Monday, November 25, 2019

Detail #386: A Gender-Based Quirk

Imagine a language with a gender system along the lines of German. Now, however, imagine that the society has gone through a quick but fairly successful modernization, where a formerly very strict division into 'female occupations' and 'male occupations' has over a generation or two become rather 'ideally equal' for some combination of those words. 

Ok, look, I am trying very hard not to take any stance in that debate. This is all set-up for a convoluted grammatical situation.

However, the titles associated with occupations persisted in the gender they previously had been associated with. So ... 

Sergeant is still masculine when it is a woman sergeant.
Secretary is still feminine when it is a male secretary.

Some limited examples of this can be found in Europe to this day, with some titles in French, for instance, only having masculine forms, and in some varieties of Swedish, sjuksköterska, "nurse", only having a grammatically feminine form.

However, the twist I am going for is one where pronominal binding still is lexically gender-based even when the gender of the particular person is known. When referring to Tim the secretary or Jenny the sergeant, the gender of the pronoun would follow the gender associated with the occupation.

However, when speaking of Tim or Jenny as persons having private lives and so on, they would get their expected pronouns.

This creates a situation where persons working in occupations associated with the other gender can get their professional person and their private person separated by pronouns, but people working in gender-typical occupations do not have this quirk available to them.


Sunday, November 10, 2019

Detail #385: A Type of Letter Shape

I seldom have ideas about writing in this group, and I generally am not a very graphically oriented person. But I figured a language could have a few different types of letters:

positionwise absolute letters

The form of an positionwise absolute letter is predictable from its position in a word. Available positions might be script-specific: some language might distinguish initial from other, some may have initial, medial and final, some may have sentence-initial vs. others, etc. Some may have word-initial, second, and other, etc.

left- and right-outline adhering letters
Left-adhering letters shape their right side so at to adhere to the outline of the letter to their right. Thus, the curve or line simply doubles the neighbouring letter's left or right side. Say the J in "John" had a slight bulge to leave some space for the "o". (Of course, this idea can be turned 90 degrees for scripts that are vertical instead of horizontal.)

Edge cases might entirely be missing for these letters, or they behave in special ways at word boundaries - or there may be some placeholder letters for that situation.

dual-outline adhering letters
These only have some small medial detail and otherwise match the shapes of the left and right of the surrounding letters.

other?
Letters that cross into other letters could of course be feasible, and their shape could be controlled by the properties of the other letter.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Detail #384: Making Adjectives more Dynamic

One word class that sometimes does not get all the love it deserves is adjectives. Sometimes, they are just made a special type of verbs (or barely even special, at that), and sometimes they are conflated with nouns.

I have previously suggested a language that splits them in two new classes but I imagine there may be other things to do with them.

Let's make something like cases but exclusively for adjectives, that operate separately from the cases of nouns.

Here's a few such cases:
1. Qualitative
The basic use of an adjective: tells us something about the noun. Can appear both as subject and complement:
I am hungry
the red house
2. Translative
Much like how this case is used in Finnish on both adjectives and nouns, it expresses a quality the noun acquires. Unlike in Finnish, however, this can mark an NP that is undergoing a transition due to the verb:
hungry-TRNSL wolf ran
the wolf ran (and therefore got hungry)
"the wolf ran itself hungry"
3. Terminative-translative
Like the translative, but restricts the verb's time span or aspect:
tired-TT man worked
the man worked until he got tired
4. Essive
Qualitative, but restricts timespans:
you can come to the new open-ess store
you can come to the new store when it's open

old-ess you can sleep
you can sleep when you're old
It can also inform about cause:
I hated the new loud-ess guitarist
 5.  Post-essive:
Marks 'after being', or direct cause:
small-PE you will have to pay taxes
I saw the shiny-PE clothing

Monday, October 21, 2019

Detail #383: Gender, First Person Pronouns and Reported Speech

Let's consider a language where even the first person singular pronoun is marked for gender. Now, this can provide an interesting situation with regards to reported speech.

Obviously, a person can report speech from a person of the same gender, or of the other gender. With the other gender, one could keep using the first person pronoun - but alter the gender marking - and still be entirely clear who one is speaking about.

With the same gender, however, one might be expected to replace first person pronouns with third person pronouns of the same gender.

Thus "She told me(masc) she doesn't like roses" comes out as "She told me(masc) I(fem) don't like roses", but "He told me he doesn't like her" comes out as "He told me he doesn't like her". 

Of course, one could permit for the ambiguous system where first person is used in both. One could of course also consider a system where first person in embedded contexts can be "restored" by reduplication:
a) he told me I-I don't know what I-I am talking about vs.
b) he told me I don't know what I am talking about
Where in a), it's me not knowing what I am talking about and in b) it's he who doesn't know.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Detail #382: Plurals, Gender and some Twists

In all of my conlangs this far, plurals have not distinguished gender on the morphosyntactical level (i.e. there's just "they", not a masculine-they and a feminine-they). The morphemes that form the plural nouns may well be somewhat gender-specific (but mostly in the nominative and possibly some other additional case), but syntactically, the languages don't care about gender once plurals are used.

In real languages, there are loads of languages that operate like that, but there's also languages that operate in a different way, and do distinguish plurals of feminines from plurals of masculines (or even greater systems). Sometimes, greater numbers of genders have some distinctions be conflated in the plural.

However, I was thinking of something that might exist in the world, but which I would be surprised if it does. For the sake of simplicity, I'll stick to a two-gender system: masculine and feminine.

Let's have three plural markers: masculine, mixed and feminine.
Now, consider a noun, and a noun for which we sometimes might have mixed-gender plurals. Let's go for, say, "person". Now, "male person" is obviously "man", and "female person" is "woman", so let's go for these words.
Now man+masc.plur means "men", man+mixed = "persons". Woman+fem.plur = women, women+mixed = "persons".
"Mixed" plurals are referred to by the pronouns of the gender of the lexeme onto which the suffix is added, so "man+mixed" would get the masculine pronoun.

Now for the twists: some words lack forms! Some words use the other gender's root with the three suffixes. Some words have a separate suppletive root for one, two or all three of these. Some words just cross the lines: the masculine plural of "shaman" is based on the feminine root, and the feminine plural is based on the masculine root (this might be to confuse evil spirits). On some words, the morphemes are out of whack - "mixed" might mean either feminine or mixed, or masculine or mixed, depending on the lexeme. And finally, for some nouns, the "regular" suffix might also include the mixed meaning, while the "mixed" morpheme is not used at all.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Detail #382: Restrictions on Reflexives

Soo... I encountered a phrase from somewhere that launched some thoughts.

You dare try to control Aughra? Aughra can barely control Aughra!
Apparently an old-timey meme from Dark Crystal. I started thinking about reflexives, and in this case, my intuition is that since it's a person speaking of herself in the third person it would be really weird if there was a reflexive pronoun there.

Basically, my conclusion is: nouns that actually have first person referents cannot be referred to by reflexive pronouns, but will prefer to take the whole noun anew.

One could imagine other similar restrictions, with a variety of justifications. Let's have some ideas:

1. Types of Conditioning Factors
The following factors seem like reasonably likely to restrict permissibility of reflexives:
  • Animacy. It may seem weird to think of inanimate things acting upon themselves? 
  • Certain types of verbs may not permit reflexives due to the normal reflexive meaning being too unrealistic. In such cases that the reflexive meaning indeed is intended, some more cumbersome construction where other verbs combine to form the intended meaning are required.
  • The referent of the noun. The English example above is weird - a proper noun that is coreferent with the first person singular pronoun - but similar restrictions based on some notion of courtesy may exist.
2. Types of  resolution
  • The animacy restriction could easily be resolved by making the inanimate noun the object of either a subjectless verb, the subject of a passive verb or the object of a verb with a dummy subject. Repeating the noun might also be reasonable.
  • Repeating the noun seems reasonable with courtesy-based restrictions, but one might also use some kind of smaller set of nouns that can refer to the same person: titles, for instance.
  • Where the verb is the restricting factor, one might imagine separate verb phrases added after a conjunction that take the reflexive marker ('the man helped it, did for himself' where it is a dummy pronoun), or again, the use of nouns that share referents ('his majesty helped the king'). Here, some extra marking would be needed whenever ambiguities arise, but words such as 'the same' or 'the other' probably would be available.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Detail #381: Zero-Copula and Zero-Have with some Animacy Hierarchies and Noun Class Considerations Thrown in

Let's consider a language where
Tiffany boss
means 'Tiffany is (a/the) boss' , but
Tiffany skateboard
means 'Tiffany has a skateboard'.

What could be the strategies that differentiates the two?

1. Semi-Word Classes
Even if the language conflates, say, adjectives and nouns, certain nouns will sort of tend to be applicable to things in a very general way - e.g. if colours are expressed as nouns (or nominal adjectives), it seems as though 'red(noun)' could refer to things of a whole lot greater range of variation than 'tractor' could. If it turns out a noun is statistically very likely to be used as an attribute, we could consider it "more adjectivey" than nouns that are less likely to appear as attributes. The more adjectivey a noun, the more likely it is to be understood as something that the person is rather than has. However, of course, in certain contexts
Tiffany cold
might signify that Tiffany has a cold one. Maybe when describing what she and her colleagues are drinking at after-work, in parallel with others:
Jean irish coffee, Lisette mulled cider, Tiffany cold.

For some nouns, there may not even really exist a difference in parsing:
John is sick
John has sick(ness)
The parenthesis is mainly there to show that for that particular adjective-noun, there's no difference between the abstract notion of 'disease' and the quality of being sick, or being a sick person. Again, parallel constructions could break this parsing:
Sean healthy son and John sick
 Sean has a healthy son, but John has a sick one.
2. Noun Classes and Animacy Hierarchies
Nouns of the same 'class' are parsed as 'be' rather than 'have', unless there are syntactical or contextual reasons not to. (See 4). Words close together on the animacy hierarchy are considered 'be'-words unless there are semantic clashes:
John husband: John is a husband
Patricia husband: Patricia has a husband
For some words where some kind of symmetry is implied, both ways of parsing kind of pass:
Lyndon friend: Lyndon is a friend, Lyndon has a friend
Regardless of the parsing, if Lyndon has a friend, he also probably is a friend of that friend.

3.  Abstract nouns depend on the concept itself and the subject: take 'guilt', for instance.
police guilty: police (have) the guilty one (in jail)
suspect guilty: the suspect is guilty
man guilty: depends on the man!
4. Things that 'force' a different parsing:

With symmetrical structures - "friend", for instance - some kind of reflexive marking or other transitivity marking could potentially "steer" the meaning in a less symmetric direction. This could also go for less symmetric things like husband/wife: John refl-poss husband: John has a husband.

With abstract nouns, pronouns could break the implicit 'bond' that affects meaning:
police he guilt: the police is guilty
suspect refl-poss guilt: the suspect has (apprehended?) the guilty part
man he guilt: the man is guilty
man refl-poss guilt: the man has the guilty one
The same structure also probably could override differences in the animacy hierarchy. This also gives a great reason to sometimes double a pronoun:
he guilt: ambiguous
he he guilt: he is guilty
he refl-poss guilt: he has the guilty one