Rebecca Bequette, Todd Bequette

SIL International

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Functions of the determiner and relativizer, ʔi, in Bunong


Bunong is a South Bahnaric language spoken in eastern Cambodia. In a corpus of 27 narrative texts, ʔi was the sixth most frequent word, occurring 1,190 times. Earlier research states that ʔi is 1) a determiner uniquely identifying a referent (Bequette 2008:34) and 2) a relativizer (Bequette 2008:49, Vogel 2006:91). The purpose of this study is to evaluate these senses of ʔi and refine our understanding of its functions.

In 42% of its occurrences, ʔi immediately precedes a noun. Out of the total, 34% (407) precede a kinship or relational term, 2% (23) precede a body part, while 6% (67) precede other noun phrases. In these contexts, ʔi functions as a determiner. Before a kinship and relational term and a body part, ʔi marks inalienable possession. Preceding other noun phrases, ʔi marks contrast.

In 57% of its occurrences, ʔi is used to connect what follows to an antecedent. In this context, ʔi functions as a relativizer introducing a relativized construction. In 4% (52) of the occurrences, it connects a verbal clause and in 53% of these occurrences it connects a nonverbal clause. Within the set of nonverbal relative clauses, 1% (10) of the occurrences connect an attributive clause, 2% (20) of the occurrences connect an equative clause, and 50% (603) connect a locative clause. The disproportionately high number of occurrences of the locative construction indicates that these may have a special function.

In 1% (8) of the occurrences, ʔi is part of a vocative expression.



Bequette, Rebecca L. 2008. Participant reference, deixis, and anaphora in Bunong narrative discourse. Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics, MA thesis.

Vogel, Sylvain. 2006. Introduction à la langue et aux dits traditionnels des Phnong de Mondulkiri. Phnom Penh: Editions Funan.