Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Detail #366: A Morphophonological Quirk

For examples here I'll use cases. However, this applies to any prevalent morphological thing - tense, aspect, volitionality, evidentiality, number, etc - it's just a question of finding a way of applying it.

Now, sometimes, sound changes happen at boundaries of words. An example of this is how the former Finnic accusative case suffix -m has merged with the genitive case -n, due to a sound change that turned all final -m into -n, including stem-final -m. Thus, some words whose nominative form ends in -n have inflected forms with an -m- instead: sydän, sydämen. Historically, there's probably also been a form sydämem, which now comes out as sydämen as well.

Beyond cases, a language can have other affixes, e.g. possessive affixes, various clitics, etc. We can now imagine a situation where a different affix blocks a merger of cases by means of having had a different sound change induced (or just plain prevented it), a case distinction can survive in a limited environment, such as, say, before something analogous to Latin -que and similar. Finnish has -kin serving a similar role as -que, and we can imagine then a different version of Finnish having a change -mk- > -mp-. Then, we'd have a situation where 'a heart (nominative) too' would be 'sydämpin', 'a heart's too' would be 'sydämenkin' and 'a heart (acc) too' 'sydämempin'. The negative version of 'too', -kaan ('not even', 'not ... either', 'neither a/the ...'

Now, as I mentioned, this needn't be a case - could be a volition marker or whatever.

Describing such morphological quirks in tabular form requires some special notation, e.g. some kind of diacritic that serves exclusively to mark the existence of an underlying phoneme that may resurface. For the faux-Finnish example, we can consider m̄ for this role. Now, we could get the following pattern for the word sydäm̄:
case underlying formrealization
nom: sydäm̄sydän
acc, clitic kin:sydäm̄em̄kinsydämempin
gen, clitic:sydäm̄enkinsydämenkin
The thing I find relevant or interesting here is really the distribution of mergers vs. distinction. However, a convenient and succinct way of encoding such things in a morphological table is obviously relevant for descriptive purposes. The approach given above - using arbitrarily redefined diacritics - seems to have one great disadvantage: the requirement of learning to mentally apply the sign. In a short description, this is surprisingly taxing. If you've devoted your life to study a particular language, it is no big deal, but in a text you barely read once, it is a bit taxing. Another method that would require a bit more awkward writing, but be more parseable could be something like the following:
lexical example: sydämm > n / _#
morphological example: -emm > n / _#
Essentially replacing m̄ by mm > n / _# throughout the dictionary. Of course, for this use, I assume a really short sample dictionary in a fairly short text.

This could be expanded into marking relevant sound changes wherever they apply in morphophonological contexts.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Sargaĺk Cases as Bundles of Features

In this post I try, in retrospect, to analyze the case system of Sargaĺk in terms of features. Unlike the post on the case system of Ŋʒädär, a far share of actual usage examples will also be presented. Warning: this is still somewhat waffly.

The case system consists of the pegative-genitive, the absolutive (with three subcases that differ on syntactical grounds, and one subcase that differs for some pronouns), the comitative-instrumental, the familiar comitative, the locative, the ablative and the lative.

This adds up to a set of maximally eight morphologically distinct cases, maximally ten syntactically distinct cases but minimally six morphologically distinct cases. Each of these sets are worth investigating separately, as is the use of cases with regards to time.

Temporal usages of the locative cases and the absolutive case are the easiest to look into, since the dimensions are rather 'easy' to come up with: punctual vs. time-span, start-point, end-point, location in time vs. amount of time.
The cases that are used in expressions of time are the absolutive, the locative, the ablative, the lative and the comitative-instrumental.

We begin with the ten syntactically distinct cases:
  • ditransitive subject / genitive
  • transitive subject
  • intransitive subject
  • direct object
  • indirect object
  • comitative-instrumental
  • comitative-familiar
  • locative
  • lative
  • ablative
The three additional locative cases that appear on some pronouns will not be dealt with.

An immediate quick partitioning of these might hint at sets along these lines: {{the two transitive subjects, intransitive subject?}, {objects, intransitive subject?}}, {comitatives}, {locatives}.
The number of binary features needed to distinguish ten is 4, or rather 3.3..., while the number of trinary features is 2.1... Since we basically need quite a bit "too much" space no matter what way we do, I will not use them very optimally. Control and direction will both be binary, and I will get back to what they even signify in a bit. The third I'll call 'involvement', and I will give that one three values - active, passive, frame.

dit. subj.++a
tra. subj.+-a
intr. subj.+-a
dir. obj.--p
ind. obj.++p

The lative case is interesting in that in disdainful utterances with verbs of location (rather than verbs of movement), it can be used with a locative meaning, i.e. 'hither I sit' would signify something along the lines of 'bollocks, here I sit again'.
The comitative-instrumental, likewise, takes on a disdainful meaning when used with nouns for which comitative-familiar is expected. These are very limited uses, but they are common.

It turns out approaching the maximal form does not provide any very neat-looking decomposition into features. The eight morphologically distinct cases might be a bit more promising, given that 8 is 23, three features could exactly account for them. We now deal with absolutive, accusative, pegative, comitative-instrumental, comitative-familiar, locative, lative and ablative.
Here, we'll parse the feature 'direction' not as one of physical movement towards, but rather as 'involving' even any sense of metaphorical direction.
"Activity" is a conflated "involvement"-version.


The minimal set of distinct forms occur with inanimate nouns, and most animals (the comitative-familiar is attested with some pets and some anthropomorphized animals in mythology). These nouns distinguish absolutive, pegative, comitative(-instrumental), locative, lative and ablative. This set itself is of some interest, since we also know that the comitative-familiar can be replaced in all positions by the comitative-instrumental for all nouns that distinguish the two, so a more coarse system of features could leave out the comitative-familiar entirely. We now have two options: three features, and two cases get to cover two of the combinations - alternatively one covers three combinations.

We could put the locative ones in one bag, and the three other ones in the other - getting us 'grammatical vs. locational/oblique', and distinguish them by some trinary feature that seems to line up - maybe having the locative and the absolutive, the pegative and the ablative, and the lative and the comitative-instrumental paired up sharing the value of the second feature. This, however, seems somewhat weird. Certainly pegatives and ablatives are slightly similar, both being in some sense 'origins', and locatives and absolutives are sort of similar in 'intrinsicness' to an event. But comitatives and latives do not seem very similar at all, unless we create some kind of wastebin category. I decided to call this wastebin category 'indirect'.


This would seem contrived if it were not for this actually appearing as a pattern in some parts of the language:
  • With passives, where nouns in the three upper cases can be demoted into the three lower cases. This is not very common with the comitative, but nevertheless attested.
  • Adnominally, you get a clear pegative-ablative correlation: animate possessors tend to be pegative, inanimate tend to be ablative.
  • With expressions of time, specific times are given in the absolutive or locative (depending partially on the type of time - named times are absolutive, generic nouns may be locative, partially on whether it's a complement or adjunct, with adjuncts being locative). A similar pattern occurs with time spans but with comitative and lative marking the end of the time-span and the pegative or ablative marking the onset.
  •  A handful of verbs can take  comitative and lative arguments. Among these we find narol, share. One can share 'with' or 'to', where the distinction seems to be one of volition on the part of the subject. 
  • Similarly, a few verbs permit for a similar alternation among direct objects or subjects: ırsal, 'to reach' where the case on the object seems to mainly correlate with some kind of aspectual notion, i.e. absolutive objects indicate arrival, locative objects indicate physical length or habitual arrival, altul 'to embrace, to contain', where absolutive subjects indicate embracing, and locative subjects indicate containing.
However, a different set of patterns fit a different analysis, where a set of binary features appear, but the absolutive and locative take an indeterminate/ambiguous/superimposed/ignored value. Mostly this is a very similar analysis to the previous one, giving similar pairings - pegative-ablative, comitative-lative, and absolutive-locative. The table below does not collapse absolutive and locative onto the same row, however, but uses an analysis where absolutive is 'rather central' and locative is rather 'peripheral'. The terminology here is not very clearly defined, but 'central' vs. 'peripheral' has two independent possible significances: it indicates canonical uses of verbs and adpositions, peripheral signifies less typical such usages; meanwhile, 'central' also signifies topicality, direct physical involvement and so on, whereas 'peripheral' either signifies lesser significance to the topic under discussion or less physical involvement.




The decision to analyse the system like this relates to the fact that we sometimes find patterns where the pegative and comitative operate as a pair of complements, as do the ablative and lative; the absolutive and locative, however, also operate as such a pair as well, so whereas the other cases each have relations to two cases, the absolutive and locative occupy both those spots for each other.

Such examples include certain adpositions (nup, 'under' with the ablative, 'covered by' with the lative; int, 'among' with the pegative, 'surrounded by' with the comitative - generally, the peripheral case for these provides a more 'specific', less general meaning, thus less 'central' to the meaning-space of possible meanings).

The description given here cover the dialects closest to the mainland. Further off, we find systems where the absolutive-locative part of the above diagram have been rearranged, so that the locative covers every part except the grammatical-central slot.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Detail #365: Quirky Case and Morphological Intrigues

Let us consider a language that, like Finnish or Russian, marks the agent-like argument of 'to have to' with a non-canonical case. It is arguable whether such a noun is a subject, and the claim is that in Russian at least they aren't, but they pass subjecthood tests in Finnish rather splendidly.

Now, both the Russian and Finnish constructions lack subject marking entirely on the VP. and in some sense maybe we could say this is a result of the nominative controlling congruence on verbs in these languages.

Now, let's keep that situation intact with regards to finite verbs, but introduce a conflicting notion for certain infinitives! In Finnish, there are several different constructions for obligation, some using specific verbs, and one using the 3rd person sg. copula in combination with the passive present participle. Thus, mine is eat-en-ing sort of expresses 'I have to eat'. 

Some languages have person marking on infinitives - examples include Portuguese. Now, we can imagine the semantics of the situation forcing an explicit subject marking on such infinitives even when the subject is not nominative (or maybe even when the agent is not a subject), even when the finite verb does have no subject marking.

Now we can start imagining somewhat weirder stuff. Where do these subject markers originate? Possibly with possessive markers (and further down the line with pronouns), right? Some languages have reflexive possessives distinct from regular possessives - Scandinavian sin, Slavic swój, etc. We can imagine such pronouns also to become part of a system of possessive affixes, thus not only giving us 'mine, yours, his/hers/its, ours,  yours, theirs" as affixes, but also a distinct 'his/hers/its own' as a suffix.

In Scandinavian, the reflexive possessive is only used with third person possessors, so
Stina sålde sitt hus
Stina sold her (own, not someone else's) house
consider, in English, conversely
Etta was angry after Stina had sold her house
Elna var arg efter att Stina sålde hennes hus
Thus, this lets us distinguish two potential possessors in Scandinavian, but English requires at least one extra word, and the presence of that extra word ('own') is sometimes ambiguous even at that. And even omitting 'own' does not exclude a reflexive parsing, and getting the non-reflexive parsing explicit can be awkward.

Anyways, in Slavic languages, swój and its cognates are used for all persons. So, if 'I sell my portfolio', it is я who sells свой portfolio.

Back to the infinitives: now we can imagine a situation where a quirky case construction with an infinitive verb has a reflexive subject. We can, for instance, consider a situation where 'has to' and 'needs' are the same verb, and an embedded participle, for instance, can take a different subject:
me-obl [has to, needs, must] hear-2sg this-acc
I need you to hear this
and possibly
she-obl [needs, ...] hearing-refl this-acc
she needs to hear this

she-obl [needs, ...] hearing-3sg this-acc
she1 needs for him/her2 to hear this
Another thing this could introduce is differential subject marking! First and second person embedded infinitives could go either way with regards to having 'canonical' pronominal agreement or reflexive agreement, and communicate, say, volition or somesuch in that way.

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Composition

I recently uploaded another track onto Soundcloud. Here it is:

As usual, it's not in standard tuning - as most of my compositions over the last few years, this is in 11-edo.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Onwards with Detail #363

We may extend the notion presented in a recent post to cover other, maybe more realistic things than explicit cases.

A first idea for this could be strange verbs, that alter properties of the subjects and objects: either the first or subsequent verbs alter the relation of their arguments to the next subject slot. These may be some kinds of 'weirdly' transitive verbs with underlying quirky case rather than explicit quirky case. This would probably be a unique kind of quirky case. On the other hand, some verbs may often be accompanied by reactions from the object (or in a syntactically ergative language, some transitive verbs may be followed by intransitive verbs with the ergative argument of the previous verb being the subject), and this situation may become sufficiently established that it becomes implicit, and thus these verbs would have implicit puissance/compliance.

In a language that marks definiteness on NPs, one could imagine that definiteness leads to puissant ergatives (even if their absolutive 'partners' are definite). On the other hand, a definite accusative with an indefinite nominative might also be a puissant accusative. Conversely, partitiveness and 'strongly indefinite' determiners (any, some, whichever) might lead to compliant absolutives or nominatives.

Furthermore, one can imagine a noun hierarchy where large enough differences lead to puissance/compliance, whereas smaller differences do not. One would imagine, perhaps, that inanimates always are compliant, and maybe first and second person pronouns force all other NPs to be compliant as well.

At the point where this kind of thing operates on resolving gaps, on the binding of reflexive pronouns, etc, we're pretty close to having dissolved the syntactical properties of subjects altogether and made the properties float about more freely.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Detail #364: Inverse Case Marking

Something that looks sort of vaguely like this if you squint really hard is attested in real languages, but let's make a more distilled form of it. Consider the most core case distinction in many languages - nominative vs. everything else. Some nouns are more likely to be subjects whenever both a subject and some other NP is present, some are more likely to be objects. We basically get a subjecthood hierarchy, which quite probably is not very unlike an animacy hierarchy.

I imagine that this language has but two cases, and the case of the direct object is also used with adpositions and for any oblique uses. Possession could go any which way, maybe with the subject case being the genitive case as well.

For nouns high up in the hierarchy, the nominative is unmarked, and the accusative is marked. Lower down in the hierarchy, the situation is reversed.

Let us use the same case marker for both and call this the 'INV' case.
I see you.INV
man sees stone
knight fought windmill
windmill.INV killed knight.INV
In intransitive clauses, this offers several options. First a nominative-like approach and an ergative-like approach exist. The nominative approach would have subjects marked the same as in transitive clauses, thus
windmill.INV burns
man falls
 The ergative approach would instead produce this outcome:
windmill burns
man.INV falls
We now need to provide an analysis of what's going on under the hood of this system. The nouns will be given two 'classes' – ones high up in the hierarchy are 'I', and lower ones 'II'.


The ergative situation is similarly

The final situation we can consider is an underlyingly tripartite system

transitive subject
intransitive subject
transitive object
This provides us with many options! We can now introduce a split-S type of thing, and we can even do that in multiple ways. We can let 'inverse' signal lack of volition (or whatever, but that's a good go-to example), or we can let the opposite of the transitive subject marking signal lack of volition. Thus, we may have a situation where:
I.INV fall
signals lack of volition, but
fish jump
signals volition, OR

I.INV fall
signals lack of volition BUT
fish.INV jump
signals volition
Fluid-S is afaict typologically less common than a lexically-conditioned split-S,  but fluid-S is easier to make a toy system out of in just a couple of words. For a lexically-conditioned system, way more options exist, of course: some verbs maybe require direct from all nouns, some require inverse, and some require object marking (thus direct from type II nouns and inverse from type I nouns). Basically, the types of language you can imagine form the following set:

Take as possible verb types the set V, consisting of :
= verbs requiring direct subjects
I = verbs requiring inverse subjects
O = verbs requiring object-forms out of their subjects
S = verbs requiring subject-forms out of their subjects
The languages we can imagine then forms the set P(V), i.e. the power set of {D,I,O,S}. This is {{}, {D}, {I}, {O}, {S}, {DI}, {DO}, {DS}, {IO}, {IS}, {OS}, {DIO}, {DIS}, {DOS}, {IOS}, {DIOS}}.

A language described by the set {IOS} would then be one that has verbs requiring inverse case subjects, verbs requiring object forms and verbs requiring subject forms.

We can also have a situation where all subjects of intransitive verbs just are direct - i.e. no marking whatsoever.

transitive subject
intransitive subject
transitive object
A situation where both I and II are inverse for the intransitive subject is conceivable, but unlikely and not significantly different from this situation - it would merely be a 'cosmetic' difference.
We can also have a situation where the cut-off between I and II is different for the intransitive subject than for the other two (heck, one could experiment with having that cut-off  in different spots for subjects and objects too!) 

And of course, we can always add in complications with regards to topics - maybe all topics are unmarked regardless of syntactical role?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Detail #363: A (Double-)Quartet of Impossible Cases

These cases probably do not exist in any language

The cases form a two by two system as far as their features go. Consider the result of subject gaps over coordination in languages with syntactic ergativity:

she hit him and ___ ran
run takes an absolutive argument, him is the absolutive of hit, thus it is implicitly him doing the running.
We could overrule this by a case marking either on the "normally ergative" or "normally absolutive" noun - a form of differential case marking. Thus we get two sorts: the puissant ergative  or the compliant absolutive. "Puissant" because it overpowers the absolutive, "compliant" because it cedes to the ergative. Either one should by its existence make the other one superfluous. However, what other uses could they have?

The puissant ergative could maybe appear with causatives? The compliant absolutive could appear with non-volitional intransitives?

I actually see a potentially possible grammaticalization path for the compliant absolutive: a merger with an absolutive pronoun referring to the ergative subject. If the language has a really weird word order, a similar solution for the puissant ergative could be imaginable. The reason I suspect these to be impossible is that they are nouns telling us information about the next clause's verb, and even more so the compliant absolutive is telling us a non-thing: it's telling us which noun isn't the subject, and isn't even necessarily involved.

The next pair of cases would be the analogous forms for nominative-accusative languages: the compliant nominative and the puissant accusative.
These could have similar origins as those in the ergative scenario. However, one might expect these too to have additional uses, such as the compliant nominative maybe always being the subject of passives.

Another thing that often is influenced by alignment is pronoun binding, esp. wrt reflexives and such. We can imagine puissant ergatives and accusatives to control the reflexive pronouns (out of which possessive reflexive pronouns might be the most interesting), or compliant absolutives and nominatives to cede their control of the reflexive pronouns.

Further thoughts in imaginary typology: would there be a (vague) correlation between puissantness and definiteness? How about compliantness and indefiniteness?

EDIT: four additional cases appear if you consider the situation of erg/abs languages with nom/acc syntax (giving compliant ergatives or puissant absolutives), or the case of nom/acc languages with erg/abs syntax (WHICH PROBABLY DON'T EXIST SO DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME FOLKS) (giving  compliant accusatives or puissant nominatives).

A final, late EDIT:
Obviously, these should probably rather be seen as functions of some certain cases than as cases unto themselves, i.e. you'd expect some other  cases to fill these roles. That of course is also sort of up to how they came about - I imagine a compliant nominative could morphologically be the same as the accusative, for instance.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Detail #362: Differential Case and Inverse Systems

While thinking about the sound changes leading up to Ćwarmin and Ŋʒädär, an uninvited idea entered my mind and turned into this post: what can we do to combine differential subject/object marking and inverse alignment?

The idea might seem somewhat preposterous. Differential subject marking obviously acts on the subject, differential object marking on the object, and inverse alignment doesn't formally distinguish the two in any case-like way.
However, maybe there are ways out, and maybe these can have interesting restrictions on them.

Since I have not mentioned differential case in quite a while, differential case is where subjects (or objects) can take different cases depending on some syntactical or semantic factors.

A few options:

1. mutual marking
Both nouns take the same marker (or allomorphs thereof). This could fit for some Finnish-style differential object marking, i.e. conveying aspectual and/or polarity-related information, but is not suitable for Turkish-style differential marking (where the accusative marks the definiteness of a direct object, whereas the nominative implies indefiniteness).
Jazzing it up: cancel the use of the inverse (or maybe the direct) whenever the Differential Subject&Object Marking is in place. Only let a certain assignment of roles to the two nouns be permissible whenever the marking is there. Here, we can get verb-specific things going: maybe one verb forces inverseness whenever differential marking is in place, maybe another forces directness.

2. marking determined by the hierarchy
One could imagine that the marker goes on whichever noun is lower (or higher) on the hierarchy. Maybe several markers can coexist, and two different ones are permissible, as long as they do not try to go on the same noun. Maybe some markers can go on either noun, and some are restricted to the higher or the lower one. An additional complication could be markers that only exist on some level of the hierarchy - i.e. markers only present with first and second person pronouns, or markers only present for inanimate nouns.
Jazzing it up: have some markers go on 'actual subject' or 'actual object' and some markers follow the above rule. Have a hierarchy among the markers as to which beats which.

3. marking determined by topicality or focus
Whichever element is topic, or potentially focus, could be differentially marked, while the other one goes unmarked.

Jazzing it up: again, change how the verb interacts with things. Make the verb intransitive, and the 'subject' an oblique agent or the object and oblique patient, depending on which one is the topic. This would functionally make the intransitive be both a passive and an antipassive at once. Heck, for double topics, you could have a simultaneous passive-antipassive interpretation.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Detail #361: Auxiliaries for Voices

Consider a language where even pretty 'simple' voices like reflexives and reciprocals are expressed using auxiliaries. This provides an interesting space for introducing the distinction between reciprocals and reflexives - number congruence!

If there is some form of person marking possible on infinitives as well, one could imagine having the infinitive take singular marking for reciprocals (or maybe vice versa); however, one could also imagine using just plural verb forms for plural reciprocal subjects, and singular verb forms for plural reflexive subjects.

What if we want the reflexivity or reciprocality not to be with regards to a direct object? Maybe the auxiliaries for voice can stack, and some of them give applicatives and circumstantial voices. Maybe the relevant case-marker (adposition, whatever) can be incorporated in the auxiliary, or turned into an argument of the verb?

I've been doing really gruelling work on the historical sound changes of Ćwarmin and Ŋʒädär, and will soon post some updates on those. Expect pretty detailed stuff.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Detail #360: Fun With Complementizers

Complementizers appear as heads of all clauses in some theories of syntax. In most theories of syntax, they are also at least the heads of subclauses. The idea in some theories, is that something similar to that in "I knew that she likes Victorian-era comedy" even appears as a null morpheme in the onset (or somewhere else) even of main clauses.

Now, in some languages similar things genuinely appear in some clauses, and I wouldn't be surprised if such a thing even appears in all clauses in some language out there. One common such 'main clause complementizer' is the question marker.

Here appears a thing I've seldom seen conlangers do: force complementizers to appear in certain situations with main clauses, but not in others. Maybe negative clauses require a complementizer, maybe certain kinds of statements require them.

As for 'certain kinds of statements', in Swedish, 'att' (similar to English 'that' as a complementizer) sometimes introduces a clause (whose word order then is like that of subclauses), without any main clause, where the statement expresses disdain, admiration or agreement for a fact thus stated:
att han törs!(that) he dares!
how dare he?

att hon gör!
(that) she does!
she sure does!
Using complementizers occasionally or regularly for main clauses can be an interesting way of enriching one's syntax as well. One hypothesis regarding verb fronting as a way of marking questions is that the verb actually moves to the zero morpheme question complementizer, and thus is a sort of realization of that complementizer. This of course changes details in the word order. One could have the language sometimes force the subject or object into the C position, and this would change other word order details. Maybe moving the subj to the C position breaks reflexive binding? Maybe it breaks verb congruence? Maybe moving the object breaks transitivity, making a transitive subject marked absolutive (if the language is ergative).

Of course, the presence of an explicit, non-zero complementizer could, as in Swedish, force subclause word order, if there is a difference between these in the language. Thus maybe all negative clauses have subclause word order?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Detail #359: An Ergative Language with Phrasal Verbs

In English, there are a bunch of object-like nouns (that under some analyses are objects), that are marked by prepositions. These occur with a variety of verbs, a handful of these could be, for instance
wait for
hope for
look at
listen to
Now, we could imagine a similar thing in a syntactically ergative language. In a syntactically ergative language, the syntactical subject is the absolutive argument, though, and we could imagine a situation whereby the ergative argument sometimes would be marked by some other case or some adposition. I am not sure whether this should even be considered quirky case 'subjects' (or 'quirky case ergatives', since the ergative is unlike both 'subjects' and 'objects' in this style of analysis.)

Here's a bit of a challenge though: think up some "ergatively phrasal verbs" that seem as natural as 'wait for' or 'look at' or 'think about'.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Detail #358: A Congruence System with some Quirks

For certain kinds of congruence, there are two main types we can consider:
  • morphosyntactic congruence
  • semantic congruence
The former agrees in case, gender, etc, the latter agrees in some way with the meaning. We find English having a split on this with regards to examples like 'the family is' vs. 'the family are'. Different speaker communities do not agree on which one of these are right, and some may even use both with some subtle meaning differences. However, let's make up some more interesting thing here, such as a rule that tells us when the congruence is semantic and when it's morphosyntactical.

One idea could be that NP-internally, agreement always is morphosyntactical. (I will go and revise this later with regards to participles!) We could also go and say that VP-internally, the agreement is always semantic. However, the subject not being part of the VP, subject agreement on the verb might be exceptional - I'll go with morphosyntactical here. (Here, I am rather agnostic as to which way is most likely in a natural human language; heck, I find myself conflicted on whichever way VP-internal or NP-internal is more likely to go). For the language I am envisioning, the verb also has object congruence.

So, now we have a system where
the family sold-subj:3sg-obj:3pl the flock
We may of course have some gender congruence adhering to this pattern. Now, we may also have a complication with regards to quirky subjects and objects, or oblique ones: the subject might get a third person ('neutral') marking regardless of the subject's person, number or gender, while a primary 'semantic' object that is marked obliquely in some sense still might get some form of object marking on the verb.

Another complication we can introduce is with regards to left-dislocated objects - regardless if it's due to focus fronting or topicalization or whatever other thing, the object may then be considered outside of the VP, and the gap left behind now might not cause congruence.

Participles obviously have features both of adjectives and of verbs. There, passive participles could take semantic agreement, active participles morphosyntactical agreement.

Here, however, we get a lot of possibilities for sliding scales of marking, and this whole notion could be a nice testing ground for looking at probabilistic approaches for grammars: maybe, just maybe, we could build a system where the probability in some context for one kind of congruence is P, and for the other it's 1-P, where P is a real number in the range [0,1]. In different circumstances, the probabilities differ: subject marking on finite verbs has probability Psubj, object marking has Pobj, a left-dislocated object has Pl-obj, adjectives in attributive position have Pattr, and so on. These may further have a hierarchy where a change in the probability of one might force the probability of another to change.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Dagurib: The Copula

Out of the three Ćwarmin-Ŋʒädär branches, the Dagurib branch (being the smallest, and even omitted in the main name of the family) has copulas appearing most frequently in speech. In addition, the copulas feature prominently in a variety of constructions.

The Dagurib branch has been somewhat eager at acquiring prefixing morphology, as can be seen from the body-part prefixes in use on many verbs. However, another set of prefixes appear on copulas and related verbs (a list can be found at the end of the post). These can co-occur with body prefixes, and some of the combinations even have been somewhat lexicalized.

They convey a form of semantic congruence with the copula. This at times permits the complement to be omitted. Existential use of the copula can also take these.

Most are monosyllabic, with a few exceptions. A large handful are not even syllabic, but there's only one monosegmental example, viz. t-. If the t- forms a cluster that is not permissible word-initially, a vowel will be inserted. Here are only some examples. This class is not entirely closed, and sometimes parts of adjectives are sucked into this construction.
'good', 'beneficial', 'advantageous' (from the point of view of the speaker)

'good', 'beneficial', 'advantageous' (from the point of view of the subject)

'more than [one of the complements]'

'pleasant' (from the point of view of the speaker)

'bad', 'disadvantageous', but also used with negations of neutral or good complements.
'exceedingly, intensely, possibly to a detrimental degree'

incompletely, partially, inconsistently, uncertainly.

factually mistaken, misshapen, lightly 'bad'

morally wrong, detestable. strongly 'bad'

unknown, but assumed to be of some quality; often used with questions. Sometimes reduplicated to mark a lack of quality. This also has the dissimilated form ulur-/ülür- appearing.
scary, dangerous, raging

large, reputable, strong (also metaphorically of spices)

cold, sharp (of knifes)

coarse, unpleasant, bitter, sour, poisonous

sick, weakened, hurt, damaged, insulted, dying, frail, broken,

The root of the usual copula in Dagurib is -wav-. However, other copula-like verbs exist:
-köbs- seem (by reputation, by reason, or by general impression)
-ints- seem (by visual inspection)
-ʊlk- become
-odu- remain, keep being
-nʊdu- cease being
-wyor- be considered, be held to be, be esteemed to be
-südr- be expected to be
-nımb- resume being
Some lexicalized combinations exist, and these retain traces of vowel harmony at times:
uzganʊdu- - to repent
üzints- mislead (takes dative 'object')
mökints- stink (previsouly, ints- more generally indicated 'seem (by any sense')
tʊtsnʊdu - when used of trees, signifies the yearly loss of foliage; when used of flowers kept for their beauty, the loss of flowers.
tʊʊlk, tʊgawulk - of fruits and grain and vegetables, 'to mature', with the -ga- morpheme basically encoding whether it's the speaker or some other NP who is in possession of the produce.
ofnʊdu - to mature, to grow up
turxʊlk -
sanımb -
a verb denoting the onset of winter
kärʊlk - to get beard growth

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Detail #357: A Syntactically Split Alignment

Most split alignment systems only have split alignment in the case marking, and not really in the underlying syntax.  The split often also either correlates to the TAM of the verb, or to certain grammatical persons. I don't recall seeing any other actual cause of an alignment split, and I would really be interested in hearing about any other triggers for it.

However, that's not what I am writing this post about. This post is about a split in syntactical alignment based on a semantic distinction among verbs. I further find this particular split rather likely to occur.

The particular thing I'd think would cause an intransitive subject to align with an object syntactically is existentialness. Verbs such as 'exist', 'be' (when used existentially), be found, be seen (maybe), be attested, etc all seem to lend themselves well to prefer an ergative syntax.

The most obvious phenomenon to investigate would be gaps, and we can easily imagine a language where
berries exist and I eat
would parse as
berries exist and I eat [them]
however, we can then expect that coordination over many VPs should also yield ergative patterns:
berries existed and I saw and ate and tasted sweetberries existed, and I saw and ate [them] and [they] tasted sweet
This should not be permitted when all verbs are just 'plain vanilla intransitives'
*the berries were tasty and I saw and ate and tasted sweet
*the berries were tasty and *I saw and *ate and *I tasted sweet
Of course, when multiple VPs are chained like this, the later the existential verb appears, the harder parsing correctly will be. For this reason, the language might either forbid existential verbs to be on the right hand of coordinations, especially after more than two or so,  or have some kind of 'de-existential' form that is semantically, but not syntactically existential. (This could be achieved by reusing some other thing from the language - maybe force quirky case existential subjects? maybe use usually non-finite verb forms? maybe have the usual existential verbs lack congruence, but forcing congruence on them turns them into 'regular' verbs?

Friday, October 20, 2017

Ćwarmin Geographical Terminology

Ćwarmin covers a relatively large area of plains, with some mountain ranges at the edges of the area, and a few hills and the occasional mountain dotting the plains. Two oceans also touch the plains. Due to the distances involved, the words for the ocean differ, as do the words for 'waterfall', which for obvious reasons only really occur at the mountaineous edges of the area.

Bodies of water:
sućma - lake
ləkir - swamp
wire - the ocean (northern word)
kaśku - the ocean (southern word)
telin - the coast (northern word)
sterim - the coast (southern word)
It is to be noted that the southern and northern words for the oceans are not 'names' – the same word would be used by a northerner (or a southerner) regardless if he's seeing the southern or northern ocean, or even some other ocean altogether.
sasra - river
sasruta xamku - waterfall (river-gen fall) (southeast)
kaluta xamku - waterfall (water-gen fall) (northeast)
sasruta korsa - waterfall (river-gen jump) (west)
ontas - ditch, small river
savar - travel upriver by barge
sivir - travel downriver by barge

insə - a place fit for wading

apśuta - rapids, from the verb apśun - to splatter, splash

kalak - the left side of the river as seen while looking downriver
perək - the right side of the river as seen while looking downriver
kaŋud - plains

nile - a 'depleted' area of pasture
micni - an area of pasture, regardless if still abundant or depleted
məcən - move towards areas suitable for pasture in winter
mocon - move towards areas suitable for pasture in summer
eŋmər - a large grassy area
leśśe - a small area with grassy vegetation, or a part of an eŋmər
rende - an area with bushy vegetation
leśen - to graze, to cause to graze, to lead to pasture
falsuc - desert
ŋormo - an area strewn with rocks
ŋoron - to pick rocks (for building with)
ŋor - stone

miker - a low, lengthy hill
miken - to travel along the crest of such a hill
mokan - to travel across multiple such hills
śorka - woods
śoran - to bewilder, to cause to be lost, to confuse
nunto - plains of permafrost
nunun - to be frozen
ərtər - cultivated land, from Bryatesle 'ırtız', acre.
ərtən - to cultivate
rogos - moor
bənel - marsh
sildil - quagmire
sildilin - to quake
rab - valley
kup - peak
kupon - to reach
walgor - mountain
walgrona - mountain range
fośtor - volcano
fośton - to explode (with anger), to erupt, to eject fire

parsu - glacier

kuruk - salt plain
kurmu - salt lake

egəd - road, naturally easily traversable path
egdin - to create a path
Among the verbs we find three interesting pairs here, savar/sivir and məcən/mocon and also miken/mokan. These are just three among many sets of lexemes that would seem suggestive of some kind of ablaut system. Similar hints exist in other ĆŊ languages as well.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Detail #356: Case, Gender and Copulas

In some languages, some complements of copulas can be in non-nominative cases, e.g. in Russian and Polish where they sometimes are in the instrumental case. A situation where such a thing could make sense in a language could be when there is some form of perceived gender disagreement between the complement and the subject, e.g. situations like 'she is a soldier', and this could make sense in a language even if the language lacks grammatical gender. However, I guess it would make most sense in a language with a grammatical gender system, whenever that gender system provides a mismatch.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Number and Numeral-Related Thing in Sargaĺk and Dairwueh

There's no need for a language to have a 'perfect' analogy to the word 'both' (despite the fact that it exists in several subfamilies of European as well as in several Uralic languages, and these are only the ones I've been able to verify that they are not direct cognates or derivatives of the lexeme for 'two'). However, Sargaĺk manages to double that, by having two words with similar meanings but different morphosyntactical behaviours as well as slight differences in meaning.

In Sargaĺk, two is yor. 'Both' is either vrir or lyəs. Vrir takes a formally singular noun after it:
There are some complications: vrir does not distinguish the absolutive and pegative. For nominative or pegative nouns, it is always itself unmarked, but has the pegative singular marker on the main noun. For all other cases, the noun is in the singular case, and vrir takes the singular oblique case congruence:
Lyəs however, takes plural congruence with all cases and the main noun too is consistently plural. As subjects the verb for both of lyəs and vrir take plural congruence, except if vrir is used with certain words like 'hands', 'eyes', 'ears', 'nostrils', 'scissors' or 'the side of a boat'.

Both of these can also be used as pronouns, much like English 'both'. They can also be used for a dual reflexive construction which can be used with any subject numbering two, regardless of morphological number.

The semantic difference lies in the extent to which the two referents are seen as separate units ('lyəs') or a concerted group ('vrir')

In Dairwueh, a cognate of vrir exists, ŋrəz. This particle has a few uses that have developed out of an original meaning of 'both': in NPs it goes before any number to mark 'all N of', but without any explicit number present it signifies 'both'. In numeral complements it serves to mark the number as that of a group, rather than as a number of independent individuals.  This it also does with plural, indefinite determiners and pronouns, thus:
they aresix
They are (a group of) six.
they aresix
they number six, there are six of them, (but as individual things)
ŋrəz is the only 'numeral' in Dairwueh to take case. It roughly follows the plural paradigms:
nom: ŋrəzo
acc: ŋrizna
dat: ŋrizit
gen: ŋriŋa / ŋridin
loc-instr: ŋriŋa / ŋrider
nom: ŋriri
acc: ŋrizar
dat: ŋrizit
gen: ŋrizin
loc-instr: ŋrizar
nom: ŋrəza
acc: ŋrəza
dat: ŋrizit
gen: ŋrizit
loc-instr: ŋriŋa

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Conlanger Lore: Lists of Cases|Tenses|...

This isn't quite a piece of 'lore', but it's a common enough thing in conlang descriptions. I will also have to mention some notable, very thorough exceptions.

Conlangers, even fairly far into developing a language, sometimes are happy just to list the cases, tenses, etc, without ever really describing their use. This betrays, in my opinion, a very naive (or essentialist, or whatever) view of what such things - cases, tenses, aspects, etc - are. This post will focus on cases, because they illustrate the problem fairly well.

One point I like to drive home is that names like 'accusative' are but labels, and the accusative of one language does probably not behave like the accusative of another. (For a scholarly source, see this.) They are not the same case except by virtue of having the same name. Yes, the prototypical use may be the same, but the prototypical use may be but one of the many uses of a case, and might not even be the primary use in practice – see, for instance, the plural genitive in Russian.

The naivety that I accuse this of showcasing is simply the notion that labels for grammatical things are somehow rigid references: all datives are the same, all accusatives are the same, all past tenses are the same, etc. This is far from the case. The dative of German, and the dative of Icelandic, to pick two very closely related datives are distinct cases. Despite sharing a name and even a historical origin, they are not the same case; yes, they share some properties - including some of their most frequent uses, but they also have several differences. For one, they don't go with the same prepositions (and of course, what I am saying about cases also applies to prepositions - 'in' in different languages differ!). Secondarily, they appear as quirky case subjects or objects with different verbs. Thirdly, being a quirky case subject (or object) is not quite the same thing in Icelandic as it is in German.

Looking at other languages with a dative, we find even more of a divergence between them. We also find that things sometimes go by different names but would fit very well in that category - e.g. the Finnish allative. As a sort of mid-conclusion: names can be both one-to-many and many-to-one, i.e. many things can carry the same names yet be quite different things, and many similar things can have different names.

As for non-case things, even pretty obvious categories like grammatical number may present a similar trap: the singular vs plural distinction is not the same in all languages – a trivial example would be things in general. Some languages prefer generic nouns to be singular, some prefer them to be plural, some seem to accept both ways by different ways of delineating them (e.g. lexically determined vs. influenced by grammatical context vs. other things.)
Tenses, moods and aspects, obviously, can present even greater differences.

To get back on cases, I would like to point to some good descriptions of case systems or even just locative systems that I feel avoid falling in the trap of 'just being a list''. Examples include Salmoneus' description of the locative adpositions of his Rawang Ata. Yes, this isn't about a case system per se, but functionally equivalent so you better just tolerate my use of it as an example.

A good example of doing a rather no-frills case system right is Carsten Becker's Ayeri. Some of the interesting stuff there appears in the interaction of case, transitivity and pragmatic concerns.

And a very naturalistic, alt-historicky Slavic case system is presented by Martin Posthumus in his Novegradian.

Of course, I am vain enough to toot my own horn here: I think there's some merit to my descriptions of my conlangs' case systems as well. The Bryatesle case usage description is fairly in-depth, but even then somewhat incomplete (see I, II, III, IV, V, and VI).  Dairwueh has a short, but sweet description that attempts to analyze the cases in terms of abstract features. Ŋʒädär too has a nice description in the same style.

Sargalk and Cwarmin still have not gotten that treatment, but it'll happen soon enough.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

ANADEWs: Complications in Nominal Marking with Numerals

In many languages around the world, numbers beyond 'one' are followed by plurals, because obviously, two, three, four etc are semantically plural. Likewise, in many languages, numbers beyond 'one' are followed by singulars, because a plural marking is superfluous. In some languages, two, and maybe other small numbers are followed by some form of paucal or dual or whatever.

However, some languages mess this up a bit, and I figure it might be of some interest to describe two examples.

1. Finnish
The Normal Noun
If the noun phrase is any other case than nominative or accusative, the noun is in the singular and its expected case, while the number likewise is marked for that case. With the nominative or accusative, the noun itself is in the partitive case (which also is the case when the number is in the partitive), and the number is in the nominative form (or rather, numbers have identical nominatives and accusatives, except for 'one').

The Abnormal Noun
Some nouns lack singular forms, and can thus not abide by the rules laid forth above. Instead, the number adjusts, and is marked for the plural. This even goes for the number 'one', giving us monstrosities like
'yksissä häissä' - 'one-plur-inessive wedding-plur-inessive' - at one wedding
but also
yhde-t bilee-t
one-plur party-plur
a party ("ones parties")
This is even more sick, as ordinals too get this treatment, giving us ugly monstrosities like
kolm-ans-i-ssa festare-i-ssa
three-ORD-plur-inessive festival-plural-inessive
at the third festival
Of course, in Finnish each element of the numeral (except 'toista', roughly "-teen" as in thirteen and such) is inflected for the case of the NP, and each element of a numeral is also inflected for ordinality, etc.

Further, the comitative case lacks formally singular forms, and thus whenever that is used, the numeral also needs to be plural - even if that plural is one.

2. Russian
Russian has a peculiarity going on, whose origin is the defunct dual form. The dual was identical for some nouns in the nominative to the genitive singular (but not for all nouns, e.g. feminines had a distinct dual). This has generalized so almost all nouns, when following the numbers two, three and four, take the genitive (when the numeral is in the nominative, mind you!). With other cases, the noun and the numeral are in the same case and in the plural number.

With accusatives, inanimates behave like in the nominative example above. Animates, however, take the plural genitive from two onwards.

Certain numbers - thousand, million, billion - are really nouns, and the "real noun" is in the genitive plural.

3. Hebrew
In Biblical Hebrew (maybe in modern too; I don't know and will not try to find it out today - no diss of modern Hebrew, but Biblical just is so much more cool) the numbers three to ten take the opposite gender's congruence marker. Thus, 'five lads' would be lad-masc.plur

There is also a 'construct'-number, which signifies 'n of', but has no gender congruence. These construct numerals can also take possessive suffixes for 'two of us' and the like.

Finally, in modern Hebrew, there is still a dual, but this is used only with:
  • nouns that naturally occur in pairs, even for genuinely plural numbers of the noun, and with some pluralia tantum (that also naturally occur in pair-like structures, I guess?)
  • units of time

Monday, September 4, 2017

Detail #354: Complete Omission of some low Numerals

Consider a language in which the use of a singular pretty much implies exactly one, and never a 'generic' referent. In such a language, the number 'one' could be entirely omitted in favour of always using a noun instead, much like how Russian sometimes uses 'raz' ('a time, one time') instead of 'odin'.

Now, in such a language, one can imagine that mathematical notation would not develop very well, since the idea of a symbol for 'one' might be less obvious if there's no word for it.

If the language also has explicit duals, we could even consider dropping 'two' out of it as well.

EDIT: This post was renumbered due to previous omission of #354.

Friday, August 25, 2017

A Question of Attestation

Does anyone happen to know of any split-S language, where it is the noun, rather than the verb, that decides what case the intransitive subject takes?

Unrelated idea: split-S-like with regards to dechtichaetiativity.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Detail #355: Nouns with Inconsistent Gender

Consider a typical IE-style gender-case fusional system. In such a system, individual words could be exceptional and behave as members of one gender with regards to some forms, but another with regards to other forms. This might lead to any number of interesting consequences down the line.

In many languages, the case system is inconsistent between genders: different genders or numbers may conflate some cases; alternatively we can think of this as one gender distinguishing more cases than another. Sometimes, however, multiple genders overlap in such a way that over some 'area' of the case system, no particular gender has more case distinctions than another, they just split the case system in different ways, e.g.

gender 1gender 2gender 3
case 1-A-C-E
case 2-A-D-F
case 3-B-D-E

Here, we have a clear three-case system, with only two distinctions ever made. In fact, even if we eliminated one of the genders from this system, there'd imho be a sufficient reason to consider there to be three underlying cases in this language.

Now, a noun could exceptionally manage to behave like gender 1 with regards to case 1, like gender 2 with regards to case 2, and like gender 1 with regards to case 3. Maybe there's a whole slew of cases where it behaves exceptionally. Maybe it's only a certain combination of number and case that triggers the exception.

However, let's consider a different part of this: pronouns. Consider a language that has different roots for different gender referents. Potentially, we could have, say, gender 1 roots taking gender 2 morphology with nouns like these (or vice versa).

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

An Intermission

I have been moving, and otherwise busy. Posting will soon return to its usual frequency. The computer and internet are finally unpacked. Yay.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Conlanger Lore: Free Word Order and Case

There is a very common notion bandied about on conlanging groups online that free word order and case go hand in hand. This leaves out a significant chunk of the truth. I did mention this as an example in the previous conlanger lore instalment, but this goes deeper into this particular issue, and looks at some of the things people do not often know.

1. There are languages with case that do not have particularly free word order. German is one of them.

2. There are languages without case that have rather free word orders. For instance, Swedish has more free word order than German despite lacking case on nouns.

More extreme instances exist, for instance among the overwhelmingly isolating languages of south-east Asia, but I picked Swedish and German as they are fairly familiar, SAE languages where the freedom of word order and presence of case contradicts the 'received wisdom' in the conlanging community.

However, there are a few particular reasons why this particular piece of wisdom annoys me: it ignores the wealth of variation there is among human languages. Several other strategies of disambiguation exist!
A. Noun Class Congruence
A strategy that is common in Sub-Saharan Africa is having a bunch of noun classes, and congruence with those on the verb:
Nounclass 1 Nounclass 2 Verb(subject congruence=class 1)(object congruence=class 2)
With such a system, it is clear how shuffling the location of the nouns and the verb do not affect understandability, except when the nouns are of the same class. Such things do occur, but will be discussed further down simultaneously with similar ambiguities in other languages.

B. Animacy Hierarchies
In a language where subject- and object-disambiguation is guided by animacy hierarchies, a noun that is higher on the animacy hierarchy is assumed to act on a noun lower in that hierarchy. This in part, I am convinced, guides the disambiguation when OVS word order occurs in Swedish. Usually, the hierarchy in most languages is something like 1 p > 2 p > 3p animate > 3p inanimate, but quirks exist: apparently, some languages have second person outrank first person.

Another important fact is that it's possible for verbs and nouns to somehow be associated: bears are, for instance, more closely associated with the subject position of 'roar' than bags are. These are not even necessarily lexical facts but rather physical facts we know about things. So, if we take a sentence like this key opens that lock, even if we cut it up into three slips of paper on which the phrases 'this key', 'that lock', 'opens' are, a random anglophone can with several nines of probability assign the nouns to their correct roles.

This seems to be a grammaticalized state of affairs in many languages - to the extent even that if the subject and object are the unexpected way around, even with explicit case marking you'll sometimes get people parsing it as though the speaker made a mistake in case marking rather than parsing it as referring to an unlikely situation.

Even in languages with case marking, situations where case does not help disambiguate the situation may exist - and sometimes in such languages, this does not negate free word order. In Finnish, the plural object and the plural subject take the same marker, -t, in telic, positive, (etc) clauses. Even then, I regularly hear and utter sentences where the subject and object are displaced from the canonical SVO order.
C. Animacy Hierarchies with Inverse/Direct Alignment
The previous system does not really permit for changing the subject and object except maybe with some complicated work-arounds. Inverse/Direct alignment simplifies this by having a 'voice-like' marker that simply tells whether the higher or lower noun in the hierarchy is the subject. This is not strictly speaking a voice, since it does not affect the transitivity of the verb.
The other part we have to look at is free word order. Sometimes when some speaker of some language points out that their language has absolutely free word order, they will, in one post deny the idea that their language's free word order expresses anything, while maintaining that it does express something that just can't be expressed in words in another post, etc. Generally speaking, word order tends to have some kind of significance, though this significance can be pretty difficult to express and maybe even harder learn to get right for a second-language speaker. However, difficulty of formalizing/expressing a thing is not the same as that thing not existing. Thus, it seems people are quite confused as to what free word order generally even signifies.

Conclusion: Don't buy the hype re: case enabling free word order, it's not the only option. Also, don't just go and say 'this language has free word order', plz tell us what the language does with its free word order.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Detail #353: A Name Thing

In some languages, you sometimes have proper nouns coming from verbs, e.g.
Forget-Me-Not, Vergissmeinnicht, Förgätmigej (a kind of flower in some European languages), some Biblical names also are clearly verb forms.

We can imagine then names that are not indicative - consider, for instance, the only example given above - it is an imperative in the three languages given. If we consider situations in which names are given, Forget-me-not might maybe change depending on context! It could be Forget-her-not, it could be Forget.PLUR-her-not, it could be Forget.Dual-him-not, it could be Forget.Reflexive-Not (i.e., the vocative would be reflexive!). Of course, this depends on the role the referent has in the VP, but also on what other things the verb marks - does it mark anything about the listener, as it can do in Basque, etc

Such a thing could lead to interesting names.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Detail #352: A Different Auditory System

What consequences would it have for language if the auditory system had musculature that made the ear 'focus' on only one band of the audible spectrum at a time?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Ćwarmin, Bryatesle: Proper Nouns and Definiteness

In this post, "definite" refers, with regards to noun-phrases, to the quality of being a referent whose identity is known to the listener of an utterance. "Specific" refers to the quality of being a referent known to the speaker.

Ćwarmin and Bryatesle seem to have evolved definiteness marking in their case systems during times of contact. Ćwarmin's indefinite/specific/definite-distinction seems to go back fairly early, though, but we find dialects in contact with Bryatesle sometimes missing the specific/definite or the specific/indefinite distinction. The stage at which definiteness started becoming a thing in the Ćwarmin branch and Bryatesle-Dairwueh must be around the time of proto-BD, but later than Astami began diverging from the rest of the Ćwarmin languages.

Different languages in these groups have, however, dealt somewhat differently with definiteness marking on proper nouns. Proper nouns are most often definite by nature. In Ətimin, proper nouns are not marked for definiteness at all, with a few toponyms as exceptions. Rasm'in' and Ćwarmin, however, tend to use definite case marking for proper nouns in cases other than the core cases nominative, accusative, genitive and dative. The genitive and dative are flip-flopping in both, though. In these languages too, some toponyms have names where even the core cases are definite. However, exceptionally, Rasm'in' has a toponym that is always specific rather than definite, viz., mworanyus ädʒiniis', '(these/some) property markers of the belly', a historical border marker between the Kəlkəj and Moduwt tribes. The 'belly' refers to this being the most 'central' of the border markers between the tribes.

In Ćwarmin, personal names sometimes may appear in the specific. This, oddly enough, tends to indicate that the person referred to is a very recent acquaintance of the speaker, and that the speaker therefore is not sure whether the listener knows the referent.

With non-nominatives in Bryatesle, the definite case is almost always used with definite proper nouns except toponyms (and even there, many toponyms are definite - e.g. Zgakintën, 'the hilltop', a very definite hilltop near the capital. Omission of the definite marker, if no other secondary case takes its place, indicates specificity in non-nominatives. For nominatives, the partitive secondary case serves to indicate specificness.

One final language to consider is Dairwueh. It too has a very limited definiteness marking in the differential object marking of transitive subjects - genitive for definite, transitive subjects. It turns out a similar pattern holds there - nominative indicates specific, genitive indicates definite.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Detail #351: Generalizing Number to Mass Nouns

In many languages, we find two distinct sets of nouns, viz. count nouns and mass nouns, that behave in slightly different ways: count nouns permit singular and plural forms (and so on), whereas mass nouns do not. Sometimes, the lines between the two can be crossed, and a mass noun can be turned into a count noun or vice versa. However, let's consider a different way of giving mass nouns something number-like.

A very simple, but subtle and tricky thing one could do is just to introduce mandatory marking of volume or size for mass nouns. Simply put, sometimes, water takes a marker that indicates lots of water, but this marker is mandatory under some circumstances.

Now, the interesting - and probably unformalizable - bit is when that marker is supposed to be used. Whoever authors such a conlang would need to provide some kind of guidelines, probably with individual guidelines for different types of mass nouns, that also are somewhat vague - i.e. there's probably a set of contexts or amounts for which both forms would be permissible.

One could imaginably also permit for ways of making count nouns out of both of the forms, and vice versa, turn count nouns into mass nouns of either form. (And maybe even cross-pollination: {plur, sing} * {small, large} and {small, large} * {plur, sing}. Duly note that these cartesian products are ordered pairs, so the operations are not commutative - [plur, small] may not be the same thing as [small, plur].

Monday, July 10, 2017

Detail #350: Some Ruminations on the Comparative Case

I have never been a fan of any conlang with a comparative case. In retrospect, I think this is a result of conlangers never thinking such a case through. There are many questions such a case raises, and any description of a comparative or equative case needs to answer.

Comparisons can relate to many things. Comparison can relate to subjects' activity:
John carries more illegal merchandize than Frank
It can relate to objects' affectedness:
Erin studies more hard science than humanities
It can be more complex than that and relate to both subject and object:
John carries, by weight, more potatoes than Frank carries carrots
generalizes to "John carries more than Frank"
We can also have things like
Evelyn gave Tim more help than (she gave to) Phil

Evelyn gave Tim more help than Phil (did)
Now, let's consider how this works out with a case corresponding to "than". We note that such a case would normally not be assumed to be doing any Affixaufnahme. Such a possibility obviously exists, but needs to be explicitly stated in a grammar. However, let us assume that the comparative case does not explicitly state any information that relates to syntactical function of the noun, except that it somehow fits in a parallel slot to something in a nearby VP.

So, essentially, the comparative case locally is also a nominative, accusative, dative or whatever? Now, in some languages, undoubtedly, there are restrictions on what even can be compared, and I think I've previously mused that I bet this follows a very similar set of restrictions as that of relative subclauses, i.e. if a language permits comparing obliques, it permits comparing indirect objects; if it permits indirect objects, it permits direct objects, etc - but I also imagine it might follow very different restrictions? However, we could introduce some quirks here: maybe the comparative case is underlyingly an absolutive case in your conlang rather than a nominative. (Or, as might be even more likely, underlyingly nominative if the language is ergative in alignment.)

 Thus, for the underlying absolutive:
Bob.nom is smarter Adam.comp := Bob is smarter than Adam (is)
Charlie.nom likes Deborah.acc more than Emma.comp := Charlie likes Deborah more than (he likes) Emma
The underlying nominative situation in an ergative language will be rather boring to describe, so I will skip that.

Now, how will we construct the situation where two persons' likes for a third one are compared? Maybe a voice? Maybe just a voice marker existing somewhere in an odd isolation?

This really isn't even an attempt to answer any of the questions it could raise, it's rather meant to ponder as to the questions it could raise - really, I want to know what questions it could raise.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Finnish Partitive Case

The Finnish partitive case is a good example of just how versatile a case can be in a language. I'll start out with a bunch of terminology, but I'll break down what the terms mean down the line - this article isn't just meant for hobbyists, it's also meant for Finnish learners or even somewhat proficient non-native speakers for whom the partitive still is a bit of a mystery. Among its uses we find:
  • most direct objects (something like 80%)
    direct objects are nouns that are acted on, e.g.
    I bought a cup of coffeeshe saw a movie
  • a bunch of complements
    complements in this context are adjectives or nouns that are analogous to objects, but with verbs of being or becoming, e.g.
    she is strong
    he is a scout
    Russia is the largest country by area
    here, it is worthwhile inserting "FUCK BLOGGER" for randomly ignoring EXPLICITLY GIVEN NEWLINE CHARACTERS. FFFFFFFFFFUUUUUU. Google, don't you even care about the shit you own anymore?!? MAINTENANCE, dammit. I hope the corrected code here continues being in the correct form. I have no confidence whatsoever in that, though. People, avoid using blogger, it's crap.
  • with numbers and certain quantifiers ('monta', 'paljon', etc)
  • existential subjects, especially for mass nouns
  • closely related to the existential subjects: subjects of statements of amounts
  • lots of times "mikä" ('what'), which is nominative, is replaced for no clear reason at all by "mitä" ('what'), which is partitive. In the region of Finland Proper (Varsinaissuomi) this extends to "kuka" ('who'), which is regularly replaced by "ketä" ('who(m)').
  • for the standard of comparison in comparative constructions
  • some frozen expressions where it basically sort of is a catch-all case
  • sometimes exceptional forms of nouns look a lot like a partitive, and may have some odd uses (e.g. the word home has "kotoa", dialectally "kotoota", which differ from the regular partitive "kotia"; for the record, "koti" has a slightly odd locative series going. However, koti is an odd noun in itself, with several pairs of different forms where one refers to one's home, the other to some housing situation of some sort)
  • 'among' or 'one of' in the plural partitive.  This is especially common with the superlative, in construction such as 'hän on maan parhaita lastenlääkäreitä' - '(s)he is one of the best pediatricians in the land'.'
  • as an adverbializer (kauheeta vauhtia, etc)
  • in a bunch of weird fixed expressions, where the adjective is in some other case and the noun is partitive. Similar expressions also exist with adjectives in various cases and the noun in the instructive case.
  • with a bunch of adpositions ("adposition" is a term that covers both pre- and postpositions, words akin to English 'to, with' etc. In Finnish, some of these are prepositions, some postpositions, and some can be both.) Apparently, for some adpositions, the partitive is exceptional, but signifies 'unboundedness', e.g. pihan ympäri (yard-gen around) vs. ympäri pihaa (around yard-part) (surrounding the yard vs. around the yard)
The direct object case system is maybe the most important part of this case's usage. So, on to the above headings one at a time. First, a little convention: in some sense, the partitive corresponds to some. I will sometimes use (some) to get smoother "bad" translations that reflect the underlying structure.

For the record, I am not a native speaker of Finnish. I have been in contact with the Finnish language ever since I was a child, but due to a variety of reasons, I am only seminative. I am a native speaker of Swedish, instead. However, this has made me think about Finnish in a more analytical fashion than most native speakers. I do lack some occasional native intuitions there.

Historically, the partitive originates with a case that marked location.

Direct Objects
Finnish direct objects encode an aspectual distinction called telicity. Telicity refers to whether we consider the action to be successful and complete or not. Compare
mies ampui karhun
man shot bear-GENITIVE

mies ampui karhua
man shot bear-PARTITIVE
In the first instance, the desired result was obtained – a dead bear (or whatever intention there was). In the latter example, the bear was merely shot at.
Some verbs have quirks with regards to this, but generally this will hold. Whenever the verb is negative, the object is always partitive, so in effect telicity is not marked on negative verb phrases. A friend of mine once pointed out that for 'naughty' verbs, the object is almost always partitive. Since the negative removes the distinction, you can't distinguish, e.g. when ei panna means 'not put' and 'not fuck' based on the form of the object. Here, typologically, we can find a similar development of a location marker in English!
I shot the bear
I shot at the bear
The former implies a hit, the latter a miss or a failure to subdue the bear by the shot. In weirdly colloquial English, using 'some' operates entirely differently from the partitive, e.g.
I shot me some bear
this phrase would imply telicity, so "some" sometimes gives the wrong idea here.

The complement is whatever something is said to be. (Also whatever something is said to become, but Finnish deals with that in a special manner.) There are certain circumstances where the complement will be in the partitive in Finnish.

It is quite common for the complement to be partitive if there is no subject at all or if the subject is a subclause or an infinitival phrase, but a few adjectives such as 'hyvä' seem to resist this. 'Ikävä', 'paha', 'hauska' seem to appear rather frequently in the nominative there.

Materials out of which something is made can be in the partitive:
tämä kolikko on kultaa
this coin is gold-part
this coin is (made of) gold
Whenever the subject is abstract or 'general', e.g. "drugs are bad", the complement will be partitive:
kulta on kallista
gold is expensive

huumeet ovat haitallisia
drugs are harmful
With plurals, the partitive is probably more common for the complement than the nominative, but both occur. The difference has to do with whether the subjects are seen as being a 'unit' of some kind (e.g. a pair of shoes vs. just a bunch of shoes or shoes generally) or not. A unit gets a nominative plural complement. With complements that are nouns, the nominative plural might also appear in some situations where the complement is thought of as definite, but this often requires some additional attributes, e.g.
miehet tuossa ovat just ne konsultit jotka vei firman konkurssiin
men there are exactly those consults who brought the company to bankruptcy
Even in that case, the subject probably are seen as a group, and as such as some form of unit.
Some "google corpus linguistics" gave this example:
Raha ja nälkä ovat ne konsultit, jotka ohjaavat maailmaa ja se joka hallitsee rahan hallinnoi nälän ja siten tanssittaa koko orkesterin
In this case it's of course possible that consult is the subject and 'raha and nälkä' are the complements, but I find it more likely to parse this as a statement about the identity of raha and nälkä rather than a statement about ne konsultit, jotka ...

Generally, the case of the complement is the hardest part of this to express in any formalized manner.

Existential Subjects
In English, it's often possible to add a 'there' before certain verbs to express the existence of something:
there are pixies in the garden
there are stars in the sky
there sat gnomes on the lawn
In Finnish, a similar effect can be achieved by having the subject in the partitive. Fun thing: plural marking on the verb is generally omitted then, so not
*koir-ia juokse-vat piha-lladog-plur.part run-3plural yard-on
(some) dogs run on the yard
koir-ia juoksee piha-lla
dog-plur.part run(-s) yard-on
(some) dogs run(s) on the yard
there is (some) dogs running on the yard
The wrongly formed English there is intentional in order to illustrate how it is constructed in Finnish.
Negative existential statements always take the partitive:
maito-a ei ole
milk no-3sg be*
there's no milk
* this verb form, "ole", is called the conegative form. It is usually identical to the singular imperative, for almost all verbs.

Statements of Amounts
Subjects whenever the number of things is the important piece of information will be in the partitive:
meitä oli kolme
we-part was three
there were three of us

autoja on kaksitoista
is twelve
Notice, again, how the verb ignores the grammatical number of the subject - it's not ovat (are)/olivat (were), it's on (is)/oli (was) . Unlike with nominal phrases, e.g.
viisitoista auto-a
fifteen car-part
the noun is now in the plural partitive, not the singular
auto-ja on viisitoista
car-plur.part is fifteen
With numbers before nouns, e.g. 'fifteen cars', for the most basic cases the number requires the partitive. This happens for subjects and objects:
neljä mieslähti retkelle
four man-part went trip-onto
four men went on a trip

ostin kolme kirjaa
buy-past-1sg three book-part
I bought three books

en ostanut kolmea kirjaa
no-1sg bought three-part book-part
I didn't buy three books
Subjects and objects with numbers also take the partitive, and the number is in the nominative for (most) subjects and for telic objects (ones that otherwise are in the nominative or genitive). For the other cases, though, the number and the noun will be in the same case (and for most nouns, they'll be in singular forms). NB: an exception exists - nouns without singular forms will have the singular and the noun in the plural, for all numbers. Yes, even for one - so you get 'yhdet häät', 'yksiä häitä', etc.

Paljon (much) takes the partitive singular with uncountable nouns, but the partitive plural with countables.

Standard of Comparisons
With the comparative of adjectives, the partitive is often used a bit like the English 'than':
kynä on miekkaa mahtavampi
pen is sword-part mighty-er
the pen is mightier than the sword

Not really much to say about this, but a bit of a side note can be sort of relevant here . Mikä is the nominative of 'what', mitä the partitive, and it seems it's gaining on the nominative, especially in the southwest, but also elsewhere. In the southwest, even kuka/ke- is having the nominative 'kuka' randomly replaced by 'ketä' in many positions. In many languages with cases - even English, to the extent that it has cases (in the personal pronouns), usually one case will take on a role as a 'default' case. When a native or proficient speaker is unsure of what case a certain situation calls for, he'll default to that case. 

We find this in how native English speakers use the accusative forms (me, him, her, whom, us, them) in places where other native speakers frown on it. ('you and me', which of course is 'classically' valid in some places such as 'they saw you and me'. Teachers who are incompetent then teach students to say 'you and I', and you get things like 'they saw you and I', which of course is wrong by standard English rules as well.) 

To some extent, it seems like the partitive might be partially taking this role in Finnish, but since the Finnish case system is pretty rich, I actually think one could posit the existence of a hierarchical tree of default cases – however, I don't think this is established enough among speakers, and you'll find different structures, so some person might prefer -ltA over -stA if he's unsure which of those two to use, some speaker might prefer the other way around, and if the question of which is preferrable include even more options, the partitive wins out.

Discongruent Expressions
Ok, so there's a few different things under this heading. We have the discongruent expressions, where the adjective is in some case, and the noun is partitive. A similar thing exists with the instructive (which is basically an almost extinct case with regards to nouns), and for some of these examples you can substitute the partitive and the instructive for one another. This is a pretty 'advanced' topic in Finnish, and mastery of it really gives off a slightly refined image.  

This includes examples like
pitkä-ksi aika-a
long-translative time-partitive
for a long time

tä-llä tapa-a
this-on manner-part
in this way
With the instructive instead:
palja-i-lla jalo-i-n
bare-PLUR-on foot-plur-with
with bare feet

nä-i-llä keino-i-n
these-plur-on trick-plur-with
by these tricks
These are "almost" a closed set - there's about two dozen expressions (which I don't recall at the moment!) - with the partitive or the instructive on the noun and some other case on the adjective. However, this is not an entirely closed set - it's semiproductive. It's possible to come up with new ones that sound acceptable to many speakers of Finnish. In part, using the same nouns with some similar adjectives helps to produce somewhat acceptable phrases, e.g.
noilla keinoin
those-... methods...
method is maybe not quite the right translation here, something between method and trick in style would be the best option.

tuolla tapaa
that... manner...
However,  sometimes one can go a bit further and get other adjectives to work:
uudella tapaa
in a new manner

Adverb-like Usages
Sometimes, and this is a bit analogous to the main nouns in the previous point, nouns in  the partitive may signify some sort of adverbial meaning:
hän juoksi kauheeta vauhtia
(s)he ran terrible.part speed.part
(s)he ran with terrible speed
In trying to come up with examples of this, I find that oftentimes, this requires the noun to be preceded by some adjective, and often it will be a slightly dramatical one. However, one could possibly interpret this as some kind of direct object, maybe analogous to some weirdo construction in English such as
he ran (up) great speed
This is basically not good English, but conveys the sort of sense that one could imagine goes through the head of some speakers when using the above construction, i.e. somehow, the speed is the grammatical object of the verb, c.f. to sleep a deep sleep or something like that. provides a few examples of other partitive forms that have become adverbs: lujaa (fast, hard), hiljaa (silent, slow), kovaa (hard).

Often when greeting someone something, the case of the thing wished for will be in the partitive, e.g.
hyvää iltaa - good evening
hyvää joulua - good christmas
hyvää juhannusta - good midsummer
hyvää päivää - good day
However, sometimes the plural nominative appears instead:
hyvät viikonloput - good(s) weekend(s)
hyvät pikkujoulut - good christmas party
hyvät juhannukset - good midsummer(s)
With nouns that lack singular forms - synttärit, häät, etc, the nominative plural is the usual form, but the nominative plural seems to be creeping onto nouns that do have singulars, esp. named holidays such as christmas, easter, etc.

 A Note about the Direct Case System and the Existential Subject System
Since existential subjects almost always are intransitive and often are partitive, and direct objects significantly more often than not are partitive, we get a system that is somewhere close to the edges of what could be called an 'ergative' system if you squint a bit. Despite not being a proper ergative system, it is tempting to consider Finnish as falling into some kind of split-ergative-like thing.