such as hours of the clock, days, years, and the like. The numbers in this set (which we will identify as Set I) are listed below:

(23)   Set I  
  1 ta   11 tȩruich mȩ a ta
  2 eru   12 tȩruich mȩ a eru
  3 ede   13 tȩruich mȩ a ede
  4 eua   14 tȩruich mȩ a eua
  5 eim   15 tȩruich mȩ a eim
  6 elolȩm   16 tȩruich mȩ a elolȩm
  7 euid   17 tȩruich mȩ a euid
  8 eai   18 tȩruich mȩ a eai
  9 etiu   19 tȩruich mȩ a etiu
  10 tȩruich   20 lluich 471

Looking at the numbers from 1 to 10 in Set I, we see that except for ta ‘one’ and tȩruich ‘ten’, which appear to be single morphemes, all of the numbers consist of the prefix e- followed by some other morpheme. The prefix e- is a separate morpheme which specifical­ly identifies the category of things being counted—namely, units of time. This prefix combines with the various number morphemes—i.e.,

(24) -ru ‘two’    -lolȩm ‘six’
  -de ‘three’   -uid ‘seven’
  -ua ‘four’   -ai ‘eight’
  -im ‘five’   -tiu ‘nine’

—to form number words referring to units of time.

The number words between 11 and 20 in Set I are not particularly difficult to analyze. Though lluich ‘twenty’ is best analyzed as a single morpheme, it may in some way be related to tȩruich ‘ten’ (note the common sequence -uich). The numbers between 11 and 19 are merely expressions of the form ‘ten and one’, ‘ten and two’, etc., in which tȩruich ‘ten’ is connected by ‘and’ (see 25.4) to the following smaller number.9

Palauan number words are commonly used as modifiers (cf. 24.1 above). Thus, in the “expanded” noun phrases below, a number word from Set I is linked by ȩl to a following head noun. Since the number words of Set I are used to count units of time, the head nouns in the sequences below are time words such as sils ‘day’, rak ‘year’, etc.:

(25)   ta ȩl sikang ‘one hour’
    eru ȩl sils ‘two days’
    ede ȩl klȩbȩse ‘three nights’
    eua ȩl kȩbȩsȩngil10 ‘the fourth (of some month)’
    eim ȩl buil ‘five months’
    elolȩm ȩl rak ‘six years’
    euid ȩl klok ‘seven o’clock’
    tȩruich mȩ a ta ȩl klok11 ‘eleven o’clock’

Whereas all Palauan speakers use the number words of Set I for counting units of time, only certain speakers (mostly of the older generation) use these same words for counting flat, square objects such as sheets of paper, books, etc. Such speakers will therefore use noun phrases like the following: 472

(26)   eru ȩl babier ‘two letters/sheets of paper’
    ede ȩl hong ‘three books’
    eua ȩl siasing ‘four photos’

For counting flat, square objects the majority of Palauan speakers prefer the number words chimo ‘one’, tȩblo ‘two’, klde ‘three’, etc., which can refer to a wide range of non-living things (see Set III in 29 below).

A second major set of Palauan number words is used exclusively for counting human beings. Thus, with Set I compare the following, which we will designate as Set II:

(27)   Set II  
  1 ta   11 tȩruich mȩ a ta
  2 teru   12 tȩruich mȩ a teru
  3 tede   13 tȩruich mȩ a tede
  4 teua   14 tȩruich mȩ a teua
  5 teim   15 tȩruich mȩ a teim
  6 telolȩm   16 tȩruich mȩ a telolȩm
  7 teuid   17 tȩruich mȩ a teuid
  8 teai   18 tȩruich mȩ a teai
  9 tetiu   19 tȩruich mȩ a tetiu
  10 tȩruich   20 lluich

When we compare the number words of Set I and Set II, we can make the following observations:

a. In both sets, the number words for ‘one’ (ta), ‘ten’ (tȩruich), and ‘twenty’ (lluich) are identical.
b. In both sets, the number words from 2 to 9 consist of two morphemes—a prefix identifying the class or category of what is being counted plus a number morpheme. In Set I, the prefix is e-, while in Set II it is te-. Both of these prefixes combine regularly with the number morphemes of 24 to form the various number words. While the prefix e- refers primarily to units of time, the prefix te- designates human beings.
c. In both sets, the number words from 11 to 19 are merely expressions of the form ‘ten and one’, ‘ten and two’, etc., where tȩruich ‘ten’ is connected to another number by ‘and’. Thus, for example, tȩruich a ede ‘thirteen (days, months, etc.)’ and tȩruich a tede ‘thirteen people’ are exactly parallel in structure. 473

Because the number words of Set II refer exclusively to human beings, they can only occur preceding human head nouns, as in the following:

(28)   teru ȩl chad ‘two people’
    teim ȩl sensei ‘five teachers’
    tetiu ȩl buik ‘nine boys’
    tȩruich mȩ a tede ȩl chad12 ‘thirteen people’

A third major set of Palauan number words is used in count­ing animals and a large variety of non-living things. Observe the words below, which constitute Set III:

(29)   Set III  
  1 chimo   11 tachȩr mȩ a chimo
  2 tȩblo   12 tachȩr mȩ a tȩblo
  3 klde   13 tachȩr mȩ a klde
  4 kloa   14 tachȩr mȩ a kloa
  5 kleim   15 tachȩr mȩ a kleim
  6 kllolȩm   16 tachȩr mȩ a kllolȩm
  7 klȩuid   17 tachȩr mȩ a klȩuid
  8 kleai   18 tachȩr mȩ a kleai
  9 kltiu   19 tachȩr mȩ a kltiu
  10 tachȩr   20 lluich

Comparing the number words of Set III with those of Sets I and II (cf. 23 and 27 above), we can make the following statements:

a. The number words chimo ‘one’, tȩblo ‘two’, and tachȩr ‘ten’ in Set III are completely different from the comparable number words in the other two sets. The word lluich ‘twenty’, however, is the same.
b. The number words from 3 to 9 in Set III consist of the already familiar structure prefix + number morpheme. Here, the prefix kl- (lengthened in several cases by the vowel e or ȩ) is added to the various number morphemes shown in 24. The number morpheme -ua ‘four’ irregularly changes to -oa when kl- is prefixed.
c. The number words from 11 to 19 in Set III resemble those of Sets I and II in that they follow the pattern ‘ten and one’, ‘ten and two’, etc.
    Since the Set III number words refer to animals as well as 474non-living things, they typically occur as modifiers in “expanded” noun phrases like the following:
(30)   chimo ȩl malk ‘one chicken’
    tȩblo ȩl blai ‘two houses’
    klde ȩl hong ‘three books’
    kloa ȩl ringo ‘four apples’
    kleim ȩl kluk ‘five dollars’
    kllolȩm ȩl lius ‘six coconuts’
    klȩuid ȩl kahol ‘seven boxes’
    tachȩr ȩl uel ‘ten turtles’

24.4.1. Numbers Above 20

So far we have only discussed Palauan numbers between 1 and 20. The numbers above 20 follow familiar patterns and are therefore not difficult to analyze. First we shall examine those numbers which are multiples of 10—namely,

(31) 30 okede     70 okeuid
  40 okoua   80 okai
  50 okeim   90 oketiu
  60 okolȩm   100 dart

Except for dart ‘one hundred’, which is a single morpheme, the number words listed above consist of two morphemes—the prefix ok- (lengthened in most cases by e or o) and one of the number morphemes listed in 24. In okolȩm ‘sixty’ the first l of the number morpheme -lolȩm ‘six’ is lost when ok- is prefixed. Like lluich ‘twenty’, the number words in ok- (and dart ‘one hundred’ as well) are used in all three major number sets (cf. 23, 27, and 29 above). The prefix ok- indicates that the accompanying number (mor­pheme) is to be multiplied by 10.

Just as the numbers between 11 and 19 have the structure ‘ten and one’, ‘ten and two’, etc., the numbers between 21 and 29, 31 and 39, etc. take the form ‘twenty and one’, ‘thirty and one’, and so on. Such numbers are used as modifiers in the examples below:

(32)   a.   lluich mȩ a teru ȩl chad
        ‘twenty-two people’
        lluich mȩ a tȩblo ȩl blai
        ‘twenty-two buildings’
    b.   okede mȩ a eim ȩl sils
        ‘thirty-five days’ 475
        okede mȩ a teim ȩl sensei
        ‘thirty-five teachers’
    c.   okeuid mȩ a etiu ȩl rak
        ‘seventy-nine years’
        okeuid mȩ a kltiu ȩl kluk
        ‘seventy-nine dollars’

Can you explain why the number 22 must have the form lluich a teru before the head noun chad ‘person’, but takes the form lluich a tȩblo before the head noun blai ‘house’? Does the same principle hold for the other pairs?

Numbers which are multiples of 100 are formed by using a number word from Set I as a modifier of dart ‘one hundred’. Thus, we have eru ȩl dart ‘two hundred’, ede ȩl dart ‘three hundred’, eua ȩl dart ‘four hundred’, etc. The number 1000 and its multiples are formed in a similar way—i.e., ta ȩl telael ‘one thousand’, eru ȩl telael ‘two thousand’, ede ȩl telael ‘three thousand’, and so on.

24.4.2. Minor Number Sets

In this section we will list several Palauan number sets that are of relatively minor importance because their use is infrequent or restricted in some way. Our comments on these number sets will accordingly be very brief.

When counting off one number after another—i.e., when saying “one—two—three” etc. in sequence—Palauan speakers use the group of number words below (Set IV):

(33)   Set IV  
  1 ta   7 uid
  2 oru   8 iai
  3 ode   9 itiu
  4 oua   10 machod
  5 oim   11 machod mȩ a ta
  6 malo   12 machod mȩ a oru, etc.

While ta ‘one’, malo ‘six’, and machod ‘ten’ are single morphemes, the number words from 2 to 5 and from 7 to 9 in Set IV consist of a prefix (o-, u-, or i-) followed by a number morpheme (cf. 24). Set IV number words higher than 10 (i.e., machod a ta ‘eleven’, machod a oru ‘twelve’, etc.) are very infrequently used.

In order to count long things such as pencils, fish, canoes, bananas, and the like, most Palauan speakers use the number 476words in Set III. However, certain speakers (mostly in the older generation) use the following special number words (Set V) for counting between one and five long objects:

(34) Set V
  1 teluo
  2 eruo
  3 edeuo
  4 euaiuo
  5 eimuo

The number words of Set V all contain the suffix -uo. In the numbers from 2 to 5 this suffix is added to the corresponding number words of Set I, with minor phonetic changes. Thus, the final u of eru ‘two’ is deleted when -uo is suffixed to form eruo ‘two (long objects)’; and an extra i is inserted when eua ‘four’ combines with -uo to give euaiuo ‘four (long objects)’. The number teluo ‘one (long object)’ is formed by adding -uo to what appears to be a special number morpheme tel- ‘one’.

Another number set which involves a suffix (rather than a prefix) is the following (Set VI), which is used occasionally to count bunches of bananas:

(35)   Set VI  
  1 teliud   6 elolȩmiud
  2 ereiud   7 euidiud
  3 edeiud   8 eaiud
  4 euaiud   9 etiuiud
  5 eimiud   10 tȩruich ȩl iud

The number words of Set VI show a general pattern already familiar to us. Thus, in the numbers from 2 to 9 a suffix of the form -iud is added to the corresponding number word of Set I, with certain small phonetic changes. (Can you identify these changes in the number words ereiud ‘two bunches’ and eaiud ‘eight bunches’?) In teliud ‘one bunch’, the suffix -iud has been added to a special number morpheme tel- (cf. the tel- of teluo ‘one (long object)’ in Set V).13 Finally, in tȩruich ȩl iud ‘ten bunches’ iud is used as a separate word—i.e., as a head noun preceded by the modifier tȩruich ‘ten’.

24.4.3. Use of Number Words in Sentences

In 25, 26, 28, 30, and 32 above we gave many examples of how 477number words can be used as modifiers of a following head noun. Such sequences, which have the structure number word +ȩl + head noun, function as noun phrases and therefore occur regularly as sentence subject or object, or as part of a relational phrase introduced by ȩr. A few sentences showing the distribution of these “expanded” noun phrases (italicized) are given below:

(36)   a.   A Droteo a mlo ȩr a che ȩr a euid ȩl klok.
        ‘Droteo went fishing at seven o’clock.’
    b.   A dart ȩl chad a mle ȩr a ochȩraol.
        ‘One hundred people came to the money-raising party.’
    c.   A rȩngalȩk a milkoad a tachȩr ȩl uel.
        ‘The children killed ten turtles.’
    d.   Ng tȩcha a milskau a kleim ȩl kluk?
        ‘Who gave you five dollars?’

As the examples of 36 illustrate, “expanded” noun phrases con­taining number words as modifiers must always be introduced by the word a (cf. 2.6).

24.4.4. Ordinal Numbers

Palauan ordinal numbers, which correspond to English ‘first’, ‘second’, ‘third’, etc., are used to indicate the order or rank of something. The ordinal numbers from 1 to 10 are listed below:

(37)   kot ‘first’
    ongeru ‘second’
    ongede ‘third’
    ongeua ‘fourth’
    ongeim ‘fifth’
    ongelolȩm ‘sixth’
    ongeuid ‘seventh’
    ongeai ‘eighth’
    ongetiu ‘ninth’
    ongetȩruich ‘tenth’

Except for the special word kot ‘first’, which is a single morpheme, the ordinal numbers of 37 all consist of at least two morphemes. It is difficult to decide between the following two analyses: either a prefix ong- is added to the number words of Set I, or a prefix onge- combines with the number morphemes of 24.

We have already seen how ordinal numbers are used in cer­tain types of time expressions. Thus, in 14.6, ex. 34e we examined 478temporal phrases containing the following expressions for the first five days of the week:

(38)   kot ȩl ureor ‘Monday’
    ongeru ȩl ureor ‘Tuesday’
    ongede ȩl ureor ‘Wednesday’
    ongeua ȩl ureor ‘Thursday’
    ongeim ȩl ureor ‘Friday’

The expressions of 38 are “expanded” noun phrases in which an ordinal number serves as a modifier of the head noun ureor ‘work’. Therefore, the literal meaning of kot ȩl ureor, ongeru ȩl ureor, etc. is something like ‘the first (day of) work’, ‘the second (day of) work’, etc.

We also saw in 14.6, ex. 34f that the months of the year are expressed in Palauan as follows:

(39)   kot ȩl buil ‘January’
    ongeru ȩl buil ‘February’
    ongede ȩl buil ‘March’
    ongeua ȩl buil ‘April’
    ongeim ȩl buil ‘May’
    ongelolȩm ȩl buil ‘June’
    ongeuid ȩl buil ‘July’
    ongeai ȩl buil ‘August’
    ongetiu ȩl buil ‘September’
    ongetȩruich ȩl buil ‘October’
    ongetȩruich mȩ a ta ȩl buil ‘November’
    ongetȩruich mȩ a ongeru ȩl buil ‘December’

As 39 shows, all of the expressions for the months of the year contain an ordinal number serving as a modifier of the head noun buil ‘month’. These expressions therefore have the literal meanings ‘the first month’, ‘the second month’, and so on.

The expressions below further illustrate the use of ordinal numbers as modifiers:

(40)   kot ȩl chad ‘first man’
    ongeru ȩl sils ‘second day’
    ongede ȩl babii ‘third pig’
    ongetȩruich ȩl ngalȩk ‘tenth child’ 479 Ordinal Numbers Followed by Specifying Clauses

As we saw in 15.7.7, Palauan has a small number of special verbs which must always be followed by a specifying clause (cf. 15.7) introduced by ȩl. Such verbs—e.g. blȩchoel ‘always ( = invariably do)’, dirrek ‘also’, and ko ‘just’—are somewhat difficult to under­stand because their closest English equivalents do not happen to be verbs. These special verbs (italicized) are used in sentences like the following:

(41)   a.   Ak blȩchoel ȩl mȩruul a kȩlir.
        ‘I always prepare their food.’
    b.   A sȩchȩlik a dirrek ȩl mong.
        ‘My friend is also going.’
    c.   A Droteo a ko ȩl mȩsubang.
        ‘Droteo’s just gotten (a chance) to study.’

Like blȩchoel ‘always’, dirrek ‘also’, and ko ‘just’ of 41, the ordinal number kot ‘first’ can be followed by a specifying clause. Thus, in the sentences below, kot corresponds to ‘do first’ or ‘do (something) before/ahead of someone else’, and the specifying clause introduced by ȩl designates the activity involved:

(42)   a.   Kȩ kot ȩl mo omȩngur.
        ‘You go ahead and eat first.’
    b.   Kȩ ma14 kot ȩl mo ȩr a skuul, e ngak ekong.
        ‘You go on ahead to school, and then I’ll follow.’
    c.   Ak kot ȩl rȩmurt.15
        ‘I’ll run first (in the race, etc.).’

When kot ‘first’ is followed by a specifying clause containing a state verb, the resulting meaning corresponds to English -est in words like biggest, fastest, etc. In other words, kot + ȩl + state verb indicates that someone or something possesses a certain quality in a higher degree than anyone or anything else being considered. The following examples are typical:

(43)   a.   A John a kot ȩl kebȩlu ȩl ngalȩk ȩr a skuul.
        ‘John is the stupidest student.’
    b.   Ng tȩcha a kot ȩl bȩkȩrurt?
        ‘Who runs the fastest?’
    c.   A Oreor a kot ȩl klou ȩl beluu er a Belau.
        ‘Koror is the biggest town in Palau.’ 480


In the sections above we have seen that Palauan demonstratives, numbers, state verbs, and even action verbs can be used as modi­fiers. For purposes of simplicity, we only gave examples in which a particular head noun is preceded by a single modifier (e.g. tiaȩl hong ‘this book’, klou ȩl mlai ‘large car’, etc.). As the following examples indicate, however, it is often the case that a head noun is preceded by a sequence of two (or more) modifiers:

(44)   tia ȩl me ȩl buil
    ‘next month’
    tia ȩl mlo mȩrek ȩl rak16
    ‘last year’
    tirka ȩl teru ȩl chad
    ‘these two men’
    tirke ȩl tede ȩl ungil ȩl sensei
    ‘those three good teachers’
    ngka ȩl kekȩre ȩl babii
    ‘this small pig’
    aike ȩl kloa ȩl charm
    ‘those four animals’
    klde ȩl mȩchȩtngaid ȩl oluchȩs
    ‘three thin pencils’

Observing a three-modifier expression like tirke ȩl tede ȩl ungil ȩl sensei ‘those three good teachers’, we find that the normal order of modifiers is demonstratives—numbersstate (or action) verbs.


So far we have examined a large number of expressions with the structure modifier + ȩl + head noun, in which a modifier (a demonstrative, number, state verb, etc.) modifies or narrows down the identity of the head noun to which it is linked by ȩl. In this section we will briefly look at another kind of modification—one in which a qualifying word like kmal ‘very’, di ‘only’, etc. qualifies or limits the meaning of a directly-following verb. Thus, in the examples below, we list the commonest qualifying words, to­gether with examples showing how they are used in “expanded” verb phrases of the form qualifying word + verb:

(45)   kmal ‘very, often’
    a.   Ng kmal ungil a rrȩllem.
        ‘What you’ve made is very good.’ 481
    b.   Ng kmal mle mȩkngit a eangȩd.
        ‘The weather was very poor.’
    c.   A Droteo a kmal diak losuub.
        ‘Droteo hardly ever studies.’
(46)   di ‘only, just’17
    a.   A dengua a di osisiu.
        ‘The phone (number) is just the same (as before).’
    b.   A sȩchȩlik a mlo ȩr a Guam ȩl di mo milil.
        ‘My friend went to Guam just to fool around.’
    c.   A ngȩlȩkek a di diak losuub.
        ‘My child just doesn’t ever study.’
    d.   Ak di milsuub a tȩkoi ȩr a Merikel er a elii.
        ‘All I did was study English yesterday.’
    e.   Ng di ngar ȩr kau.
        ‘It’s up to you.’
(47)   dirk ‘still’
    a.   Ng dirk ngar ȩr ngii a kall?
        ‘Is there still any food left?’
    b.   A ngȩlȩkem a dirk mȩchiuaiu.
        ‘Your child is still sleeping.’
(48)   locha ‘perhaps’
    a.   Ak locha mo ȩr a skuul ȩr a klukuk.
        ‘Perhaps I’ll go to school tomorrow.’
    b.   Tȩ locha mla mo smechȩr.
        ‘Perhaps they’ve gotten sick.’
(49)   kilo ‘almost, nearly, what if…?’18
    a.   A ngȩlȩkek a kilo {mad/rȩmos}.
        ‘My child almost {died/drowned}.’
    b.   A bilsȩngek a kilo mo ȩr a uche ȩr a klaidȩsachȩl.
        ‘My boat almost won the race.’
    c.   Kilo mo a Droteo?
        ‘What if Droteo went?’


    a.   Ng dimlak a ngodȩch ȩl chad ȩl mle ȩr a party?
      ‘Wasn’t there anyone else at the party?’

+ noun. In such cases, the plural prefix rȩ- is unnecessary (or redun­dant) because the demonstrative word itself automatically designates singular vs. plural. Note, therefore, the contrast between the follow­ing:

            ngilȩcha ȩl sensei     ‘that teacher’
  tirilȩcha ȩl sensei   ‘those teachers’

Needless to say, it is also the demonstrative word alone which dis­tinguishes between singular and plural in a pair like the following,

         tia ȩl hong    ‘this book’
  aika ȩl hong   ‘these books’

where the head noun is non-human and therefore could never be preceded by rȩ- anyway.

    Kȩ ma mo ȩr a skuul, e ngak ekong.
  ‘You go on ahead to school, and then I’ll follow.’
   Ak ongeru ȩl rȩmurt.    ‘I’ll run second (in the race, etc.).’
    a.   Aki di ngalȩk ȩr a skuul.    ‘We’re just students.’
  b.   Ak mȩnga a di iasai.   ‘I eat vegetables only.’

1. For a review of how the concept of bracketed sentences is used in the derivation of relative clauses, cf. 23.2.

2. Since this difference was described in detail in 23.5, it will not be repeated here.

3. The sequence ngodȩch ȩl chad can also mean ‘someone/anyone else’, as in the sentence below:

4. The word kid is added to an equational sentence when the speaker wishes to emphatically point out the location of someone or some­thing.

5. Through sheer oversight, the author failed to include yet another set of Palauan demonstrative words representing a fourth category of distance. These omitted items designate persons or things near the speaker but relatively far from the hearer. Thus, the demonstra­tive words tie ‘this’ and aile ‘these’ should be added to the chart in 15, while the demonstrative words ngile ‘this person’ and tirile ‘these people’ need to be added to the chart in 16. The over-all analysis presented in 24.3 must also be modified accordingly.

6. The i of ngi- is deleted optionally before the k-initial morphemes -ka ‘located near speaker and hearer’ and -ke ‘located far from speaker and hearer’. When this i is dropped, the word-initial ng becomes syllabic (cf. 1.3.5)—i.e., we have ngke [ŋkey] and ngka [ŋkaŋ].

7. The i of tiri- is obligatorily deleted before the k-initial morphemes -ka and -ke. Cf. note 6 above.

8. Note that a human noun like sensei ‘teacher’ does not take the plural prefix rȩ- (cf. 2.5) in constructions of the form demonstrative + ȩl

9. As we will see in 24.4.3 below, Palauan number words are always preceded by a (cf. 2.6) when they are used in sentences or as part of expressions such as tȩruich a ta ‘eleven’ or tȩruich a eru ‘twelve’, etc. In tȩruich a ta ‘eleven’ the ȩ of is not pronounced, resulting in [təruyɂəmataŋ] (cf. 1.5.e, ex. 54). And in tȩruich a eru ‘twelve’, etc. both the ȩ of and the a before vowel-initial eru ‘two’ are omitted, giving the pronunciation [təruyɂəmεruŋ] (cf. 1.5.a, ex. 40). 523

10. Further expressions of this type are given in 14.6, ex. 34g.

11. Further expressions indicating hours of the day are found in 14.6, ex. 34d.

12. Recall that the plural prefix rȩ- can be optionally attached to the number word in expressions like these. Thus, in addition to teim ȩl sensei ‘five teachers’ we can have rȩteim ȩl sensei, with no change in meaning. Cf. the discussion in 2.5, especially ex. 25.

13. It is possible that teliud ‘one bunch’ is a contracted (or shortened) form of what was originally the sequence ta ȩl iud. This very same structure is actually found in tȩruich ȩl iud ‘ten bunches’. It also seems plausible that teluo ‘one (long object)’ of Set V has developed by contraction from a sequence ta ȩl uo.

14. The word ma (not to be confused with a… [ma] ‘and…’) also means ‘first’. This word does not have to be used together with kot, as the following example (equivalent to 42b in meaning) shows:

15. In the sentence below, the ordinal number ongeru ‘second’ is used in exactly the same way:

16. Temporal phrases containing this and the preceding expression are given in 14.6, exs. 34b-c.

17. The qualifying word di ‘only, just’ can also precede nouns, as in the following sentences:

18. The qualifying word kilo ‘almost, nearly’ may be the past tense form of the special verb ko ‘just’ (cf. 15.7.7, ex. 56).

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