Home - A Grammar of the Denden Language - Abbreviations - References

Further literature on the particle tan

The Denden particle tan is notoriously difficult to describe in a rigorous fashion. Countless generations of PhD students have been able to base their thesises on it. The particle ga is nearly as notorious.

However, tan TAN can be said to relate clauses and nominals, and in that sense, is a relative particle, and in some cases it should be glossed RTV. The meanings of tan include genitive, ablative, locative, dative and comitative meanings, and in fact, tan can be used in place of almost every distinct case particle.

De Mattos in his la langue denden notes: 'De tous les particules de la langue denden, la particule tan est certes celle qui offre les plus admirables ressources au prodigeux et inpuissable thème de la circumlocution', although I rather think he's too caustic in that assessment.

Petro Astio in his Grammatica Chariana (Astio 1881 passim), associates the prepositional particle tan with the genitive case, and the postpositional particle tan with the locative case:

  nominativus  laismar      mensa
  vocativus    laismar      mensa
  genitivus    tan laismar  mensae
  dativus      laismar      mensae
  accusativus  laismar      mensam
  ablativus    laismar      mensa
  locativus    laismar tan  mensae

Counter to this analysis runs the attested usage of the particle tan in an ablative and a dative sense:


.   Sera  tan harulon tan Qunayir nahan,     tarna sera  quna tau.ga
    3sHGH TAN temple  TAN Qunayir come_from, but   3sHGH cat  NEG.NOM
    He comes from the temple of Qunayir, but he isn't a cat.


.   Do    tan di    tau.gevir.ju ram
    1sMGH TAN 2sMGH NEG.give.CRT money
    I certainly won't give you money.

Huhn (1985:71-74) notes of the genitive usages of tan 'Der Genitiv ist im Chariänischen der attributive Kasus slechthin. Seine Aufgabe besteht darin, einen unmittelbar auf ihn folgenden Substantivischen Begriff näher zu erläuteren.' From this remark we can but conclude that the Huhn was not acquinted with the postpositional usage of tan.

What ought to be taken in account when considering the meaning and usage of tan, is the fact that Denden is a lingua franca, spoken across a large continent by people with a wide variety of mother-tongues. The substratal influences of their native tongues have to a large degree caused the wide variety of usages of tan attested in the sources.

Shirley Herry is undoubtedly right when she says 'in some cases we can only surmise that, spurred on by little understood usage of other authors, the particle tan was used as a linguistic stop-gap whenever the grammar of the phrase was too difficult for the author, for whom Denden was, after all, but seldom the native language.' (Herry 1995:54). In (1998:180) compares tan to the classical Chinese zhi.

Rolsch (1996:36) explicitly compares the particle tan to the 'bilong' found in Tok Pisin, while Holm (1988: 73) also notes that extensive polysemy and multifunctionality of prepositions is a leading characteristic of pidgins and creoles, thus supporting Irina Rempt's opinion that Denden started out as a trade pidgin (1999, personal communication). However, the fact that Denden was, even during the reign of Emperor Rordal, seldom the native tongue of the speaker, means that Denden must be considered a lingua franca rather than a creole.


© 1999 Boudewijn Rempt - Optimized for Lynx