Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Detail #401: Finite verbs, infinitives and ...

I have recently taken to writing longer, even more typologically informed posts that sit around in my drafts folder waiting to be finished. One such post will be about infinitives and related forms.

My original intent with the post was a bit less ambitious than it now is, and the original ideas I set out to give a context for now seem to fit better in a separate post altogether.

Let us consider finite verbs and infinitives. This is a very simple two-way split. Could we turn it into a three-way split?

It's of course easy to write a half-assed description in a grammar that says something like "this form is half-way between a finite verb and an infinite verb" - but half-way along what dimensions? What dimensions even separate the two kinds?

It turns out infinitives vary a lot from language to language, and not all languages even have them. However, one could possibly design the verb system in such a way that there are forms with different properties, and the verb forms form three or four clusters.

Maybe one could even get rid of the notion of a finite verb with some clever decisions, and instead distribute the properties that generally characterize a finite verb to two or three other verb forms that have to be combined in order to achieve a properly finite VP?

Of course participles, verbal nouns, converbs, coverbs, conegatives, gerunds, forms that just get called "infinitive III" or the like, etc have a lot of different coordinates in "verb property space" - and these may not even be uniform from language to language or even dialect to dialect - and sometimes, they even come close enough to finite verb space to cross over that line. 

The challenge for a conlanger, as I see it, is getting distinct clusters. Once my post on infinitives is done, I may write a follow-up that attempts coming up with some way of mapping "verb form space" onto three clusters (or four) in "verb property space".

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Detail #400: Converbs and Alignment-like phenomena

Converbs are essentially verb forms that have some form of adverbial use. In some way one could also say they are "cases for verbs". They often mark things such as "condition on which the main verb depends", "action that was enabled by the predicate", "action that enabled the predicate", "... preceded ...", "... followed ...", "... coincided with ...", etc. There is a lot of possibilities with converbs, and I may write a post going into some of that later on.

However, let's think a bit about the relationship between the converb and the main verb. We can divide all sentences in the world into two types:

  1. No converb is present.
  2. One or more converbs are present.

We can imagine a system with a handful of different converbs, maybe the following:

  • conditional
  • simultaneous
  • in order to
  • as a result of
  • until the end of
  • from the end of
  • temporarily doing

What if a clause with no converb usually does not mark its predicate verb with the usual finite markers, but with one particular converb's forms, thus giving us a slightly "ergative-like" pattern, where "normal verb inflections" are ergative, and that particular converb is "absolutive"? Maybe there can be two converbs that can have that "absolutive" role, with a differential morphology thing going: maybe "simultaneous" usually just means "happens", whereas "temporarily" means "habitually or on-and-off".

We can consider other factors also that trigger which pattern is used: maybe some persons take the regular finite verb, or inanimates take some of the converbs for predicates except if there's some "real" converb present?

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Detail #399: Some notes on pro-verbs

One of the things conlangers come up with every now and then - and which really do exist, even - are the verbal equivalents of pronouns.

I am not sure whether there is any "formal" definition of such a pro-verb that is very specific - I figure linguists recognize them when they see them, and I doubt there's much actual formal need, usually at least - to study these as a category of verbs.

I imagine it might be common in languages to have different types of "do" - maybe distinguished by a variety of factors: aspect, transitivity, expected type of result. Like pronouns, I find it likely that pro-verbs would not be "entirely normal" verbs - but rather of the kind that can be auxiliaries (much like pronouns can be determiners) and may be defective (like pronouns may) or have richer systems of inflection (like pronouns may). However, "do" altered along those dimensions is not the only possible pro-verb.

An obvious type of pronoun to look into is the demonstrative pronoun. "What you this.verb" - what is this that you are doing?, "you this.verb any result" - 'does doing this have any result'. Demonstrative adverbs ('thus', 'like this') could of course also reasonably be verbal: thus.verb.imperative: do thus!, [like this].verb.interrog: like this?, 'you thus.verb.interrog? I always this.verb!" - "do you do like that? I do it this way."

Another obvious one is the interrogative verb - essentially "what are you doing", though one could also imagine that "how" could  be an auxiliary - in which case a nice system with the demonstratives of manner emerges.

One could of course go further and go for the indefinite pronouns: nothing, something, anything. Here, I recommend reading the post on the typology of indefinite pronouns! "What.verb.2sg?" "Nothing.verb.1sg". "Just anything.verb.imp!", "They something.verb.past.3sg".

Other indefinite pronouns and determiners - like 'other', 'whatever', 'this, that and the other', 'either', 'none', 'neither', could easily lend themselves to verbs.

For a further twist, how about relative verbs? One could of course use them as markers of subclauses in general - an auxiliary that always occurs in a relative subclause - but one could also imagine them as a way of introducing relative subclause-like information about a verb.

bats fly which.verb.3pl birds also
I tired am which.verb.1sg always in the evenings
And finally - possessive pronouns. I imagine these would be a bit like the "yours"/"mine"/... variety of English possessive pronouns, and signify "the action you/I/ doing. In this case "stop.imperative mine.verb.infinitive" would mean "stop imitating me/doing what I am doing". "Mine.verb.imperative" would mean "imitate me".

There's of course tons of ways in which these could be extended with normal verbal affixes, imagine
"she always knew pre-mine.verb.participle"
she always knew what I was about to do

"he always re-theirs.verb.participle"
he always redoes what they do
These are but some ideas related to this topic. I am not sure including all of them in a conlang would be a good idea, but a nice subset with some nice extensions and quirks could be pretty cool.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Detail #398: Evidentials in Reasonable, but Unusual Places

Evidentials appear in many languages of the world. Many languages have them as an integral part of the verb morphology, but a slightly more limited distribution is not entirely inconceivable. I have been thinking a bit about what particular types of words and constructions may be likely to attract evidential marking. I make no claim as to completeness.

 Such, thus.

Such and thus are interesting - they're partially adjectives/adverbs, partially demonstratives. Basically shorthand for "like that" or "like this". Some languages have the same levels of deixis for their correlate, such as Swedish "så(da)n där/så(da)n här" which perfectly maps onto den här/den här. "Så här", "så där" basically provides two forms of 'thus' with a deictic distinction.
So, with these, some types of statements may actually invite evidentiality.


Particularly conjunctions that introduce subclauses.

The copula.

Certain adjectives and nouns relating to status in the eye of the law

criminal, murderer, etc, but also possibly statuses that aren't directly connected to culpability: heir-to-be, engaged, bastard


Friday, August 7, 2020

Detail #397: Discourse Particles as ... Auxiliaries, Subjects, Objects, and other Decidedly Non-Particly Words

So, discourse particles are a thing that have decidedly been given a stepmotherly treatment in English. A similar disdainful view does exist in Swedish, even though it'd seem Swedish does have more dedicated discourse markers than English does. By 'dedicated discourse marker' I mean a word that cannot also be used in other ways.

As an example of the disdain I am talking of, when the Swedish pop-sci linguistics magazine Språket ('Language') published an article about discourse particles, the discussion in a variety of online language groups was decidedly hostile, people saying this was the final drop re: that magazine, people thinking it dumb that someone defend such frivolous words, etc.

I believe this disdain for them, this view of them as something to be avoided and even scorned, as a sign of low intelligence or lack of education is something that may affect the willingness conlangers have to use them in interesting ways.

I am not saying we share the prejudice, I am saying the prejudice just subtly steers us away from thinking about them, in part because there's less material about them.

So, how about changing their word classes to something more respectable?

1. Auxiliaries
Pretty much what it says on the tin. However, one can imagine some further twists: maybe they also entirely replace some verbs, such as copulas. They might "cut across" verbs depending on a variety of factors.

Imagine, for instance, a verb "hæm" that replaces "have" in the case of first person subjects with an NP after, but 'are, is' in the case of other persons:
I hæm a solution -> oh, I have a solution
you hæm a teacher -> oh, you are a teacher
I hæm eaten already -> oh, I have already eaten
you hæm eaten already -> oh, you have already eaten
These could also be secondary-rank auxiliaries or primary-rank ones - depending on how they act in combination with other auxiliaries.

2. Anti-auxiliaries and second-rate auxiliaries
An anti-auxiliary would force any other verb to behave like its auxiliary, and then trigger word order such as that of aux + subordinated verb.

3. Subjects
A discourse particle acting as a subject will of course push every other argument down, possibly such that subjects become indirect objects, objects maybe stay as such (or can be demoted to obliques), and indirect objects either are demoted to direct objects or obliques.

4. Object, indirect objects
Similar to the previous one. In the case of (di)transitive verbs, you get some kind of demotion of the actual (indirect) object.

6. Some kind of sliding NP
These would pick the first free slot - subject, object, indirect object,  (or maybe io and o switch places in the hierarchy), or some kind of olbique. These could have some kind of "stopping point" which they won't be demoted past, and from that point on they cause the effects described above.

7. Adjectives
An adjectival discourse particle would mark congruence with nouns, or at the very least have the syntactical properties of an adjective. Maybe they could even be used as complements of verbs, i.e. an adjective that means 'yeah, sure' and behaves adjectivally:
The yeah-sure.neut car.neut was on fire
yeah, sure, the car was on fire

the car.neut that burned down was
yeah, sure, it was the car that burned down!
8. Clitics
I am just mentioning clitics to exhaust the low-hanging fruit.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Detail #396: Antideranking

In many languages, subclauses and main clauses have somewhat different properties. The differences may appear in any number of subsystems - word order, morphosyntactical alignment, verb conjugation, pro-drop rules.

Sometimes, complexions exist - different types of subclauses may behave differently (relative subclauses being one reasonable exceptional subtype), and sometimes, subclause behaviors may also pop up in main clauses: morphosyntactical alignment, for instance, sometimes is ergative in all subclauses and in some main clauses with some TAMs. Verbal modes that typically appear in subclauses may also signal something if they pop up in main clauses.

If I have properly understood the terminology, deranking seems to be a term used to describe systems whereby a subordinate thing has distinctive features, such as the ones listed above.

My proposition is to have a similar distinction, such that main clauses with subordinate clauses (of some types) are distinct from subclauses and from all other main clauses. Maybe some specific 'superordinate' verb forms, maybe some specific word order (I would not be surprised if a superordinate clause has stricted word order!).

Subordinate clauses with further subordinate clauses would be considered superordinate as well, but could potentially showcase non-conflicting features from both, e.g. strict SVO[SUBCLAUSE] word order due to being superordinate, but ergative alignment due to being subordinate.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Detail #395: A Way of Forming Genitive Constructions

So, I came across a quote from some text today that stated that "the genitive case seems to have survived linguistic evolution moreso than other cases in Europe because of the desire to communicate association and possession between nouns". I already have discarded the tab where it was quoted ages ago, so I am not sure about the exact wording and looking for it would be tedious and it was in Swedish so it's not like it'd be of much use to anyone, and it was old - it was in 18th century Swedish. Whatever may be the case, it made me think a bit about genitive-like constructions, and I came up with one I have not seen elsewhere.

So, in English and Swedish, the genitive marker occupies the same syntactic slot as articles. You can't say "Enid's the car" and by that mean 'the car of Enid's', as contrasted to 'Enid's a car' for 'a car of Enid's'.

Now, in some languages - Finnish among them - genitives behave more like adjectives. You can, in fact, place some attributes of a noun on the other side of the genitive in Finnish. Thus, the genitive in Finnish is "more clearly" inside the NP than they are in Swedish and English (where they arguably rather are parts of a DP that surround the NP).

Now, what if genitives were not marked, but were located inside the NP, and the language had explicit articles. Let's imagine the articles have a similar allomorphy as they do in English:
an a man cave: a cave of a man
the a man cave: the cave of a man
the the man cave: the cave of the man
a the man cave: a cave of the man
In a language with gender markers on the articles, this might be more likely to occur, as the relationships between the nouns and the articles would be easier to unpack.