Appendix:Navajo verb theme categories

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Verb theme categories is a concept developed by James Kari for Ahtna, soon applied by researchers to other Athabascan languages like Axelrod for Koyukon, Hargus for Witsuwit'en, Rice for Slavey or Cook for Sarcee. No such work or analyzis exist at the present for the Navajo language. The Navajo Wiktionary project will be a good occasion to assert if the Verb Theme Category model neatly fits in this language.

Roots, themes, bases and verbs[edit]

In Athabascan languages it is useful to distinguish roots, themes, bases and verbs.


Theme: thematic prefixes/classifier + Root

Base: derivational prefixes + Theme + aspect

  • na + O + ni + ł + -KAAD (continuative)

Verb: mode + person + Base

While the roots are quite generic, themes are the actual building blocks of the mental lexicon. Many dictionaries of Athabascan languages actually list themes rather than bases (like YM1987 does) or roots (like YM1992 does, with some attempt at addressing themes).

Note: in the Navajo Wiktionary, themes do not unfortunately enjoy their own page, but they should normally be listed under their associated root. In the verb pages proper, it is seldom made reference to themes. That would be improvement to carry out in a later time.


According to Kari's model, themes appear to fall in a number of categories depending on their ability to take on certain derivational and aspectual strings. Bases belonging to the same theme category will tend to behave similarly. To some extent, theme categories also allow to predict which verb bases can be formed or can be expected to be found.

For instance, themes pertaining to motion like to go, to float, to roll, tend to behave similarly: they appear with a whole range of spatial prefixes in the momentaneous, they also appear in the Continuative and Progressive aspects, with the glosses “(go) about” and “(go) along” respectively, and the perfective of the Continuative indicates a round-trip to a destination. One says they form the "motion" theme category. Additionally, if one knows how to form chʼétʼááh (“to fly out horizontally”) out of the motion theme d + -TʼAʼ (to fly) and we know another theme ∅ + -ʼÉÉL (to float), we expect to be able to build the base chʼéʼeeł (to float out horizontally).

Kari distinguishes 10 such categories, divided in 2 large groups: active themes and neuter themes, described in the following sections.

Note: at this stage, it is obvious that Kari's model is really just a idealization of the structure of the lexicon. It is expected that we'll encounter themes that only partially adhere to the category's description, or that a number of their expected derivations have been lost in times, leaving to the modern language only some fossilized forms that may prove difficult to properly categorize. In such cases, ad-hoc categories will be created in the root pages, where themes are being listed.

Active themes[edit]










Fly / Move

Neuter themes[edit]



transitional intr.

transitional tr.