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.