AN INTRODUCTION TO SIRMAURI - GRAMMATICAL GENDER
J. C. Sharma, Ph.D.
1. SIRMAURI LANGUAGE AREA
Sirmauri is the name given to the language spoken in the erstwhile princely state of Sirmaur in Himachal Pradesh. For centuries, Sirmaur functioned as a princely State, and now it is one of the districts of Himachal Pradesh, with Nahan as its headquarters.
The district lies among the outer Himalayan ranges between 77x01' 12'' and 77x49' 40'' East longitude and 30x22' 30'' and 31x01' 20'' North latitude. The district, except for the broad valley of the Kayarda Dun, is a mountainous region with deep valleys lying between ranges of varying elevations. The greatest length from west to east is 77 kms. And the maximum width from the north to the south is 80 kms.
On its north side lies the Simla Hills, on the east the Tons River, dividing it from the Dehradun district of Uttar Pradesh, from which the river Yamuna also separates it on the southeast. The Ambala district of Haryana lies on its south, while on the northwest Kasumpti of Mahasu region is located. Sirmauri language is spoken also in the Chaupal area of Simla district. The total area of the district, according to the Survey of India documents, is 2836 sq. kms. The total population of this district of this district was 1,66,077 in 1951 census, and 1,97,551 in 1961 census.
2. THE GIRI RIVER
It is important that I make some mention to the Giri River. The Giri River divides Sirmauri in almost two equal parts from the northwest to the southeast. These parts are called Giriwar and Giripar or Trans-Giri. The people of these two parts differ considerably in their characteristics. The Trans-Giri or the Giripar territory comprises wild mountainous region that lies between the great range culminating in the Chur peak and the Giri River. From the great peak (11,982 feet in height) run two loft ranges, one in north and another in northwest. Direct communication between the people groups is rather sparse until recent times, and this has led to the development of somewhat related speech varieties to develop into "languages."
3. SURROUNDING LANGUAGES
The language of the erstwhile Jubbal state is similar to Sirmauri. Sirmauri has Baghati language to its northwest, Western Hindi to its southwest, south and southeast, and Jannsari to its east. The dialect spoken in the Chisgiri area is called DharThi and the dialect spoken in the Trans Giri is called Giripari. There are two main dialects of Sirmauri, namely DharThi spoken in Giriwar area, and Giripari spoken in Giripar area. It appears that these dialects or sub-dialects do not differ in grammar. However, dharThi seems to have been more influenced by Hindi, whereas the Giripari dialect seems to be pure Pahari. Grierson identified yet another dialect of Sirmaur, Bishau, but he did not consider it different from Giripari.
4. GENDER IN INDO-ARYAN LANGUAGES
Classical Sanskrit had a highly symmetrical three-way distinction with regard to gender-number system. In the Middle Indo-Aryan stage languages, Pali and Prakrit, this system broke down into a two-way contrast.
New Indo-Aryan languages can be classified into three groups based on their grammatical marking of gender:
Among the Pahari group of languages, there are a number of languages like Churahi, Pangawali, Chinali, and Sirmauri, which have a three-way distinction with regard to gender.
Gender goes along with number and it is marked in various word classes like nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, and, interestingly enough, with some of the post-positions that function as genitive, locative, and ablative markers. Generally the person-number also suffixes go together. These word categories show the agreement of gender-number with other word categories in syntactic constructions like phrases and sentences.
Gender distinctions followed in various Indo-Aryan languages are used to group the Indo-Aryan languages under various sub-groups. While, at times, the grammatical gender distinctions may be blurred in some constructions, the native speakers do acquire the distinctions easily. However, a Sirmauri speaker learning Hindi, for example, will have some problem in switching from his native Sirmauri three-way distinctions to the two-way grammatical gender distinction in standard Hindi. The textbook writers and teachers can use the outline of Sirmauri gender distinction presented in this paper to make a sensible comparison between Sirmauri and standard Hindi, and teach Hindi in an effective manner.
The present paper on the grammatical gender used in Sirmauri is based on the Giripari variety of Sirmauri spoken in Shilai and Sangrah tehsils of Sirmaur district. Gender is exhibited by various word categories such as nouns, pronouns (III person), adjectives (variable), some verbs, some postpositions and some adverbs. I propose to present first of all how gender is marked in different words categories and then show how gender concordance occurs between these word categories.
As in most Indo-Aryan languages, each noun in Sirmauri inherently belongs to one of the three genders. The gender system in Sirmauri is partly semantically based and partly morphologically based. Inflected nouns usually ending in /-a/ are masculine, ending in /-I/ are feminine, and ending in /-U/ are neuter.
The semantic criterion (natural sex) takes precedence over the morphological criterion. It is not simple to identify the gender of a noun. For gender determination, one has to depend upon the listing or knowledge of the native speaker and the context. Morphologically, gender is marked by certain suffixes using which nouns belonging to the feminine gender may be derived from the masculine forms. Since the feminine forms have greater number of semantic distinctions relating to size (small, smallest, diminutive, etc.), it appears that positing the masculine form of the noun, as the base to derive the feminine forms is the simplest process. That is, some derivational suffixes mark diminutive along with the gender. /-I/ suffix usually marks the small size and /-U/ the smallest, feminine, and neuter.
The pronominal forms such as demonstrative pronouns (proximate), demonstrative pronouns (remote), and all the pronouns with the genitive marking suffix take gender-number suffixes.
For example, /eja/ means 'this' (mas.); /ejI/ means 'this' (fem.), and /ejU/ means 'this' (neut.). Also, /seja/ means 'this' (mas.), /sejI/ 'that' (fem.), and /seju/ 'that' (neut.).
Adjectives are usually used to modify the nouns. There are two kinds of adjectives in Sirmauri, based on the agreement the adjectives have with the following nouns.
Consider the following examples.
In Sirmauri, there are a number of postpositions that carry gender distinctions. These postpositions are used to denote genitive, locative, and ablative cases.
As stated above, gender goes with the number in word categories. Some verbal stems like infinitives, imperfectives as well as perfective participles, simple future, progressive and past tense auxiliaries take gender-number suffixes.
Infinitives /kha-/ 'eat'
Imperfective Participle /kΛr-l/ 'do'
Future tense is marked by /-b-/ in first person and by
There are two progressive auxiliaries /ro-/, and /lo-/ that take gender-number suffixes. The progressive auxiliary /ro-/ occurs with intransitive verbs and the progressive auxiliary /lo-/ occurs with the transitive verbs.
11. GENDER AGREEMENT
When verbal forms are inflected, these show either gender-number or person-number agreement with the word class occurring with it in a syntactic construction.
1. Subject-Verb Agreement. All the nouns and pronouns functioning as subject will have gender agreement with the verb.
/mama hoTe roa/ 'Mother's brother has gone.'
2. Object-verb Agreement. In all the constructions where the subject is in the oblique form with some case marker, the verb agrees with the object. When the construction is without an object, as in the case of the intransitive verb construction, the verb will have neuter gender.
merE rotI khaNi 'I have to eat bread.'
Note that roTi and khaNi are marked for feminine gender.
3. Adjective - Noun Agreement
In a noun phrase, the adjectives of the variable class take gender-number according to the gender-number of the noun with which it occurs as a modifier.
kaLa ghoRa 'black horse.'
In this phrase ghoRa is marked for masculine singular, and so the preceding adjective is also marked for masculine singular. Compare this with kalI ghoRI in which both the adjective and the noun are feminine singular terms.
4. The present and past participial forms and ordinals also behave like the adjectives, taking gender-number agreement suffixes. Consider the following examples.
boeyondu khEt 'the cultivated field.'
khEt is neuter singular and so the participial form that precedes it, namely, boeyondu 'the cultivated' is also in neuter singular.
5. All genitive-marking postpositions added to the nouns and pronouns behave like the adjectives. The possessor shows the agreement of gender-number with the head noun that is possessed in a noun phrase. Consider the following example:
maTi ru loTkU 'pot of mud,' literally, mud, of, pot.
6. Agreement of postpositions.
The postpositions inflected for gender-number are in agreement with the subject noun as well as with the sentence compliment that could be noun or adjective. Locative /d-/ shows agreement with other categories as to gender-number. Consider the following:
Eso ghari di cen pacci 'three leaves in this branch.'
di stands for feminine plural, and pacci 'leaves' is also a feminine plural term.
/s-/ is an ablative and instrumental marker postposition. This also takes the gender-number suffixes depending upon the noun.
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J. C. Sharma, Ph.D.
Central Institute of Indian Languages
Mysore 570006, India