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 archive.org and maybe google cache. The machines hosting the copies available at archive.org seem a bit unstable, but at the writing moment at least this link worked. If it does not, search for "http://math.berkeley.edu/~apollo/my-conlangs/mcindpro.html" in archive.org.

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. 

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