Monday, May 27, 2013

Detail #40: Reflexive possession blocker

As a further idea to add to the stuff in this post, [...]

Assuming that certain classes of nouns when appearing as objects of certain kinds of verbs are implicitly owned by the subject, unless strong contextual reasons exist not to interpret it that way, let's consider some shortcuts to blocking the reflexive possession. This of course gets into something I don't like much, viz. disambiguation, but I'll nevertheless consider it.

An obvious way would be to have something that is simply put an indefinite possessive pronoun:
I washed someone's clothes (implicitly: not mine)
However, that's kind of obvious and kind of boring. Let's try some other approach: we could possibly get the same kind of implication by reducing the transitivity of the verb, by for instance demoting the object to some other type of argument:
I washed at the clothes  not mine
I washed the clothes  mine
 Alternatively, we could maybe use some kind of voice-like operation on the verb.
the clothes were being washed by me  not mine
I was washing the clothes  mine  
One possibility could also be that reflexive possession requires the object to follow the verb (or the subject, in an SOV languages) immediately, and inserting anything else between will disrupt the possessivity:
I washed the clothes mine 
I washed, then, the clothes not mine 
An interesting kind of implication of this could be if this gets grammaticalized -  you could suddenly have a situation where some verbs sometimes have a voice-like thing that simply alters whether the object is reflexively possessed or not (if the inserted thing grammaticalizes to the left), or a case prefix  (if the particle grammaticalizes to the right).

If it gets marked on the noun, this could further lead to situations where some nouns also have a generalized form: [nonposs]-brother: any brother, a brother in general, a male sibling; brother: the brother of some relevant NP, usually contextually relevant. If the marking is on the noun, it also, of course, easily can spread to non-object nouns as well.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Detail #39: A pronominal distinction

In some languages, have two sets of third person pronouns. One set starting in one consonant, and the other set in some other. Preferrably, set II would be more "strong"-sounding, if some such sound symbolism is present in the language. These pronouns also serve as definite articles, deictic pronouns and determiners.

Set I appears everywhere else, set II appears when:

  • the pronoun refers to the topic of the same sentence
  • the pronoun is in apposition with adjectives or another pronoun (serving a similar function as 'the' in the other or the red one in English)
  • the pronoun can be construed to answer which one out of several options is specified.
  • the pronoun is contrasted with some other NP or pronoun - they arrived, no one else did. If contrasted with another pronoun, the one to whom the contrast is considered a merit will be marked with set II.
  • possibly other similar usages, but I am at a loss to come up with anything right now.
Finally, the pronouns of set II also work as relativizers: the man, his wife is beautiful, is worried about her fidelity. (A biblical proverb, iirc). 

Detail #38: Auxiliary verb thing in a polysynthetic language

Inspired by the previous post, I came up with a simpler related concept. An auxiliary that does not code anything related to the meaning of the verb itself, but codes things for several arguments of the verb.

The idea is for some polysynthetic-style conlang, the verb normally would have congruence for something like {subject, object, indirect object, maybe some other things}and whenever certain conditions are met for a given NP, an auxiliary is added to the VP whose sole role is marking congruence with arguments taht meet those conditions - e.g. definiteness, count noun-ness, etc.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Short Sketch #5: Definiteness marking and definiteness types

Definiteness is a thing some languages do not grammaticalize to the extent English does, and on the other hand, some languages have it even more grammaticalized - see, e.g. how it influences both adjective and noun inflection in Swedish, how it affects verbs in Hungarian, and so on.

Let us try out a slightly more complex thing. Some languages have three levels of definiteness, e.g. known to listener, known to speaker, and indefinite. 

Example, based on sample sentences from some pidgin, I don't recall the source where I saw these:
  1. I am looking for a car → any car will do.
  2. I am looking for one car → there is a specific car, but the listener is not expected to know which.
  3. I am looking for the car → the listener too knows which car you are looking for.
(Also notice how "this" is acquiring a similar usage in colloquial English, c.f. any google result for "so this girl|dude|chick|guy|... walks|says|..." This is clearly not a deictic use of this, but rather a pragmatic use where it marks 'there is a specific girl that did it, but you probably don't know who she is, but I might refer to her in the future so she's significant enough for the narrative.)
Now, it seems rather natural to me that different constituents of a sentence will be differently likely to be marked for different types of definiteness, and this could easily lead to different kinds of arguments having very different marking strategies as well as a different number of distinctions.

An obvious example are languages where the object can be marked for definiteness by differential object marking, but other constituents have nothing of the sort. Usually, there is good likelihood that the subject is definite - even more so for the topic, but as topics and subjects often coincide, well, there you go.

A draft of this kind of a system would be something like:

  • definite non-subject (2 or 3) topics trigger extra auxiliary verb that only carries congruence and has no semantic content
  • definite subjects (2 or 3) trigger congruence in the verb (alternatively, see short sketch #1 for another strategy that could be used here)
  • definite objects (3) trigger congruence in the verb and accusative case
  • definite objects (2) trigger accusative case
  • indefinite objects (1) take neither
  • other definite (3) non-topic nouns trigger congruence on adpositions
  • other non-topic nouns (that is, (2 or 1) functioning by virtue of case marking as an argument of the verb) do not trigger any congruence strategies
  • different definiteness correlates with different case systems, something along these lines:
    • 3:     nom - acc - dat - lat - abl - part - gen - instr
    • 2:     nom - acc - dat        - abl          - gen
    • 1:     nom                  - lat -         abl
  • All topics, however, no matter definiteness, use the full (3) case system
  • The lative for indefinitive nouns is identical in form to the dative for definite (2/3) nouns.
Other parameters could affect different systems: maybe animates have a different number of levels of definiteness from inanimates or whatever, ... however, something along these lines seems fairly intricate and interesting imho.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Static Fiction

Most fiction that people read is in the form of stories. It would even seem that the story is the prototype for fiction. This is quite obvious, in many ways. However, there are other basic story prototypes, and they don't necessarily exclude one another: the setting, which tells us what to expect of any story within it, the archetype, which is a basic set of patterns a story can be expected to follow; more recently, tvtropes (and I won't do you the disservice of linking there) has categorized and documented - in excessive and sometimes counterproductive detail - archetypes and common variations of them.

Both of those are arguably static fiction. Oh, certainly details in the setting can change - the federation and the klingon form an alliance, the elves depart for wherever, SPECTRE dissolves and is never heard of again, ... but all these are still, in a way, static things about the setting: stories set after stardate so-and-so, in the fourth era, after 197x, ... within a  setting use the updated assumption.

However, more genuinely static forms of fiction do exist. I recall running into a novel that was written and structured like an encyclopedia. I recently tried finding it again, and I am pretty sure it was Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars. I intend to read it soon, and once I have done so, I will post a review here, as I think the form he picked for it might be of some interest for conworlders and conlangers alike.

Nevertheless, a conlang, a map of a world that does not exist, an actual artifact emulating a non-existent culture, or even a non-narrative "paper" emulating the (academic) style of historians, sociologists, theologians, physicists, chemists, astronomers, (even magicians, alchemists and astrologists) of a culture that does not exist could be rather fascinating. The artifact would be intriguing - it is both an object of fiction and a work of art.

For me, language is the most interesting kind of speculative non-narrative fiction, but even then, it is not the only kind that could be of interest.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The long-term project: more draft-stage ideas

On with the isolating conlang I have been planning. At some point soon, there will probably be a post related to it that violates one of the main rules I have for this blog, though: "no phonology drafts".

As mentioned, this will be an isolating language, so there is not much in ways of morphophonology that can be enabled by clever phonological things, but some sandhi-like processes still could be interesting.

I want to avoid the standard Chinese-like sound that one would expect from a conlang, and even avoid tones. However, a detail that I want to incorporate is having bisyllabic verbs have high pitch accent on the first syllable when perfective or inchoative, and low pitch accent on the second syllable when habitual. This would not be recognized in most prescriptive grammars of the language, though.

The language has a congruence-like thing with topics and subjects, where sometimes, a pronoun may appear after the verb:
The subject often is the topic, but only in those cases will the pronoun agree with the subject in some manner. The manner of congruence is often noun-class based (but at times, the doubling pronoun may be a demonstrative that does not distinguish the same amount of noun-classes).
Now, a special quirk is, if the topic is a postpositional phrase with a pronoun, the preposition may be left alone at the onset of the sentence, and the pronoun appears in the congruence position:
In sentences with no verbs, the location of the congruence pronoun is less obvious, but statistically it appears somewhat more often in such sentences than in sentences with a verb.

This also prompts a discussion of the pronominal system of the language. The pronouns come in two forms: emphasized and subdued. These are basically results of stress-related sound changes - the subdued forms are strongly reduced: talokt (we, masculine), teu (we, masculine), reɣin (those), ran (those). 

The post-verbal topic/subject congruence spot invariably has the reduced form. When appearing as a subject, a topic or fronted focus, a pronoun always is in the emphasized form, otherwise it mostly appears as a subdued form. If confusion as to whether a pronoun is coreferential with the topic or not, the emphasized form is preferred.