Monday, December 30, 2013

A paper worth reading

There is a fascinating paper by David Tuggy on a verb in Orizaba Nawatl, detailing a verb that has no stem - it consists, entirely, of grammatical affixes. Well worth reading.

In addition, having it linked here I will not displace it by cleaning out my bookmarks when they're getting too many, or by reinstalling the OS and not keeping the bookmarks backed up. Which I suspect may be appreciated by the friend who brought this to my attention, as I have already asked him to link it a full four or five times over the last several years.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Detail #72: A diachronic origin for present participles

In some language with a moderate case system, whatever case can be used for complements goes on the infinite to form an adverbial/complemental participle. Over time, the participle is reanalyzed and can be used as a full adjectival participle, both in attributal, complemental and adverbial ways.

An overview of this process, with a Slavic influence, would posit that instrumentals are used on some complements. This is especially useful, as it lends itself to two developments:
1) "by [infinitive]", i.e. marking the infinitive to show the manner in which something was carried out.
2) "as (implicitly: doing) [infinitive]", i.e. marking the infinitive to show that the infinitive is a complement telling us something about the subject (or possibly object).

The second option easily could include elliptical uses of subclauses (X who is verb-instr. -> X verb-instr) and soon, the participles may be very much like classical participles for those.

I am thinking of doing something similar for that case system with regard to how participles came about. In that, the case markers that form present participles will be closely related to the complements and the instrumental-comitative.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Detail #71: A weirdo place to put auxiliary-like things

Make some auxiliaries be genitive attributes of the subject, and add a copula between the subject and a somewhat less inflected (possibly infinitive) form of the verb:
[word indicating obligation]'s men are eat → men have to eat
sometimes [word indicating occasional occurence or possibility]'s me am doubt the wisdom of this plan → sometimes I might doubt the wisdom of this plan
These nouns can also appear as dummy subjects for verbs that usually do not take subjects, or for modal passive-like constructions (passive in that the subject is omitted, but an object is retained).

Detail #70: A participle-like form

In the participle-rich language I described way back, one of the participles could perchance work a bit like this:

Applies to a verb related to

  • having a social status (to rule, to serve, to minister, to teach, to lead an army, to be an outcast, to be exiled, to be ostracized, to be a man of religious significance, to be a woman of religious significance, to be a monk, to be a soldier)
  • obtaining a social status (generally the previous verbs in transitional forms, to marry, to be baptized (or analogous religious verbs), to be granted membership in certain kinds of fraternities and organizations, to join things, to enlist in the army, to be entrusted with a responsibility, to be granted some privilege or title, to be granted a higher rank, to ascend a throne, to be found innocent, to be found guilty, to be imprisoned, to be released)
  • loosing a social status (to abdicate, to be discharged, etc)
The resulting form is used with people associated with the person to whom the verb refers:

abdicate-prtcpl mother: the mother of the abdicated (king)
defrocked-prtcpl sister  : the sister of the defrocked (priest)
army-lead-prtcpl friends : the friends of the general

Often, due to the social importance of the parent-child relationship, sons, daughters and parents are the most often used nouns when these participles are attributes, but they may appear with any kind of social relationship. At times, the participle is used as a head of a noun phrase itself, and then may refer to some relevant relation to the person that has the referred to status.

At times, it is used as a complement, and may have different connotations:
he was being-man-of-religious-significance.prtcpl : he made (his contextually relevant relation) turn into a man of religious significance (generally this indicates something comparable to bishop)
she wanted heal.prtcpl = she wanted her son/daughter to be a doctor
he resented being-granted-priviliges.prtcpl = he resented that his brother(?) was granted privileges (which by implication he wanted for himself)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Detail #69: A detail regarding comparative and superlative adjectives

I am generally somewhat cautious about including comparatives and superlatives in non-European languages (granted, there's no one-to-one correspondence between languages that have them and Indo-European languages, neither one way or the other), and I generally advise against their inclusion in conlangs.

However, let's assume a conlang having at least two, possibly all three of these. Let's add a few features:

There's significantly fewer comparatives and superlatives than positives.
Now, that's not particularly weird by itself - some adjectives' comparative and superlative forms nearly never get used in a literal sense, and some probably lack both reasonable literal and figurative senses. Examples of those lacking a reasonable literal sense are deader, deadest, and more alive, most alive. 

There's no morphological correlation between regular adjectives and comparatives.
Now, to get this weirder, let us just make the "lexical resolution" of comparatives and superlatives less than that of regular adjectives: handsome, stylish, good-looking, pretty, beautiful, all correlate to two comparatives with a slight meaning-difference between them; difficult, heavy, wearisome, tragic, taxing, all are represented by one particular comparative. There need not be any direct similarity between any of the positive adjectives and the comparative adjective they're associated with.

The comparative form is a comparative form mainly on account of its use - it can be used in comparative constructions in ways that a positive adjective cannot, and of its meaning - the meaning actually is 'has more of the quality of this class of qualities than the other referent in the construction'.

For the superlatives, the system might be somewhat different. I am inclined to entirely drop those, but having most adjectives have distinct (and morphologically predictable) superlatives - even the comparative lexemes would have them - might be somewhat interesting. Finally, I think the superlatives would be more likely to be used as intensifiers, whereas the comparative is more clearly restricted to comparative constructions.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Detail #68: Participle-morphology on non-verbs

In some conlang with a system of four participles - active perfective, passive perfective, active imperfective, passive imperfective - and where copulas usually are not dropped, negated adjectival complements for some reason take no copula, but instead take participle markings. Which particular participle goes on the adjective depends on lexical as well as contextual factors. Since the copula is dropped, this usually leads to the aspect of the chosen participle marking to serve tense-aspect-mood functions, while the voice sometimes marks details that usually would be visible in which particular copula was picked. However, the copula system of the language has at least three different copulas, so some distinctions are lost in the negative.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Detail #67: Nouny 'and' and a noun class

I recently read of a language where the conjunction and is inflected like a verb. Suddenly the notion of having a very nouny and appeared to me.

Morphological template:
[noun class/number][root, -əl- or -əj-][dual/plural/optional possessive suffixes][case]
 Now, as may be gleaned by careful observation, number congruence appears in two places - in part with the noun class morpheme, in part in the slot on the other side of the root. And belongs to a pseudoclass of nouns, including several functional words and just a few regular nouns (if, I, anything, something, nothing, a few dummy objects, what when not being a determiner of a noun, ...)

The number is either dual or plural, for which the noun class does have markers (shared with another noun class though). To refer to the noun phrase later, the pronoun will be marked for this noun class.

The slot after the root is kind of interesting, though: if both nouns are possessed by the same owner, this slot will be filled with a corresponding affix, and no number congruence whatsoever. If no owner is present (or there are different owners for the nouns), the number congruence will be either dual or plural. Plural congruence permits stacking several ands, in which case only the first has to take case. If a pronoun is included, this also is marked as a possessive marker, so 'my friend and I' is 'friend-my dual-əl-mine-[case]', my friend and you is friend-my dual-əl-yours-[case].

Often, the conjunction goes after the two nouns, reverse polish notation style, but it may be shifted around due to the relatively free word order of the language.

Case follows the language's usual case marking paradigm, and marks the case of the whole phrase. The subordinate nouns may take the same case. Another option would be to use some kind of wastebasket case or not to distinguish certain cases when coordinated, e.g. object and subject cases default to nominative on the nouns (but not on the conjunction), whereas local cases are maintained on the noun, so e.g.
I bought a newspaper and an icecream -> I bought class_of_trivial_things-newspaper-nom foods_and_plants-icecream-nom pseudoclass/dual-əl-acc
I visited the museum and the concert hall -> I visit-1sg-past class:big_things-museum-to class:big_things-concerthall-to pseudoclass/dual-əl-to
If the coordinated nouns have different case - a permitted thing in this language - the case of the conjunction is generally the genitive (for core case coordination) or the somewhat wastebaskety locative.

There is a tendency for heavy constituents to go first among the two nouns, and in the case of trivial constituents, there is a discernible hierarchy where the greater the animacy, social importance and contextual relevance, the more likely the noun is to be placed first.

For coordinated non-nouns, a naked əl/əj suffices, and then often goes both between and after the verb phrases or adjectives. For subordinate clauses to which the speaker may want to refer, [singular]əl[3sg grammatical class possessor][case] may serve to form a subordinating conjunction:
he said singular-əl-3sg grm.class.acc he returns tomorrow
ta mege nəleta miǵris neltle
 he said that he returns tomorrow

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Detail #66: A tiny noun morphology detail

In this sketch, a language with question particles (or affixes) and a vocative case, the combination of these two is parsed as 'are you X?'.

King-voc-question : are you the king?
John-voc-question: You are John, right?
Sick-voc-question: are you sick? 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Conlanging by Fiat: Unjustified Claims for Typological Quirks

There is a thing that bothers me about the approach to linguistics that some conlang descriptions rest on.

Not because it relies on bad linguistics (which it does), but because it relies on bad epistemology and a generally bad approach to understanding how things works and what makes them what they are.

The example I will give is phonology-based, but similar kinds of mistakes appear in grammatical descriptions.

I guess I have to explain this in greater detail . When we discuss phonology, we are making several related kinds of statements about the sound system of a language - we are making a claim about what actual phones appear in the language, the distribution of these phones, and the parsing of these phones in terms of what phonemes they belong to - basically how the brain will analyze the sounds it hear, and finally there's a more meta thing that no one ever thinks about. This final thing is how would a brain that doesn't know a single language assign the phones they hear to phonemes in a way that is natural for the human brain. Most conlangers skip that step, and sometimes make rather unjustified analyses that not only are unlikely and unnatural, but basically unlearnable except by being explicitly taught the way they are designed - which 'natural' speakers generally wouldn't be, most people acquire their phoneme system by unconscious analysis of the language they hear around them.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ćwarmin: The adjective and a bit about the noun phrase

Despite my almost obsession with congruence between adjectives and nouns in NPs, I have decided not to do that in Ćwarmin. As previously noted, Ćwarmin has about 20 cases. The case suffix normally goes on the head noun, but sometimes a determiner will carry the main case marking of the clause, with the head noun either taking the genitive, the general ablative or the possessed objective (the last of which never goes on the determiner).

On occasion, an adjective may be inflected in some case other than the case of the noun. The only cases that do not appear on adjectives standing as attributes of nouns are the reflexively possessed accusative and the accusative.


There are a number of determiners - demonstratives, indefinite determiners (including the negative determiner), amount-related determiners (numbers, 'many', 'a few', 'all', etc). As mentioned, these sometimes carry the whole noun phrase's case, in which case the noun either agrees with it in case (if the whole phrase is nominative, accusative or genitive), or takes either the general ablative or genitive.

Those determiners which can have a singular as well as a plural meaning usually have number congruence with the head noun. 

Some special lexemes

'One' - er - in combination with the nominative complement case or genitive, eramće or erća, roughly works like specific or particular. The genitive is most often used with timespans or with mass nouns, but does occur with other nouns as well.
erəmće seltimgə - a specific fisherman
erćə toŋugul - one particular winter
erćə mehwi - a particular loaf of bread

Ćul - 'few' - combines with the complement cases for a meaning along the lines of 'just a few'
ćulamćo nedim, ćulamćan nedim - just a few bits.
In the genitive it signifies 'too few'.

Cases with Adjectives

The cases can also alter how the adjective interacts with the head noun, both for adjectives in attribute position and in complement position.

Negative - the negative simply negates an adjective, essentially like sticking in- or un- or a- before an adjective in English.

Complement cases - the complement cases tend to mark temporary or clearly subjective qualities. The nominative complement is used with rather objective qualities or qualities an animate noun intentionally acquired or maintains, whereas the accusative complement more often implies that the quality has been caused to the noun without its participation or regardless of his or her wishes.

General ablative - roughly like affixing -ish to an adjective in English when used as an attribute. Also for complements that mark what something appears to be. In situations where this and genitive or instrumental could work, the ablative has priority.

Genitive - generally used to intensify the adjective, but also marks flavors when they're complements.

Instrumental - generally used to intensify the adjective. Also marks various sound qualities when as complements.

Locative cases - sometimes nouns with these cases are used as adjectives.

Dative - for some peculiar reason, this marks first-hand knowledge evidentiality.

Comitative-with and comitative-to mark different levels of evidentiality - basically hearsay and 'anything further off than that'.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Onwards with the Tatediem verb

Now, if we look at the verb table given in the previous post, we may notice it is fairly boring:

Subject(Object)(Ind. Obj)(Voice)TAMSTEMsubject agreement or question particle
(Intensity)Direction(Manner)question particle
Infinitive classifier(Intensity)(Argument)

The unusual things include the Owner-Subject thing, and in part the Infinitive markers occupying the same spot as the subject marker. Having the TAM occupy one spot rather continuously is also not particularly interesting, and restricted markings on the infinitive is not unusual.

What else could we do to increase the amount of variation in this verb? Some ideas I may try out:

  • have the subject and object markers possibly also code for indefiniteness of subjects/objects, rather than any specific gender (however, do maintain an animate/inanimate distinction), as well as wh-questions. 

  • certain gender markets in indirect object position basically are parsed like tools, certain are basically parsed like locations. In direct object position, certain gender markers are parsed as ablatives.
  • have certain gender marker complications where some culturally complex possessions can cause gender/possession complication - two specific genders whose markers can be interchanged based on what something is from whose point of view - a separate post on this idea will be posted in a bit.
  • have possessor congruence for subjects (e.g. mine- instead of it-) with a somewhat less detailed gender system in place
Finally, I've been considering moving something that usually is not marked on verbs onto the verb, as in throwing in dummy verbs for some kind of thing - definiteness mayhaps, or something.

I've been bothered for about one day with two things I thought up for this post having escaped my mind entirely, will probably edit it once (or rather, if) they reappear.

A number of lexical complications in Tatediem

Tatediem has a relatively large gender system - obviously due to its vague Bantu influences. There are two genders that otherwise do act a lot like your average genders, and indeed most of the words in them are fully unremarkable as far as this particular thing goes. These two genders have, however, a number of words that have near-synonyms in both.

kucende - gift (from the perspective of the giver)
ŋwucende - gift (from the perspective of the receiver)
kusunne - obligation (from the perspective of the person who is expected to perform the obligation)
ŋwusunne -  obligation (from the perspective of the person or group or so on who is expected to benefit from the obligation)
kurutki - assistance (from the perspective of the one giving the assistance)
ŋwurutki - assistance ( from the perspective of the recipient)
For a few words, the lexemes are not related, yet the same relation is definitely there:
kusatwis -  fatherhood (from the point of view of a father)
ŋwurehmuc - fatherhood (from the point of view of the offspring)

A number of family terms also come in two versions, although many family terms also have regular masculine or feminine versions, sometimes not lexically related at all.
kutali - uncle
ŋwutali - nephew
kusami - sister
ŋwusami - the brother or sister of a sister

These two genders also have unique congruence classes for possessed reference on verbs:
-kulo[se|ke|ne|ŋe|swi|kwi|nwi|ŋwi]- (basically 'the thing of this gender of mine|yours|his|her|ours|yours|theirs')
For object congruence, the prefix is
-hul-, -gul-.
Some dialects permit using the same [se|ke...] morphemes in combination with those two, but most do not. For most dialects, the owner of -hul- or -gul- is instead market in a variety of periphrastic ways. Finally, oftentimes further references to humans first referred to by nouns in these genders agree with the 'natural' gender, unless a very strong emphasis is placed on the type of relation.

 And here the  complication appears: -kulo- and -ŋwulo- both can refer to the same noun, if nouns that have 'siblings' of this kind are present in the sentence. In that case, a subtle shift in meaning may appear, e.g. the obligation now shifts from x's obligation to do something to y's privilege of receiving the benefits from that obligation, or the challenges and rewards of being a father to the perception of the father that the offspring has.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Tatediem verb

The Tatediem verb is basically somewhat inspired by Bantu languages. It has several prefix slots, and very little in ways of suffixes.

This is an early draft for the type of verbal morphology, changes may appear:

Subject(Object)(Ind. Obj)(Voice)TAMSTEMsubject agreement*
Infinitive classifier(Intensity)(Argument**)

*the subject agreement is a doubling of the subject marking that occurs with a few gender/number/etc combinations, and only in imperfective, transitive present tense verbs in the active voice.
** the type the argument correlates to is partially determined by which infinitive marker is used, the infinitive markers also partially correspond to voice markers.

Complements have no agreement on the verb (but some things that in English would be complements are indeed direct or indirect objects in Tatediem).

The Subject-(Intensity)-Direction-(Manner)-TAM-STEM form is for verbs of motion, where manner is a fixed set of specific morphemes, and direction is a set that partially overlaps with gender congruence markers, partially is related to adpositions. Owner-Subject-Direction is a form where the owner of the subject has been incorporated into the verbal marking. The infinitives are a complex issue, where the above table does not fully give an honest picture of what is going on.

I am not entirely happy with this table and want more complications.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Restricted gender distinction in first and second person verbs

I like when languages mark gender in a restricted part of their verb system - e.g. Russian in the past tense (due to the form basically being a past participle in predicative position), or the Swedish periphrastic passive ('became Xed'), where the participle has gender congruence.

Trying to come up with a similar restriction basically only gave me this idea: gender congruence in reflexive verbs. The way this would come about is - for some reason, third person reflexive object pronouns became tied closer to the verb than regular non-reflexive objects pronouns (despite essentially being the same lexemes!), and soon were grammaticalized as part of the verb. However, during the transition, the reflexive markers also became used for first and second person, while the case marking for the pronouns also developed separately in the object forms.

Maybe something like
noun verb him/her = reflexive
noun verb accusative particle him/her =  transitive
Possibly through a middle stage of
noun verb-him/her = reflexive
noun verb-transitive marker him/her = transitive 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A review of Mark Newbrook's Strange Linguistics

A review of Strange Linguistics - a skeptical linguist looks at non-mainstream ideas about language. 

(This review is partially cross-posted from another blog of mine. The main difference between the two versions deal with his chapter on constructed languages.)

I have for a while tried writing a review of Strange Linguistics (Mark Newbrook with Jane Curtain and Alan Libert). As a relative newbie to writing reviews, this is somewhat of a challenge, especially as it is a somewhat difficult book to provide a summary of. It does not set out to prove or discuss any one specific hypothesis - it is rather an overview of a large number of pseudoscientific theories, complete with short explanations why these theories are pseudoscience in the first place. Thus, it is difficult to conclude whether it provides a sufficient argument in favor of some hypothesis - as no such intention is set out. This lack of focus does not detract from the work, but does make the life of the reviewer somewhat more difficult.

Newbrook do give the claims, in general, a fair hearing, and proceed to explain why these claims do not cut it. In the introductory chapter, he dutifully explains how some of these mistaken views probably are entirely harmless, but how others easily can be used to inflame ethnic conflict and just generally trick people - I especially find the claims made by David Oates to be likely to make people ruin other people's lives over badly justified claims:
Oates and his followers have applied the analysis of RS [reverse speech] in various practical domains, some o them involving matters of great sensitivity and potential harm. If RS is not genuine, this work is valueless at best and quite possibly extremely damaging. The areas in question include child psychology, alleged cases of child molestation, other alleged criminal offences (this includes the 'O.J Simpson' case) and the analysis and treatment of sexual and other personal problems more generally. [1, p. 168] 
As for the fairness Newbrook grants, it is well worth noting that he has led a research project into linguistic material provided by alleged alien abductees, with entirely inconclusive results, which he in some details elaborates on in the chapter on language from mysterious sources. (By 'inconclusive', take this to mean that Occam's razor justifies rejecting the claims of alien origin for these allegedly alien linguistic snippets.)

For some claims the authors investigate, there could be some justification in providing a somewhat more detailed explanation as to why they are wrong. If it had overviews of topics such as the statistical likelihood of chance resemblances between languages, the comparative method, and some other relevant parts of linguistics, it could be very useful indeed.

It is definitely a good book if you already have some background in linguistics. It would also be a worthwhile addition to the library of any scholar or journalist who is not well-versed in linguistics but on occasion has to evaluate the value of claims that deal with linguistics - if they are willing to do some extra research on their own, alternatively, accept the claims of a bona fide linguist without looking closer at the evidence in his favor. As for journalists, I would even say the relevant chapters of this book should be relevant reading before writing any article on linguistic matters whatsoever. Alas, the lack of clearer elaboration on linguistic methodology might make it a bit too inconclusive to those unfamiliar with the field.

Linguists themselves probably can figure out the problems with various claims such as those presented in this book - and doing so could be a good exercise for a course in skepticism for undergraduate linguists (and even more so students of philology, whose understanding of linguistics sometimes may leave some room for improvement). Ultimately though, the book presents little new for the linguist - except maybe as a convenient source to refer to when there is no time to devote to the proper debunkage of some claim, or as an overview of exactly what kinds of weird beliefs about language are being peddled on the marketplace of ideas (which can be a bit of a shock even to seasoned skeptics).

If the book ever is translated, local crackpot linguistic theories should probably be given a more in-depth treatment: Swedish or Finnish translations probably should include more detailed investigations into both Ior Bock and Paula Wilson's claims (quite distinct types of claim, even if both are wildly wrong; Ior Bock's claims are described and rejected for the same reasons any number of other claims are, Paula Wilson is not mentioned at all which for a non-Scandinavian audience is an entirely justified omission), any Indian edition should probably debunk the various notions regarding Sanskrit that are popular there, Hungarian editions need to elaborate on why it is unlikely that Hungarian is related to the Turkic languages, etc. How such supplementary chapters could be written and incorporated into the book would probably be a challenge though.

There is a certain morbid humor to reading it, the endless amount of bullshit that humans have come up with is as fascinating as any good supernatural thriller. Newbrook in a way comes off as the straight man in a comedy, granting much leeway to the strange antics of a weird coterie of peculiar thinkers and crackpots. The amount of leeway he grants may seem excessive at times, but many of these weird theories are so wrong that even the loosest criteria are enough to debunk them.

There are two chapters whose inclusion at first may seem odd - one chapter on skepticism of mainstream linguistics, which does present some reasonable objections to Chomskyan (and related) linguistics, and another chapter on constructed languages. Some people that have constructed languages indeed base their hobby on pseudo-scientific notions of how language works - this is especially prevalent among those who wish their languages to have an actual population of speakers. However, whether that is just applied bad linguistics or relates to actual linguistic claims is hard to tell. At least trying to make a constructed language that utilizes some hypotheses about language might open up a door to falsifying the involved hypothesis.

However, an inclusion of languages that are framed as fiction or part of fictional worlds would be decidedly odd if it were not for the fact that non-practitioners of that particular hobby may misunderstand the practitioners as participating in some weird pseudoscientific behavior or beliefs. Here, the treatment could have made it clearer that hobbyists often do not see their hobby as any kind of scientific statement or claim, but rather as works of 'art' or similar. That chapter could have done with somewhat better research, but at the same time it might be the least important chapter, and therefore, not investing that much on getting a detailed picture of the constructed languages-scene is very justified.

The main drawback as far as I can tell is the lack of an index, making it difficult to find things quickly. An index would improve its usability especially for journalists, who often write with very strict deadlines looming. Some of the particular claims listed could fit in several different chapters according to the classification (and some are, indeed, mentioned in several places, often with a mention of where the main treatment of the claims occurs). I imagine a more lexicon-like layout could have fit, and would have provided an easy way of expanding the book in the future, but on the other hand that would separate the description of individual claims from the description of the main types of problems that mainly accompany specific kinds of claims.

In conclusion, it is a book that should probably be consulted by any number of people - especially non-linguists and journalists whose work at times intersect linguistics, but there is some room for improvement. On the other hand, it is possible an edition incorporating the improvements I would suggest would get unwieldy in size, and thus a complementary volume could maybe be justified. However, to some extent such a volume would be your basic introduction to linguistics anyway, the contents of (the relevant parts of) which should probably be learned by anyone before consulting this book anyway.

As for conlangers, the book may offer some insight into the kinds of weird notions that are peddled both on- and offline by pseudo-linguists. Since conlangers are, pretty much by default, interested in linguistics, we may be more prone to fall for pseudo-linguist claims - but on the other hand, we're also more likely to have built up the kind of knowledge base for rejecting such claims.

[1] Mark Newbrook with Jane Curtain and Alan Libert. Strange Linguistics - a skeptical linguist looks at non-mainstream ideas about language. Lincom Europa, 2013.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The isolating language, post #3:

I guess it is time to attempt some kind of phonology - and violate the guiding principle of avoiding phonologies here. Writing this post has felt quite unappealing, as I've just abhorred the idea of having a phonology here. It's necessary though, for the further development of the language. Just think of it as me writing this post so I can write future posts.

The main distinctions are

Stopsph p' b
- - ðth t'ch c' ɟkk' qh q
Fricative     ðs zç ʝx hRx h
Lateral glidelλ
Trills and glideswrjR

Historically, /g/ has become dž in most contexts, and h in some. /x/ and /h/ are only marginally distinct, as are /c/ and /j/. /w/ mostly appears in complementary distribution with /b/. /d/ is now /ð/, and strictly speaking a fricative, but patterns more like a stop. The uvular trill/fricative patterns like both trills and fricatives.

The stops also sometimes appear allophonically as affricates, e.g. syllable-finally after closed vowels or r.

The syllable structure is CCVCC the main restrictions being:

  • no two homorganic stops in a sequence except over a syllable boundary
  • no uvular and velar stops in a sequence except over a syllable boundary
  • the syllable coda has quite a few restrictions on it, unlike the syllable onset




In stressed, open syllables, these tend to diphthongize: /i/ tends towards [ij], /u/ towards [uw], /e/ towards [ei], /ə/ towards [eə], /ɛ/ towards [ɛa], /o/ towards [oi] and /ɑ/ towards [ou].

Basically, an isolating language is boring in the way that you do not get any morphophonology to work with. One can still create some interesting things over word boundaries - certain sounds get deleted in the presence or absence of other sounds, mutations, assimilation, etc. I think stress shifts might also be caused by stressed syllables getting too close. So that should basically provide sufficient pseudomorphophonology for there to be some interesting stuff.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Detail #65: An idea regarding Wackernagel adpositions

In some languages, numbers take singular nouns even though plural forms exist. In some languages, the situation is even more complicated - in Finnish, nouns that lack singular forms exist, and those nouns take the number inflected for the plural. In addition, some syntactic positions can permit or even require the nominative-accusative plural to be marked on both the number and the noun.

Now, in a language where some adpositions are wackernagel adpositions, maybe they could cause some havoc with regards to such congruence:

*optional plural?

How about eventual other markers - classifiers or count morphemes - bleeding over to the preposition?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Detail #64: An idea regarding serial verbs

In many languages, serial verb constructions serve a function not entirely unlike prepositions in other languages, e.g.

I take knife cut meat →I cut meat with knife
 A thing few conlangers realize is we can do some interesting things with this kind of construction. However, the following seems unlikely, since SVCs generally tend to either only mark TAM on one verb or have the same markings on both, cross-linguistically speaking.
I take.imperfect knife cut meat → I cut meat with a knife
I take.perfect knife cut meat →I cut meat with the knife
 The notional difference here being that there's a greater likelihood for the object of perfects and perfectives to be definite than for imperfect and imperfective verbs' objects. However, we can go about this differently, and maybe do a lexical, rather than TAM-related distinction:

I take knife cut meat → I cut meat with a knife
I wield knife cut meat → I cut meat with the knife
I cook banana give friend → I prepare a banana for a friend
I sautee banana provide friend →I prepare the banana for the/my friend
The notion being that a more specific kind of verb is more likely to have an object that is definite than a more generic kind of verb. Specificness of a verb would basically amount to whether it basically semantically covers a smaller set of possible actions than the other. Sauteeing something implies cooking it, hence cooking is less specific.

For non-SVCs, this lexical way of marking definiteness would not apply.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Detail #63: 'to have' in Ćwarmin

As described in the previous post, Ćwarmin has a special accusative for reflexively possessed objects. This combines with some normally intransitive verbs - to be, to stand guard, to become, to go - to create predicative possession.

The simplest construction is along these lines:
SUBJECT.nominative is[inflected for tense, aspect, person] OBJECT.refl.poss.acc
 ~subject has object
The owner can sometimes also be in the dative, in which case the verb omits agreement.

More complicated things appear with various voices. The language has two passives - one that promotes the direct object to subject, and one that promotes the indirect object. Sometimes, the indirect object passive (henceforth passive II) is used for predicative possession as well:
SUBJECT.nom is.passII.[tense,aspect,person] OBJ.refl.poss.acc
The third person passive II is used when having in general is discussed, or when no object is supplied:
be.passiveII.participle = those who have
be.passiveII money.refl.poss.acc is nice = to have money is nice 

Further, usually, to stand guard, takes a locative complement. The ablative can be used to mark guarding against something. It being used to denote possession often relates to certain objects that often are guarded  in the Ćwarmin culture - homes, flocks, individual animals, slaves, daughters, but also honor, titles and duties and by extension any noun of which one is especially proud. To stand mainly is used when the object is land, resources, ships, a shed or otherwise work-related building, rights and equals or above in status (brothers, friends, owners, masters, etc). To go is used in a possessive sense whenever the object actively obtained, to become when it is bestowed upon the subject.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Detail #62: That case system

The case system I made up as an example case system to describe some possible adverbial quirks was, imho, surprisingly good, so I figure I might take and develop it a bit further. I have generally avoided large case systems in my conlanging, settling for at most eight or so standard cases (although the Bryatesle case system arguably consists of more, but that is due to how they stack). To make it easier to speak of this language, I've given it a tentative name, Ćwarmin.

Here's the basic set of cases, given in set theoretical notation:
{nominative, accusative, reflexively possessed accusative, nominative complement, accusative complement, genitive, dative, {{towards, from, at}×{on, in, by}}/{towards,by}, general ablative, instrumental, comitative-with, comitative-to, negative}

Nominative is same-oldy, as is accusative. Reflexively possessed accusative is a special version of the accusative (but also takes on dative functions). The nominative and accusative complements are used both for copula-like and causative-like constructions. The nominative complement is a reduced copula-like particle. The genitive does its usual things but also partitive-like stuff, the dative does its usual things (but also some more classical object-like things). The locative cases, of course, by and large, do their usual things (and some other stuff, which I may design and describe later).

The Locatives

Towards-by is not distinguished from at-by.

General ablative
This case expresses a few different notions, some not necessarily locative in nature - avoided things, objects of reference (three miles from X), objects of comparison, a variety of uses with nominalized verbs, the onset of durations.

The Comitatives
The two comitatives and the instrumental form a sort of forked towards/at-like structure. The towards-comitative sometimes does duty as a towards-instrumental, but giving it the designation of towards-comitative is more justified as it covers that kind of 'abstract, ideal case-space' for this language more perfectly. The lack of a from-instrumental/from-comitative is in part a result of the way comitatives and instrumentals are conceived of in Ćwarmin. To the extent such cases would be called for, they are somewhat haphazardly distributed over the different from-cases, including the general ablative.

An example of the comitative-to would be most notions of joining, marrying or setting out to visit, whereas comitative-with express the usual comitative notions as well as staying at someone or a group, being married to someone or being a member of some group.

The Negative
A case by such a name may sound a bit unjustified, but as it covers several somewhat negation-related functions, the name is better than abessive or negative concord or any such. It covers the following roles:

  • absent existential arguments (subjects of negative existential statements, objects of negative existential statements)
  • that which is lacked (without X).
  • frequent with nominalized verbs (not having Xed, without Xing, not intending to X)
  • frequent with negative objects when an indirect object is present (X didn't give Y Z.neg)
  • frequent with negative, definite singular objects (didn't verb X)
  • in the plural, negative indefinite for intransitive subjects or objects ('no X'). Negative, indefinite transitive subjects and other noun phrases are formed using a negative determiner instead.
  • sometimes for 'instead of'. In these cases, it is generally preceded by a conjunction. 

More on these and how they interact with some verb system later.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Detail #61: Some adverb quirks

Adverbs are a part of languages where conlangers seem not to go into any huge amount of detail. There probably is a bunch of reasons for this, e.g.

  • English having a rather boringly simple system for most adverbs that are formed from adjectives (-ly not giving a lot of potential for interest). This relatively straightforward lack of detail seems to be par for the course in Germanic though (e.g. German and some Scandinavian languages basically having uninflected adjectives double for adverbs, Swedish having adjectives with the neuter marker.) English does do some interesting things, even then: good → well, where well also is partially an adjective (but slightly unusual in that it cannot be an attribute, but can be a complement - *"the well man", but "the man is well"). Another exception is hard, where hardly, of course, is a mostly separate lexeme. This kind of exception can of course be interesting, but I will leave it at that. Coming up with different details than those present in English but of the same kind is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • Adverbs often being subsumed into other existing word classes and phrase classes, e.g. adpositional phrases, adjectives, nouns in different cases. Making verb-like adverbs does not seem to be very common among conlangers, possibly because of them being relatively uncommon in Standard Average European.
  • Adverbs seem to be slightly too far into the bits of a grammar where people
  • don't know what to do with them? 
  • just don't care to do cool things with them? 
  •  don't have an idea that it's possible to do cool things with them? 
  •  Get bored of going into deeper detail or assume no one's going to read that far
So, let's consider adverbs. For now, I will not consider any semantic or pragmatic uses for them - there are ideas I have in those regards that may appear later. What other things can we do to adverbs except something like English does?:
I run quickly
There are two main sources of behaviors I am going to look at, and try to apply their traits to adverbs. These are, (un-?)surprisingly enough, verbs and nouns. I will present a draft of a language's verbal and nominal morphology, and then go on to apply this in different ways to the adverbs.


The nouns have three accidents: number, case and definiteness. Not all combinations occur. There are three numbers - singular, plural and partitive. Partitive is always indefinite. Definiteness comes in three forms too - indefinite, known to speaker, known to listener. For this language, the case list will amount to something along the lines of Finnish or Hungarian: 

{nominative, accusative, reflexively possessed accusative, nominative complement, accusative complement, genitive, dative, {{towards, from, at}×{on, in, by}}/{towards,by}, generally away from, instrumental, comitative-with, comitative-to, negative}

As a note, comitative-1, comitative-2 and the instrumental have morphological similarities to the three {towards, to, from, at}-series. The instrumental corresponds to from, and the two others to towards and at. The case I label 'generally away from' also has similarities to the instrumental in form. The negative case takes several rather different roles, but only appears with the partitive number - subjects of negated atelic verbs, non-existing subjects of existential verbs, objects of negative telic verbs, without.

The system is not entirely agglutinating. Although each accident has a default value that is normally expressed by no exponent - e.g. nominative, singular, indefinite - these sometimes do take an exponent - partitive nominative has an explicit nominative marker, as does indefinite comitatives, instrumentals, datives and genitives. Reflexively possessed objects cannot be known to speaker, and are either indefinite or known to listener.

The plural for a rather large group of words is formed by partial reduplication. This partial reduplication also occurs in the partitive for the same nouns. The partitive can signify both plural and singular referents, and this can be shown using verb congruence.


The verb has congruence for subjects and direct objects. The congruence is somewhat defective. Partitive-case objects are more likely than others not to be marked on the verb. Some intransitive verbs have object-congruence rather than subject-congruence markers appear for their subjects. Passives entirely lack congruence. Subject congruence distinguishes the three definiteness levels, object congruence merges the two definite kinds.

The verb also marks some kind of TAM-complex. The more complex the set of exponents present (mainly formed agglutinatingly), the greater the likelihood that the verb congruence and/or the tense being deficient. Certain moods lack tense differentiation (although aspect tends to be marked for most of them). Some moods have non-nominative subjects, and for those, the subject congruence invariably settles for zero marking.

As for voices, there are three basic voices: active, passive and oblique. Passive has little to no congruence, and lacks a bunch of moods. Its tense-aspect matrix basically consists of {{past, nonpast× {perfect, imperfect}}.

The oblique voice rather seems to promote non-agent, non-object arguments to subject status. It has {nonpast, past} ×  {imperfect}, thus lacking all perfect meanings. 

On to the adverbs

So, let us have adverbs as somewhat of a wastebasket for words specifying qualities of the VP. To make it interesting, let's make them have properties that make them look like deficient verbs and nouns at the same time. I would probably have two subfamilies of adverbs - the verb-like ones and the noun-like ones, but a clever design could merge these. Probably, some adverbs would be less deficient than others. 

Let's consider a few individual adverbs:
slowly - in this language, this is verb-like, and it takes congruence either with the object or subject (but not both), depending on whether the action is performed slowly on the object, or the agent is performing the action slowly. Essentially, intentional slowness →object congruence, unintentional slowness → subject congruence. The only mood it can mark for is 'intensive', which does not cooccur with subject congruence. With an intransitive verb, object congruence is simply omitted.
harshly - in this language, harshly is noun-like. It is normally partitive instrumental definite (and sometimes in the complement cases), but also can take modal and subj/obj congruence.
weirdly - noun like, but takes object or subject morphology (and the oblique voice). If subject congruence, the "weird" thing is that the subject acted on the object (instead of on something else), if object congruence, the weird thing is that the subject acted, and not that someone else did, and if oblique, the weird thing is some other participant or fact. 
 heavily - noun-like, with no verbal congruence. Partitive instrumental indefinite (and sometimes in the complement cases). 

The complement cases often are used if the adverb describes a subordinate verb or infinite, and then agrees with the subject of that verb (i.e. is it subject or non-subject) 

This is a somewhat unclear description, but I hope it offers some ideas for how to create more complication in the adverbs.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Detail #60: A lexical derivation detail

In some language lacking grammatical gender, form adjectives/nouns for members of ethnicities or tribes by

  • female members designated as [tribe name][causative][agent]
  • male members designated as [tribe name][past participle, or passive causative or likewise]

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Onwards with Detail #59

So, what cool things could we do with detail #59?

An obvious origin for it could be retention of dual first persons for just a few verbs. Another option could be somewhat more tense-aspect-like: we did is more likely to be exclusive than we will. How would that be extended into all tenses and aspects? Possibly by generally weakening the ~transitivity~ of inclusive verbs.

The logic behind this might not be all that obvious, so I'll walk it through a bit. [...]

Another obvious thing to do could be to have separate lexical entries for exclusive and inclusive. Here, the kind of meanings expressed by the morphemes I'd expect to show up for this kind of thing are here showcased with fake English exsamples:

withtravel - travel (including you);
travel - travel (without you);
co-oppose - oppose (each other, you being one of the opponents)
oppose - oppose in general, but not used if opposition between 1st and 2nd person is present.
meet - meet each other, 2nd person inclusion assumed
foremeet - meet someone not included in the present company

The inclusive version could have an extra fake-dual use: singular person inclusive includes the 2nd person (so 1st person singular: you and I, 3rd person singular: you two (of whom one person is not present)).

A limited set of reciprocally marked verbs easily could acquire such notions as well? meet-rcp-2pl 3rd-person.obj = we.incl meet him, meet-2pl 3rd-person.obj = we.excl meet him.

Most other sources I can imagine for clusivity seem to - at least to my mind at least - tend to lend themselves rather badly to a limited kind of clusivity, so I will not go into the general sources of it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Detail #59: Limited clusivity

Imagine a language where first-person plurals can be inclusive/exclusive, but only in certain specific situations. The most obvious thing would be to only distinguish inclusive/exclusive in certain cases - say the nominative and the accusative, while merging it in other cases. Another option would be to have it linked to certain verbs. These specific verbs would then have separate markers for inclusive and exclusive first person (probably a separate affix from the first person plural marker). The verbs that have this would be verbs where such a distinction is culturally significant. 

Some verbs could likewise have this in the passive (but not in the active), if it's culturally important in those. 

It would generally not be used productively, though.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Detail #58: Kinship terms and morphology

A thing that I hadn't noticed earlier but suddenly dawned on me is that in English, several of the closest kinds of kinships have nouns that end in the same sequence of sounds as agent nouns deriving from verbs, -er.

While I do believe this is a coincidence, (compare how Swedish has broder, syster, fader, moder, but -are as the agent derivation morpheme. (All but syster somewhat restricted to higher stylistic registers or archaic use, having slightly reduced forms in colloquial use - bror, far, mor, with brorsa, syrra, farsa/pappa and morsa/mamma being quite low register).

Now, what if a language has voice- or transitivity-marking agentive (or patientive) affixes, a bit like -ee vs. -er, but including things like reciprocals, and kinship terms were treated as though they were derived from verbs (although they are not). Maybe there could be interesting uses of morphology there, such as -

brother.reciprocal agent.plur = a set of persons who are each other's brothers
my brother.intransitive = my brother (uttered by a woman)
my brother.reciprocal = my brother (uttered by a man)
my fathers.intransitive.vocative =  every man that has offspring among my guests!
my fathers.transitive.vocative =  my ancestors!
my father.intransitive = my older friend
my father.transitive = my father

Further vague things that might turn into ideas:

  • something transitivity-like for nouns, that isn't just possession-related or related to the noun being an agentive form of a verb
  • more asymmetric kinship terms (e.g. older brother, younger brother)
  • reciprocal passives enabling chains - e.g. fathers.reciprocal.passive = a chain of ancestors (not really reciprocal, but each member of the set but one is the father of a father), parents.reciprocal.passive = one line of ancestors, parents.transitive.passive = all ancestors, ... who knows, there can be any amount of weird semantic things going on here.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Musing: Congruence blocking blocking, feasible?

Some introspection on me speaking Finnish recently got me thinking about things blocking congruence blocks. First, a description of the situation in Finnish:

Finnish negation works slightly like English negation - you have a negative auxiliary (ei, c.f. don't) which has congruence for person (en, et, ei, emme, ette, eivät, c.f. don't, doesn't, isn't, ain't, aren't, ... ). However, unlike in English, it does not take the infinitive, but a special form (the conegative form, which in the present tense indicative mood, for all persons is identical to the third person singular imperative), and unlike in English, tense, aspect and mood does not go on the negative auxiliary. Instead, the form the main verb takes indicates all this information. In the imperative, there's a special auxiliary (älä, älkää, älköön, älkäämme, älkööt), which in somewhat archaic language actually distinguishes a sub-mood by a special form (ällös).

Now, the thing that got me thinking is that as a semi-native speaker of Finnish, I have internalized these rules very well, but only so much that I sometimes get the feeling that deviating from them would feel more natural. Especially when the verb is emphasized, it feels like the usual verb form would attract more attention to it and the regular negation structure feels too mundane?

On the other hand, since the content verb has a very weakened congruence in the negative (in the past tense and in the imperatives, number is distinguished), one could basically argue that the negation serves as a congruence block. Is it reasonable to assume languages can have a block operating on a block this way?

I find the Finnish negative a fun thing in how non-natives sometimes deal with it: a fair number of Swedish-speakers maintain congruence and can even use the wrong verb form, so 'I didn't watch it' comes out as *en katsoin sitä (instead of en katsonut sitä)- where katsoin is the regular past tense indicative, and 'I don't watch it' comes out as *en katson sitä, instead of en katso s:itä. Estonian has a similar negative verb as Finnish has, but it lacks person congruence on it, and some Estonian speakers of Finnish carry that over too. During my stint at a place with lots of Estonian workers, I recall some of them sometimes going all pro-drop on negative sentences, thus obtaining wonderfully unclear statements like 'ei tiedä'. So, two relatively large groups of non-native Finnish speakers (I surmise there's more Russians than Estonians in that category, though) have quite the opposite mistake in their formation of the negative - one keeping too much information, the other omitting too much.

Somehow, I find the Estonian approach more likely to cause a congruence block block to appear, though.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Challenge #5: Verbal numbers

What possible things other than

  • existential statements of amounts ("there are N so-and-so" → so-and-so N.verb)
  • N repetitions of an action
  • increasing something by a factor
could verbs derived from numbers signify? 

Modern forum culture is kind of introduce the idea of 'stating agreement, where each person stating such says which number in the line he has' (seconded, thirded, but I have not seen any higher numbers.)

My mind does go in a few directions with regards to this:
  • time-span related things, "I seven work on that now" → I will work for seven days on that
  • rank-related things, maybe intransitive (he tens → he is the boss of ten people), maybe transitive (he tens technicians → he is the boss of ten technicians) 
  • performing a specific number of culturally significant obligations? Verbed ordinals could signify specific obligations.
  • Worship of some kind?
Other ideas would be interesting as well.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Detail #57: Congruence blocking, again

A language where specifically night-time actions take no verb congruence.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Challenge #4: Dechticaetiativity and Serial Verb Constructions

Could dechticaetiativity be combined with serial verb constructions in a way that creates weird consequences in a language? I've been trying to come up with constructions that combine these features and such consequences, but to little avail. Any ideas?

For those who don't know, dechticaetiativity is like ergativity but for objects and indirect objects, so that the direct object of a monotransitive verb and the indirect of a ditransitive verb are marked the same, and the direct object of a ditransitive verb is marked in the dechticaetiative case.
I bought a book  → I bought a book.acc
I bought you a book → I bought you.acc a book.decht 

Serial verb constructions are constructions where two verbs cooperate to provide more meaning, such as
he take knife cut meat  → he cuts the meat with the knife

As always, suggestions are welcome in the comment field.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Detail #56: Verb Congruence Blocking / Quirky Case

This detail might make it into Dairwueh:

Coordinated verbs, where the first has a quirky case subject, the other verb has null congruence even if there's a reasonable person form for it.

 "I like this and recommend it to everyone" → me.dat appeal.pres.0 this.nom and recommend.0 it to everyone
Contrast with:
"I hate this and recommend avoiding it" → I.nom hate.pres.1sg and recommend.1sg avoid.acc it.acc

Detail #55: Wackernagel adposition blocking

If an adjective is extracted from a PP with a Wackernagel-position adposition in it, the adposition becomes a preposition instead. Adjective extraction has the following uses, functions and general grammatical properties:
  • Polar questions involving an adpositional phrase with an adjective - 
in the red car: the in red.obl car.obl, or red.obl in car.obl  
is it in the red car?: red.obl.Q it is in the car.obl, red.obl.Q it is in car.obl
If there is a PP without an adjective in it, the preposition may be stranded and the noun fronted. 

  •  Emphasizing the adjective. Red.obl it is in house.obl - It is in the red house. 
  • Presence of (intransitive/particle-like) adpositions nearby

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Detail #54: Two kinds of Count Nouns, Some Kinds of Mass Nouns

Many languages distinguish count nouns and mass nouns from each other. I have been considering what a third category could be, but since I have not come up with any satisfying idea I will instead propose splitting the kinds of nouns already attested in two.

Count nouns

When counting the nouns, two different behaviors appear, both behaviors attested in natural languages:
  • class I nouns get singulars after numbers > 1
  • class II nouns get plurals after numbers > 1
Now, this is a rather simple difference, so let us add some things to it. 
  • Determiners such as "many" function like numbers in regards to this
  • Existential statements like "there are many of them" come out as NOUN(I) is many, NOUN(II) are many.
  • Alternative I: Case syncretism* in the plural spreads to the singular whenever numbers or number-like determiners occur?
  • Alternative II: a vague number can act like a pluralizer for class I nouns which thus can retain case distinctions even when they are not morphologically distinguished in the plural.
  • Certain nouns can have slight meaning-alteration by shifting class, so e.g. "man" can signify free men, high-ranking men, officers, the innocent when class II, and servants, prisoners, minors, pupils, soldiers, ... when class I. In effect, the higher the status, the more likely that the individuality of the members is emphasized by the singular noun.

Mass nouns

Some mass nouns can be used as class II count nouns, but this is rather marked. The kinds of mass nouns are mainly distinguished by the kind of determiner they take when trying to express a great amount: huge, wide, tall, deep, rich, much. A small amount does not distinguish as many classes, having just tiny, poor, little. The numeral quantification strategies also differ:
  • {huge, wide, tall, deep}-nouns require a quantifier, and stand in the 'syntactically relevant case' after that word. Most quantifiers are class I nouns, but a few are actually mass nouns as well. Examples include (deep) water, (tall) forest, (wide) space
  • {rich}-nouns cannot be quantified except through derivative processes or compounding with count nouns. 
  • {much}-nouns are always in the case with a partitive-like function after a quantifier, and the quantifiers used are rather restricted. 

* Case syncretism is a technical name for two or more cases having the same marking in some part of the paradigm.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Detail #53: Grammatical and pragmatical length

I suspect this violates some universals pretty strongly, which pleases me quite a bit.

Imagine a system where length is phonemic, but does not distinguish lexemes. Instead, length comes in patterns such as
sLss, LsLs, LLss, LLLs, ssss, LLsL
where L = long, s = short. These are applied to individual phonemes. Different patterns signify different grammatical and pragmatical information. Example patterns - just for illustrative purposes - given with Kleene-algebra notation. Some of them may span several words, some of them are applied sentence-initially, some are applied from the start of a noun.

verbal and sentence-initial patterns:
LLssL(s*) = yes/no-question
(sL)* = indicative, unmarked
s* = indicative, unmarked
s(LL)s* = imperative
s*LL = if interrogative particle is included, marks that the listener is repeating what he thought he heard in order to get confirmation he heard right

s* = indefinite nom or acc
sLsLs* = definite nom < barely distinguished
ssLLs* = definite acc < barely distinguished
Ls* = fronted direct object

adjective markers:
LLLs* = intensive
s* = default
s*LL = verb-like, but restricted in not being able to take verbal patterns

Certain weird things can happen for phonemes that do not permit lengthening, such as the lengthening shifting one step to the right, or things along those lines. Finally, some particular patterns may trigger the appearance of extra phonemes just to carry length, usually /e/ or /n/, except after /k/, which triggers /u/ instead.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Detail #52: Taboo registers

Australian aboriginal languages have some rather famous taboos, such as
  • the mother-in-law register
  • avoidance of using any words sounding like the names of the recently deceased
Some cool things along these lines could be:
  • taboos based on location (say, in an ethnicity much into sea-faring, boat vs. mainland vs. islands could easily be such taboo-triggering locations)
  • taboos triggered or rendered powerless by rites of passage (old, in that e.g. Damin essentially kind of is a bit like that)
  • taboos triggered by astronomical things
  • taboos triggered by weather - rain, snow, snow-cover, storms, ...
  • taboos triggered by pregnancies or especially by miscarriages?
  • taboos triggered by music
Some things these taboos could trigger could be:
  • avoidance of words on phonological grounds (the Australian taboo)
  • replacing some grammatical markers by a less detailed system
  • an avoidance with some actual weird implications: avoiding statements where certain kinds of evidentials are required. How about during music, avoid hearsay. Or, near pregnant women, avoid guesswork information. Or, avoid first-person experientials during the days before and after the full moon.

Detail #51: Another type of numeral

These are really just a slight variation of normal cardinal numerals, but here goes.

Analogous with 'both', you get a way of forming such pronoun-like demonstrative-like numbers.

Thus, "you, he and I three-oth know where we hid the loot".

Functions this kind of numeral fills is:

  • demonstrative roles - instead of "the three men", "these five houses", "oh, those two" - all replaced by "three-oth men", "five-oth houses", "oh, both". The last case, from an English point of view is ambiguous, but intonation and such would distinguish between what in somewhat awkward English would mean something like "oh, the two of them are here, not just one or the other" and "oh, that's what we can expect from those two" and "oh, it's those two". Notice how distal and proximal and definite are conflated.
  • pronominal roles
  • emphasis as well as complete numeration - 'three-oth know the secret' → only three know the secret, 'six-oth accounted for' → all six accounted for. In perfective phrases, subjects tend to be parsed as all N, whereas objects are parsed as only N. In imperfective phrases, this is reversed.
  • Everytime ever a numeral would occur in a vocative-like position, these numerals would be used there.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Phonology idea

Do a statistical survey of the distribution of different vowels and consonants in some common form of English. The survey would basically give a two-dimensional array, one dimension corresponding to the individual sounds and the other to frequency at different positions in words.

Now, alter the distribution significantly, so that the sum of each sound's array is roughly the same, but the tops and troughs swap place. After this, recalculate the sum for the frequency for each of the columns (corresponding to frequencies at a position), so they add up to one. (Also, try maintaining the sum of all vowels vs. the sum of all consonants in a given column somewhat intact.)

The result would be a language whose sounds are the same as English, but the way they are used is significantly off. I do think using a restrictive and relatively English-like set of consonant clusters might make sense, but who knows. 

Usage for this thing: naming languages in fiction.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Detail #50: a type of numeral

At times, trying to come up with numerals different from the normal ordinals, cardinals, groups-of-N, and distributives and whatnots is a thing I try my hand at, but seldom manage.

It hit me that one natural context for numerals is when discussing time, and it could very well be possible for a language to have specific forms for the numerals for N:th day (or even N:th general unit of time), or for N days, to such an extent that the time unit generally can be left out.

four-TIME-[some oblique case, plural]: on four days
 four-TIME-[some oblique case, singular]: on the fourth day (of the month)
four-TIME-[some other oblique case, singular]: four days from the time inferred from the context
four-TIME-[some other oblique case, plural]: every fourth day

Meanwhile, if the language treats "many" and "how many" as numerals, in giving them ordinal forms as well, this could provide some further cool stuff. Finally, diminutives would possibly be used to form, say, hours and minutes or some analogous time units.

I would further like for it to lack the nominative and accusative, so that talking of four units of time as a subject or objects requires normal ordinal or cardinal numerals.

This idea might enter Tatediem.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Detail #49: Case system detail / Vocatives

Imagine a language with vocatives and with case congruence on adjectives. Further imagine the language has some kind of intensive or superlative adjective formation, either of indo-european style or just some kind of more general intensifying meaning.

Now, it would be rather natural that vocatives never use non-intensive/non-superlative adjectives; the actual meaning-change involved would be somewhat negated by the presence of the vocative, though, as even a 'good' friend would be called 'best friend!' in such a construction, and everyone was aware of the grammatical rule there. Thus, lexical items would have to be used instead to distinguish intensities instead of morphological devices.

One could even imagine a language where there are no explicit vocative markers, except the restriction on non-superlatives in vocative NPs. One could of course have some (morphologically) superlative/intensive dummy adjective for this role too, if no other adjective is present?

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Tatədiem is a conlang I have been, well, not working on per se, but coming up with occasional ideas for over about eight years now. I have decided that all further conlanging on it will take place on this blog.

A short summary of Tatədiem

Tatədiem is an agglutinating language with some fusionality. Its noun system distinguishes three numbers - singular, dual, plural, as well as mass nouns. The singular and plural forms distinguish, further, definite and indefinite forms, whereas the dual is only used with definite forms. Mass nouns do not distinguish definiteness.

Further, definiteness and number fuse with case as well, combining with ergative, absolutive, *instrumental, partitive, dative (only definite), and locative. Mass nouns and indefinite plurals merge ergative, absolutive and partitive, indefinite singulars merge absolutive and ergative, as well as partitive and locative.

Certain female names are morphologically dual and so are some place names. Almost all of these have some syncretism with the singular, and the occasional one with the plural.

The nouns have a bantu-style gender system, but with the gender markers more restricted in when and where they appear. Basically,

  • an indefinite noun does not have gender markers
  • adjectives with a definite noun have gender-number congruence, and as complements they also take the partitive case.

As for the verb, it can show gender agreement with the subject, the object, and the indirect object. Certain auxiliary verbs can show agreement with some other things, such as instruments, locations and recipients. Certain aspects and voices are marked by simply adding an auxiliary with some congruence in place, and leaving the regular verb with canonical marking.

This system may sound a bit redundant and rich, but I intend to break it sufficiently that an interesting system will be obtained.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Isolating Conlang: Implicit adjectives for adpositions

In some languages, adjectives can take complements - e.g. afraid of bears, proud of himself, full of shit, ... In English, almost all such complements take 'of' as their preposition, and some take 'by' (notably past participles). In other languages that have similar complements, a wider selection of prepositions may occur, and The Isolating Conlang (henceforth TIC) is an example of such a language.

In TIC, the number of adpositions in general is large. In part, this is due to two historical processes of preposition grammaticalization having occurred: to some extent, verbs have turned into prepositions, to some extent nouns have turned into prepositions.

Now, sometimes, the association between an adjective and a preposition is particularly strong, and in these cases, omitting the adjective is very common. With the adjective omitted, it is possible to have a copy of the preposition appear at the onset of the sentence or before the verb. Obviously, this is somewhat of a lexical thing, and so a short appendix listing the meanings of adjectives that can be omitted is supplied.

Appendix: Some prepositions in TIC, some with implicit adjectives

ḱesp: on, n. head
suspicious, careful, → der lə ḱesp in "I am (keeping tabs) on him"
tsim: by, with, n. group
similar to  ir kewen tsim subul 'he runs like a calf'
der lə tsim kmtok → I group with my brother/I am similar to my brother
convinced, agreeing: ar lə tsim in → you are (agreeing) with him 
dəlts: in collusion with, with, also an adverb
Dəlts! (Do! Join! You must!)
der lə delts in → I and he collaborate
em in kwale dəlts em vupi then he plays together with (people) then self → sometimes he plays (music) together with others, sometimes by himself
kip: for, especially when doing something that is someone else's obligation or by someone else's request
eager, servile, subordinate
ner: for, to, especially when handing over or giving things to someone
charitable, helpful 
semag: equipped with, having, n. hand, v. carry
skilled, talented → ar lə semag hilhil: "you are (skilled) with the flute"
in kwale semag hilhil → he played the flute skillfully
ragad: inside,
has a peculiar inverse meaning with the adjective full: full of [content] inside, mehar ragad [content]
gad: in
occupied with, fortunate with, 
gad der lə gad məniḱ : I have bountiful catch of fish, I am fortunate with a catch of fish
gad der lə gad sauttm : I am busy with business
segad: covered with, n. pelt, v. lie under, cover with
occupied with, bored with, 
kpem: under, covered by, n. roof, tent
pregnant → wa lə kpem in, "she is (pregnant) by him"
This also can be used as an adverbial to express who the father is with any pregnancy-related verbs, wa səd gahar kpem in ≃ she gave birth to his son, we səd ruhal kpem in ≃ she gave birth to his daughter, wa tom tekka kpem in ≃ she is about to give birth to his first child, wa tom tekka ≃ she is about to give birth to her first child
kvat: moving in the direction of, (located) somewhere along the way to
agreeing with, supportive of (human object), → ar tom kvat in? are you in agreement with him? 
hungry for, eager for, interested in → ar lə kvat qurpa, "you like fights." 
kev: moving in the direction of, v. 'fetch, approach'
quick to, habitually   → in lə kev qurpa, he is quick to find a fight; in lə kev kmtok, he always goes to his brother (for help), in wəl kev sauttm astm-ḱe, he is quick to (make) business (out of) anything (literally "he have quick business anything")
sarə: along, located somewhere along the way to, n. road.
gug lə sarə → the house is along our path
xuk: at the house or abode of [complement], (there is a similar cognate noun, gug)
related → in lə wa lə xuk or in lə xuk wa, "they (he and she) are related", or "he is related to her". Due to cultural reasons, relatedness is not necessarily considered reflexive. 

seve: about, (from noun meaning 'speech')
right in lə seve əm "he is (right) about it"
 esteemed for  → seve ar lə seve kwale hilhil, he is (esteemed) for his flute playing