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.