Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Detail #380: Stealing a Thing from Georgian but Refactoring it so It Applies to Nouns Instead

Consider a system of nouns with a rich derivational morphology, where a single root can be used for a variety of vaguely related concepts, e.g.
aras: 'a thing or person in some way related to return of an action'
arat: an opponent or an accuser
aras-in: answer
aras-uk: responsibility
aras-tab: resistance
aras-tuk: physical support or counter-force
v-aras-k: payment
at-aras: reaction
er-ras: a replacement
Now, one could imagine that in a variety of positions, these affixes are omitted, and I am going to go by the Georgian verb route and omit them in the least marked instance. For Georgian verbs, it's the present imperfective that omits semantically significant prefixes, but for these nouns, it will be the definite subject that does so.

Thus, an answer, an opponent, a responsibility or a payment all will be 'aras' in the definite nominative, and the rest of the morphemes appear in non-nominative contexts. How does this work out with regards to understandability?

Well, the verb itself will by sheer semantic content help the listener figure out what type of noun the subject can be in the first place. In such a language, it could help if the verb also encoded some information about the speaker's opinion of or relation to the subject.

Here, we could also imagine a situation wherein the personal pronouns also permit for a slightly richer semantic range than just persons, e.g. "I" also encoding for 'me and my family' or even things like 'these concerns of mine', 'my business', 'my past actions', 'my intentions' and such, just by means of what verbs one uses. Thus something like
"I worked out like planned"
would signify
my plans worked out like I planned
"I settled the new house"
works out as
me and my family moved into the new house
Different verbs would obviously need to have rather complicated associations.

An alternative way of designing this idea would conflate everything in the accusative instead (or even absolutive or ergative), and let the verb influence how to parse the object instead.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Ŋʒädär: The Conditional

The conditional verb in Ŋʒädär (marked by -OlOb- directly on the stem) can be used for a variety of uses, even strictly indicative/realis uses. It has three main usages:

1. Irrealis / Conditional
The presence of -OlOb- on a verb is most commonly used to signal a conditional construction. Usually, both the protasis and apodosis are marked with -OlOb-, especially if they are of the same tense. However, if if the protasis is in the past, and the apodosis in the present, you sometimes only get -OlOb- on the protasis. The protasis often comes before the apodosis, but this is not mandatory. In the case of the protasis coming after, however, the postposition -ok'an is mandatorily suffixed to the verb or to a third person dummy obviative pronoun. Here, a slight indication that the irrealis is somewhat 'infinitive-like' appears.

2. Statements about VPs
What in English would be expressed as 'it is unfortunate/good/... that ..." would, in Ŋʒädär be constructed as
unfortunate/good/... VP (with V having -OlOb-)
An interesting difference is that for proper adjectives, use of the absolutive indicates that the statement is realis, whereas use of the complement case indicates that the statement is irrealis. For nouns, it is dative vs. complement, where the dative indicates realis. For "improper adjectives" (or adverbally inclined adjectives, see this), the distinction is maintained by omitting the absolutive marker in the realis, and the use of the complement case in the irrealis.

3. Denoting wishes and desires
If used in a statement with no apparent apodosis, and no apparent adjective or NP (or even other VP) to parse as qualifying the quality of the statement,  -OlOb- cannot be parsed as marking neither a condition nor a result, and will be parsed as expressing a desired circumstance.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Detail #379: Differential Object Marking with a Twist

Many languages have some type of differential object marking, even, arguably English, if we consider verb pairs like shoot x vs. shoot at x to be distinguished not by 'shoot at' being a phrase, but by the object phrase containing a preposition. In English, it gets a bit complicated due to being lexically determined to a great extent.

However, other languages have a more predictable system: Turkish, for instance, uses the nominative with indefinite objects, and accusative with definite objects. This is fairly simple. For a more complex system, let's look at ... Finnish. Now, I'm leaving out a truckload of details here.

Finnish uses the partitive whenever the verb is either of
  • atelic
  • negative
  • certain verbs just generally use it
 It uses the partitive whenever the verb is all of
  • telic
  • positive
This asymmetry between the two is sort of notable:

Now, let's imagine a language where the differential marking really serves to distinguish a three-valued thing, let's call the values A, B and C. This system only has two surface forms, however. Singulars merge B and C, plurals merge A and B.

However, we could imagine that a language may want to distinguish all three of these on, for instance, pronouns. And we can imagine a multitude of ways that this distinction is done: unique morphemes, reduplicated morphemes, change of roots or some more shenanigansy approach.

1. Unique Morphemes
Trivial, really. whereas regular nouns use two morphemes (whereof maybe one is a null morpheme), the pronouns have a unique case morpheme here.

2. Overlap Elsewhere
A bit like the previous, but here, the pronouns overload some other case here. Maybe the pronouns can use the genitive for direct objects to distinguish this third option, whereas regular nouns can't.

3. Reduplicated Morphemes
A bit like the 'unique' morphemes solution, but simply just have the accusative suffix go twice on the pronoun. A simple alternative would be to have both the accusative and the genitive combine to form this case.

4. Change of Roots
This is an obvious and simple solution, ... but. We can do something interesting about it. Much like the I-me suppletion in English, this would have a unique root involved. However, to make this interesting, we could have one of the object cases conflate several pronouns. For instance, maybe gender distinctions are fewer for the special root? Maybe number is not distinguished in third person? Or even in first person? Or hey, let's be radical and let's not distinguish first and second person at all!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Detail #378: An Unlikely Type of Numeral

Consider imprecise numbers. In normal usage, one can assume some leeway with the unstated digits, so e.g.
permits any number in the range [370.25, 370.35[. However, final zeroes offers a small problem here, as 370 can be imagined to be 37 * 10 or 37.0 * 10, giving us the following possible ranges:
[369.5, 370.5[
[365, 375[
A jargon for some mathematically inclined profession, or the language of a highly technological culture could potentially include these distinctions in their spoken numbers by having a significant zero. This significant zero would appear in the same kinds of constructions giving higher numbers as do regular numbers, with the exception that it only appears once, at the least digit position that is significant (not the least significant such). 

Thus, you'd get numbers like zeronty, zero hundred, zero thousand, and these would cut off the number at the desired level of precision.

The tens would in addition need two tens - one that is just ten, the other is ten and zero.

Thus ten thousand would signify 'ten +/- 500', 'ten and zero' would signify 'ten +/- 50', and ten thousand zeronty would signify ten thousand +/- 5, and finally 'ten thousand zero' would signify ten thousand +/- 0.5.

Smaller fractions could also be formed using the regular ways fractions are formed.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Detail #377: Number vs. Collectiveness meets Morphology, and a Verb Voice is Accidentally Born

Consider a language which has fusional marking for number and something else. A familiar situation is of course case, but we could also consider, say, definiteness or something else. I will, for easiness' sake, use case for the example given below.

Now, consider nouns that are sort of collective by nature - family, team, group, tribe, etc. Case morphology could maybe conflate some cases' number, or even make them behave morphologically quirkily in such a way that, say, oblique cases are marked like plural nouns, but nominative and accusative are marked like singulars (or even, with the potential for distinguishing plurals and singulars in those cases). 

Now, we could go on a bit and come up with ways of distinguishing many families/groups/etc from one family/group/etc in the mandatorily plurally marked cases: maybe the number 'one', maybe adjectives have singular congruence for singulars, maybe doubling the plural case marker makes for an explicit plural (but a single plural case marker leaves the grammatical number open), maybe rephrasing so the noun is expressed as a direct object permits for the accusative to distinguish singular vs. plural. One could imagine yet another voice there, one that reduces the emphasis on the object, and simply shifts it to the obliques. This could be an interesting voice!

See, we didn't necessarily turn the oblique into an object by a voice operation, but rather by rephrasing. We might've changed the verb entirely, from, say, 'carry a thing (+ an oblique 'towards X' )' to 'approach X (with a thing)'. Now, what this voice would do - and could be used for even in other contexts where this particular rephrasing is not used to enable distinct number marking - would simply consist of making 'approach a place with a thing' be more about 'a thing' than about 'a place'. Which particular oblique takes on 'object-like significance' is somewhat fluid, and depends on contextual cues - definite nouns are more likely to do so than others, animate nouns more so than others, and maybe some oblique hierarchy like instruments > places > times > ...

Could such a 'voice-like' thing have a participle of its own? Possibly, but that'd be weird.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Detail #376: Quirky Adjectives

There are some obvious 'quirky' things an adjective could be made to do, e.g. itself be in a strange case or cause the noun to be in an unusual case. However, we can also imagine other things.

1. Case
Certain adjectives could force their noun to be in some case, or at the very least block one case from being marked. Maybe something like
nom → acc
acc → acc
dat → dat
abl → abl
gen →gen
Another option would simply be that the adjective never occurs in NPs of a certain case. This has two possible interpretations: 1) such NPs mark a different case instead, or 2) such NPs simply are never used in positions/constructions that take the forbidden case, and some synonymous phrasing is used instead.

Further, we can imagine quirks in certain case marking positions. Consider, for instance, object complement adjectives, e.g.
I painted the house red
One could imagine that certain adjectives require special marking that other adjectives do not. And here, we could have a slight bit of alignment shenanigans appear - maybe some adjectives, such as 'dead' follow an ergative alignment,meaning that they take the nominative|absolutive when applied to objects or to  intransitive subjects. It's not common in English for transitive subjects to take adjective complements, but maybe your language does.
The example clause of painting a house red suggests to me a different thing; we'll stick to painting for now, I hope the reader is able to re-apply the idea to other topics. Maybe basic and non-basic colours (for some way of dividing colour-space up) take different markings:
I painted the house redI painted the house of orange
The question with regards to the language then is whether this is specific to the combination of the verb "paint" and a set of adjectives, or whether it's just specific to adjectives in that position in general, e.g. would something along this line also have 'of' or not:
I found it (to be) orange
Both ways are reasonable in a language with this kind of marking, and one can probably imagine different subtypes of complements that a conlang could have acting differently, classified by aspectual or volitional or kinetic features or whatever.

2. A Vaguely Alignment-like Thing for a Marker
In e.g. Sami languages, adjectives have a thing that isn't quite congruence, but is not far away from it either. As attributes, they take a suffix, as complements they do not. Thus "the red house" has the marker, "the house is red" does not. We could now imagine situations where this is broken, or even having some adjectives go the other way around, maybe even introducing some kind of 'alignment-like' way it works.

Consider, for instance, adjectives that take this marker whenever they have any kind of NP as complements. I'll use -X as a shorthand for the morpheme in the examples:
the big-X man
"the big man", because big is an attribute.

the man is big
"the man is big", because big is not an attribute
Now, 'afraid' is not really used as an attribute much in English afaict, but let's pretend:
the man is afraid - not an attribute, no nominal complement

the man is afraid-X of spiders - not an attr, but does have nom. compl.

the afraid-X man - a compl.

the afraid-X of spiders man - attr., as well as nom. compl.

to be afraid-X of spiders is a common phobia - nom.compl, but not an attr.

to be afraid is counterproductive - not nom.compl, not attr.

3. A Dummy Head for Adjectives
Let us imagine a situation where adjectives take case marking when attributes, but never when complements. Now, this language has, historically, developed a need for case marking on attributes on occasion, but the restriction still exists. A dummy NP head has turned up that does carry case, though. However, this dummy head is defective, and lacks the nominative. Now, we can imagine situations where adjectives still are needed as subjects, and we can further imagine that, say, the accusative form of the dummy head turns into a nominative-accusative case form. However, we can also imagine a situation where voice operations are used to turn the adjective into a permissible subject without introducing an additional case form to the dummy head.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Detail #375: A Weird Pairwise Voice Construction

This post is adapted from a comment I almost made in a facebook conlanging group, but has been reworked a bit. The first half of the idea was just meant to answer a question about marking something else but subject vs. object on the pronouns, but I went whole hog for full NP marking, and ended up taking a twisty turn towards the end:
So, normally, in a nominative-accusative language, the transitive subject and the intransitive subject have the same marking, and the object a different one. In an ergative-absolutive language, the intransitive subject and the object have the same marking and the transitive subject a different marking.

In some split-s languages, viz. the fluid-s* ones, most intransitive verbs can go either which way - either have subjects marked as transitive subjects or as objects. In different fluid-s languages this is used to mark different things, but volitionality seems popular.

However, this only permits the feature to be marked for on intransitive subjects. Workarounds? Well, voices! With the passive voice, you can mark whether the patient volitionally got acted upon, and with the antipassive, you can permit for the subject of a transitive verb to mark whether the action was carried out volitionally or not.

What if you want both? Well, maybe there could be some kind of "split-voiced" verb, where you turn a verb into two, each with an opposite voice, and each intransitive. Maybe using a special conjunction or a special verb controlling them both, or a special form of the main verb with two independent intransitive auxiliaries:
fight-SPECIALFORM Mark-nominative do-3sg Tom-abs do-3sg
Mark (volitionally) fought Luke (against Tom's will)
Maybe the object and subject have different verbs to make it clearer which is which:
fight-SPECIALFORM Mark-nominative do-3sg Tom-abs stand-3sg
Mark (volitionally) fought Luke (against Tom's will)
 Maybe other arguments as well have dedicated verbs? A different solution already hinted at could be this:
verb-splitter Eric-nominative fight-antip. and Samuel-antip. fight-intr
Eric fought Samuel
Now, you may not always have volitionality implying subjectness:
verb-splitter Eric-absolutive kill-intr and Samuel-absolutive kill-pass
Eric reluctantly/accidentally killed Samuel
The verb splitter may be more conjunction like or more verb like or whatever.

*The other kind of split-s language has the verbs being lexically determined as to whether they take the nominative or the absolutive.