Monday, October 3, 2016

Detail #311: Distributive Participles

Distributiveness can be an interesting feature of verbs and nouns alike. Although I have had this interest in going for more verb-centered, less noun-centered systems for a while, I still find huge verbal morphologies somewhat awkward - they can be pretty clever, but I really don't think I have what it takes to pull a nice huge verb system off.

However, finite verbs is not the only place we can throw stuff at and hope that it sticks – infinite verbs can be just as useful places to stick things, and in many languages, different infinitives and participles appear often enough in all kinds of constructions.

So, let's consider a particular distinction with regards to verbs - that of whether a plural subject or object participates in the role as subject or object in a concerted, group-like manner or in a distributed, non-concerted manner.

Consider, for instance, the difference between
the men of the tribe hunted the mammoth down
the men of the tribe drink tea
The first  we can guess implies the men did so together; the latter, each man may be drinking tea regularly at home, or it's conceivable that they gather somewhere and drink tea together. Conversely,
the man trampled the bugs
the man hunted hares
Trampling bugs probably refers to a single event of bug-trampling where they get trampled in one concerted go, whereas hunting hares seems to consist of multiple separate events of shooting at hares.

So, we can create a semantic distinction there, one that slightly also accords with
  • telicity - telic with plural subjects or objects is more likely to be concerted than atelic with plural subjects or objects
  • perfectivity and perfectness (by the same argument)
  • habituality - habitualness can kind of imply concertedness or not with regards to subject - people doing things together regularly; however, with regards to plural objects, habituality is almost never concerted, though a concerted habitual verb with a singular subject is imaginable.
  • 'groupness' of both subjects and objects
Let's imagine now that the number congruence marker on participles for certain verbs can be replaced by another marker that signals both the (semantic) plurality of the subject or object, and whether the action is perceived as a single overarching action or as multiple iterations of an action. Maybe markers exist for both, but some verbs prefer the overarching action-parsing, and some the multiple-iterations parsing, and thus select the other marker whenever the dispreferred meaning is intended.

This might take on a slightly derivative meaning if participles and gerunds are conflated.

Also, I hear the previous post was a bit unclear, so I should probably write an explanation with actual examples.

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