Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Ŋʒädär Cases: Grammatical Subsystems as Bundles of Features pt I

Sometimes systems in languages can be analyzed in terms of feature bundles. This can work for cases, tenses, moods, lexical subsystems (say, family terminology, or such), etc. This article will look into the case systems of several of my languages, attempting to find some economical yet powerful description of the case systems.

Ŋʒädär has a fairly simple case system:
The absolute marks subjects and objects. The dative marks recipients. The genitive-comitative marks possessors or accompanying participants. The three locatives - locative, lative and ablative - have similarities, but there is an odd one out among them. The complement case has certain similarities to the absolute case.
We find beyond these that there is an unabsolutive case for certain nouns. Counting the regular cases we have seven, and the unabsolutive would give us eight. log28 is 3, so the most optimal case would only have three binary variables. Let us first look at the seven 'common' cases before taking a look at the unabsolutive.

It seems three basic qualities distinguish the three cases: involvement, direction and centrality. Involvement is whether the noun is a participant in any way whatsoever, or just a frame or scaffold for the action. Direction is whether there is a spatial progress involving the noun as some form of source or sink, and 'centrality' largely corresponds to likelihood of being topicalized or focalized but also the likelihood of being an argument.

The question marks indicate that the relevant spots seem to go both ways. The ablative thus can acquire the same meaning as the lative in some contexts, but can also acquire a distinct meaning. We can expand this by having both the complement and the ablative appear as two versions of themselves - giving a total of nine, but this is ok since ablative2 is the same as lative as far as its features go.

here, the cases are ordered assuming participant > central > directional

By now we have exhausted the number of states three binary variables can occupy, so the unabsolutive wouldn't fit into this. We could attempt to rearrange this so that we get rid of the question marks and express both the complement and ablative in terms that do not require them to occupy two different states - however, this particular setup will prove useful to understand the shenanigans of the case systems. We shall rearrange the system a bit for a truly full three-variable system without any cases occupying two slots, and using a different set of features that better catch the "morphological reality". The middle column has different values for the upper and lower half.

core case/
This model also has its drawbacks; 'active core case' signifies cases that (can) participate in an action, but obviously the absolutive can be the object as well, and quirky case verbs can take datives that do things. Framing is a question of locating a VP or subject either spatially or conceptually. Associate reference is whether a noun in such a case necessarily refers to a noun's referent itself or possibly to things associated therewith - i.e. the locative may be marked upon a noun the vicinity of which is referred to (whereas the lative more usually goes on the name of a place, or a noun on the inside or top of which something moves). 

Asking what features an NP satisfies for these two schemes gives a pretty good idea of what case an NP in Ŋʒädär takes, but even then the two models give some mistakes. Similar models for Ćwarmin would be huge, but Bryatesle, Sargaĺk and Dairwueh may get their own treatment among these lines. On the other hand, the interaction of number, case and definiteness in Ćwarmin could make for interesting models that demonstrate how weirdly intervowen those three really are in Ćwarmin.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Detail #324: Another Uncommon Voice

Consider a situation whereby a speaker community reinterprets the argument structure of a verb depending on the person of the subject. An example where this might be reasonable to occur is various verbs for 'like' in a variety of languages:
I like → I like
you likeyou like
he likeshe appeals to X
much like, say, 'es gefällt mir' structurally is something like 'it appeals to me', but is semantically probably closer to 'I like it'. It is easy to imagine that first and second person more often perceive the appeal, and third person are the cause thereof, and semantic wear turns the structure, rather than the verb, into the meaning-carrying element.

This could imaginably lead to an inverse-direct thing for verbs with such a behaviour. Another thing it imaginably could lead to would be an exceptional voice whereby the behaviour of the verb for first and second person is recreated for the third person as well.

This would differ from other voices in the language, since
  1. it is restricted with regards to person
  2. it does not demote anything
  3. it does not promote anything
  4. it only permits that a certain type of NP behave like another type of NP with regards to the verb
(Now, we can imagine that it doesn't even permit first and second person "objects" – i.e. with this voice, you still can't say 'she likes me'. This would be somewhat interesting, but let's not go there.)

A tiny challenge: what could naturally grammaticalize into this function?

Onwards with the idea, this could of course combine with a passive - since normally, the stimulus is the subject, we could now go for a situation where you first make the perceiver the subject, then passivize so the stimulus again is the subject - maybe in order to get rid of the perceiver altogether, for a meaning along the lines of 'X is appealing (in general)'.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Detail #323: Infinitives and Prepositions as Infinitive Markers/Articles

In English, and some other Germanic languages, prepositions have become a very article-like thing that in some positions appear before infinitives. The distribution often differs from that of articles, but the idea is quite similar. (Both have interesting quirks in English -  Separately from English, this has also developed in other Germanic dialects, even far enough to be separated from the rest of the 'to'-area by other constructions (e.g. despite Swedish having a non-cognate 'att' for the same role, some north Swedish dialects too use cognates to 'to'; 'att', however, also originates with a preposition.)

Now, several families subfamilies in the Indo-European clade have a feature whereby verb roots combine with prefixes that are quite clearly prepositions in the language. These combinations may form even rather opaque meanings:
The way the preposition affects the meaning of the verb is not really obvious in any of these examples. Now, an interesting development of this is how it's interacted with aspect in the Slavic family of languages.

However, we can go on and consider a situation whereby prepositions do not combine with verb stems and thus forming new lexemes (as in the IE examples). What if, instead of prepositions/adverbs* merging with verbs to form lexemes, we had prepositions merging with infinitives to form some TAMs (and also the potentially tense-, aspect- and moodless infinitive). It's easy imagining a preposition marking an imperative ('for', anyone?), another marking progressive tense ('at', perhaps?) and one marking the basic infinitive.

Another thing one could do is have the infinitive marker be lexically specified by the verb; if they have a similar origin as in English, one could imagine something like
to eat
by sleep
in think
with consider
possibly distinguished by type of action (cognition vs. kinetic vs. passive vs. ...) or by some lexical feature (inherent aspect), or even permitting some distinction to be made by choice of preposition.

This would, anyway, make for an interesting similar-but-different development as to what has happened in several Indo-European branches.

* IE prepositions originated as adverbs that apparently could modify verbs as well as nouns in oblique cases, and only later got more closely bound to the nouns. In many IE languages, they can still be used "intransitively", and as adverbs - English being a trivial example of this.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Dairwueh: Noun Morphology in Depth, pt I

Providing the noun case and number suffixes for Dairwueh hides some of the things that are going on. We find, for instance, nouns like xei, whose plural stem is i-, giving us the following paradigm:
xei   ir
xena ijivna
xear ijivit
xeat ijedin
xeŋa ijeder
For most nouns, two stem forms suffice, but some nouns require up to four stem forms. However, there is no single system of four stems that is sufficient to account for all morphological variation – one needs five stems, of which no word uses more than four distinct ones:
  1. singular nominative stem
  2. singular oblique stem
  3. plural nominative stem
  4. plural oblique stem
  5. derivative stem
Few nouns have only one stem - these are basically only nouns that lack plurals or singulars altogether.

Nouns with two stems come in two main flavours: 2a: 12 / 345 (almost all being feminine), or 2b: 1234 / 5 (almost all being neuters). However, 2c: 1235 / 4 also exists for a few nouns, (e.g. erha, 'king') and 2d: bits, 'direction', exceptionally follows an 1 / 2345 pattern. Whenever a noun has three distinct stems, usually the lines of division are 3a: 1 / 234 / 5 (e.g. dor, 'man'). A small minority of nouns has 3b: 123 / 4 / 5. For nouns with four stems, the two that are merged are always either 4a: 2 and 4 or 4b: 3 and 4. Part 2 of this post will go through the historical reasons behind the morphophonological changes, this post only provides examples of the classes and explains the basic structure.

Further, the derivative suffixes that are given as examples below are of course also members of such classes; -res, for instance, is a member of 3a, -res, -rto-, -rr, while -pan is a member of 3b, with -pan-, -po-, -pla- as the stem forms.

2d: bits, 'direction'


Derivative example:
bətres: a signpost

3a: dar, 'man'

Derivative stem: dri-
dripan: manliness, masculinity

2c: erha, 'king'


Derivative stem: erha-
erhaksa: kingdom
erhapan: royal legitimacy, inheritance of kingly title
4a: soŋe, 'noble title'


Derivative stem: sot-
sotres: banner
sotukri: a woman whose nobility passes by female inheritance
sotsek: a nobleman

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A New Feature!

I've been considering introducing another feature here, which of course usually will lead into that feature slowly fading out because hey, too much bother, but let's hope this doesn't happen. The intention is to present conlanger lore about linguistic typology - things that are passed around in a variety of conlanging communities online, peculiar things that answer the question 'is X possible' with a resounding yes: it's not only possible, it's attested.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Detail #322: Negativity and Volition

Whenever an action is somewhat complicated, performing the action almost never is unintentional. However, when not performing the action, intentionality may vary - you may have forgotten or otherwise failed to carry it out, or you may have decided not to do it at all, and as a third option, you may not have had any intention whatsoever. Thus, for a large number of actions, it seems more likely that conveying volition would be more natural and more necessary in the negative than in the positive.

What ways could such a distinction be encoded? There's a lot of them, really!

One way could be lack of person marking on verbs for the negative whenever volition is lacking; another could be different constructions altogether - something like English or Finnish for volitional negativity, something with just a negative particle for volitionless negativity. Yet another option could be negativity concord on objects and the like with volitional negativity.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Detail #318: Exceptional Voice Marking in Participles

Consider having participles where certain verbs have exceptional patterns, where the 'wrong' voice may be marked on occasion in order to signal something about the verb. We can imagine a few possibilities:
intransitive verbs taking passive participle marking to signal things
transitive verbs marking passive meaning by active morphology
transitive verbs marking active meaning by passive morphology
verbs marking exceptional voice by passive or active morphology
These are some pretty vague notions this far - we've only really established the notion of
throwing → thrown

thrown → throwing
This is pretty boring, so we need to add some exceptional things to this. We could do a thing English almost does already:
scratching post
Sure, the verb there might be a gerund or something instead of an active participle, alternatively English conflates voice in some tenses and aspects with participles. Both analyses might work out, who knows?

What if we add some form of intensification or whatnot? Say, intense participles conflate voice, or for some verbs, the intensive participles are all marked as active participles. 

We can of course go on and have this voice conflation apply even with constructions that are used to form a passive, if the language uses some structure similar to that of English for that purpose. There's no need to do so, however.