Thursday, December 29, 2016

Detail #323: Infinitives and Prepositions as Infinitive Markers/Articles

In English, and some other Germanic languages, prepositions have become a very article-like thing that in some positions appear before infinitives. The distribution often differs from that of articles, but the idea is quite similar. (Both have interesting quirks in English -  Separately from English, this has also developed in other Germanic dialects, even far enough to be separated from the rest of the 'to'-area by other constructions (e.g. despite Swedish having a non-cognate 'att' for the same role, some north Swedish dialects too use cognates to 'to'; 'att', however, also originates with a preposition.)

Now, several families subfamilies in the Indo-European clade have a feature whereby verb roots combine with prefixes that are quite clearly prepositions in the language. These combinations may form even rather opaque meanings:
The way the preposition affects the meaning of the verb is not really obvious in any of these examples. Now, an interesting development of this is how it's interacted with aspect in the Slavic family of languages.

However, we can go on and consider a situation whereby prepositions do not combine with verb stems and thus forming new lexemes (as in the IE examples). What if, instead of prepositions/adverbs* merging with verbs to form lexemes, we had prepositions merging with infinitives to form some TAMs (and also the potentially tense-, aspect- and moodless infinitive). It's easy imagining a preposition marking an imperative ('for', anyone?), another marking progressive tense ('at', perhaps?) and one marking the basic infinitive.

Another thing one could do is have the infinitive marker be lexically specified by the verb; if they have a similar origin as in English, one could imagine something like
to eat
by sleep
in think
with consider
possibly distinguished by type of action (cognition vs. kinetic vs. passive vs. ...) or by some lexical feature (inherent aspect), or even permitting some distinction to be made by choice of preposition.

This would, anyway, make for an interesting similar-but-different development as to what has happened in several Indo-European branches.

* IE prepositions originated as adverbs that apparently could modify verbs as well as nouns in oblique cases, and only later got more closely bound to the nouns. In many IE languages, they can still be used "intransitively", and as adverbs - English being a trivial example of this.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Dairwueh: Noun Morphology in Depth, pt I

Providing the noun case and number suffixes for Dairwueh hides some of the things that are going on. We find, for instance, nouns like xei, whose plural stem is i-, giving us the following paradigm:
xei   ir
xena ijivna
xear ijivit
xeat ijedin
xeŋa ijeder
For most nouns, two stem forms suffice, but some nouns require up to four stem forms. However, there is no single system of four stems that is sufficient to account for all morphological variation – one needs five stems, of which no word uses more than four distinct ones:
  1. singular nominative stem
  2. singular oblique stem
  3. plural nominative stem
  4. plural oblique stem
  5. derivative stem
Few nouns have only one stem - these are basically only nouns that lack plurals or singulars altogether.

Nouns with two stems come in two main flavours: 2a: 12 / 345 (almost all being feminine), or 2b: 1234 / 5 (almost all being neuters). However, 2c: 1235 / 4 also exists for a few nouns, (e.g. erha, 'king') and 2d: bits, 'direction', exceptionally follows an 1 / 2345 pattern. Whenever a noun has three distinct stems, usually the lines of division are 3a: 1 / 234 / 5 (e.g. dor, 'man'). A small minority of nouns has 3b: 123 / 4 / 5. For nouns with four stems, the two that are merged are always either 4a: 2 and 4 or 4b: 3 and 4. Part 2 of this post will go through the historical reasons behind the morphophonological changes, this post only provides examples of the classes and explains the basic structure.

Further, the derivative suffixes that are given as examples below are of course also members of such classes; -res, for instance, is a member of 3a, -res, -rto-, -rr, while -pan is a member of 3b, with -pan-, -po-, -pla- as the stem forms.

2d: bits, 'direction'


Derivative example:
bətres: a signpost

3a: dar, 'man'

Derivative stem: dri-
dripan: manliness, masculinity

2c: erha, 'king'


Derivative stem: erha-
erhaksa: kingdom
erhapan: royal legitimacy, inheritance of kingly title
4a: soŋe, 'noble title'


Derivative stem: sot-
sotres: banner
sotukri: a woman whose nobility passes by female inheritance
sotsek: a nobleman

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A New Feature!

I've been considering introducing another feature here, which of course usually will lead into that feature slowly fading out because hey, too much bother, but let's hope this doesn't happen. The intention is to present conlanger lore about linguistic typology - things that are passed around in a variety of conlanging communities online, peculiar things that answer the question 'is X possible' with a resounding yes: it's not only possible, it's attested.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Detail #322: Negativity and Volition

Whenever an action is somewhat complicated, performing the action almost never is unintentional. However, when not performing the action, intentionality may vary - you may have forgotten or otherwise failed to carry it out, or you may have decided not to do it at all, and as a third option, you may not have had any intention whatsoever. Thus, for a large number of actions, it seems more likely that conveying volition would be more natural and more necessary in the negative than in the positive.

What ways could such a distinction be encoded? There's a lot of them, really!

One way could be lack of person marking on verbs for the negative whenever volition is lacking; another could be different constructions altogether - something like English or Finnish for volitional negativity, something with just a negative particle for volitionless negativity. Yet another option could be negativity concord on objects and the like with volitional negativity.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Detail #318: Exceptional Voice Marking in Participles

Consider having participles where certain verbs have exceptional patterns, where the 'wrong' voice may be marked on occasion in order to signal something about the verb. We can imagine a few possibilities:
intransitive verbs taking passive participle marking to signal things
transitive verbs marking passive meaning by active morphology
transitive verbs marking active meaning by passive morphology
verbs marking exceptional voice by passive or active morphology
These are some pretty vague notions this far - we've only really established the notion of
throwing → thrown

thrown → throwing
This is pretty boring, so we need to add some exceptional things to this. We could do a thing English almost does already:
scratching post
Sure, the verb there might be a gerund or something instead of an active participle, alternatively English conflates voice in some tenses and aspects with participles. Both analyses might work out, who knows?

What if we add some form of intensification or whatnot? Say, intense participles conflate voice, or for some verbs, the intensive participles are all marked as active participles. 

We can of course go on and have this voice conflation apply even with constructions that are used to form a passive, if the language uses some structure similar to that of English for that purpose. There's no need to do so, however.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Detail #321: Vowel Harmony Discontinuity

In languages such as Finnish, vowel harmony is pretty solid except in loans and in compounds, where the vowel harmony really only operates on the level of the component words of the compound. We do find some interesting exceptions in the derivative morphology, with stems that only contain neutral vowels:
lentää (to fly)
lento (a flight)

viiltää (to incise)
viilto (an incision)
Examples with other morphemes than -to can be found, but I can't be bothered to introspect for them all that much at the moment. In addition, there's two words that have exceptional singular partitives after a neutral root - usually, roots that only have neutral vowels trigger front harmony. I'll arrange the case forms here according to their morphological relation - i.e. the singular locative cases are indented from the genitive, because their formation can be predicted from the genitive, and the plurals from the plural partitive. A dash separates the case marker in the genitive and plural partitive from the singular and plural oblique stems.
meri (sea, ocean)
meressä, merestä, mereen, merellä, mereltä, merelle
mereksi, merenä, merettä, meret (plural nom/acc!)
merissä, meristä, meriin, merillä, meriltä, merille, meriksi, meri, merittä, merine-(plus poss. suffix), merin,
* I don't even recall the exact formation rule for merten/merien, but iirc it too derives from meri-. I get it right in speech, but don't ask me to tell you how it works. Oh, and both merten and merien are accepted forms - either due to standard Finnish taking both eastern and western forms, or due to both having coexisted widely.

One other word has the same exact behavior, viz. veri, blood. As a not fully native speaker but almost, my opinion on this particular pair of words might not be shared by everyone, but to me mertä sounds less wrong than vertä does - I am not sure whether if someone said vertä in a sentence, I'd even realize immediately what word was being mangled, but I think I would so with mertä.

Now, to the conlanging idea!
Let's have a couple (or more) of 'metaphonemes', " and ¤. " switches harmony to front harmony, ¤ switches to back harmony. Any other type of harmony could of course be useful, but front-back harmony with umlaut signs makes for a visually simple example. One could of course imagine that the best way for this to work would simply be a regular, realized phoneme that deviates from the expected harmony, and forces future suffixes to switch, as in the made up example below, where ko is part of the root:
pöläko, pöläkopa, pöläkora ...
My thoughts here come very close to such a system, but what if, due to vowel reductions, this happens:
pöläko, pöläkopa, pöläkr ?
The question mark serves to indicate my uncertainty here: should the lost /o/ still trigger -ra, or should the loss make the front harmony root trigger -rä? 
This is where the " and ¤ would come in. They would be present in the root, never realized by themselves, but appear whenever a vowel is reduced out of existence. Thus, if the root were pöläk"o, we'd get pöläkrä, if it were pöläk¤o, we'd get pöläkra.

Thus, some form of vowel harmony exists in a language with such a system, but it's governed by some weird rules.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Detail #320: Alignment, Essives and Translatives

I assume everyone knows what essives and translatives as far as the case nomenclature of Finnish goes are. If not, ask and I'll make a post explaining it for you.

Anyways, one could imagine a different alignment with regards to these as well! One could have the quality that is being been, or the quality that is being acquired, or the noun that is being been, or the noun that is being become marked in nominative or accusative depending on whether we're dealing with a situation like
I am a singer (nominative)
I fell ill (nominative)
I made it durable (accusative)
I painted it red (accusative)
and we could mark the subject or object in cases that mark being and becoming, much as the Finnish essive and translative - but marked on the bee-er or becomer, rather than on the quality (or noun) that is being been or become.

This must be one of the few times a passive of be and become ever has been called for in English.

A Peculiar Innovation in the Dagurib Branch: Verbal Body Part Prefixes

In the Dagurib branch of the ĆŊ family, a set of verbal prefixes have developed, mainly from words for body parts. In Dagurib itself, we have
yül-, yil-, yul- hand, arm
ülül-, ilil-, ulul- hand, arm (alternative form)
si-, su-, sü- face
or-, ir-, ür- upper torso
sal, säl-, sɛl- legs, leg, foot, feet
t'ob-, t'öb-, t'eg- head
lok'-, lök'-, lek'- back
kno-, knö-, kne- belly, lower torso
gim-, wüm-, wum- genitals
gimim-, wümüm-, wumum- genitals (alternative form)
k'ar-, k'är-, k'ɛr- ass, butt
ban-, bän-, bɛn- thighs
sol-, söl-, sel- shoulders, neck
ene-, ono-, önö- mind, cognition
Cognates to some of these may be found in Ćwarmin and Ŋʒädär. These are mandatory in some situations, optional in some situations and not permissible in some situations. The participant of the noun phrase that they belong to is also not entirely trivial, as they can indicate instrument, object, physical direction, and some more unusual things.

Basically, the participant whose body the prefix will be part of most generally is the argument that would have been marked with the absolutive in an ergative language. The exceptions are hand and genitals, whose short form follows a nominative-like distribution, and mind, whose referent depends on the register: when spoken to a superior, it will often be used as a prefix whenever the superior is the object. Otherwise, it will often be used to make a recipient the focus of the clause. In fact, all of these tend to mark focus of the noun to which they relate.

Those which follow the ergative pattern acquire a nominative pattern when the verb is marked with the passive voice, but may block the passive voice from promoting object to subject as well as demoting subject to oblique. 

With indirect objects, whether to parse something as being part of an indirect or direct object is often specific to combinations of prefix and lexeme.