Monday, November 13, 2017

Detail #360: Fun With Complementizers

Complementizers appear as heads of all clauses in some theories of syntax. In most theories of syntax, they are also at least the heads of subclauses. The idea in some theories, is that something similar to that in "I knew that she likes Victorian-era comedy" even appears as a null morpheme in the onset (or somewhere else) even of main clauses.

Now, in some languages similar things genuinely appear in some clauses, and I wouldn't be surprised if such a thing even appears in all clauses in some language out there. One common such 'main clause complementizer' is the question marker.

Here appears a thing I've seldom seen conlangers do: force complementizers to appear in certain situations with main clauses, but not in others. Maybe negative clauses require a complementizer, maybe certain kinds of statements require them.

As for 'certain kinds of statements', in Swedish, 'att' (similar to English 'that' as a complementizer) sometimes introduces a clause (whose word order then is like that of subclauses), without any main clause, where the statement expresses disdain, admiration or agreement for a fact thus stated:
att han törs!(that) he dares!
how dare he?

att hon gör!
(that) she does!
she sure does!
Using complementizers occasionally or regularly for main clauses can be an interesting way of enriching one's syntax as well. One hypothesis regarding verb fronting as a way of marking questions is that the verb actually moves to the zero morpheme question complementizer, and thus is a sort of realization of that complementizer. This of course changes details in the word order. One could have the language sometimes force the subject or object into the C position, and this would change other word order details. Maybe moving the subj to the C position breaks reflexive binding? Maybe it breaks verb congruence? Maybe moving the object breaks transitivity, making a transitive subject marked absolutive (if the language is ergative).

Of course, the presence of an explicit, non-zero complementizer could, as in Swedish, force subclause word order, if there is a difference between these in the language. Thus maybe all negative clauses have subclause word order?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Detail #359: An Ergative Language with Phrasal Verbs

In English, there are a bunch of object-like nouns (that under some analyses are objects), that are marked by prepositions. These occur with a variety of verbs, a handful of these could be, for instance
wait for
hope for
look at
listen to
Now, we could imagine a similar thing in a syntactically ergative language. In a syntactically ergative language, the syntactical subject is the absolutive argument, though, and we could imagine a situation whereby the ergative argument sometimes would be marked by some other case or some adposition. I am not sure whether this should even be considered quirky case 'subjects' (or 'quirky case ergatives', since the ergative is unlike both 'subjects' and 'objects' in this style of analysis.)

Here's a bit of a challenge though: think up some "ergatively phrasal verbs" that seem as natural as 'wait for' or 'look at' or 'think about'.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Detail #358: A Congruence System with some Quirks

For certain kinds of congruence, there are two main types we can consider:
  • morphosyntactic congruence
  • semantic congruence
The former agrees in case, gender, etc, the latter agrees in some way with the meaning. We find English having a split on this with regards to examples like 'the family is' vs. 'the family are'. Different speaker communities do not agree on which one of these are right, and some may even use both with some subtle meaning differences. However, let's make up some more interesting thing here, such as a rule that tells us when the congruence is semantic and when it's morphosyntactical.

One idea could be that NP-internally, agreement always is morphosyntactical. (I will go and revise this later with regards to participles!) We could also go and say that VP-internally, the agreement is always semantic. However, the subject not being part of the VP, subject agreement on the verb might be exceptional - I'll go with morphosyntactical here. (Here, I am rather agnostic as to which way is most likely in a natural human language; heck, I find myself conflicted on whichever way VP-internal or NP-internal is more likely to go). For the language I am envisioning, the verb also has object congruence.

So, now we have a system where
the family sold-subj:3sg-obj:3pl the flock
We may of course have some gender congruence adhering to this pattern. Now, we may also have a complication with regards to quirky subjects and objects, or oblique ones: the subject might get a third person ('neutral') marking regardless of the subject's person, number or gender, while a primary 'semantic' object that is marked obliquely in some sense still might get some form of object marking on the verb.

Another complication we can introduce is with regards to left-dislocated objects - regardless if it's due to focus fronting or topicalization or whatever other thing, the object may then be considered outside of the VP, and the gap left behind now might not cause congruence.

Participles obviously have features both of adjectives and of verbs. There, passive participles could take semantic agreement, active participles morphosyntactical agreement.

Here, however, we get a lot of possibilities for sliding scales of marking, and this whole notion could be a nice testing ground for looking at probabilistic approaches for grammars: maybe, just maybe, we could build a system where the probability in some context for one kind of congruence is P, and for the other it's 1-P, where P is a real number in the range [0,1]. In different circumstances, the probabilities differ: subject marking on finite verbs has probability Psubj, object marking has Pobj, a left-dislocated object has Pl-obj, adjectives in attributive position have Pattr, and so on. These may further have a hierarchy where a change in the probability of one might force the probability of another to change.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Dagurib: The Copula

Out of the three Ćwarmin-Ŋʒädär branches, the Dagurib branch (being the smallest, and even omitted in the main name of the family) has copulas appearing most frequently in speech. In addition, the copulas feature prominently in a variety of constructions.

The Dagurib branch has been somewhat eager at acquiring prefixing morphology, as can be seen from the body-part prefixes in use on many verbs. However, another set of prefixes appear on copulas and related verbs (a list can be found at the end of the post). These can co-occur with body prefixes, and some of the combinations even have been somewhat lexicalized.

They convey a form of semantic congruence with the copula. This at times permits the complement to be omitted. Existential use of the copula can also take these.

Most are monosyllabic, with a few exceptions. A large handful are not even syllabic, but there's only one monosegmental example, viz. t-. If the t- forms a cluster that is not permissible word-initially, a vowel will be inserted. Here are only some examples. This class is not entirely closed, and sometimes parts of adjectives are sucked into this construction.
t(ʊ)-
'good', 'beneficial', 'advantageous' (from the point of view of the speaker)

tʊga- 
'good', 'beneficial', 'advantageous' (from the point of view of the subject)

turx-
'more than [one of the complements]'

tʊ̈ts-
'pleasant' (from the point of view of the speaker)

mök-
'bad', 'disadvantageous', but also used with negations of neutral or good complements.
an-
'exceedingly, intensely, possibly to a detrimental degree'

ef-
incompletely, partially, inconsistently, uncertainly.

üz-
factually mistaken, misshapen, lightly 'bad'

ügwa-
morally wrong, detestable. strongly 'bad'

ül-/ul-
unknown, but assumed to be of some quality; often used with questions. Sometimes reduplicated to mark a lack of quality. This also has the dissimilated form ulur-/ülür- appearing.
xıb-
scary, dangerous, raging

ŋom-
large, reputable, strong (also metaphorically of spices)

sa-
cold, sharp (of knifes)

kär-
coarse, unpleasant, bitter, sour, poisonous

mäb-
sick, weakened, hurt, damaged, insulted, dying, frail, broken,

The root of the usual copula in Dagurib is -wav-. However, other copula-like verbs exist:
-köbs- seem (by reputation, by reason, or by general impression)
-ints- seem (by visual inspection)
-ʊlk- become
-odu- remain, keep being
-nʊdu- cease being
-wyor- be considered, be held to be, be esteemed to be
-südr- be expected to be
-nımb- resume being
Some lexicalized combinations exist, and these retain traces of vowel harmony at times:
uzganʊdu- - to repent
üzints- mislead (takes dative 'object')
mökints- stink (previsouly, ints- more generally indicated 'seem (by any sense')
tʊtsnʊdu - when used of trees, signifies the yearly loss of foliage; when used of flowers kept for their beauty, the loss of flowers.
tʊʊlk, tʊgawulk - of fruits and grain and vegetables, 'to mature', with the -ga- morpheme basically encoding whether it's the speaker or some other NP who is in possession of the produce.
ofnʊdu - to mature, to grow up
turxʊlk -
sanımb -
a verb denoting the onset of winter
kärʊlk - to get beard growth

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Detail #357: A Syntactically Split Alignment

Most split alignment systems only have split alignment in the case marking, and not really in the underlying syntax.  The split often also either correlates to the TAM of the verb, or to certain grammatical persons. I don't recall seeing any other actual cause of an alignment split, and I would really be interested in hearing about any other triggers for it.

However, that's not what I am writing this post about. This post is about a split in syntactical alignment based on a semantic distinction among verbs. I further find this particular split rather likely to occur.

The particular thing I'd think would cause an intransitive subject to align with an object syntactically is existentialness. Verbs such as 'exist', 'be' (when used existentially), be found, be seen (maybe), be attested, etc all seem to lend themselves well to prefer an ergative syntax.

The most obvious phenomenon to investigate would be gaps, and we can easily imagine a language where
berries exist and I eat
would parse as
berries exist and I eat [them]
however, we can then expect that coordination over many VPs should also yield ergative patterns:
berries existed and I saw and ate and tasted sweetberries existed, and I saw and ate [them] and [they] tasted sweet
This should not be permitted when all verbs are just 'plain vanilla intransitives'
*the berries were tasty and I saw and ate and tasted sweet
*the berries were tasty and *I saw and *ate and *I tasted sweet
Of course, when multiple VPs are chained like this, the later the existential verb appears, the harder parsing correctly will be. For this reason, the language might either forbid existential verbs to be on the right hand of coordinations, especially after more than two or so,  or have some kind of 'de-existential' form that is semantically, but not syntactically existential. (This could be achieved by reusing some other thing from the language - maybe force quirky case existential subjects? maybe use usually non-finite verb forms? maybe have the usual existential verbs lack congruence, but forcing congruence on them turns them into 'regular' verbs?


Friday, October 20, 2017

Ćwarmin Geographical Terminology

Ćwarmin covers a relatively large area of plains, with some mountain ranges at the edges of the area, and a few hills and the occasional mountain dotting the plains. Two oceans also touch the plains. Due to the distances involved, the words for the ocean differ, as do the words for 'waterfall', which for obvious reasons only really occur at the mountaineous edges of the area.

Bodies of water:
sućma - lake
ləkir - swamp
wire - the ocean (northern word)
kaśku - the ocean (southern word)
telin - the coast (northern word)
sterim - the coast (southern word)
It is to be noted that the southern and northern words for the oceans are not 'names' – the same word would be used by a northerner (or a southerner) regardless if he's seeing the southern or northern ocean, or even some other ocean altogether.
sasra - river
sasruta xamku - waterfall (river-gen fall) (southeast)
kaluta xamku - waterfall (water-gen fall) (northeast)
sasruta korsa - waterfall (river-gen jump) (west)
ontas - ditch, small river
savar - travel upriver by barge
sivir - travel downriver by barge

insə - a place fit for wading

apśuta - rapids, from the verb apśun - to splatter, splash

kalak - the left side of the river as seen while looking downriver
perək - the right side of the river as seen while looking downriver
Terrain:
kaŋud - plains

nile - a 'depleted' area of pasture
micni - an area of pasture, regardless if still abundant or depleted
məcən - move towards areas suitable for pasture in winter
mocon - move towards areas suitable for pasture in summer
eŋmər - a large grassy area
leśśe - a small area with grassy vegetation, or a part of an eŋmər
rende - an area with bushy vegetation
leśen - to graze, to cause to graze, to lead to pasture
falsuc - desert
ŋormo - an area strewn with rocks
ŋoron - to pick rocks (for building with)
ŋor - stone

miker - a low, lengthy hill
miken - to travel along the crest of such a hill
mokan - to travel across multiple such hills
śorka - woods
śoran - to bewilder, to cause to be lost, to confuse
nunto - plains of permafrost
nunun - to be frozen
ərtər - cultivated land, from Bryatesle 'ırtız', acre.
ərtən - to cultivate
rogos - moor
bənel - marsh
sildil - quagmire
sildilin - to quake
rab - valley
kup - peak
kupon - to reach
walgor - mountain
walgrona - mountain range
fośtor - volcano
fośton - to explode (with anger), to erupt, to eject fire

parsu - glacier

kuruk - salt plain
kurmu - salt lake

egəd - road, naturally easily traversable path
egdin - to create a path
Among the verbs we find three interesting pairs here, savar/sivir and məcən/mocon and also miken/mokan. These are just three among many sets of lexemes that would seem suggestive of some kind of ablaut system. Similar hints exist in other ĆŊ languages as well.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Detail #356: Case, Gender and Copulas

In some languages, some complements of copulas can be in non-nominative cases, e.g. in Russian and Polish where they sometimes are in the instrumental case. A situation where such a thing could make sense in a language could be when there is some form of perceived gender disagreement between the complement and the subject, e.g. situations like 'she is a soldier', and this could make sense in a language even if the language lacks grammatical gender. However, I guess it would make most sense in a language with a grammatical gender system, whenever that gender system provides a mismatch.