The Kāmviri Directional System

The following is an abstract of a paper given at the 3rd Himalayan Languages Symposium, University of California at Santa Barbara, on 18 July 1997. The symposium was supported with funds from the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

Direction and Location in the Nuristāni Languages


Richard F. Strand

A grammatical characteristic of the Nuristāni languages that distinguishes them from the surrounding Indo-Aryan and Iranian languages is their system of directional location. As illustrated by the system in Kāmviri, members of a set of pointers may precede verbs of motion to indicate direction to a destination; they may form locational adverbs by combining with locational suffixes or certain nouns to indicate directional locations; or they may follow a locational adverb to indicate further direction from the adverbial location.

Pointers come in four functional pairs: earth-relative ('u 'up', 'down'), speaker-relative (vā- 'hither', pā- 'thither'), barrier-relative (āt'a 'in', bār'a 'out'), and flow-relative ('ni 'downward', 'ca 'upward'). Pointers from the latter three pairs in certain instances may combine (vā- and pā- must combine) with a bound pointer extension that indicates earth-relative direction (-ńu 'and up', -a 'and down', -e 'horizontally away', 'around') to form a compound pointer; e.g., pāń'u 'thither and up'.

Locational suffixes indicate a specific location (-ra), a nonspecific region (), or a region that extends away (-ma). Further nominal diminutive suffixes may be added to -ra and -ma to indicate proximity, and the nominal locative suffix -e must follow -ra to form a locational adverb. These locational suffixes descend from Indo-European suffixes of similar form, and their Kāmviri meanings may shed light on their original Indo-European functions in forming derivative nouns (e.g., -m- as found in Sanskrit dhu:m'i  'smoke', k'arman 'deed', bh'u:mi 'earth', etc., may indicate an outward extension of the root action).

Functional pairs of pointers combine to form reciprocal pointers: 'uja 'up and down' (< 'u 'up' + je 'and' + 'down'), 'vecpe 'hither and thither horizontally', 'vācpāńu 'hither and thither on an angle', āt'acbāra 'in and out', 'ninca 'downward and upward'. Derived locational adverbs combine phrasally to indicate opposite ends of a path: 'nire care 'from down there to up there' 'nire cań 'from down there upward', 'niń cań 'downward to upward' āt'a bāra 'inside out', etc.

Each geographic location is linked to its neighbors through a pointer; distal locations may be linked by a single conventional pointer or by a locational adverb plus pointer. Where the terrain admits to more than one direction between two locations, the pointer for the most salient direction is conventionally used; thus Kābul is 'u 'up' from Nuristān, because of the steep ascent encountered shortly before reaching that city.

The directional systems in the other Nuristāni languages are similar to that of Kāmviri; the ĀshkuNu dialects allow prefixing of pointers to deictic pronouns, and Vāsi-vari has a richer system of pointers. It would appear that these directional systems developed after the Nuristānis were driven into the Hindu-Kush Mountains by Afghāns a millenium ago.

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First posted 29 Dec. 1997      Last modified 29 Dec. 1997

Copyright © 1997 by Richard F. Strand