Monday, November 7, 2016

The Anatomy of the Description of a Conlang

My previous post got a question that got more difficult to answer the more I was thinking about it.
Is this meant to be a simple quirk of the language or is there a shade of meaning implied by the genitive marking of tired, as opposed to, say, sleepy?
This was meant to be a quirk of the language, much like there are words that lack congruence, have incomplete congruence or have extra congruence in a variety of languages. Consider, for instance, English this/these vs. the, or Swedish trött which conflates neuter and common gender forms (but seems to rather maybe lack a neuter form altogether?).

However, I here need to divert attention to what I am describing when I describe Dairwueh (or Sargaĺk, Bryatesle, etc ...). Of course I am describing some kind of partial language whose only 'real' existence is in the descriptions I have created and the ideas I have in my mind. However, these ideas have some kind of structure to them, and I don't just mean that the ideas belong together. In some sense, my descriptions of these languages are synchronic - they pertain to one particular timespan in an imaginary timeline. There's some ideas as to what came before, often in a rather vague form, and sometimes there's ideas as to what is coming to come later.

Of course, any real language has a lot of individual variations - consider, for instance, the difference between partitive and accusative objects in Finnish. Can we be sure that every native speaker encodes the exact same distinction by that? I am not so sure of that! I am inclined to think that, in fact, we have a lot of greatly overlapping distinctions, most of which don't differ by much, but the occasional outlier exists. Any 'properly realistic' conlang should also have this, I think. And thus I will usually end up with slightly fuzzy ideas of what's going on - I'll try and fuzzily permit for variation in my idea.

The tired bear ate the honey. (the bear possesses tiredness?)
The sleepy bear ate the honey. (the bear has the property of sleepiness)
I don't think there's any such meaning-difference distinguished here in the Dairwueh-period I am describing, but the origin of the construction might be an almost-onset of such a development. Consider "a strong man" vs. "a man of strength" as a similar distinction, but with strength in the morphologically marked genitive instead, and as an adjective, not a noun of the same root. So, the origin of this construction might've had some such meaning, but only the form got conserved, not the meaning. This is also why it did only remain in the nominative - being that it was more often used with nominatives than with other nouns (due to such distinctions being more often made for the subject than for other NPs), which is why the normal congruence won out for those.
Would a Dairwueh speaker notice the genitive marking or just think it 'proper Dairwueh-ish'?
They would notice it as the normal thing to do with those adjectives for those adjectives they are used to using that way, i.e. other dialects would feel weird if their set of such adjectives differed significantly. It is possible that they wouldn't perceive the -at marker as the same morpheme as the genitive masculine marker, though, but rather as an exceptional gender-indifferent nominative marker.

However, I can imagine a Dairwueh scholar writing something like
3sg negative passive auxiliaryneg pcpl prefixwriteneg pcpl
writepassivetiredsg masc genman
is not
is written

3sg neg passive auxiliaryneg pcpl auxwriteneg pcpl auxtiredfem nomwomanfem nom
writepassivetiredsg masc genwomanfem nom

is written
Or in translation "it's not (to be) written 'rəmg dar', it's written 'rəmgat dar', it's not to be written 'rəmgi tol', it's written 'rəmgat tol', correcting uneducated speakers who are generalizing the adjectival congruence patterns even to these, or conversely saying to use an adjective in the regular pattern instead of the genitive pattern.

I ask because, perhaps frighteningly, I use your blog to learn linguistics and so I always look for a meaning in the bits of grammar you create and I can't see what marking 'tired' differently does to the word.
Usually, if such a different marking does something to the meaning of the word, I will point it out; in this case, it's just a morphological deviation with regards to these few nouns. As to using this blog for learning linguistics, I guess there's worse places, but I really really suggest you also use some kind of complement. This is of course just a sample of ideas from typology, filtered through potential misunderstandings on my part and then brewed in a vat where my imagination acts as the fermenting agent.

This will obviously result in a somewhat unbalanced diet when it comes to learning linguistics.

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