Sunday, November 25, 2018

Detail #387: A Separate 'Possessive-Like' Case

Let us consider something that is a special case of the genitive, only distinguished for a limited set of lexemes - maybe pronouns, maybe proper nouns, maybe family terms, etc.

I would call this the "Group-inclusion genitive", and it would be parsed as marking that the possessor is a member of the group (or possibly also vice versa, but the opposite direction of inclusion does not interest me for the topic of this particular post.)

I shall use .GiG as an abbreviation for this case.
my.GiG family → my family / the family I am in
your.GiG village → your village / the village you live in
Now, let's consider a further extension of this: we could maybe combine this with the first person plural pronoun as follows:
my.GiG us → exclusive 1pl
your.GiG us → inclusive 1pl
? our.GiG us → inclusive 1pl
It is my firm bet that blogger's html engine will make the examples above collapse into fewer lines than they should cover despite there being explicit html line breaks in the html source for this post. Here's to hoping against hope that it doesn't.

Of course, such a use of possessive pronouns and personal pronouns could work out even without a particular 'group inclusion genitive' existing, but here, one idea just inspired another.

This could also serve to reduce the need to distinguish, say, colleagues from employees: my.GiG workers = (me and) my colleagues, my workers = my employees.

An interesting thing could be not having the .GiG imply that the group membership extends to the particular statement, e.g. "my.GiG workers are kind" would not necessarily mean that I too am, just that the other members of the group to which I belong are. This could of course maybe be distinguished by means of congruence? If the first person is included, first person congruence is required, if the first person is excluded from the statement, second or third person congruence is required. (And then of course, this distinction will fail whenever in a position where no congruence is available on the verb, so maybe this would just be, say, distinguished for subjects and objects.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Detail #386: Limitations on Volition Marking

Let's consider a weird situation whereby for some reason, theory of mind is, through evolution - both cultural and biological - altered rather fundamentally, and volition marking becomes exclusively used in three contexts:
  1. First person
  2. Second person interrogatives
  3. Reported speech
How this situation would come about is beyond me, but who knows, maybe at a certain stage technological could enable this, and some weird group might pursue some weird ideological or sociological goals and achieve them, and after ages of isolation - with certain technological solutions being ubiquitously  present throughout the society - the brain and language both have reached a point where this is a stable setup.

Let's consider what kinds of verbs this might conflate:
dive vs. be submerged
bathe vs. be wet
fall asleep vs. faint
Now, this isn't as much a strictly grammatical idea, but I've never said this blog is only about grammar (though the reader would be forgiven for thinking so). This idea is more about the structure of the vocabulary. It's about structuring the vocabulary in such a way that words whose main semantic difference is one of volition, and only distinguishing this meaning by any marking  in a limited set of contexts. However, this also permits - nay, even demands - marking the distinction in contexts where we wouldn't. Verbs like
wake up

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Ćwarmin: Sometimes Mandatorily Passive Verbs

Ćwarmin has a set of verbs which require passive forms whenever some requirements for the subject is violated. These requirements come in three main types, two of which relate to the animacy hierarchy. This requirement seems to be related to the inverse alignment of Ŋʒädär, but not an inherited cognate - rather, it may be due to convergence with Ŋʒädär.

1. Absolute Animacy Hierarchy Restrictions

The verb 'kill' only permits animate subjects, but can take non-animate agents, and thus has an absolute restriction on the hierarchy restriction - basically, there is a line drawn across the hierarchy which limits it. With inanimate agents, the passive is required, and the agent is in the general ablative case.

A typical example of this would be the verb 'kill', which cannot take a proper inanimate subject, so e.g.
*ilmis arbaŋ-utus kerb-i-ś
*winter killed the herd

arbaŋ ilm-erəś kerb-eśp
the herd was killed by the winter

*nəlve iś kerb-i-ś
an arrow killed him

i nəlv-erəś kerb-eśp
(s)he was killed by an arrow
Another would be 'utter/express/signal/...', which basically is the same verb as 'exhale', hifnəs.
*ədnist marćost-uc hifn-i-ś
silence expresses agreement

marćost ədnist-erəś hifn-e-kn-eśp
agreement is expressed through silence (note: -e-kn- is really the applicative morpheme -ken-, and the reason the applicative is used here has to do with the argument structure of hifn-, which really means something like 'breathe'; consider the -ken- similar to a prefixed preposition or adverb, only, it does not appear in the active forms of the verb all that often).
All  of these need to be rendered in the passive (or applicative) to be grammatical in Ćwarmin.

2. Relative Animacy Hierarchy Restrictions

With many verbs, a less animate noun cannot be subject with a verb whose object is more animate. These include any verb indicating fights (ampac, nenŋel, ćasćar - all signifying fighting), causing movement sideways or upwards (hegec - push, hegtəm - pull, salkum - lift, raise, kunkun - to shake to-and-fro, vabžum - pull in by rope, liŋbəl - to move a significant distance by pulling, žal - to carry),...

The main difference here from the previous class is that low-ranked nouns can be subjects, provided the object has lower or equal rank. Thus,
ćiriŋ kosdan-uc salkum-i-ś
the tripod lifts the tent fabric

onkup estnet-uc hegədm-i-ś
the weight pulls the rope
are permitted, but not
*onkup vond-uc hegədm-i-ś
the weight pulls the horse
which would require
vond onkup-araś hegt-eśp

3. Lexically Specified

This is an odd, but limited bunch.

mamnan -  to put a child to sleep
Only the mother of the child can be the proper subject, any other agent must be oblique.
ŋačćur  - to wear a piece of clothing
The restriction here is related to tense rather than to subject or object - non-present and non-imperative must be passive.

biəkin - to endure
Passive whenever the object is not indefinite.
luzǯar -  to praise
passive whenever the object is inanimate.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Detail #385: Lexically Determined Chirality of Locations

Chirality refers to 'handedness'. Normally, left and right are relative terms, but we find, even in English, a pair of terms that in some way are defined as a variation of "left" and "right", but in some sense these are determined by reference to a type of location.

This type of location is 'a boat', and the terms, of course, are port and starbord. Several other languages have a similar pair, e.g. Swedish babord and styrbord. These are helpful because on a ship, you may need unambiguous terms referring to directions with regards neither to the current orientation of the speaker, or the listener, or to the cardinal directions.

Now, what if in some types of locations, a culture had a fixed left and right, with regards to some specific type of geographical feature, and the terms for left and right in those contexts, if not further specified (e.g. by possessive pronouns) are taken to be in relation to the geographical feature.

An example would be valleys - a valley might have its left be the left side as seen when looking downstream a river in the valley. If the valley lacks a river, some other means would be necessary.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Inraj Sargaĺk: Spatial Deixis

Inraj Sargaĺk differs from most surrounding languages by its system of spatial deixis; it has two flavours, "very close to both speaker and listener", and "everything else". The "middle deixis" of Sargaĺk, ʒur, has come to signify an inanimate distal deictical determiner.

ʒa - this here, in both of our reaches
ʒu - this here in my xor your reach, or that over there, inanimate
ʒi - this here in my xor your reach, or that over there, animate
As an aside, we find a more complex somewhat similar system in the Lamen language, a mainland isolate in geographical vicinity to the Inraj archipelago (in terms of easily navigable routes).
The Lamen system consists of
ksa - this, in both of our reach
gzət - this, in both of our reach, inanimate

tra - this/that, in the reach of one of us
zrət - this/that, in the reach of one of us, inanimate

eksa - he/she/it, over there, animate
gəksət - it, over there, inanimate
Whether the underlying similarities are due to genetic relation or sprachbund phenomena is not clear. (Obviously, Inraj Sargaĺk is not related to Lamen, but its substrate might be?) 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Detail #384: Long-Range Negation Congruence and Probabilistic Grammars

Let us consider a language like Finnish (or almost English), where negation is done by an auxiliary. In this language also, the main verb takes a special form (in Finnish, the connegative, in English, the 'infinitive' or the 'active participle', to the extent we would call those 'special' :/ ).

Now, the main point here is that in English and Finnish, the form you expect are different for positive and negative statements:
he sits vs. he does not sithän istuu vs. hän ei istu
In English, for present progressive or whatever it's called, this breaks down:
he is singing vs. he is not singing
Let's however assume a language like Finnish, where this distinction is more clear-cut and present almost throughout the language. Now, we can of course imagine certain non-negative adverbials that weaken a statement triggering the negative form, giving us things analogous to
he barely workhe seldom thinkhe scarcely turn up
where barely, seldom and scarcely essentially become lightly negative auxiliaries.

Now, that's just one of the milder ideas of where such pseudo-negation might turn up. Another could be embedded negation bleeding outwards:
she tell him not to buy bitcoin
she know that he wasn't at work
We could also have negation bleeding downwards:
she doesn't know that he work in finance
We could of course make a probabilistic grammar for this, and that's a topic I think could be worthwhile for conlangers to consider - modelling the rules of a grammar in terms of probabilities.

Let's use p(x) for the probability for such 'mistaken' congruence, i.e. a connegative verb form with an actually 'positive' meaning. p(x) is then a function, where x is some way of representing this input. x is then, perhaps, the distance between the 'outer' verb and the 'inner' verb.

We may give some simple function for this, say, x is at most 75%, and is squared for each unit distance added.Thus, f(x) = 0.75^x

We could then start by considering, for instance, different subject as a difference worthy of one unit. Every single constituent between the verb and the subclause (or non-finite verb phrase) could be one unit, two units if the constituent is heavy. Either of the verbs being telic adds a unit of distance, but both being telic only adds 1.5 units. The object of the outer verb being the same as the subject of the embedded verb removes 0.5 units.

Of course, we could add special cases - certain verbs whose congruence has become 'linked' and so if these two verbs appear, the probability for mistaken congruence is unusually high, or somesuch. I am deliberately leaving the idea a bit vague here - I only want conlangers to think of grammatical rules in probabilistic terms while also presenting a certain grammatical idea that also fits as a suitable topic to represent probabilistic grammar a bit vaguely with.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Bryatesle: Word-Order Sensitive Words

A few words in Bryatesle have some fairly different uses depending on where in the clause they stand. These examples are part of literary Bryatesle, but also widespread in the areas on the dialects of which literary Bryatesle is based.

These are only a handful of examples, more will come at some later point.

Nominal Attributes

ralsem 'the wrong one' on the left, 'an unsuitable one' on the right. The difference is somewhat subtle - 'the wrong one' implies there is a specific right one, 'an unsuitable one' just implies that some quality of the noun makes it unsuitable.

sylsem 'another' (as in 'not this one') on the left, '(one) more' on the right. The difference between 'another' and 'the wrong one' is that this is not used for selecting/rejecting, it rather appears to point out e.g. that another one is introduced into the discussion.


kauda, signifying 'house', means 'at home' when just to the left of the verb, if the verb signifies movement or location.

tagnas, 'a span of time', except when directly to the left of the verb, when it signifies 'an instance of the action referred to'.


'sagyk' can signify 'remaining, left' when directly to the left of a verb or to the left of a noun, but elsewhere it means 'back, backwards, turning back, in reverse'. After telic verbs it can also signify 'again'. The verbs sagkad and sagkit both derive from sagyk, the former signifying 'to remain (after others  have been removed)', whereas sagkit signifies turning back. However, there are dialects that conflate the two, or distinguish them by other morphemes.


The verb 'tëlez' signifies 'being able to reach with one's arms' when at the right end of a sentence, but actually grasping something when to the left of the object.

The verb 'satët' likewise signifies 'being able to travel somewhere' when at the right end of a sentence, but actually arriving if it's to the left of the object.

The two verbs above only are distinguished in the atelic forms, the telic generally always implying actual realization of the grasping or arrival.

sïmet signifies 'residing somewhere' when anywhere else in the sentence, but 'existing' when used sentence-initially. It has no telic form.