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.