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.