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

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Sargaĺk: Mistaken Ideas about Biology

The gender of certain nouns in Sargaĺk showcase that biology and grammatical gender sometimes are mismatched. Several genderless animals have nouns for both genders. No regard is given to whether there actually are gender distinctions in the actual species, and sometimes the speakers have misconstrued what particular traits characterize the genders.
saləb a small common species of worm (masc)
saluta a small common species of worm (fem)
kaxar tadpole (masc)
ipxaž tadpole (fem)
Many tadpoles in the Sargaĺk area only differentiate by gender after reaching the (almost) mature stage.
karč scallop, oyster (masc)
əltas scallop, oyster (fem)
the gender distinction is made by the colour of the shell, which has no actual implication visavis the actual gender of the oysters of the Sargaĺk world. However, different communities may map the colours to genders in different ways.

sreb snail (masc)
srewta snail (fem)

tirs slug (masc)
tirast slug (fem)

əktəl a slightly larger species of worm (masc)
əkta a slightly larger species of worm (fem)
k'ets a type of crayfish (masc)
k'enast a type of crayfish (fem)
The Sargaĺk do not eat this particular crayfish because it's poisonous. However, they assume small claws imply feminine gender, which is not entirely accurate.

inis ant (fem)
inast a different, slightly larger species of ant (masc)

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Bryatesle: Adpositions vs. Location and some thoughts on Subjecthood and Adpositions

I will be talking about a technical notion of subject for a lot of this post, but at times, I will need to also refer to a less technical notion of subject. Not quite topic, since it's clearly not a role that can be filled by any old NP, nor necessary is it the topical NP. It rather is some vague notion of the quality that distinguishes the NP which in some way is active, whose state or change thereof the verb describes or whose active part in the interaction with some other NP or itself is expressed by the verb. Subjects are defined by certain subjecthood tests, but would almost all exhibit that vague notion (except maybe the subjects of passive verbs), but not all nouns that exhibit these vague notions are strict subjects, nor would pass subjecthood tests.

I will call any NP that carries these vague notions - including proper subjects - subjectids, and any subjectid that is not a subject is a subjectoid.

Proto-BDS did not strictly speaking have grammatical subjects, and their evolution in all the daughter languages showcases traces of the pre-subject state of the language. This statement requires a rather technical notion of what a subject even is, but for now, let's look at what NPs in Bryatesle with any kind of certainty are proper subjects, starting at the most certain:
1st and 2nd person pronouns that trigger verb congruence
proper nouns pertaining to humans that trigger verb congruence
These are, in all analyses, beyond doubt  as far as subjecthood goes.
Third person pronouns with human referents that trigger verb congruence are almost certain to be subjects as well
Here, congruence only really helps determine those cases where explicit congruence is present, e.g. plurals or non-neuters. (The neuter congruence is in fact a kind of zero congruence, as can be seen with the many instances where a verb gets neuter congruence despite no neuter argument being present).

A verb lacking a subject does not necessarily signify that no one or nothing is doing that, or even that who- or whatever is doing is not present in the clause. It simply means there is no noun phrase present with certain syntactical properties - it cannot control reflexives, it cannot undergo certain syntactical operations, it cannot be relativized, etc.

Now, this lax subjectness can be seen with inanimate masculine or feminine subjects:
winteryouaccRESLTkill3sg neuter

winter will kill you
The non-subjectness of aryk, winter, is not obvious from the example above, but  if we change the structure of the clause a bit we find for instance, the following permissible construction:
ark-ity tëk-u të-tyrn-ai

winterABLyouACCRSLTkill3sg neuter
winter will kill you
It turns out most inanimate nouns can be somewhat subject-like even in the ablative and dative cases.

A similar lack of subjecthood even occurs with intransitive verbs, and we find, for instance, that verbs like 'cease, end', 'begin' or 'last' basically can take an inanimate subjectoid in any case, but is more picky with the case marking on animate subjects. Plural animates may also behave as subjectoids at times, and this seems to correlate with the extent to which the plural animates act as a group or as a bunch of independent agents. Funnily enough, the 'independent agents' end of the spectrum behaves more like inanimate subjectoids than like animate subjects; it seems there is, among Bryatesle speakers a sense that the less internally organized a plural NP is, the less it is like an animate NP.

Neuter nouns fall even lower, however, on the rank of animacy, than inanimate feminine and masculine nouns, and it seems this is the reason why a separate ergative construction has emerged specifically for them. The assumption has been so strong when parsing that a neuter noun is an object if the verb is not intransitive. We shall divert our attention for a while to the formation of the ergative case:

Neuter nouns, when subjects of transitive verbs, take a masculine nominative pronoun as a particle. This pronoun is somewhat phonologically reduced, and comes immediately before the noun. Adjectives preceding the noun mark masculine congruence.

A piece of evidence that quirky case subjectoids are proper subjects in Bryatesle emerge in some dialects: quirky case neuter noun subjects of ~transitive verbs in fact also take the masculine pronoun – in some dialects in the appropriate quirky case, in some only the noun (and adjectives!) are marked for the appropriate quirky case. This could arguably be called 'quirky ergative case'.

Now that we have looked at the notions of subjectids and subjectoids, let's delve further into a different relation that oftentimes is one between two nouns; that encoded by adpositions. An adposition can relate not just a verb to a noun, e.g. telling the location of a verb's occurrence, but also of nouns related to that verb, or even more specifically, telling us about the location or direction of a noun. Like with subjectids, we sometimes get nouns displaced from their adposition, either due to them being fronted as topics, or due to some other noun being more strongly attracted to the adposition. Maybe we could name this relation anchors in lack of any better term. We get a similar set of anchors, anchoroids, anchorids. 

The oblique/obliquid/obliquoid generally sort of is analogous to the object of a verb phrase, but sometimes, an adposition also has something similar to a subject as well - e.g. in simple statements of where something is - "John is in Western Papua". In English - and mostly in Bryatesle - such NPs are not just similar to subjects, they are subjects. However, we do get situations where the notional subject of the adpositional phrase is not the subject of the VP:
I put the bottles in the refrigerator
The children found berries in the forest
Bryatesle has a tendency of not wanting to have the topic be the object of an adposition, but it also has a tendency of not wanting to have adpositions without NPs. Thus, if we were to topicalize 'refrigerator', we would get the following transformations:
I put [bottle.acc.] [[refrigerator.dat.def] in]
refrigerator.dat.def I [put bottle.acc] [[_____(.dat.def)] in]
refrigerator.dat.def I [Ø →] [[put bottle.dat] in] 
Secondary case is not as closely tied to morphosyntax as primary case is, and so does not carry over, whereas the primary case is morphosyntactical in nature, and therefore the erstwhile 'subject' of the postposition now does adopt the case the object previously had, but usually remains on the left-hand side of the adposition.

In some sense, verbs and objects behave in a similar manner here: verbs push certain types of subjectids away from being actual subjects, but rather some kind of oblique argument with subject-like properties. Somethings, postpositions push anchorids away from being anchors and into being oblique objects with anchor-like properties.

However, looking at it from a different direction they seem very different:
Verbs permit non-subject subjectoid nouns to be parsed as agents, and do not require syntactic gaps to be filled. Postpositions do not permit gaps, but permit anchors to become objects in order to fill them.

This treatment is probably a bit too technical, but this should be read as a policy statement rather than an actual grammatical treatment. This is a post clearing up some of my thoughts on this issue, attempting to form a coherent idea of the Bryatesle subjects

Monday, June 24, 2019

Bryatesle: Comparison (An Introduction)

Bryatesle has some interesting uses of its case system with regard to comparison. It sort of falls in several categories: it has both fixed case and derived case. The fixed case is of a locative type, viz. the ablative. Strictly speaking, though, the Bryatesle ablative is only marginally locative, so we can pretend that this is not comparison of the locative type at all.

In line with not considering it a locative type, the verbs used are not of a locational nature, i.e. 'grow', 'hold', 'continue, keep doing', 'cease, run out', ''. The quality may be a finite verb in a subordinate syntactical position, a noun or an adjective after the contextual preposition ('du') or a more complex predicate.

In addition to the ablative case, the secondary subject or reciprocal object or partitive case will be further applied to the compared nouns, depending on what is being compared.

The comparative clauses generally begin with the verb that signals comparison, one out of the following:
seler ('grow', atelic)
tuzla ('remain', atelic)
agza ('continue', no specific telicity, and the telicity morphology shifts in different persons)
symta ('win, "beat"', telic)
If the subject is compared, the verb will be congruent with it, but if some other NPs are compared, this verb will invariantly be 3 p. sg. n. This reduces the possibility of distinguishing the two with 3 sg. n. nouns.

Congruent examples:
Selei Talim Aris-ëta-nisr valm selei
grow Talim from-Aris-2nd_subj old reach
Talim is older than Aris
Selei Aris Talim-ity-nirs perxai
grow Aris Talim-abl-2nd_subj hear_3sg
Aris hears (more) than Talim
Implicit superior quantities or qualities of comparison
Seler Aris ard-ë-sus perxai
grow Aris doctrine-acc-recipr.obj. hear
Aris hears (more) than the (explicit) doctrine
With no object or other complement, the verb 'seler' signifies increase in the quantity or quality:
Seler Aris tasdai
Aris knows more (now than before?)
With 'tuzla' instead:
tuzler Aris tasdai
It would imply  that Aris knows more than he lets on, or has told us.

Cross-cutting comparison
Cross-cutting comparison is when the comparanda are not of the same type. In English, we could go for something like 'Elrem is the chieftain of more people than the number of people that hate Avkir".

I have not been able (in, admittedly, a short time) to come up with any smooth English examples. Bryatesle's comparison system handles these systems using two separate systems woven together: a resumptive pronoun approach, and the secondary case system.

Tuzla Elrem kjevam-dureh resren-isr ka tërsi tekjëz raga-rsi-nyx Avkir-ak  tejleis
remain Elrem many-abl chieftain*-2nd-sub gives
they-them.part people-pl.abl.-2nd-subj Avkir-acc  hate-3pl
Elrem give from many chieftain, they exceed the people who hate Avkir.
We also find here a special use of the verb 'give', signifying 'to be something to someone'. The complement might, due to the complex clause structure, actually omit the secondary subject marking that otherwise is common for this particular meaning.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Detail #380: A New Spot For Alignment

I recently came across this, a post whose content I am not really going to comment (due to the feeling that I don't know enough about this particular topic.) However, it sparked an idea in my mind:

Why not make an alignment-like system with regards to symmetrical vs. reciprocal actions? Some verbs could imaginably only take one or the other type, and here we could get an interesting set of situations:
  • verbs that are exclusively symmetrical
  • verbs that are exclusively reciprocal
  • verbs that can be either one or the other
Let's use s and r for arguments of exclusively s/r verbs, and S and R for verbs that can take one or the other. The way any particular marking works may differ from the way others are marked: reciprocal pronouns with differential object marking distinguishing different meanings, verbal affixes, particles, auxiliaries, adverbs, etc.
Potential solutions:

Trivial bipartite:
s = S
r = R

Asymmetrical bipartite:
s = S = r


s = R = r

Unhelpful bipartite (unlikely)
s = r
S = R

Tripartite I
s = r

Tripartite II
s = S


r = R

Diagonal Tripartite (unlikely)
s = R


S = r

Unhelpful Tripartite (unlikely)
S = R

Quadripartite (unlikely)
s S
r R
One thing that feels realistic, though, is that for some verbs, you may also have occasional exceptions like so:
Exceptional Marking I
S' = R
R' = other way that coincides with some other thing in the language?
The ' there marks that these are exceptionally marked ones, and that the "R" on the right hand of the equals mark stands for the marking, not the meaning.