Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Detail #369: An Unusual Type of Word

A word class that is fairly common in European languages, and undoubtedly elsewhere as well, is the conjunction. Here, of course, a small warning is justified: 'and' as a word is less common cross-linguistically than you'd think.

Let's consider a language with rather little in ways of nominal marking: no case, or potentially very ambiguous case.

An example of the latter could be a language with GenN and SO order, where the possessum is marked by the same case as the object. Coordination ('and') would basically be dealt with by parataxis: "this that" → this and that.

Now, sometimes you may have things that are lined up in a way that looks very much like they belong to a GenN or an SO line-up, and one or the other might seem more like the 'reasonable' interpretation. In this case, a 'disjunction' could be introduced to mark that the two are not part of the same NP, or in the case of two nouns of the same marking next to each other, the disjunction could mark that they do not form a coordinated structure - an example for this would be a possessed noun and an object. 

This might well be called a 'conjunction', but somehow it seems to behave syntactically in a way quite dissimilar from a conjunction.

I bet something along these lines does exist in some languages, and I would be happy to see comments if anyone knows of it!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Detail #368: A Verb-like 'Than'

Obviously, one can have a verb that compares things with things. This is the basic notion behind exceed-comparatives and the like, but also verbs like Swedish 'likna' ('to be similar to'). One could also do a simple thing like incorporate verb morphology like tenses and person marking onto a particle, so that 'than him' comes out as a third person verb, "thans". In a language with a more full person morphology, this obviously permits some succinctness, and one could of course also have tense morphology agreeing with the main verb - or even disagreeing to convey ideas like
she is faster than I was
she is fast(er) (and?/but?/that?) than-past-1sg
However, stopping there seems a tad underwhelming. Why not go and do things with voice.
she teaches good/better than-past-pass-1sg
she teaches better than I was taught
Now we can also consider making adverbial participles out of this:
he operates heavier machinery than-1sg-active-ptcpl-advbl
he operates heavier machinery than I
In this case, the point would be to de-emphasize the role of the comparison. Finite 'than' would make the comparison central to the utterance, infinite 'than' would make it peripheral. Maybe peripheral comparison should not (mandatorily?) trigger comparative marking on the adjective.

A thing like this could also permit for a nice way to group together things that are being compared, especially if the verbs of the language have a very rich congruence morphology.

Another turn could be letting this verb take a finite clause as its complement, so a bit analogous to verbs like 'say [that]', this could form a structure along the line of 'than [that]'.

Some less well-baked ideas on top of this then: in an ergative language with this construction, one could permit for intransitive verbal comparison to use either ergative or absolutive nouns for the subject of this particular verb in order to differentiate something, maybe degree of difference or such - absolutive possibly indicating that the subject is considerably less X than the standard of comparison.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Detail #367: Neutral Participles

Consider participles that are not marked for voice at all. (Note: the English past vs. present participles are rather passive vs. present, although the way English participles work is a bit more complicated than that.) Now, such participles could behave in different ways depending on how we want to structure the language - animacy hierarchies, for one, could be a very natural approach to how to parse them.

However, let's go for something less obvious, but still pretty obvious: let's have the case role of the NP with regards to a finite VP also double as its role for the participle:
the man sold the castrate-PTCPL horse:
horse is the object of sold, so it's also the object of castrate, thus:
the man sold the castrated horse

the travel-PTCPL man made a bid:
man is the subject of offer, and therefore also of travel, thus:
the travelling man made a bid
What can we do with this? One obvious potential restriction could be one of only permitting this to work for arguments – non-argument adverbials and such seem less likely to have their 'role' passed on to a participle. 

A second thing we could do is make the role that is passed on to the participle be less carefully differentiated - maybe not distinguishing objects from indirect objects or somesuch.

Here, a light ergativity could be introduced: intransitive participles could be accepted as 'active' participles for objects of transitive verbs.

To make the system more flexible, one could use resumptive pronouns in the desired case, which could lead to a neat way of turning case markers into voice markers.

I had an idea on ergativity and participles, that I have since forgotten. I am hopeful that I might be able to reconstruct it fully and post it soon enough.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Detail #366: A Morphophonological Quirk

For examples here I'll use cases. However, this applies to any prevalent morphological thing - tense, aspect, volitionality, evidentiality, number, etc - it's just a question of finding a way of applying it.

Now, sometimes, sound changes happen at boundaries of words. An example of this is how the former Finnic accusative case suffix -m has merged with the genitive case -n, due to a sound change that turned all final -m into -n, including stem-final -m. Thus, some words whose nominative form ends in -n have inflected forms with an -m- instead: sydän, sydämen. Historically, there's probably also been a form sydämem, which now comes out as sydämen as well.

Beyond cases, a language can have other affixes, e.g. possessive affixes, various clitics, etc. We can now imagine a situation where a different affix blocks a merger of cases by means of having had a different sound change induced (or just plain prevented it), a case distinction can survive in a limited environment, such as, say, before something analogous to Latin -que and similar. Finnish has -kin serving a similar role as -que, and we can imagine then a different version of Finnish having a change -mk- > -mp-. Then, we'd have a situation where 'a heart (nominative) too' would be 'sydämpin', 'a heart's too' would be 'sydämenkin' and 'a heart (acc) too' 'sydämempin'. The negative version of 'too', -kaan ('not even', 'not ... either', 'neither a/the ...'

Now, as I mentioned, this needn't be a case - could be a volition marker or whatever.

Describing such morphological quirks in tabular form requires some special notation, e.g. some kind of diacritic that serves exclusively to mark the existence of an underlying phoneme that may resurface. For the faux-Finnish example, we can consider m̄ for this role. Now, we could get the following pattern for the word sydäm̄:
case underlying formrealization
nom: sydäm̄sydän
acc, clitic kin:sydäm̄em̄kinsydämempin
gen, clitic:sydäm̄enkinsydämenkin
The thing I find relevant or interesting here is really the distribution of mergers vs. distinction. However, a convenient and succinct way of encoding such things in a morphological table is obviously relevant for descriptive purposes. The approach given above - using arbitrarily redefined diacritics - seems to have one great disadvantage: the requirement of learning to mentally apply the sign. In a short description, this is surprisingly taxing. If you've devoted your life to study a particular language, it is no big deal, but in a text you barely read once, it is a bit taxing. Another method that would require a bit more awkward writing, but be more parseable could be something like the following:
lexical example: sydämm > n / _#
morphological example: -emm > n / _#
Essentially replacing m̄ by mm > n / _# throughout the dictionary. Of course, for this use, I assume a really short sample dictionary in a fairly short text.

This could be expanded into marking relevant sound changes wherever they apply in morphophonological contexts.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Sargaĺk Cases as Bundles of Features

In this post I try, in retrospect, to analyze the case system of Sargaĺk in terms of features. Unlike the post on the case system of Ŋʒädär, a far share of actual usage examples will also be presented. Warning: this is still somewhat waffly.

The case system consists of the pegative-genitive, the absolutive (with three subcases that differ on syntactical grounds, and one subcase that differs for some pronouns), the comitative-instrumental, the familiar comitative, the locative, the ablative and the lative.

This adds up to a set of maximally eight morphologically distinct cases, maximally ten syntactically distinct cases but minimally six morphologically distinct cases. Each of these sets are worth investigating separately, as is the use of cases with regards to time.

Temporal usages of the locative cases and the absolutive case are the easiest to look into, since the dimensions are rather 'easy' to come up with: punctual vs. time-span, start-point, end-point, location in time vs. amount of time.
The cases that are used in expressions of time are the absolutive, the locative, the ablative, the lative and the comitative-instrumental.

We begin with the ten syntactically distinct cases:
  • ditransitive subject / genitive
  • transitive subject
  • intransitive subject
  • direct object
  • indirect object
  • comitative-instrumental
  • comitative-familiar
  • locative
  • lative
  • ablative
The three additional locative cases that appear on some pronouns will not be dealt with.

An immediate quick partitioning of these might hint at sets along these lines: {{the two transitive subjects, intransitive subject?}, {objects, intransitive subject?}}, {comitatives}, {locatives}.
The number of binary features needed to distinguish ten is 4, or rather 3.3..., while the number of trinary features is 2.1... Since we basically need quite a bit "too much" space no matter what way we do, I will not use them very optimally. Control and direction will both be binary, and I will get back to what they even signify in a bit. The third I'll call 'involvement', and I will give that one three values - active, passive, frame.

dit. subj.++a
tra. subj.+-a
intr. subj.+-a
dir. obj.--p
ind. obj.++p

The lative case is interesting in that in disdainful utterances with verbs of location (rather than verbs of movement), it can be used with a locative meaning, i.e. 'hither I sit' would signify something along the lines of 'bollocks, here I sit again'.
The comitative-instrumental, likewise, takes on a disdainful meaning when used with nouns for which comitative-familiar is expected. These are very limited uses, but they are common.

It turns out approaching the maximal form does not provide any very neat-looking decomposition into features. The eight morphologically distinct cases might be a bit more promising, given that 8 is 23, three features could exactly account for them. We now deal with absolutive, accusative, pegative, comitative-instrumental, comitative-familiar, locative, lative and ablative.
Here, we'll parse the feature 'direction' not as one of physical movement towards, but rather as 'involving' even any sense of metaphorical direction.
"Activity" is a conflated "involvement"-version.


The minimal set of distinct forms occur with inanimate nouns, and most animals (the comitative-familiar is attested with some pets and some anthropomorphized animals in mythology). These nouns distinguish absolutive, pegative, comitative(-instrumental), locative, lative and ablative. This set itself is of some interest, since we also know that the comitative-familiar can be replaced in all positions by the comitative-instrumental for all nouns that distinguish the two, so a more coarse system of features could leave out the comitative-familiar entirely. We now have two options: three features, and two cases get to cover two of the combinations - alternatively one covers three combinations.

We could put the locative ones in one bag, and the three other ones in the other - getting us 'grammatical vs. locational/oblique', and distinguish them by some trinary feature that seems to line up - maybe having the locative and the absolutive, the pegative and the ablative, and the lative and the comitative-instrumental paired up sharing the value of the second feature. This, however, seems somewhat weird. Certainly pegatives and ablatives are slightly similar, both being in some sense 'origins', and locatives and absolutives are sort of similar in 'intrinsicness' to an event. But comitatives and latives do not seem very similar at all, unless we create some kind of wastebin category. I decided to call this wastebin category 'indirect'.


This would seem contrived if it were not for this actually appearing as a pattern in some parts of the language:
  • With passives, where nouns in the three upper cases can be demoted into the three lower cases. This is not very common with the comitative, but nevertheless attested.
  • Adnominally, you get a clear pegative-ablative correlation: animate possessors tend to be pegative, inanimate tend to be ablative.
  • With expressions of time, specific times are given in the absolutive or locative (depending partially on the type of time - named times are absolutive, generic nouns may be locative, partially on whether it's a complement or adjunct, with adjuncts being locative). A similar pattern occurs with time spans but with comitative and lative marking the end of the time-span and the pegative or ablative marking the onset.
  •  A handful of verbs can take  comitative and lative arguments. Among these we find narol, share. One can share 'with' or 'to', where the distinction seems to be one of volition on the part of the subject. 
  • Similarly, a few verbs permit for a similar alternation among direct objects or subjects: ırsal, 'to reach' where the case on the object seems to mainly correlate with some kind of aspectual notion, i.e. absolutive objects indicate arrival, locative objects indicate physical length or habitual arrival, altul 'to embrace, to contain', where absolutive subjects indicate embracing, and locative subjects indicate containing.
However, a different set of patterns fit a different analysis, where a set of binary features appear, but the absolutive and locative take an indeterminate/ambiguous/superimposed/ignored value. Mostly this is a very similar analysis to the previous one, giving similar pairings - pegative-ablative, comitative-lative, and absolutive-locative. The table below does not collapse absolutive and locative onto the same row, however, but uses an analysis where absolutive is 'rather central' and locative is rather 'peripheral'. The terminology here is not very clearly defined, but 'central' vs. 'peripheral' has two independent possible significances: it indicates canonical uses of verbs and adpositions, peripheral signifies less typical such usages; meanwhile, 'central' also signifies topicality, direct physical involvement and so on, whereas 'peripheral' either signifies lesser significance to the topic under discussion or less physical involvement.




The decision to analyse the system like this relates to the fact that we sometimes find patterns where the pegative and comitative operate as a pair of complements, as do the ablative and lative; the absolutive and locative, however, also operate as such a pair as well, so whereas the other cases each have relations to two cases, the absolutive and locative occupy both those spots for each other.

Such examples include certain adpositions (nup, 'under' with the ablative, 'covered by' with the lative; int, 'among' with the pegative, 'surrounded by' with the comitative - generally, the peripheral case for these provides a more 'specific', less general meaning, thus less 'central' to the meaning-space of possible meanings).

The description given here cover the dialects closest to the mainland. Further off, we find systems where the absolutive-locative part of the above diagram have been rearranged, so that the locative covers every part except the grammatical-central slot.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Detail #365: Quirky Case and Morphological Intrigues

Let us consider a language that, like Finnish or Russian, marks the agent-like argument of 'to have to' with a non-canonical case. It is arguable whether such a noun is a subject, and the claim is that in Russian at least they aren't, but they pass subjecthood tests in Finnish rather splendidly.

Now, both the Russian and Finnish constructions lack subject marking entirely on the VP. and in some sense maybe we could say this is a result of the nominative controlling congruence on verbs in these languages.

Now, let's keep that situation intact with regards to finite verbs, but introduce a conflicting notion for certain infinitives! In Finnish, there are several different constructions for obligation, some using specific verbs, and one using the 3rd person sg. copula in combination with the passive present participle. Thus, mine is eat-en-ing sort of expresses 'I have to eat'. 

Some languages have person marking on infinitives - examples include Portuguese. Now, we can imagine the semantics of the situation forcing an explicit subject marking on such infinitives even when the subject is not nominative (or maybe even when the agent is not a subject), even when the finite verb does have no subject marking.

Now we can start imagining somewhat weirder stuff. Where do these subject markers originate? Possibly with possessive markers (and further down the line with pronouns), right? Some languages have reflexive possessives distinct from regular possessives - Scandinavian sin, Slavic swój, etc. We can imagine such pronouns also to become part of a system of possessive affixes, thus not only giving us 'mine, yours, his/hers/its, ours,  yours, theirs" as affixes, but also a distinct 'his/hers/its own' as a suffix.

In Scandinavian, the reflexive possessive is only used with third person possessors, so
Stina sålde sitt hus
Stina sold her (own, not someone else's) house
consider, in English, conversely
Etta was angry after Stina had sold her house
Elna var arg efter att Stina sålde hennes hus
Thus, this lets us distinguish two potential possessors in Scandinavian, but English requires at least one extra word, and the presence of that extra word ('own') is sometimes ambiguous even at that. And even omitting 'own' does not exclude a reflexive parsing, and getting the non-reflexive parsing explicit can be awkward.

Anyways, in Slavic languages, swój and its cognates are used for all persons. So, if 'I sell my portfolio', it is я who sells свой portfolio.

Back to the infinitives: now we can imagine a situation where a quirky case construction with an infinitive verb has a reflexive subject. We can, for instance, consider a situation where 'has to' and 'needs' are the same verb, and an embedded participle, for instance, can take a different subject:
me-obl [has to, needs, must] hear-2sg this-acc
I need you to hear this
and possibly
she-obl [needs, ...] hearing-refl this-acc
she needs to hear this

she-obl [needs, ...] hearing-3sg this-acc
she1 needs for him/her2 to hear this
Another thing this could introduce is differential subject marking! First and second person embedded infinitives could go either way with regards to having 'canonical' pronominal agreement or reflexive agreement, and communicate, say, volition or somesuch in that way.

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Composition

I recently uploaded another track onto Soundcloud. Here it is:

As usual, it's not in standard tuning - as most of my compositions over the last few years, this is in 11-edo.