Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tatediem: Pronominal Possession, Indirect Objects

Tatediem marks indirect objects - these can only be humans, btw - by a specific set of prefixes (that in part are 'subsumed' in the object slot, generally prefixing themselves to the object prefix with some level of assimilation).


Which, by the way, reminds me that I have not yet given the personal pronouns! Here, feminines to the right, masculines to the left:

sg-ke-, -ke--her-, -hec--gi-, -gi--wir-, -ŋwiŋ-
dl-am-, -im--kiim-, -kaam--di-, -tin--sir-, -sin-
pl-eg-, -ic--xec-, -ki--gi-, -gi--cir-, -cir-

As for expressing possession, the object prefixes can be affixed between the gender prefix and the root of a noun. However, many dialects have opted for marking an empty verb-like particle in the vicinity with the gender of the possessed noun (as subject), and the dative prefix (or the object prefix for dative-less nouns) as the object. The verb is -gìan-, a verb that in some dialects also can serve as copula. It lacks all other markings except subject and object. 

Conversely, some dialects use -páhí-, 'possess', and have a somewhat different structure - the possessor as possessor, and the possessee as subject. If the possessor has a dative marker, the possessee is marked with that prefix in the subject slot, whereas if the possessor is of some other gender, the possessor has a subject-like marking and the possessum has an object marking.


ye-ŋəbs = the dog
ye-her-ŋəbs = my dog
ye-kiim-ŋəbs = the dog belonging to the two of us
ye-ŋim-ŋəbs - their dog
(assimilation often hits: yeki:ŋebs/yeki:mbs, yeŋiŋəbs/yeŋ:ibs) 
But also:
 (ye-)ŋəbs ye-heŋ-(g)ìan = a/the dog that belongs to me (assimilated as yeŋəbs yeŋ:ì:n)
(ye-)ŋebs heŋ-ye-páhí = a/the dog that I own (assimilates to yeŋəbs heypáí)
(ye-)ŋebs ku-l-páhí = the dog that belongs to neut1 noun 

Sometimes, the prefix relating to the possessum is omitted from -(g)ìan or páhí, if it is definite:
yeŋəbs heŋian
yeŋəbs kepáhí

Monday, December 29, 2014

Detail #132: Fun with indefinite pronouns

Consider things like 'I don't know anything', 'I didn't see anything', 'If you hear anything, call me'.

Now, obviously, anyone who has read this blog for long enough is aware that this can be remapped somewhat (but due to the recent arrival of new readers, I'll relink it), and that there are known universals about how they tend to work.

However, how about having multiple systems, and which one is used depends on some lexical detail. Maybe some verbs even vary in meaning depending on which system is used with it. (Otherwise, the distinction may be marked by some other thing, or the distinction be conflated altogether.)

The simplest way of doing this would possibly be to simply switch the morphemes used without changing the actual distinctions: 'hear' gets whatbody, whatone, 'Did you hear whatthing?', buy gets 'any'/'some' - 'did you buy anything for your sister?', 'know' gets a-body, an-one - 'I know abody who can solve your problem'. (Note: the indefinite pronoun forms given here are not all that good; I'd probably go for ones that share morphemes with other pronouns - interrogatives, relative pronouns, negative pronouns, possibly also quantifiers. English is a bit boring with regarding to what it has to offer for such things).

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Revisiting Bryatesle: Past tense verbs and their use

The Bryatesle verb morphology is relatively simple - in part because I made it while studying Russian, a language that overdoes verb morphology, and in part because I wanted to try something quite different from Finnish and Russian in that regard.

Most verbs do not mark tense, but all verbs mark person and aspect. The aspect resides somewhere between being derivative and being inflectional.

However, a handful of verbs do have a past tense form - to say (lirai), to give (likem), to go (kivyi), to have (ibam), to get (davei). Most of them have the full product of {telic, atelic}*{past, present}. Morphological tables can be found at the end of the post.

Since tense is rather marginal in Bryatesle, there is little in ways of 'specific' typological behaviors it showcases when it comes to tense. Its tense system is neither one of past-vs-nonpast or future-vs-nonfuture. I have chosen to call the tenses 'present' vs. 'past' out of convenience - 'present' is as much nonpast as it is future, and past is as much past as it is nonfuture. The system might best be described as one of nonfuture vs. nonpast.

This, however, only applies when these forms are used in isolation. When used in coordination with other verbs as 'tense-carrier', the difference becomes more clearly one of past vs. non-past - though a marked non-past is somewhat more likely to be future than present.

As tense-markers, these basically just coordinate with a verb that is inflected for aspect - both verbs usually are in the same aspect, although some circumstances (that I might describe later when I've designed them) permit for combinations of aspect, however. These do encode additional information about the function of the utterance, so these are not 'just tense markers', they mark a complicated combination of modal information.

Any more complex noun phrases than pronouns that are arguments of only the past-tense marked verb is an indicator that the past tense verb does not primarily work as a tense marker - its normal meaning is then assumed, although its past tense meaning too is invoked - and the past tense meaning of the other verb may still be implicit (although not fully necessarily). Shared arguments go to the left of both verbs. Only pronouns can go between the two verbs.

likem, to give. Also signifies to permit, to allow, to tolerate, to provide, to sustain, to hold up against something, to offer resistance


I sglïkemlïkan
II sglïkerlïka
III hlïkerlïkat
III nlïkerlïkat
I pllïkeimlïkam
II pllïkeinïlikanë
III hlïkeislïkanis
III nlïkeis/lïkerlikanis/lïkanïi/


Esdos saube e liku - the bear roared (as an act of resistance)
hedam e lïkun - I kept sleeping (sleep-1sg give-1sg.past) (implicitly despite things that tried waking me up)
astas e likut - you fought (successfully) ('you gave, you fought' c.f. 'gave fight')
kvaster e nëm likut - he spoke nonsense (and I let him do so)
en kvaster e en likut - he spoke nonsense, (and continued to do so)

davei, to get. Also signifies to be released (from some obligation - x did until he no longer was obligated to, for instance), to be found innocent, to cave in, not to withstand something and thus to fall or be subdued by it, to be beset by something, to dislike the circumstance described by the other verb


I sgdaveidavin

II sgdavardavas

III hdavasrdavat

III ndavasrdavat

I pldavaimdavam

II pldavainïdavanë

III hdavaisdavanis

III ndavaisdavanis


emi ramat e tësri davuvi - she sings and you.dat got.3sg - she sang until you got annoyed
en sarbrat e davuvi - he work.3sg and got - he worked until he had fulfilled his obligation
en xnynër e davuvi - he felt a stench (and was revolted)

to say, to promise, to believe, to vouch for, to offer (a price or exchange), to claim ownership or entitlement to, to speak for (object in oblique secondary subject case), to have authority over (object in accusative possessive), to maintain a certain claim holds true


I sglïrailïran
II sglïrarlïras
III hlïrarlïrat
III nlïrarlïrat
I pllïraimlïram
II pllïrainïliranë
III hlïraislïranis
III nlïrar/lïraislirat/lïranïi

es parsak vanetsat nëm lïrun
he story tell.atelic3sg I say.past.telic
I told you he told a (mean) story!

lïrunï/lïrunas is often used as a past tense tag particle, marking the past-ness of the event referred to, and the general reputation that the event referred to is worth seeing, or that it truly does happen regularly or that the subject is able to perform such a stunt. Thus
es xudipanelë bumal xudsur lïrunï!
he throw-spring.dat water throws they said = the geyser really ejected water (as they are rumoured to).
A neuter noun that is the subject of a transitive verb is put in a construction where the masculine pronoun followed by the neuter noun in dative 'typecasts' the expression - basically, Bryatesle's ergative case looks like that. xudi = throw, panël = source, spring. Xudipanël = geyser.

to have, to understand, to rule, to judge, to consider [something or someone] [something], to know (by inference)


I sgibamibem
II sgibamibem
III hibaribem
III ntibartibem
I plibaimibem
II plibanïibanë
III hibaisibanis
III ntibartibem

to go, to continue, to appear to be, to acquire a quality or to increase having that quality, to be made to acquire a quality or increase having that quality, to resolve to do something, to go in order to fetch something (trans), to bring something (trans)
I sgkivyikivan
II sgkivarkivas
III hkivyikivat
III nkivikivatkivudëkuvi
I plkaimkam
II plkainïkanë
III hkaiskanis
III nkais/kivikaniskunïkunas/kuvi
Exceptionally, this can take an adjective or a noun in the dative case as complement even when being a temporal marker - this then marks the quality which the subject is acquiring due to the other verb.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tatediem: Verbs as Adverbial Attributes

Tatediem verbs can form a kind of adverbial by simply taking the object/adjective that is congruent with the subject of the participle-adverb. These verbs cannot take objects with any congruence marking - an object will be directly after the adverbial verb, and will not be preceded by any affixes.

ne-hus-ðéspa Marwuq  e-yurme Dasti
3sg.m-silently-walk Marwuq 3sg.m(obj)-sleep Dasti. 
Marwuq walks silently, Dasti sleeping. (Here, a 'because' would be inferred.)
These verbal adverbs often relate causes, things going on simultaneously or in relation to the main verb, things resulting from the main verb, or even contrasting to the main verb. Whether the main verb or the adverb is the main semantic content can vary - a fronted adverb of this kind generally is the most important verb from a semantic point of view, pragmatically speaking.
ko e-sekarm Karum, ne-sekarm Siŋun.
Karum not guarding, Siŋun guards.
(Depending on context, this could be parsed as 'why can't Karum guard, when Siŋun does his duty as a guard?', or 'Karum sucks at guarding, pick Siŋun for guard duty instead', or 'It isn't Karum guarding right now, it's Siŋun'. The last alternative is maybe the least likely one, as this is a somewhat marked construction - the quite neutral statement would simply coordinate the statements that Karum does not guard, but Siŋun does so.)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Considerations of Language Complexity, part 2

I have previously set out some basic notions for investigating this topic here. The conclusion – which was rather short and not very substantiated – was that grammar is a weighted average of the patterns residing in the minds of the members of a speech community. Speech communities may overlap in various ways, of course, but I did not (and will not) get into that for now.

So, we have patterns in minds, and we basically need to figure out which of these patterns are common enough to be understood by a large segment of the population when used in productive manners. This is a bit difficult! Turns out we cannot take a medical tricorder and read the brain waves for a short second and know what grammar resides in there!

We need to figure out these patterns some other way. And obviously, the methods for doing this consists of painstakingly analyzing large amounts of utterances - but we also need to test our analysis, and see if we've made mistaken identifications. Finally, we might have failed to spot some subtle distinctions - we might not have realized that something we believe is in free distribution really does mark some distinction that we have not really expected - it is easy to imagine a linguist thinking that Finnish object cases are in free distribution except in the negative, because he is unaware of telicity as a phenomenon.

So, we need to figure out when a certain distribution of things is meaningful or when it is essentially random. This is not an easy thing! Not only do we need a relatively large corpus to weed out things that randomly happen to look like patterns, we also need to realize that sometimes people do write or say sentences that they themselves recognize as ungrammatical - maybe the mouth musculature had a slight twitch and a suffix was omitted, maybe a writer had rearranged his sentence and forgotten to fix the case of some argument, etc.

This is somewhat related to the question of how many times you have to flip a coin to decide with some certainty whether it is a fair coin or not, with the further addition that you don't flip the coin yourself - you are told how it's flipped by an arbiter with unknown but relatively high accuracy. (The analogy is like this: we hypothesize the coin is unfairly biased in favour of a number – we hypothesize the grammar is biased in favour of encoding a certain meaning a certain way; we can see how the coin behaves by flipping it – we can see how the grammar behaves by investigating a corpus or testing how native speakers utter things in a given situation. We want to be sure that one side of the coin doesn't turn up exceptionally many times – we want to be sure that something that looks like a recurring pattern is not just random happenstance.

But a thing that is somewhat worse is we should also figure out whether there are patterns we may have missed. This is even worse and I can't even come up with a metaphor for it. Modern linguistics could maybe use corpus linguistics to figure some of it out – there even are data mining procedures that maybe could find things no linguist has spotted, provided the sample he used was large enough – and I bet rather fascinating tendencies may be discovered this way soon, and this will probably facilitate the research into pragmatics quite well.

However, that is not generally a method we can use when researching languages in the rain forests of Brazil or Papua New Guinea. It seems the brain is a pretty efficient pattern identifying algorithm, and most speakers of a language will (subconsciously) spot a lot of patterns and use them – on the other hand, some speakers may fail to notice some patterns, or just fail to incorporate them into their own usage despite parsing them correctly.

Further, lots of languages have not been very carefully researched. English, French, German, etc have been very carefully researched by thousands of scholars, each contributing to an understanding of how these languages' grammar works, geographical variation in those workings, etc. A language spoken by three hundred people in the Amazon basin has not been studied as carefully, thus we just don't have any idea if all meaningful patterns have been observed - we even have a good reason to think there is no exhaustive description.

So, the risk is great that if we look at a reference grammar of language so-and-so, and find it impoverished with regards to its amount of grammar, it is rather a lack of research than a lack of actual grammar that is the problem.

I don't think all languages have the same amount of grammar – but I think the amount is of the same order of magnitude (and even closer than that). Of course, it's difficult to come up with a reasonable measure for how much grammar a language has - comparing Chinese and Finnish, the morphological tables of Finland look impressive, and Chinese cannot offer anything like that. But Chinese has lots of restrictions on what kinds of constructions are permitted, on when to use or not to use classifiers, etc. How to compare these is not obvious in any way.

Further, of course, some modern theories of language have pointed out that grammar and lexicon interact in rather weird ways – essentially, large parts of grammar is stored in the lexicon (see, for instance, Lexical-Functional Grammar/Syntax). That naturally complicates the manner even more, and makes it even more challenging to exhaustively describe a language.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Tatediem: Demonstrative Pronouns

Tatediem distinguishes three basic levels of demonstrative pronouns, but there is a number of further details that may be of some interest.
this: -bán-
yon: -ján-
that: -gán-
Normally, -bán- is close by, and -ján- at some distance, but this need not be the case. Some more specific usage notes are these:

When there is a number of alternatives in a small space, -gán- signifies 'the correct one(s)' – this even before which one that is has been established –, -ján- is used by the speaker who is 'leading' the exchange by asking questions, and -bán- is used by the person who is expected to provide most of the answers. Thus, the distinction between 'this' and 'yon' evaporates when members of a small group are being discussed.

In this situation, there also appear some interrogative-demonstrative pronouns,
-twán- which one(s) (out of a multitude, more than two)
-rrán- which one(s) (out of a small set)
-glán- this/that/(these) one(s)? 
These three, unlike the three normal demonstratives, take adjectival congruence rather than nominal congruence. The 'cardinality' of -rrán- varies geographically. In many conservative dialects, it exclusively is used to contrast two alternatives, but in most dialects it is a somewhat variable amount - up to five for things of roughly human size, up to dozens if talking about small, very concrete things. Intrinsic value also is relevant - if asking which out of four diamonds, -twán- is the relevant pronoun, if asking which out of three sewing threads to use, -rrán- is. Thus, -rrán- carries a slight indication of insignificance.

A common rhetorical question in situations where several alternatives exist but no one has any idea which one is the best option is etwán negán – masc(adj).which_one masc(noun).that – which one the right one?
Eglán negán is also used, signifying 'is this one the right one?' Errán negán is sometimes used to indicate that there was only one option to pick from, as a kind of unhappy remark about the lack of alternatives. (All these were here given with masculine gender marking. If the question is very general, that is the expected marking. However, if things of a particular gender are being discussed, that gender's marking usually is used, except possibly with etwán negán, which is just a rhetorical statement in general. Eglán negán is the one that most frequently appears in non-masculine forms out of these three.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Detail #131: Modal Shenanigans

Imagine a language with certain verbs which in the present tense all have modal implications:
irðin - I am able to reach somewhere in time, complete a task in time or similar
irðut - I have reached somewhere in time, or completed a task in time or similar
karpan - I have the physical strength to do something, I am capable of performing this or that physical thing
karput - I succeeded in carrying out something that took considerable physical effort
ðartin - I like this or that person, to the extent that I would assist him or her
ðartut - I assisted this or that person 

This language normally has a rich modal verb marking system with different irrealis moods such as potential, conditional, etc. However, verbs that have an implicit mood of this type do not mark for that implicit mood at all, but on the other hand - the past tense turns them into 'real' moods. Thus, the present tense also becomes a past tense non-indicative, etc.

(Inspired slightly by the behavior, from a purely semantic point of view, of the Swedish verb 'att hinna', viz. 'to have the time to do something, to be on time, etc', whose meaning could be described as tending to be slightly different in the past than in the present - i.e. the 'to have time to do something' more often appears in the present than in the past, 'to be on time' very seldom is present (but it can be future - which of course morphologically is not distinct from present).)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Conreligions: Tuxiper - a sample of the Mexdron Tikil

The following sample is a rather loose translation into English. It can be found among discussions of the geography of the world where the spirits normally reside. I here use | as a punctuation to mark the end of an utterance - usually followed by a different speaker. It is the only punctuation used in the Mexdron Tikil. Mexdron Tikil was originally written in Juǧwim, a language closely related to Ćwarmin, even mutually intelligible. Some guesswork is needed due to the unclarity of who is saying what; in cases where such a guess is very uncertain, it's been put in parentheses with a question mark.

A discussion between the radestim (shamans) Erduś, Dantiś, Peduć, the ćrajim (spirits) Enǧab, Agnrić, Inspil and the środo (troll) Sradrngin, last of his kind in Tubar. 
The Ćwarmin shamans know the powers of erdan ore| Erdan is worthless if you do not know its powers| We do not know its powers either, but there are those among us who do, they only share it when they think they are soon to die, if they are sure the recipient of the knowledge is worthy of it. They shroud it in secret, but also teach it openly in shrouded form, just like the Ćwarmin shamans| I found a lump of wrought erdan in town, and was overcome by weakness, and fell to the ground. A man helped me up, and as I looked at him I realized he was not of my world, but one of you. This was my first view of the other world| This is how erdan works in our world (too?)| The richest erdan mines are near the mountain Barit| (Barit?) is the mountain Teugon| They are close to each other, but they are not the same. A place (in this world?) is not a place in that world, although they may share locations and be similar| The worlds are siblings|Teugon has rich erdan, but poor in quality|Erdan quality is measured in the purity of the tone of a bell in cast iron|Erdan quality is measured in the strength of a needle| Erdan drinking cups are not fit for royalty| Theugon is dangerous to travel by, I prefer the other world and travel at Barit. The mountain Barit is not inhabited by auxrim (supernatural entities that hate trolls, men and ćraðim)|Auxrim are attracted to poor erdan, and the miners (at Theugon) threw bad erdan around the ground. The place has been full of them since| Auxrim can be tamed, but they must be captured by night in a cage of low quality erdan. Then feed them garlic cut with a good-quality erdan knife for a year, and also fish or eggs. They are then good for guarding your house| Auxrim do not survive in warm climates| Arboguś kept an auxrim in Sirgadś (Juxwim name for the capital of the Dairwueh empire, by Tuxiper measures a warm place)| Sirgadś is by Drerxa to us|Drerxa is cold, not warm|yes, the worlds are siblings but distances work differently, as do directions|Sirgadś to Emga is north-by-northwest, Drerxa to Sitpan is west-by-southwest. Emga is five days from Sirgadś, Sitpan seven days from Drerxa. Emga is at Sitpan. But five days north from Sirgadś is Elunk, one day east from Drerxa is Suban. Suban is by Elunk|Do auxrim (survive?) if (at least?) one (clime is cold?)?|I think so|Esdś kept many auxrim, some died for no reason| ...

Friday, December 12, 2014

Conreligion: Kaildaper

The Kaildaper movement has a few interesting details:
  • the life of its founder, and the influence these narratives have on the religious community
  • the variation in interpretations of the life of this person
Less interesting, but sometimes of some interest are the rituals and more general beliefs held by the Kaildaperans. This post mainly will deal with the founder, Regnom.

Regnom was a fisherman, who also did a far share of trade voyages at times. While considering life and death, after a boatload of close friends had perished at sea, he started having visions and hearing God's voice telling him the rules of good conduct, the secrets of land and sea, past and future. Regnom apparently was a very charismatic advocate of his teachings, and thus quickly gained a large following among dwellers of the large archipelago where he lived. Since the early Dairwueh navy largely consisted of people from that region, his teachings became closely associated with the navy as well. 

Like Islam or Judaism, Kaildaper has a religious legislation that rules on various issues - how to trade fairly, how to judge in cases of breeches of contract or downright violations of terms, obligations with regards to saving fellows in need, war, a ban on slavery, rituals related to fishing, hunting and agriculture, obligations to the empire, and so on, but also rules on acceptable beliefs among those who have taken the Kail-vows. Not all Kaildaper adherents take these vows, but they give significant religious status and are required if one wants a position in the clergy.

About two decades into his career as a religious innovator and prophet, as the first to have taken the Kail-vows, Regnom actually turned heretic-apostate by his own rules, and was punished with the punishment prescribed by the strict rules applied for those under the vow: immolation. Different sub-movements of Kaildaper interpret this in a variety of ways: one of the most popular ones explains that Regnom, because he was the greatest mortal enemy of the Dairwueh analogue of the devil, was possessed by the devil himself. Thus, Regnom's death, the devil too was killed. Another popular opinion is that he had to teach by his example both the right way to live and the wrong way to live, so people could chose the one by which he gained success in life, and reject the one by which he failed. Another posits that a certain failure to live up to God's demands made him fear he had been rejected, and he went to excesses in response to this fear, and thus has a very 'psychologizing' explanation with no real religious content. Some believe he can still be turned back, and hope he will one day materialize out of a flame, returning to the true path as a mere adherent and not a leader – a position he sometimes, during life, seems to have expressed a desire to have rather than his status as a leader. Some think he was allowed to die before his body, so he would not feel the pains of age, and his body went on without guidance from the spirit leading to heresy. Furthermore, there are all kinds of mystical interpretations that interpret it in all manner of strange ways; some marginal groups also find emulating his apostacy (and martyrdom) commendable, and during the 'pre-modern' days of the religion, at least a few dozen were killed each century for such reasons. A final, and rather fatalist position (in a way, the Kaildaper version of hyper-calvinism) is that God showed his utter omnipotence by manipulating the greatest believer into rejecting right belief – and only by doing so could this be properly illustrated.

Different clergymen may hold different opinions on this, and even in a small community, different opinions may thrive. Believers may gather for many shared rituals and services, with smaller groups holding some of the specific beliefs possibly gathering to celebrate some of the aspects of their beliefs at separate times or in separate venues. Especially the yearly remembrance of Regnom's apostacy and the remembrance of his execution are celebrations that differ strongly between these subcommunities.

Bruogdaper adherents tend to accept stuff also from the post-apostacy part of Regnom's life as potentially inspired, Migdaper theology is more closely aligned with Kaildaper theology on rejecting post-apostacy ideas of Regnom's, but tends to attribute less significance to his apostacy in general – Kaildaper adherents and even the Kaildaper religious court system has no problem with non-Kaildaperans accepting whatever ideas about Regnom's post-apostacy ideas. Other movements generally do not have great reverence for him, but he can be invoked as a saint sometimes – and especially as a patron saint of fishermen, sailors, apostates and those who have been sentenced to die by immolation.

Detail #130: Come up with distinct relativization strategies

The accessibility hierarchy for relativization is a friend when it comes to this. It's quite useful to let languages loan strategies from languages that accept a wider part of the accessibility hierarchy – retain the old strategy for whatever was permitted earlier, use a new strategy for whatever got accessible due to the new influences.

Maybe your language thoroughly uses relative pronouns, but its original relative pronouns where a series distinct from all other pronouns. Then it comes in contact with a language whose relative pronouns are identical to its interrogative pronouns (or whichever other pronouns you like - in Finnish, they're more similar to the "each"-pronouns/determiners, the main relativizing pronoun in Swedish afaict probably shares roots with 'somliga', a cognate to English 'some' - so interrogative pronouns are not the only pronouns that can be the source of relativizing pronouns), and you get different sources for different case forms of the relativizing pronoun!

However, there's of course other possibilities too. The difference may extend even to the strategy that is used - maybe participles for a few, etc. Have a look at wals.info for more strategies.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Detail #129: A Distinction in a Number System

Imagine a language that for relatively small numbers ­– say two to a dozen or so – distinguish 'natural group' and 'arbitrary group'. (I will distinguish these as NG and AG in glosses.)
five-NG brothers: five brothers (they have the same mother
five-AG brothers: five persons who all are males and have brothers
ten-NG sailors: ten sailors of the same crew
ten-AG sailors: ten sailors in general 

A Diversion: A Set of Conreligions and Ethnicities

Although I am not all that much into conworlding, it is a thing I do sometimes do anyways, and my conlangs Ćwarmin, Bryatesle, Tatediem, Dairwueh and Barxaw all do occupy the same conworld.
Although the description may seem somewhat idealistic and utopian at the onset, there are some dark twists.

Bryatesle:Dairwueh::Greeks:Romans. That is, the Dairwueh empire basically has adopted a lot of Bryatesle customs, and Bryatesle is a respected language even up to high levels of the Dairwueh administration. The Bryatesle never had quite as centralized an empire, though, and thus not all Bryatesle colonies have been subsumed into the Dairwueh empire.

Tatediem:Dairwueh & Bryatesle~::Aramaic:Greeks & Romans. The Tatediem language is much less similar to either of Bryatesle or Dairwueh, but a large proportion of the empire's subjects in some areas speak Tatediem. However, Tatediem has been the main language of a competing empire, and rump states (the plural is intentional) of that empire still exist.

Barxaw:D,B,T::China:AG & R. Or maybe like the Indonesians. Distant enough that no direct interaction essentially happens. There is a vague awareness of each other's existence, but next to no actual contact.

The Ćwarmin are a bit less easy to categorize in such simple terms - in one way, they are like the Jews - a religious and ethnic minority dispersed in the empire. In another way, they are like Finnic and Turkic reindeer herders with regard to early Kievan Rus. After their displacement from their native lands (due to these lands being the source of unobtainium), they retain the traditions of how to use this unobtainium, but lack sources of it.

So, onto the religions! The Dairwueh empire is religious both centralized and somewhat decentralized; there are nine accepted religions, although these do not generally view themselves as religions, but rather as expressions of one religion. Monotheism has been a rather powerful force in the region for quite some time, and these nine all are monotheist, although some slight polytheist traces may be found in some of them. Their differences are comparable to the differences between pentecostal Christians, Shi'ite Muslims and Orthodox Sikhs. I will henceforth call them 'movements'.

Each movement has some form of hierarchy, and the top of the hierarchy has an ambassador in the vicinity of the capital of the empire. The movements generally do not compete for members, and only expect their own members to adhere to their customs. Each movement does prefer for its members to have access to a holy building of their own type, but if a town has several small groups represented, these may well build some kind of shared minority temple, often with little in ways of ostentatiously 'sectarian' traits. Shared services also occur, with liturgies agreed on by representatives of the involved movements. Tensions do appear in the process, but mostly are resolved peacefully.

Religion in the Dairwueh-Tatediem-Bryatesle world had less direct ties with power in the early days than in our world - kings' legitimacy were established in other ways. Religion grew from a grass-roots movement that criticized political organization but also formalized and ritualized superstitions and philosophy into what we would recognize as organized religion. The hierarchy that grew up around it soon mildened the political criticism, but did also gain secular recognition as valid points of view. Tensions between different groups were generally speaking pretty small, and the empire attempted to gain control over the movements by centralizing them, recognizing a set of them as valid, and using their support to get rid of more radical movements. Thus, the nine main movements were granted some religious autonomy but were also required to participate in the imperial ecumenism and accomodate the decisions taken by the imperial ecumenical council. This also lead to a growing influence in the spheres outside of the empire where these religions were practiced.

Within this community of movements, there is a lot of variety in beliefs and practices. You are expected to conform to the beliefs and practices of the movement into which you were born (or, in the case that your movement permits conversion to another movement, the one into which you have converted - usually, this is done by officials of high rank for political reasons, or by migrants or people who intermarry - something not permitted by all the movements). Outsiders - people who are not born into the system at all - may join some of the movements. Some of the movements will suggest that you join another movement unless there are no local options, and two of them don't accept any newcomers at all.

Slaves are mostly not considered members at all, but are seen as a kind of secondary-class adherent, whose movement should be the same as that of their owners. Kaildaper, Nukper and Stedbaper, Kindaper have special interfaces to the slavery system, as Kaildaper formally rejects slavery, Kindaper doesn't really accept non-born Kindapers as second-class adherents and Nukper's recent changes put them at odds with almost every other movement. A slave of a Stedbaper adherent is considered a full member, and may attain quite some status in that movement.

However, this collaboration also has its even darker sides - if you are a member of movement A, but you are preaching things considered heretical by that movement, all the other movements too are obligated to act against you - first, they need to rebuke you, then there is punitive measures taken, and finally you may end up executed or exiled. Some rather bizarre complications with regards to this has occurred, as will become apparent in further descriptions of these religions.

Some of these movements clearly are closely related as well:

  • Kaildaper -  founded by the fisherman/marine trader Reignom, whose role in the religion is similar to Muhammad in Islam but also in some ways to Jesus in Christianity. Like Muhammad, he wrote a fair share of scripture, and his teachings are emulated and developed by the members. There is a number of pretty odd mystical belief systems developed about Reignom's acts towards the end of his life.
  • Bruogdaper - originated in areas close to Kaildaper's origins, and also recongizes Reignom as a saint and important prophet. 
  • Migdaper - similar to Migdaper and Kaildaper. All these three do some proselytism among people outside the nine religions, and there's some sort of internal competition between the three. Intermarriages between Migdaper and Bruogdaper adherents are common, and these three often share temples if their populations are small. In towns where one of them is predominant, members of the other two very well might dispense with participating in minority temples, and join the majority.
  • Nukper - a very temple-and-ritual centered movement, in which a recent reform movement has caused some abrupt changes and problems.
  • Kenoper - related to Nukper, but shares no holy texts or heroes. Somewhat more enamored with warfare, due to the constant raids from barbarians that plagued the area for several centuries

  • Stedbaper, Lirbexper, Kindaper - three related movements that differ in a variety of ways - Stedbaper has a richly developed monastic and ritual life, Lirbexper's ritual life is very much framed in terms of battle against evil, and Kindaper has a caste system that permeates the movement very strongly. Lirbexper has the most developed philosophy of religion out of the various movements. The kindaper caste system also ranks members of other movements 

  • Tuxiper - in part, Tuxiper is more closely related to the outsider 'Ćwaríper' than to any of the eight other movements. A great part of its lore deals with discussions with spirits about different issues, a lot of which is documented in a confusing and rather under-specified bunch of documents, the Mexdron tikil; these documents just list what was said, and who participated in each discussion. Who said what is never specified, which leads to interesting variations in interpretation. Some of the spirits are known to be jokers, liars or downright malevolent, all are known to drive their own interests, and some even lie about their identity. The shamans do not interact with the spirits any longer, or very seldom, due to their doubt about the spirits' intentions. 
And finally, outside of the system but given a separate status:
  • Ćwaríper - the religion of the Ćwarmin minority. A shamanistic religion with a rich ritual based on the acquisition of unobtainium, and its use for magic. This ritual is maintained and kept secret (by means of 'misleading' rituals as well as 'real' rituals) for the day when the Ćwarmin again will regain access to lands with unobtainium. A smaller corpus of discussions with spirits than that present in Tuxiper also exists, but since a lot of it deals with aspects of unobtainium, it is not in great use at the time.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Detail #128: An Idea for a Case System

Let us take the construction "num pieces each" as our starting point. This is a somewhat specific construction, not all that widely common. (Although, obviously, in families with children, I bet it's wildly common. Not that it doesn't appear in other contexts, but I bet any non-parent has at least gone weeks on end without using it.)

Obviously, it also can be done with some other quantifiers - a few pieces each, a gallon milk each, etc. But let's go elsewhere with this.

Let us distinguish on plural datives whether they're distributive or shared. This, per se, does not create all that fascinating stuff, but let's go with it:
he gave them-distr.dat a hundred dollars
he gave them-share.dat a hundred dollars 
Thus far it is a bit boringly 'specific' as far as a case goes, but we could of course imagine some more general uses: distributive is intensive, shared is regular if no meaningfully divisible object is present.
he showed them-distr.dat = he really showed them (who's the boss or other implicit thing)
he showed them-share.dat = he showed them (something)
We could of course imagine a similar distinction in other cases as well, particularly the accusative and the nominative:
he sold the cups.distr.acc = he sold the cups, as separate units
he sold the cups.share.acc = he sold the cups, as a single bunch
Notable here might be that some plural nouns more naturally are treated as collectives, and some are more naturally treated as separate entities. Might be that the case marking is less marked for the more natural meaning for that particular noun, or for the majority of the nouns of that class (or prototypical nouns of that class).

We could do some fun things: conflate cases in some way. Dative and all other oblique cases are conflated for the atypical marking, for some nouns even the atypical accusative is conflated with the dative. Maybe subjects and accusatives are conflated for some noun classes for the atypical marking.

We could also mix in some split-alignment stuff here! Maybe the distributive object case is more likely to behave in an absolutive-fashion, whereas the shared one is more likely to behave in a nominative fashion - and this of course gives a neat reason to have some voice shenanigans, for the instances where the absolutive behavior prevents us from having a transitive subject that is distributed.

Of course, we have still not specified what it means to have a distributive object - in this case, I'd go for 'each is affected in a similar way, but not acted on as a group'. I also find it likely that with big numerals, the distinction would fall by the wayside.

Not a particularly clear post, but some quirks to work with.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Detail #127: A short idea for moods

Distinguish different numbers of moods for transitive and intransitive verbs. Have a few intransitive verbs that do distinguish all the mood of the transitive ones, though, but that require dummy objects for that, and a handful of verbs that distinguish some extra moods when ditransitive.

My Linguistics Toy Model: A Short Introduction

Science is mostly about constructing models of phenomena. Linguistics too does this, and with some success - the historical sound chance model has been very powerful, and the Hittite laryngeals are maybe the greatest vindication of its usefulness ever.

However, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that what linguistics presents is a model - a map. Map vs. territory is an important thing to keep in mind. Some hobbyist linguists with a background in conlanging sometimes forget about this dichotomy.

The model I am about to present probably is not all that useful. It is, however, an attempt at highlighting what linguistic models leave out. It is also an attempt at modelling language using a very powerful tool from mathematics - probabilities. We will find certain rather powerful things about distributions in general, and we may possible learn something about language just from observing things about probabilities.

There are a few things I wish to draw attention to, and which I will try to provide 'uselessly convoluted' methods to model in general, then try to see what results we can obtain by reducing the convolution. The things I mainly want to draw attention to are:

  • idiolectal variation
  • linguistic parsing as something that often is haphazard and somewhat random, affected by associations the lexemes and phrases trigger
  • how associations work, and how important they are as a complement to the more regular kind of 'meaning' we tend to think of when thinking of words
  • the implications of the brain being a neural network, especially with regards to the previous point
  • language as being a complex system of which its participants only have a partial copy in their mind
Some of these might be quite obvious, but sometimes when discussing language, we still fail to acknowledge these issues. So, a greater description might be justified.

Detail #126: Things inspired by negation

Some languages have a negative auxiliary that carries the person marking (and in some, TAM, etc). How about widening this up a bit?

  • regular congruence on the main verb, used with most positive statements
  • negative auxiliary + infinitive or some other 'less' finite verb form*, used with negative forms
  • non-negative auxiliary + infinitive or some other 'less' finite verb form - here's the interesting bit
The non-negative auxiliary is used for positive answers to negative questions, after conjunctions when the speaker wants to mark a contrast or something unexpected (so, along the line of 'but', 'although', 'even though', etc).

* Finnish uses a form that is morphologically identical with the singular imperative in the non-past tense, and a form that is identical with the active past participle in the past tense. The passive has its own conegative forms as well, which correspond to passive participles in the past tense, but to a slightly shortened form in the non-past. C.f. 'olla', to be - carefully note that the Finnish passive is not a 'true' passive that demotes subjects and promotes objects, but rather similar to the German 'man' pronoun in its use:
olen - en ole, (I am, I am not)
olin - en ollut, (I were, I were not)
olen ollut, en ole ollut (I have been, I haven't been)
olin ollut, en ollut ollut (I had been, I had not been)
ollaan, ei olla (is-passive, is-passive not; the form obtained by cutting off the -an)
oltiin, ei oltu (were-passive, were-passive not)
on oltu, ei ole oltu (has been-pass, has not been-pass)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tatediem: The "Grammatical Noun Class"

The noun class that I have termed "the grammatical class" has several important functions in Tatediem. Conjunctions, certain other particles, and quite a few adverbs are marked by it. Gerunds also are marked by it, and in some constructions numerals too.

The grammatical class prefixes are:
singular: re-, ur-
dual: rá-, ur-
plural: ráx-, ur-
mass: re-, ur-
where the rightmost is the object form, as well as the form that goes on adjectives. The ráx- form sometimes causes metathesis, e.g. rekém - rákxém (not at that time, never).

Gerunds are always marked by it:
regómn (from the verb stem gómn, guard) 'guarding, to guard'

With gerunds, using the dual or plural forms can be a way of indicating iterativeness or habituality:
ráxktìk (from the verb stem ktìk, rise) 'to rise often, repeated rising'
rábampù (from the verb stem bámpù, cook) 'twice cooking, to cook twice', but more specifically the preparation of a certain crop requires cooking it twice, and rábampù most specifically refers to the preparation of this crop.

As for adverbs, some lexemes take ur-, some take re- or even ráx-.
ráxtúim - certainly, surely, truly
urmá - quickly
rewrù - soon
rakxir -  for ever
ráŋum - again 
The demonstratives, when taking this set of prefixes go from being determiners to having a meaning closer to 'here', 'there', etc.
nebán nekús = this stick (note: the demonstratives use the same prefixes as the nouns, not the same as the adjectives)
rebán = here
sarján sartìpí = yonder mark, that mark (visible to the speaker and listener)
reján = (over) there
gemgán gemedùliŋ = those peaks
regán = in that place, there (a distant 'there')
Plural prefixes are possible, but unusual. "Raxbán raxgán" is a common expression for "all over the place". "Raxgán" sometimes is used to signify "lost, in an unknown place". The plurals may also be used to signify boundaries, i.e.
"ku-nitìsp rax-jàn k-u-(u)r-ùtur, ne-bán ne-timb, ses-jàn ses-kúmcé, sesjàn sesràm, gemgán gemegís"
neut1.sg-border gram.plur-there neut1sg-gram-stretch.along, masc-this masc-river, neut4-yon neut4-forest, neut4-yon neut4-road, neut3-that neut3-lake
The border stretches along these: this river, that forest, that road and the lake.

More later on the constructions with numerals, on particles and conjunctions as well as probably more adverbial stuff in general.

A Concultural Detail: Seasonal Decorations

In the Tatediem-Dairwueh-Bryatesle societies - given that we look at them during a timespan during which the technological level roughly coincides with modernity here, seasonal decorations are not 'coordinated' the way ours are - different families celebrate slightly different parts of the festive calendar, partly depending on what religion they're affiliated with, but partly also depending on the religions' festive calendars' quirks. Some families may have quite ostentatious decorations to commemorate some saint - not even necessarily a saint of their own religion. Thus, one family may have already hidden their decorations by the time another one brings theirs out.

Greater variation in the decorations is also found, as different aspects of the religions' narratives and teachings are emphasized by various types of symbolism - colors, numerology, shapes, etc, all can signify different things. The symbolic language is fairly uniform over the different Tatediem-Dairwueh-Bryatesle religions.

Of course, celebrations that occur during winter more often involve arrangements of light in various ways; celebrations during summer sometimes do - obviously restricted to the dark hours of the day - or arrangements of colorful things.

Fragrances are also an important type of symbolism, and burning a big bonfire with some fragrance-inducing firewoods in it can also be a way of indicating one or another belief.

Of course, most people don't care that much about the actual beliefs, but more about the traditions themselves.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tatediem: Noun Phrase Orders

The most unmarked order in Tatediem is verb-initial, but rearrangements of the order does occur. Auxiliaries tend to cause the main verb to move beyond the subject, but this is not a hard and fast rule. Not all auxiliaries are (from a morphological point of view) verbs, but even non-verby auxiliaries tend to cause this type of shift.
ne-ra-tali Kúmpeni
3SGMASC-3SGFEM-be.uncle Kúmpeni 
Kumpéni is her uncle. 
ya-xème-hépòk ya-kompòké
The acres grow, as is their duty 

Adjectives tend to follow the noun, but discontinuous noun phrases also can occur:
ya-kompòke l-ónta (from uninflected root mónta)
big acres, the big acres 
Likewise, numbers and other quantifiers follow their nouns:
ŋwu-tali ŋwu-párt 
nephews  three
 kù-rutkí ku-ppàr
 assistance lots (as seen from the point of view of the provider of the assistance)
 ŋwú-rutkí ŋwu-ppàr
assistance lots (as seen from the point of view of the recipient) 
By moving these to phrase-initial position, with subjects they are either turned into a predicate, and can then also take other verbal markings:
ses-irbum-pàr ses-kàhà
NEUT4-prevalently-lots NEUT4-wheat
There's always lots of wheat 
or emphasized, in which case they cannot take most verbal markings (although ones encoding for evidentiality are permitted):
ses-sèlx ses-magŋú
NEUT4-four NEUT4-carriage
carriages, of which (we have/there are) four 
This particular order is common in accountings of things.

Adjectives and quantifiers that operate as object complements are placed before the object phrase:
verb subject ye-tagé ye-mébdè
verb subject NEUT4-for_sale NEUT4-house
subject verbed the house (into being, or from being, or due to being, or into continuing its being in a state of or similar) for sale. 
Similarly, dividing or merging things or making them shrink or grow may have quantifiers preposed along the same pattern.

Relative subclauses tend to go far to the right in the sentence. They begin with the verb, having the same gender marking as the main noun, and a relative prefix, ku-. Adpositional attributes likewise tend to follow the adjectives and numerals. Owners tend to be extracted from the noun phrase, and exist as a slightly aloof noun phrase with no obvious syntactic connection to the owned phrase. A prefix on the owner agrees in gender with the owned object.

Demonstrative attributes tend to follow directly after the noun, or be displaced to a position close to the predicate.

Phrase order is not set in stone, and discontinuous phrases appear as well, and the restrictions on when they appear is an chapter all to itself.

Detail #125: A scribble on a piece of paper

"Quirky case vp in coord blocks/other v congruence"

So, I don't have a smart phone. Sometimes, I scribble ideas I have on whatever piece of paper I happen to have with me (and whatever thing I can use as a thing to support that piece of paper against), and sometimes, I find these pieces of paper a while later and post them here.

However, sometimes I find those ideas a while later and don't understand what my idea was.

I guess the idea there was that the other verb in a coordinated block of verbs, i.e.
Subject1 verbs and ε1 verbs
where is the empty string, and εrepresents a gap that corefers with Subject1, reference being marked by the index in this notation. It is possible I meant for the other verb to take the same congruence marking as the first verb does - so if quirky case does not have canonical congruence, neither will the second even if it usually were to take that in a non-coordinated block, i.e
I need-1P.SG
I-GEN lack-3P.SG* time-ACC 
I need-1P.SG time-ACC 
this leading to:
I-GEN lack-3P.SG and need-3P.SG time-ACC
and possibly also
I need-1.SG and lack-1.SG time-ACC 
*3P.SG also is zeroth person, i.e. personless verbs and the like. 

However, this is only a guess. My vague recollection of jotting down this idea seems to suggest there was some twist to it, or that there was some entirely different point that I believed I would recall whenever I returned to that particular backside-of-a-receipt.