Dene Lexware Grammar

This document is the normative definition of allowable structure for Dene Lexware files, based on Jim Kari’s usage (for Lower Tanana), and with input from Jason Harris (for Gwich’in).

Conventions in this document: Band labels are in this font. Options after band labels are in this font. Text that must follow a band is indicated TEXT: it may contain one or more words, separated by space(s). Sections in this document define classes of related bands, with each bullet being a necessary or optional band, in the order given. An ‘OR’ means that only one of several options is allowed. Hyperlinks can be followed to the relevant section.

Brief linguistic background information is included for some of the elements in order to facilitate the work of those who are not familiar with Dene Athabascan lexicography.

Other formating conventions (italics, index marks, etc) in the Lexware file are given in the Markup section, below.

(This file should be kept in sync with the XML schema file that defines allowable XML output.)


Root element

Each root element can be either a:


Root word attributes

  • pd TEXT (0-to-1) : Proto Dene
  • tag TEXT (0-to-1) : Tag
  • rtyp TEXT (0-to-1) : Root word type (now includes codes for previous root elements: .rtu, .rrt, .drt)
  • nav TEXT (0-to-1) : Navajo cognate
  • df TEXT (0-to-1) : Derived forms

Stem sets

“Athabascan [verb] stems undergo transformations to express different states of time and completion, called mode, and different ways of completing an action or being in a state, called aspect” (Urschel 2006). The ..set data construction records that stem variation in mode and aspect for verb roots. Each set line gives mode variation (in standard order: imperfective, perfective, future, optative), for for a single aspect (e.g., conclusive, durative). Note that aspect is also indicated by verb prefixes (see Themes).

  • ..sets (exactly-1)
  • set <asptype> TEXT (1-to-many) : Aspectual category, where <asptype> is one of: bisec (bisective), conc (conclusive), cns (consecutive), cona (conative), cont (continuative), cust (customary), dist (distributive), dur (durative), mom (momentaneous), mult (multiple), neu (neuter), per (perambulative), pers (persistive), prog (progressive), rep (repetitive), rev (reversative), sem (semelfactive), tran (transitional).


A verb theme denotes an abstract or skeleton verb form which does not include reference to subject and time (Urschel 2006). It is a “shorthand grammatical formula that indicates the basic structure for the verb-word" (Kari 2012). Many different themes can be built from the same stem (root word) with very different meanings.

In general, a specific theme for a stem will convey a particular way of doing something, indicated in the tc band; “the verb theme categories are groups of themes that have similar meaning and grammatical structure especially in their most basic forms” (Kari 2012). The theme categories are aspectual in nature, relating to the temporal contour of the theme.

Examples present a selection of many possible derivatives of the theme.

The paradigms for the theme record the actual forms that the theme takes under different modes, subjects (I, you, we...), and with negation.

  • TEXT (exactly-1) : The formula for the theme, consisting minimally of stem and classifier (the morpheme preceding the stem, sometimes just “remnants of ancient grammar rules [without] direct meaning” (ref.), sometimes indicating voice/transitivity (Rice 2015), and indicate whether the verb takes an object (O), postpositional object (P), or gender prefix (G). Symbol ‘+’ separates morphemes (meaningful component sounds), and ‘#’ indicates the boundary between disjunct and conjunct morphemes. (Note: band label is used under ..tfs.)
  • Dialects (0-to-1)
  • tc <tctype> (exactly-1) : Theme category, where <tctype> is one of: clas-mot (classificatory motion), clas-stat (classificatory stative), conv (conversive), con-rev (conversive-reversative), desc (descriptive), dim (dimensional), dur (durative), ext (extension), mot (motion), neu (neuter), ono (onomatopoetic), op (operative), op-ono (onomatopoetic operative), op-rep (operative repetitive), op-rev (operative reversative), pos (positional), pot (potentialitive), stat (stative), suc (successive), u:xxx (uncategorized xxx), a-neu (a-neuter), desc-neg (descriptive-negative), sev (several, used occasionally). Also stat/mot, ext/mot, stat/op for dual tc.
  • cnj TEXT (0-to-1) : Conjugation prefix.
  • Gloss (exactly-1)
  • Example (0-to-many)
  • Paradigms (0-to-many)
  • ( Word sub-categories (0-to-many) : ...n only, nominalized verbs making use of the theme )


  • gl TEXT (exactly-1) : English gloss
  • quo TEXT (0-to-1) : Quotations from consultant (or comment)
  • cit TEXT (0-to-1) : Citation (e.g., Notebook source)


  • ex TEXT (exactly-1) : Example
  • Dialects (0-to-1)
  • eng TEXT (exactly-1) : English translation
  • lit TEXT (0-to-1) : Literal translation
  • quo TEXT (0-to-1) : Quotations from consultant (or comment)
  • cit TEXT (0-to-1) : Citation (e.g., Notebook source)


Note the different usage of dial depending on whether it is the first, or subsequent

  • dial <lang> (exactly-1) : Dialect of the preceding ex. <lang> is a controlled vocabulary.
  • dial <lang> TEXT (0-to-many) : Additional forms of the word in different dialects


Verb theme usage paradigms: the specific forms of this theme recording variation in subject, mode, negation. Coded as a table.

  • ...prds <def> (exactly-1) : Column definition codes for subsequent prd bands. <def> is a string of single or double characters separated by space(s). The character order defines the column order. Allowable characters indicate modes: i (imperfective - incomplete action), p (perfective; completed action), f (future), o (optative; desire/intention), which may be combined with a + (positive, default), or - (negative). Note that tense (when an action was performed) in Athabascan is not indicated independently from mode, as it is in English. Perfective conveys past completion, imperfective conveys ongoing in present, and future conveys actions in the future (ref).
  • prd <person> TEXT (1-to-many) : Paradigm example, one line for each person, where <person> is one of: 1s (first person singular), 2s (second person singular), 3s (third person singular), 1p (first person plural), 2p (second person plural), 3p (third person plural), 1d (first person dual), 2d (second person dual), 3d (third person dual), ind (indefinite). TEXT is the row of words, in same order as the column definition in ...prds. If an entry (cell) should be two words, use an underscore (‘_’) in place of a space between words; in this way, spaces are reserved for column (field) delimiters. A missing element in the matrix is indicated with a dash (‘-’).
  • prdgl TEXT (0-to-1, following a prd) : Paradigm gloss

Word categories

  • <gc2> TEXT (exactly-1) : Word category, where <gc2> is either: A stem: one of: ..adj (adjective, adj.), (aspectual derivational string, a.d.s.), ..adv (adverb, adv.), (areal noun, a.n.), ..c (compounding form, c.), ..cnj (conjunction, cnj.), ..coll (collocation, coll.), ..dem (demonstrative, dem.), ..dir (directional, dir.), ..enc (enclitic, enc.), ..exc (exclamation, exc.), ..i (incorporate, i.), ..ic (incorporate compound, ic.), (instrumental noun, ins.n.), ..i-n (instrumental noun, ins.n.; for Jim Kari), (interrogative, int.), ..mpn (major place name, m.p.n.), ..n (noun, n.), (noun, compound, n.c.), (noun, incorporate, n.i.), ..nic (noun, incorporate compound, n.i.c.), ..nenc (noun enclitic, n.enc.), ..padj (predicate adjective, p.adj.), (prefix, pf.), (place name, p.n.), ..psn (personal name, ps.n.), ..pp (postposition, pp.), (pronoun, pro.), ..scnj (subordinating conjunction, s.cnj.), ..venc (verb enclitic, v.enc.), ..voc (vocative, voc.); a noun affix: ..nsf (Noun suffix), ..sf (Suffix), ..nfaf (Noun formation affix), ..nfsf (Noun formation suffix); a verb affix: ..vsf1 (Verb suffix 1, v.sf1.), ..vsf(Verb suffix, v.sf.), ..nds (Non-derivational string, n.d.s.), ..vfaf (Verb formation affix), ..vfsf (Verb formation suffix), ..vpf (Verb prefix,, (aspectual derivational string, a.d.s.); or a theme formation string: ..tfs.
  • Word category attributes (exactly-1)
  • Examples (0-to-many)
  • Word sub-categories (0-to-many)
  • ( Subthemes (0-to-many), only for ..tfs )

Word category attributes

  • Dialect (0-to-1)
  • ( tc <tctype> (0-to-1) : Theme category, see Themes, for,, and ..tfs only )
  • ( asp TEXT (0-to-1) : Aspect, for,, and ..tfs only )
  • ( cnj TEXT (0-to-1) : Conjugation prefix, for,, and ..tfs only )
  • Gloss (exactly-1) : English gloss
  • smf TEXT (0-to-1) : Semantic field
  • sc TEXT (0-to-1) : Scientific name
  • lit TEXT (0-to-1) : Literal translation

Word sub-categories

  • <gc3> TEXT (exactly-1) : Word category, where <gc3> is one of: ...adj (adjective, adj.), (aspectual derivational string, a.d.s.), ...adv (adverb, adv.), (areal noun, a.n.), ...c (compounding form, c.), ...cnj (conjunction, cnj.), ...coll (collocation, coll.), ...dem (demonstrative, dem.), ...dir (directional, dir.), ...drt (derived root, der.rt.; only at sub-entry level), ...enc (enclitic, enc.), ...exc (exclamation, exc.), ...i (incorporate, i.), ...ic (incorporate compound, ic.), (instrumental noun, ins.n.), (interrogative, int.), ...n (noun, n.), (noun, compound, n.c.), (noun, incorporate, n.i.), ...nic (noun, incorporate compound, n.i.c.), ...nenc (noun enclitic, n.enc.), ...mpn (major place name, m.p.n.), ...padj (predicate adjective, p.adj.), (prefix, pf.), (place name, p.n.), ...psn (personal name, ps.n.), ...pp (postposition, pp.), (pronoun, pro.), ...sf (suffix, sf.), ...scnj (subordinating conjunction, s.cnj.), ...venc (verb enclitic, v.enc.), ...voc (vocative, voc.). An Inflectional String, ...ifs, may occur under some verb affix word categories.
  • Word category attributes (exactly-1)

Loan word

  • .lw TEXT (exactly-1) : Loan word
  • src TEXT (exactly-1) : Source language
  • Word categories (0-to-many)

Comments and document sections

These bands may occur anywhere in the file, and are indented to be be printed in the final dictionary.

  • .file TEXT (0-to-many) : Heading, indicate a section of the file.
  • ..par TEXT (0-to-many) : A standalone paragraph of text.
  • com TEXT (0-to-many) : A standalone paragraph of text, acting as a comment on a preceding band.



Changes in font can be controlled with various symbols: ampersand (&) switches to bold; percent sign (%) switches to italics, and equals sign (=) switches to normal (non-bold, non-italic) font.

Indexing marks

An asterisk (*) before a word indicates that that word should be added to the index. If the intended index word is not exactly the same as the word in the instance to be indexed, the instance word can be ‘cut’ using a closing bracket (]). E.g., *cause]s would be indexed under cause.

File comments

A hash (#) at the beginning of a line indicates that the rest of the line is either a comment or a section of the file temporarily excluded, and in either case is ignored by the processor. “Commenting out” sections of code is a standard programmer procedure during development and permits the code (i.e., bands) to remain in the file and not be deleted. Note that this kind of comment is different from the com band label which indicates a comment to be included in the output.


Kari, J. 2012. Guide to Using the Koyukon Athabaskan Dictionary. In: Koyukon Athabaskan Dictionary, J. Jette. & E. Jones.

Rice, K.D. 2015. The start of a glossary of Athabaskan vocabulary. Linguistic Institute.

Urschel, J.M. 2006. Lower Tanana Athabascan Verb Paradigms. MSc. Thesis, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.