The Problem

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The Solution

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Partial Explanation

chak appears in both (11) and (12), both of which are about catching. It doesn't appear anywhere else, so we can assume it is some form of "catching".

wen appears where the subject is plural and there is "used to".

pem appears where there is "they".

in appears often, but it seems uncorrelated to the appearance of "me" or "I". So by process of elimination, we can assume ni means "me".

So for (12), it follows a [object][verb][subject][auxiliary verb] form.

The English translation of L2 follows a pattern similar to (12). We see chem and "we" in (1) and (10), and we have the wen established earlier.

The Confusion

I have two questions:

  1. Why is the object in the solution i? i appears in (13), but (13) contains the plural form of "you". L2 is for the singular form of "you".
  2. Why is the verb wel (which seemingly means "grow" from (5))? Sure, in English it is commonly said "I grew this plant", which is "I am raising this plant". But how do we know that that is how it is said in Cupeño? For example, in China, "ni chī le ma" is "Have you eaten?", which is a way of greeting someone. But in most other countries and languages, you wouldn't go to someone and say "Have you eaten?" as a way of greeting.

The Thanks


  • For #2, I would guess they’re expecting you to extrapolate. Puy appears in (9) meaning ‘dine’, but also in (10), where it’s in a transitive construction and is translated as ‘feed’. ‘Feed’ = ‘cause to eat’ and ‘raise’ = ‘cause to grow’, so they’re quite parallel. Dec 20, 2022 at 0:21
  • @JanusBahsJacquet so like causatives? Dec 20, 2022 at 0:22
  • Sorry, yes, I meant causative, not transitive! Have added a looooong answer that gives more details. Dec 20, 2022 at 2:24

1 Answer 1


This is not an easy task, if that’s all the data and information about Cupeño you’re given. Some things you can work out, but others do not seem possible to extract from just those data. As far as I can tell, it is not possible to arrive unambiguously at the correct answer without further information – although not for the reasons you cite.

Let’s start from the beginning:


It should be fairly clear from the data that the Cupeño verb is highly compound, consisting of verbal roots and various pre- and suffixes. You’ve identified some of these affixes: -wen indicates the imperfect/habitual, pem- is the 3pl subject pronoun. Some more can be adduced:


pinehamanin, nepuyqal, imichakwnen
pulinchemyax, pichempuynin

Three examples have a 1sg subject; all contain ne-, which means ‘I’. Two examples have 1pl subject and contain chem- ‘we’.

ewel, chakweyax
empulinwen, piwixeminwen

Two examples have 2sg subject and contain e- ‘thou’. Two have 2pl subject, em- ‘ye’.

wixpemyax, pemhamawen, nichakwpeminwen

One example has 3sg subject, pe- ‘he/she/it’. Three have 3pl subject, pem- ‘they’.

It’s not really clear from chimichungpenqal that the subject affix is pe-, but if you look at the system, it seems most likely: singular/plural pairs are ne-/chem-, e-/em-, X/pem-, so -m- appears to be the plural marker, and pe- is the obvious candidate for X.



One example with 1sg object, ni- ‘me’. One with 1pl object, chimi- ‘us’.


No examples with 2sg object ‘thee’. One with 2pl object, imi- ‘you’.

pinehamanin, piwixeminwen, pichempuynin

Three examples with 3sg object, pi- ‘him/her/it’. None with 3pl object ‘them’.

If we compare the subject system above, it looks like the vowel e is substituted with i in the object affixes:

Person Singular (subj ~ obj) Plural (subj ~ obj)
1 ne ~ ni chem ~ chim(i)
2 e ~ ?? em ~ im(i)
3 pe ~ pi pem ~ ??

Presumably, then, the object forms of 2sg and 3pl are i- and pimi-, respectively.1

(From the data here, there’s no way to tell whether the final i in chimi- and imi- [and pimi-] are part of the object prefix, or if they’re some other prefix that just happen to appear after chim- and im-; but you also don’t need to know that in order to solve the task.)

TAM(ish) markers

Three markers are easily discernible in the examples that indicate various aspects of the verb’s meaning: -qal (sg.) / -wen (pl.) marks the imperfect/habitual past, -yax appears to form passives, and -nin- appears to form causatives.

Less obvious is -in-, which only appears in transitive clauses, so let’s assume it marks transitivity (the answer key implicitly confirms that it does).

That takes care almost everything that’s not a verbal root. The only elements that are not yet clear are -pen- and -nen- in chimichungpenqal ‘he used to kiss us’ and imichakwnen ‘I caught you’. Given that both these sentences have object prefixes, and neither has the causative suffix -nin-, they ought to be simple transitive sentences and contain the suffix -in-. Given that pe- and ne- are the subject pronouns in 1sg and 3sg (both of which match the subjects in the translations), we can safely assume that *ne-in- > -nen- and -pe-in- > -pen-. Similarly e-in- presumably becomes en-.

Order of constituents

Probably the most difficult thing about this task is the order of the different parts of the verbal cluster, because it does not appear to be fixed at first glance.

Let’s start with the easiest parts:


pinehamanin, chimichungpenqal, piwixeminwen, pichempuynin, nichakwpeminwen, imichakwnen

Every single object pronoun in the examples comes at the very beginning, whether the verb is transitive or causative. Let’s assume that’s always the case. Slot 1 = object pronoun.

TAM(ish) markers

empulinwen, chimichungpenqal, pemhamawen, piwixeminwen, nepuyqal, nichakwpeminwen
pulinchemyax, wixpemyax, chakweyax
pinehamanin, pichempuynin

The imperfect/habitual past marker -qal/-wen, the passive marker -yax and the causative marker -nin always come at the very end, but don’t co-occur in any of the examples, so their internal order is undetermined and we have no choice but to put them in the same slot. Slot X-1 = imperfect/passive/causative.

chimichungpenqal, piwixeminwen, nichakwpeminwen, imichakwnen

The transitive suffix -(i)n- appears right before the imperfect/passive/causative suffixes. Slot X-2 = transitive.


This is where it gets tricky, because it’s clear that subjects appear both before and after the verbal root (giving the root in caps here to illustrate):


pineHAMAnin, emPULINwen, eWEL, pemHAMAwen, nePUYqal, pichemPUYnin


pulinchemyax, chimiCHUNGpenqal, WIXpemyax, piWIXeminwen, CHAKWeyax, niCHAKWpeminwen, imiCHAKWnen

So what is the logic?

Let’s look at the TAM(ish) markers and see how they are distributed in the two groups:

Marker Before After
Ø (none) X
-nin X
-yax X
-in X
-qal/-wen X X

We can see that -qal/-wen appears in both groups, so that doesn’t seem to make a difference to subject position.

But -nin only appears in the ‘before’ group, and the same is true of forms with no marker at all; conversely, -yax and -in only appear in the ‘after’ group.

So let’s assume that there are two subject slots: one before the root and one after; and that the latter is used in passive and transitive constructions, while the former is used elsewhere.

Constituent overview2

Object Subject I ROOT Subject II Transitive Impf./pass./caus.

Creating the solution

There is no verb ‘raise’ in any of the examples, so we have to get creative. We can see from examples (9) and (10) that puy means ‘eat, dine’ when intransitive, but ‘feed’ when causative.

Since raising someone is essentially ‘causing them to grow’, we can make the reasonable assumption that wel, which means ‘grow [up]’ when intransitive, would mean ‘raise’ when causative, so we can use wel and make a causative construction.

Alternatively, we can assume that ‘grow’ can be both intransitive and transitive in Cupeño, just as in English: the wheat grows; the farmer grows the wheat. So perhaps we can use a transitive construction instead of a causative one.

The trouble with the causative construction is that, as we saw above, the imperfective marker required for ‘used to’ is in the same slot as the causative marker – none of the examples have both, so we don’t know how they would appear if both are present, which they have to be here. We’ll just have to guess. 🤷🏽‍♂️

The trouble with not actually having ‘raise’ in any of the examples is that we have no way of knowing for sure whether the causative or the transitive option is correct – or indeed, if they both are (as the provided answer implies they are).

Causative construction

This is how we’d make up the form required for the causative construction:

  • [slot 1] the object always comes first, and the 2sg object form is i-
  • [slot 2] causative constructions appear in the ‘before’ group, so the subject goes in the first subject slot; the 1pl subject form is chem-
  • [slot 3] the verb is wel
  • [slot 4] the second subject slot is not used in causative constructions
  • [slot 5] as far as we can tell, the transitive marker does not co-occur with the causative marker, so this is empty as well
  • [slot 6] causative marker -nin and imperfective plural marker -wen
i chem WEL - - nin ~ wen

The best answer we can come up with is either ichemwelninwen or ichemwelwennin. From the answer provided, it’s clear the first of these is the correct one, but the data is not sufficient to arrive at this conclusion.

Transitive construction

This is how we’d make up the form required for the transitive construction:

  • [slot 1] the object always comes first, and the 2sg object form is i-
  • [slot 2] the first subject slot is not used in transitive constructions
  • [slot 3] the verb is wel
  • [slot 4] transitive constructions appear in the ‘after’ group, so the subject goes in the second subject slot; the 1pl subject form is chem-
  • [slot 5] transitive marker -in
  • [slot 6] imperfective plural marker -wen
i - WEL chem in wen

For this construction, the answer is unambiguous and can only be iwelcheminwen.



1 In actual fact, the 3pl object form is just mi-, but there is absolutely no way to know that from the data provided.

2 If you look at actual grammatical descriptions of Cupeño, you’ll find that there are more than six slots; eight is the most common number given. The order of the elements found in this exercise is really [obj] [subj I] [ROOT] [subj II] [-in-, -yax-] [-nin-] [-qal/-wen].

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