Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dairwueh and Bryatesle verbs for counting

The verbs for counting in Dairwueh and Bryatesle all derive relatively transparently from verbs denoting physical actions in these two languages. Contact between Dairwueh and Bryatesle groups goes back to proto-D and proto-B times - neither of the language families to which they belong form a continuous geographical area, and contact between these families has been ongoing for centuries.

The first verb pair: - Bryatesle mbunerait, Dairwueh ruwekal. Bryatesle mbuneit is a verb that means 'extend the index finger, point at' depending on whether it's used intransitively or transitively. -ra- is an archaic, and currently non-productive morpheme signifying iteration or repetition. Likewise ruwel signifies "to point, to extend" in Dairwueh. Dairwueh has a productive iterative/habitual morpheme, -ka-. Both are used when counting small amounts, and probably relate to the common practice of extending fingers when counting.

The second verb pair is similar: B: vexrait, D: tsihkal, both iterative version of 'cut'. This is more often used in reference to larger numbers or the counting carried out by officials in various capacities - the reference being to incising numbers in clay tablets. The same verb can be used to denote writing.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Detail #79: Isolating morphophonology

Imagine an isolating language, that sometimes does reduplication for set phrases:
nos = eat
nos nos = feast (noun)
sabe = wall
sabe sabe = to wall in, to surround
This could obviously lead to situations like:
 nana = sit
*nana nana
To avoid four consonants of the same kind in a row, there is lexically determined dissimulation/substitution, that usually changes on of the inner consonants: nana nana -> nama nana, nana mana.

Different substitutions can be used to obtain slightly different meanings, that in other reduplication situations all would be formed using the same surface form.

As for the subsitutions themselves, they usually will keep some features of the sound and only change manner or place of articulation or such. Simple dissimulation, essentially.

Sometimes, the change in a consonant can also affect a vowel:
xoxo -> xoye xoxo

Detail #78: Subordinating conjunctions

English has several subordinating conjunctions - that, if, when, so that, whether, before, after, while, ...

Let us instead imagine a language with a single subordinating conjunction, and particles - somewhat optional ones, or ones whose locus of marking varies, and which also correlate to particles that have uses in main clauses as well.
Whether reasonably correlates to question marking - You know.Q that he has the merchandize.Q? Do you know whether he has the merchandize? If and whether seem somewhat similar - several languages have conflated them, and several may never have distinguished them, and some are just developing the difference.

After sometimes seems to make sense just as 'that': We watched the movie after we had decided the rules for the drinking game - we watched the movie that we were done deciding the rules for the drinking game.

This is less obvious in other tenses in English though:
can you come here after you've washed up -> can you come here that you wash up first|that you are done washing up|...

When: depending on the direction of 'causality', the particle may go in the main clause or the subclause, thus making it possible to move the bit that usually would be in the subclause in English to the main clause and vice versa:
I enjoy it that during she plays the piano
She plays the piano that during I enjoy it
These complement particles could of course have different preferences as far as word order goes - pre-verb, subclause-initial, final, etc, depending on historical origin.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Detail #77: Case control

During a bus-commute I happened to consider sentences where case assignment conflicts may appear. Take, for instance:

Did you know who appeared then?

Who can be seen as two things here - the subject of appear or the object of know (in English, I am pretty sure it is the subject of appear, and not the object of 'know'; consider what happens to the meaning of the entire sentence if you substitute 'who', with, e.g. 'John' - the element being questioned (and therefore the underlying structure) changes entirely. This does not guarantee that other languages do not have it occupy slots that are in a more clear relation to one of the verbs or the other - there probably even are languages where which way to go is free. To be clear, my contention here is that in English, 'who appeared then' is a constituent under 'know', where 'who' also kind of works as a CP for all of 'who appeared then', telling us the kind of role that the subclause has. In this kind of situation, it'd be interesting to consider how different case-attributing strategies can come in conflict, and how that conflict is resolved.

First, I will look into the ergative situation. One simple approach would be to favor intransitives and antipassives in the nested clause, thus making the object agree in case with the expected role it has in the nested clause. However, that is somewhat boring - we could also simply force it to be absolutive without restricting the verb in any way, and present a situation where absolutives explicitly can be subjects of nested transitive verbs. We could also go for a markedness-approach, and permit the noun to be ergative, thus enabling a kind of ergative-marked object.

Another possibly interesting approach would be to have a language that combines nom-acc and erg-abs approaches, and to some extent resolves conflicts by defaulting to abs in the previously described way, overruling any other case assignments that are called for in either of the clauses.

If we skip the ergative approach (ergativity is so previous decade anyway), there's also the possibility that accusative would beat nominative, because it's more marked. (In the sense that it is slightly more remarkable for a noun in general to be in the accusative than in the nominative, for a somewhat specific sense of remarkable.)

Finally, it seems it is not unusual for languages with case markings to have a 'wastebasket case' for whenever the speakers are uncertain which case to use. In English, this apparently is fairly certainly the oblique case (me, you, him, her, ...) although some are artificially overdoing the nominative as the wastebasket (thus producing stuff like 'they never tell you and I of it'). This seems to be the kind of situation where wastebasket use could be called for. The wastebasket need not be nominative or accusative though - it could conceivably be somewhat less of a core case - I'd argue genitives, datives, partitives and instrumentals, depending on their use in the language, may all make sense for wastebasket case - provided their use is varied enough in the language. The sentence could end up something like 'do you know by who arrived' or 'do you know of who arrived'?

Ultimately though, for a wastebasket case to enter into that kind of structure, this particular construction has to be fairly recent, and some other way of expressing the same notion must be falling out of use - possibly something with noun-verbs or participles or such, i.e. do you know whose arrival then?

Detail #76: Lack of first person polar question verb marking

Imagine a language with subject congruence on the verb, as well as a somewhat fused polar question marker, here presented in tabular form:

Morphology (only singulars given)
polar q---tes-nes

Now, the lack of a polar question marker for the first person is kind of reasonable (although this would possibly make even more sense for, say, ergative subject congruence, as it seems more likely that a speaker would be aware of what transitive actions he is performing, and less certain regarding intransitive actions - 'am I going to die?', 'do I look unkempt?').

However, sometimes you may want to ask a rhetorical question in the first person or a question about your future and so on, and that is where the fun begins. Possible approaches:

  • Some kind of case marking (or adposition) marking: me-gen, lead-3pQ the army? 
  • Some kind of additional verb phrase: Is-3pQ me, lead-3pQ the strike? (in a language where the complement of 'to be' is marked as an object)
  • Some other kind of additional verb phrase: lead-3pQ the strike, I am? Some devoted verb?