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-historiy 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.