Frequently Asked Questions
Tlingit is an endangered language, with few fluent speakers living. There are many enthusiastic individuals however, learning Tlingit and teaching the language to others. Tlingit verbs are much less predictable than say, English verbs. Until this resource, the conjugated forms of Tlingit verbs had not been documented in any comprehensive or systematic way.
Here’s an example from English. For most regular English verbs, forming the past tense is predictable, and is done by adding –ed to the end of the word: cook, cooked; walk, walked; step, stepped. Some verbs do not work this way. For example: eat, ate; go, went. These verbs are unpredictable in that you have to learn the past tense for each individually – they don’t follow any rule in the language. If you apply the regular, predictable rule of the English past tense to these irregular verbs (as children do when they are learning to talk), you would get: eated and goed. When conjugating any Tlingit verb, certain aspects of the verb are unpredictable in a similar way.
The good news is, only the stem itself is unpredictable. All of the other prefixes are totally predictable. The stem is the last part of the verb word. For example, the stem in the word aawaxáa “s/he ate it” is –xaa. The stem in the word yak’éi “he/she/it is good” is –k’éi. Specifically, what is unpredictable about the stem of a Tlingit verb in a given tense/aspect (past, present, future, etc.) is the vowel length (long or short) and the tone (high or low). For example, given the form kashxeet “s/he is writing”, we cannot predict whether the verb stem will have a long and hi vowel: -xéet, a long and low vowel: -xeet, or a short and hi vowel: -xít in any other tense, such as the future or perfective. As it turns out, this verb stem has a short high vowel in the perfective: kawjixít “s/he wrote” and a long high vowel in the future: kakgwashxéet “s/he will write”. Compare this pattern with the verb al’eix “s/he is dancing”, which has a long, low vowel in the stem in all three forms; the imperfective (just given), the perfective aawal’eix “s/he danced”, and the future akgwal’eix “s/he will dance”. These patterns are not predictable, but must be learned for each individual verb.