Monday, December 31, 2012

Detail #20: Complements and implicit case

A hierarchy-like thing where nouns, when operating as complements assume implicit case, so e.g.

I am town = I am in town
He becomes town = He goes to town 
This would probably interact with nouns and verbs in various complicated ways, and could possibly fit well with an isolating language, so I may include it in the isolating language I am planning. This differs from topic-comment in some ways, which I should probably explain in greater detail but this'll be enough for tonight.

Notice that this should only go for complements, and not for adverbs, in the language in question.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A longer-term project: Bringing some ideas together

Few conlangers (except engelangers and auxlangers) ever make isolating languages. I surmise the reason for this is that isolating languages are felt to have less of a potential for things to develop - the lack of morphology feels stifling, and all isolating languages are felt to be grammatically the same as Mandarin.

I have long intended to make an isolating language that differs from Mandarin and such without being too much like English either. So let me start out.

These features I have already mentioned will be included:

Seems like a set of features that could combine nicely and provide for a rich and detailed grammar.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Detail #19: Instrumentals and Possessives

Many languages express X has Y somewhat along the lines of With X is Y. What case or adposition appears with X is language-specific, and can be locative or comitative or anything. Both Finnish and Russian use (mainly) locative expressions.

Some languages mark the object as some kind of oblique, though. English has a phrase that is somewhat similar to it:
She is with child.
Now, that is a rather special case, but illustrates the kind of marking I am discussing here. informs that this type of construction actually appears. Personally, I find some kind of instrumental marking to be very suitable for this (except maybe in certain specific types of phrases or under some circumstances - restricting this to non-human objects seems rather reasonable, for one, or some similar cultural restriction).
is.1sg  cup.instr - "I have a/the cup"
is.3pl dogs.instr = "they have dogs"
Furthermore, I find it reasonable that the instrumental case could be the case marking for any possessed noun -  the instrumental case doubling as head marking in possessive constructions. Why instrumental? Well, there seems to be a vague correlation between using a thing as a tool and owning it.

The idea by which it becomes evident that I am a one-trick pony is this: reflexive possession of objects marked by the noun object being marked by the instrumental case.
He drive.past.3sg car.instr = he drove his own car
He drive.past.3sg car.acc = he drove a/the car 
Alternatively, the distinction could work like this:
He drive.past.3sg his car.instr = he drove his own car

EDIT: reading through the earlier posts, seems this is fairly close to another post in content. Meh. It is an ok rephrasing that may be easier to understand for people not that familiar with ergativity and such. Well, I will leave it behind and try to avoid similar embarrassment in the future.
He drive.past.3sg his car.acc = he drove his (someone else's) car

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Detail #18: Weird things to do with adverbs

In some languages where adjectives are verb-like, let adjective-verbs form auxiliaries that mark all kinds of manner. Even permit numbers to form auxiliaries that mark "to do n times", or "to do the n:th time" or "to do to N objects" (in effect extracting the number from the object NP to the VP).

When many adverbs are called for, some may remain chained with the main verb, and if several are highly salient they can be coordinated with a shared complement VP along these lines:
John quicks and carelesses stack[infinitive] the books
John carelesses stack the books and quick
John carelesses stack the books quick
John stacks the books, carelesses and quicks
If the adverbial has little to do with the subject, they may take a dummy subject:
John's house burned down, [dummy] unfortunates. 
Maybe a causative would be nice there?
[dummy] unfortunate.causative.3sg John's house burned down.
Would maybe work best in a language where infinitives can mark subject agreement? Alternatively, a language where there is some but rather sparse verb morphology, e.g. something along the system in standard Swedish with an explicitly marked present tense distinct from the infinitive.

As for numbers, some pronouns could also work:
I many.1sg have ideas - I have many ideas, "I profusely have ideas"
You howmany.2sg run laps? - You ran how many laps?
They how.3pl.past? - How did they do it?

 On the other hand, if done badly - without making a really thought-through morphosyntax here, it would easily end up a silly way of marking things in the wrong place.

Detail #17: Marking for Atypical Arguments

Consider a verb such as to eat, and consider some possible arguments: to eat food, to eat cheese, to eat dust, to eat a lot.

In Hungarian, verbs mark whether the object is definite or indefinite (although there are further complications: 1st and 2nd person objects trigger indefinite verbs). The indefinite conjugation is also present on intransitive verbs.

I was thinking what else one could do with verbs, and having typical objects vs. atypical objects could maybe be a reasonable thing to mark. Which one is more likely to take a marking? Somehow, atypical objects feel like the more likely to trigger a marking here, as they're less likely to occur.

An atypical object would be anything outside the usual scope of objects for the verb, which clearly makes this a rather culturally influenced thing. In the examples above, eat dust would probably have the unusual object marking if meant literally. Of course, that particular idiom would probably not exist in the language, but similar considerations apply.

However, what if the same verbal marking applies to any salient argument - not necessarily only objects?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Detail #16: Wackernagel Adpositions

This must exist in some language, for sure. The Wackernagel position is the second spot in a phrase (and according to Newmeyer's Possible and Probable Languages a position beyond which human grammar cannot count - you can have things go in the first position, in the second position, but never a rule that says that something has to go in the third position). If we changed the rules of English so that adpositions went in the Wackernagel position it would make this paragraph come out like this:
This must exist some in language, sure for. The Wackernagel position is the second spot an in phrase (and according Newmeyer's to Possible and Probably Languages a position which beyond human grammar cannot count - you can have things go the in first position, the in second position, but never a rule that says that something has to go the in third position. If we changed the rules English of so that adpositions went the in Wackernagel position would make this paragraph come out this like.

Such a system could easily be a special case in some language, i.e. only under some circumstances is this enforced. Maybe only a subset of all adpositions go in the Wackernagel position, or only when the adpositional phrases are arguments of the verb rather than adverbials, or maybe the adposition is made a preposition (or postposition) if it's especially salient, e.g. correcting which adposition was said or somesuch.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Detail #15: Non-trivial Verbal Discongruence

Discongruence is a thing that really interests me. Congruence, of course, is a rather obvious way of increasing redundancy in a language. Marking gender on verbs or adjectives, case on adjectives as well as nouns, gender on both adjectives and nouns [...] are all ways of having some information appear twice or having some extra information appear that may help in case noise appears along the line (which it will).

Some languages have weird discongruences though, such as the Semitic inverse gender marking with some numbers. Some languages have a bunch of set phrases (or half-set, as the construction type may be somewhat productive): Finnish has a bunch of adjective + noun phrases where the adjective is in nearly any of the spatial + role-related cases and the noun is in either the partitive or the instructive (= instrumental) case. Pitkäksi aikaa = long.translative time.part = for a long time, tällä tavoin = this.allative manner.instrument = by this manner, in this manner, like this (adverbial).

Further, some languages permit some discongruence in the verb phrase, like having the verb sometimes be third-person singular rather than the proper, expected person marking (even when not counting things like quirky-case subjects not triggering congruence for their person, or whatever along those lines). I find it likely most languages that do stuff like that tend to permit third person verb marking for non-third person subjects, but how about a language where this is not the case - where any person can get any person's verb marking under some circumstances, like, some lexically determined verbs that just *permit that kind of thing* or with certain phrases or whatnot? (Note: English dialects where the congruence system doesn't line up with standard English verb morphology are not an example.) Preferrably, the exceptional markings should occur seldom enough that they don't affect the default interpretation of the suffixes, but often enough that they are learned and could be part of the language for a wide speech community.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Detail #14: Suppletive auxiliary-based agreement

This idea is kind of a snapshot-in-language-history kind of idea, as I find it very unlikely it would remain for long.

A constructed isolating language where certain auxiliaries suppletively are changed to other ones depending on the class of the noun. Noun class is otherwise only marked by pronouns. Other than that, the noun class system has been losing ground in the language. Certain semantic differences between the suppletive auxiliaries may be evolving, depending on the lines along which the noun classes are distinguished.

Some of the auxiliaries may have incomplete 'paradigms' of suppletive forms, and for the noun classes that lack some specific auxiliary, some manner of periphrasis is needed, or whatever the auxiliary marks is simply avoided.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Detail #13: Indefinite pronouns

Ever since reading Ye Merrye Conlangre's short description of the typology of indefinite pronouns, I have returned to it on occasion. Now it - alas - is not available as such anywhere else than through and maybe google cache. The machines hosting the copies available at seem a bit unstable, but at the writing moment at least this link worked. If it does not, search for "" in

The sample sentences I will use in this post are partially based on that short essay.

However, the categories given for different correlatives are as follows:
  • known to speaker, not to listener
  • not known to either speaker or listener
  • irrealis, non-specific
  • polar question
  • conditional protasis
  • direct negation
  • indirect negation
  • comparison (e.g. bigger than any other)
  • free choice
The article provided lists some universals about which of these tend to be conflated - and a list of sample systems present in actual real-world languages.

I am thinking rather of doing something else with them - we could, of course, get rid of the pronouns and make them affixes or even give them their own verbal congruence markers or whatever, but that seems a bit boring as well.

I will end up suggesting an example system though, just so I can do something with it:

  • I: direct and indirect negation are conflated, as well as polar questions
  • II: free choice, standard of comparison, conditional protasis and irrealis, non specific likewise form one category
  • III: specific, known to speaker forms one group
  • IV: specific, unknown to speaker, conditional protasis and irrealis, non specific form one group (that partially overlaps with group #2)
Group I have their own congruence morpheme, third person negative object/subject. Group II simply lack congruence for the relevant role (note: the language has verb-like adpositions with some congruence, although the congruence is rather impoverished compared to the language in general, only marking one participant). Some verbs do introduce a linking vowel for morphophonotactical reasons. 

So, "bigger than my house" : big exceed.[3sg obj, appropriate gender etc] house.mine 
"bigger than any house": big exceed.[no marker] house
"bigger than the house": big exceed[3sg obj, appropriate gender etc] the house

Group III is marked by third person pronouns without person congruence. (Note that this limits specifik, known-to-speaker nouns to subjects and objects.)

He called[no person congruence], guess who! 
≃ someone called, guess who!

Group IV would be a separate pronoun, with optional third person marking on the verb, here the pronoun is ey :

if ey calls[3sg?] while I am out, tell[2sg subj, 3pl obj] to call[3pl subj, 1sg obj] later 
please go[2nd p. sg. subj] arrive[3sg object?] eywhere
ey stole[3sg?, 3sg obj] my car! 
Both could potentially omit the congruence element on the verb. Some irrealis modal marking on the verb could also contribute in example sentences one and two - possibly even omitting the pronoun?, whereas the third example is clearly indicative.

How to mark possession could be a bit more complex - but would probably have to interact with some strategies suggested elsewhere in this blog, maybe even such that the different pronouns use different approaches - possessive suffixes, possessive pronouns, voice rearrangements where subjects are owners of objects, ... possibly even omission of mandatory suffixes (analogous to the omission of verb congruence) ...

Other ways of arranging this could also be found - bigger than any house would seem to be rather a natural place to place an irrealis modal marker on the verb of comparison.

This would fit in some fairly synthetic language with loads of verbal congruence, and possibly possessive suffixes (and even more) on nouns.