Sunday, November 25, 2018

Detail #387: A Separate 'Possessive-Like' Case

Let us consider something that is a special case of the genitive, only distinguished for a limited set of lexemes - maybe pronouns, maybe proper nouns, maybe family terms, etc.

I would call this the "Group-inclusion genitive", and it would be parsed as marking that the possessor is a member of the group (or possibly also vice versa, but the opposite direction of inclusion does not interest me for the topic of this particular post.)

I shall use .GiG as an abbreviation for this case.
my.GiG family → my family / the family I am in
your.GiG village → your village / the village you live in
Now, let's consider a further extension of this: we could maybe combine this with the first person plural pronoun as follows:
my.GiG us → exclusive 1pl
your.GiG us → inclusive 1pl
 alternatively
? our.GiG us → inclusive 1pl
It is my firm bet that blogger's html engine will make the examples above collapse into fewer lines than they should cover despite there being explicit html line breaks in the html source for this post. Here's to hoping against hope that it doesn't.

Of course, such a use of possessive pronouns and personal pronouns could work out even without a particular 'group inclusion genitive' existing, but here, one idea just inspired another.

This could also serve to reduce the need to distinguish, say, colleagues from employees: my.GiG workers = (me and) my colleagues, my workers = my employees.

An interesting thing could be not having the .GiG imply that the group membership extends to the particular statement, e.g. "my.GiG workers are kind" would not necessarily mean that I too am, just that the other members of the group to which I belong are. This could of course maybe be distinguished by means of congruence? If the first person is included, first person congruence is required, if the first person is excluded from the statement, second or third person congruence is required. (And then of course, this distinction will fail whenever in a position where no congruence is available on the verb, so maybe this would just be, say, distinguished for subjects and objects.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Detail #386: Limitations on Volition Marking

Let's consider a weird situation whereby for some reason, theory of mind is, through evolution - both cultural and biological - altered rather fundamentally, and volition marking becomes exclusively used in three contexts:
  1. First person
  2. Second person interrogatives
  3. Reported speech
How this situation would come about is beyond me, but who knows, maybe at a certain stage technological could enable this, and some weird group might pursue some weird ideological or sociological goals and achieve them, and after ages of isolation - with certain technological solutions being ubiquitously  present throughout the society - the brain and language both have reached a point where this is a stable setup.

Let's consider what kinds of verbs this might conflate:
dive vs. be submerged
bathe vs. be wet
fall asleep vs. faint
etc
Now, this isn't as much a strictly grammatical idea, but I've never said this blog is only about grammar (though the reader would be forgiven for thinking so). This idea is more about the structure of the vocabulary. It's about structuring the vocabulary in such a way that words whose main semantic difference is one of volition, and only distinguishing this meaning by any marking  in a limited set of contexts. However, this also permits - nay, even demands - marking the distinction in contexts where we wouldn't. Verbs like
think
say
eat
wake up
read
etc.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Ćwarmin: Sometimes Mandatorily Passive Verbs

Ćwarmin has a set of verbs which require passive forms whenever some requirements for the subject is violated. These requirements come in three main types, two of which relate to the animacy hierarchy. This requirement seems to be related to the inverse alignment of Ŋʒädär, but not an inherited cognate - rather, it may be due to convergence with Ŋʒädär.

1. Absolute Animacy Hierarchy Restrictions

The verb 'kill' only permits animate subjects, but can take non-animate agents, and thus has an absolute restriction on the hierarchy restriction - basically, there is a line drawn across the hierarchy which limits it. With inanimate agents, the passive is required, and the agent is in the general ablative case.

A typical example of this would be the verb 'kill', which cannot take a proper inanimate subject, so e.g.
*ilmis arbaŋ-utus kerb-i-ś
*winter killed the herd

arbaŋ ilm-erəś kerb-eśp
the herd was killed by the winter

*nəlve iś kerb-i-ś
an arrow killed him

i nəlv-erəś kerb-eśp
(s)he was killed by an arrow
Another would be 'utter/express/signal/...', which basically is the same verb as 'exhale', hifnəs.
*ədnist marćost-uc hifn-i-ś
silence expresses agreement

marćost ədnist-erəś hifn-e-kn-eśp
agreement is expressed through silence (note: -e-kn- is really the applicative morpheme -ken-, and the reason the applicative is used here has to do with the argument structure of hifn-, which really means something like 'breathe'; consider the -ken- similar to a prefixed preposition or adverb, only, it does not appear in the active forms of the verb all that often).
All  of these need to be rendered in the passive (or applicative) to be grammatical in Ćwarmin.

2. Relative Animacy Hierarchy Restrictions

With many verbs, a less animate noun cannot be subject with a verb whose object is more animate. These include any verb indicating fights (ampac, nenŋel, ćasćar - all signifying fighting), causing movement sideways or upwards (hegec - push, hegtəm - pull, salkum - lift, raise, kunkun - to shake to-and-fro, vabžum - pull in by rope, liŋbəl - to move a significant distance by pulling, žal - to carry),...

The main difference here from the previous class is that low-ranked nouns can be subjects, provided the object has lower or equal rank. Thus,
ćiriŋ kosdan-uc salkum-i-ś
the tripod lifts the tent fabric

onkup estnet-uc hegədm-i-ś
the weight pulls the rope
are permitted, but not
*onkup vond-uc hegədm-i-ś
the weight pulls the horse
which would require
vond onkup-araś hegt-eśp

3. Lexically Specified

This is an odd, but limited bunch.

mamnan -  to put a child to sleep
Only the mother of the child can be the proper subject, any other agent must be oblique.
ŋačćur  - to wear a piece of clothing
The restriction here is related to tense rather than to subject or object - non-present and non-imperative must be passive.

biəkin - to endure
Passive whenever the object is not indefinite.
luzǯar -  to praise
passive whenever the object is inanimate.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Detail #385: Lexically Determined Chirality of Locations

Chirality refers to 'handedness'. Normally, left and right are relative terms, but we find, even in English, a pair of terms that in some way are defined as a variation of "left" and "right", but in some sense these are determined by reference to a type of location.

This type of location is 'a boat', and the terms, of course, are port and starbord. Several other languages have a similar pair, e.g. Swedish babord and styrbord. These are helpful because on a ship, you may need unambiguous terms referring to directions with regards neither to the current orientation of the speaker, or the listener, or to the cardinal directions.

Now, what if in some types of locations, a culture had a fixed left and right, with regards to some specific type of geographical feature, and the terms for left and right in those contexts, if not further specified (e.g. by possessive pronouns) are taken to be in relation to the geographical feature.

An example would be valleys - a valley might have its left be the left side as seen when looking downstream a river in the valley. If the valley lacks a river, some other means would be necessary.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Inraj Sargaĺk: Spatial Deixis

Inraj Sargaĺk differs from most surrounding languages by its system of spatial deixis; it has two flavours, "very close to both speaker and listener", and "everything else". The "middle deixis" of Sargaĺk, ʒur, has come to signify an inanimate distal deictical determiner.

ʒa - this here, in both of our reaches
ʒu - this here in my xor your reach, or that over there, inanimate
ʒi - this here in my xor your reach, or that over there, animate
As an aside, we find a more complex somewhat similar system in the Lamen language, a mainland isolate in geographical vicinity to the Inraj archipelago (in terms of easily navigable routes).
The Lamen system consists of
ksa - this, in both of our reach
gzət - this, in both of our reach, inanimate

tra - this/that, in the reach of one of us
zrət - this/that, in the reach of one of us, inanimate

eksa - he/she/it, over there, animate
gəksət - it, over there, inanimate
Whether the underlying similarities are due to genetic relation or sprachbund phenomena is not clear. (Obviously, Inraj Sargaĺk is not related to Lamen, but its substrate might be?) 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Detail #384: Long-Range Negation Congruence and Probabilistic Grammars

Let us consider a language like Finnish (or almost English), where negation is done by an auxiliary. In this language also, the main verb takes a special form (in Finnish, the connegative, in English, the 'infinitive' or the 'active participle', to the extent we would call those 'special' :/ ).

Now, the main point here is that in English and Finnish, the form you expect are different for positive and negative statements:
he sits vs. he does not sithän istuu vs. hän ei istu
In English, for present progressive or whatever it's called, this breaks down:
he is singing vs. he is not singing
Let's however assume a language like Finnish, where this distinction is more clear-cut and present almost throughout the language. Now, we can of course imagine certain non-negative adverbials that weaken a statement triggering the negative form, giving us things analogous to
he barely workhe seldom thinkhe scarcely turn up
where barely, seldom and scarcely essentially become lightly negative auxiliaries.

Now, that's just one of the milder ideas of where such pseudo-negation might turn up. Another could be embedded negation bleeding outwards:
she tell him not to buy bitcoin
she know that he wasn't at work
We could also have negation bleeding downwards:
she doesn't know that he work in finance
We could of course make a probabilistic grammar for this, and that's a topic I think could be worthwhile for conlangers to consider - modelling the rules of a grammar in terms of probabilities.

Let's use p(x) for the probability for such 'mistaken' congruence, i.e. a connegative verb form with an actually 'positive' meaning. p(x) is then a function, where x is some way of representing this input. x is then, perhaps, the distance between the 'outer' verb and the 'inner' verb.

We may give some simple function for this, say, x is at most 75%, and is squared for each unit distance added.Thus, f(x) = 0.75^x

We could then start by considering, for instance, different subject as a difference worthy of one unit. Every single constituent between the verb and the subclause (or non-finite verb phrase) could be one unit, two units if the constituent is heavy. Either of the verbs being telic adds a unit of distance, but both being telic only adds 1.5 units. The object of the outer verb being the same as the subject of the embedded verb removes 0.5 units.

Of course, we could add special cases - certain verbs whose congruence has become 'linked' and so if these two verbs appear, the probability for mistaken congruence is unusually high, or somesuch. I am deliberately leaving the idea a bit vague here - I only want conlangers to think of grammatical rules in probabilistic terms while also presenting a certain grammatical idea that also fits as a suitable topic to represent probabilistic grammar a bit vaguely with.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Bryatesle: Word-Order Sensitive Words

A few words in Bryatesle have some fairly different uses depending on where in the clause they stand. These examples are part of literary Bryatesle, but also widespread in the areas on the dialects of which literary Bryatesle is based.

These are only a handful of examples, more will come at some later point.

Nominal Attributes

ralsem 'the wrong one' on the left, 'an unsuitable one' on the right. The difference is somewhat subtle - 'the wrong one' implies there is a specific right one, 'an unsuitable one' just implies that some quality of the noun makes it unsuitable.

sylsem 'another' (as in 'not this one') on the left, '(one) more' on the right. The difference between 'another' and 'the wrong one' is that this is not used for selecting/rejecting, it rather appears to point out e.g. that another one is introduced into the discussion.

Nouns

kauda, signifying 'house', means 'at home' when just to the left of the verb, if the verb signifies movement or location.

tagnas, 'a span of time', except when directly to the left of the verb, when it signifies 'an instance of the action referred to'.

Adverbs

'sagyk' can signify 'remaining, left' when directly to the left of a verb or to the left of a noun, but elsewhere it means 'back, backwards, turning back, in reverse'. After telic verbs it can also signify 'again'. The verbs sagkad and sagkit both derive from sagyk, the former signifying 'to remain (after others  have been removed)', whereas sagkit signifies turning back. However, there are dialects that conflate the two, or distinguish them by other morphemes.

Verbs

The verb 'tëlez' signifies 'being able to reach with one's arms' when at the right end of a sentence, but actually grasping something when to the left of the object.

The verb 'satët' likewise signifies 'being able to travel somewhere' when at the right end of a sentence, but actually arriving if it's to the left of the object.

The two verbs above only are distinguished in the atelic forms, the telic generally always implying actual realization of the grasping or arrival.

sïmet signifies 'residing somewhere' when anywhere else in the sentence, but 'existing' when used sentence-initially. It has no telic form.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A New Song


This song is a rework of an old song. Each voice of the old version has been inverted around some 'B' close to the middle of that voice's range, so this is a non-strict example of 'negative harmony' in a microtonal environment.

Friday, July 6, 2018

A Challenge: Origin of Person Congruence

Can anyone come up with other origins of person congruence than pronouns that are merged with the verb (or, for that part, merging the verbs with verbs that previously have been merged with pronouns)?

I have two ideas, out of which one is not very good.

Reinterpretation of direct-inverse morpheme

Easily, the direct morpheme could be reinterpreted as solely being used when the subject is at the top of the animacy hierarchy, and thus either becomes a first person or first-and-second person congruence marker. (Some langs iirc rank second person higher, so that's also a possibility.)

This even leaves open the possibility of using the inverse marker solely as a marker for third persons, and then an unmarked verb could be second person. Other paths to such a situation can be constructed.

Unlikely rebracketing of case morphemes

Some languages permit omitting the accusative marker on nouns when the subject is, say, a pronoun. (This might assume case marking on the pronouns still obtains or some type of congruence already in place - otoh, Chinese is somewhat pro-drop so why couldn't this work without a pre-existing congruence?)

Now, we can restrict this to, say, omitting case marking in the presence of a first (or second) person subject. See where I am going with this? Now, let's have the case marker - either a suffix or a prefix of the noun - condition a sound change at the word boundary of the verb or just be rebracketed as a subject marker, and then generalized to all persons.

SVO: an object with an object prefix triggers a change, causing a verbal suffix
SOV: an object with an object suffix triggers a change, causing a verbal prefix

Of course, a thing that could further influence this could be a split-ergative system, where absolutives and ergatives and accusatives cause different things to be rebracketed with different persons as subject.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Ŋʒädär: Further with the Reciprocal

It has previously been stated that the reflexive pronoun ŋul- in Ŋʒädär can encode both reflexive and reciprocal meaning, but that the difference is encoded in whether the pronoun is high in the animacy hierarchy (which implies reciprocality) or low (which implies reflexivity). However, no general reciprocal / reflexive distinction was presented.

Also, the various approaches for reciprocality that exist in Ŋʒädär are not entirely trivial, and we'll find that a variety of interesting behaviours happen with regards to it.

1. Lexical Distinctions (intransitive vs. reciprocal vs. reflexive)
Some intransitive verbs have their meaning changed by turning them into reciprocals or reflexives.

 A few examples include
ʒgaŋ(uk)- 'be part of a tribe or family'
talpa-hus ʒgaŋ-sa
talpa-husʒgaŋ-sa
talpa (proper noun)comitativebe affiliated1 sg/(intransitive/3sg)-direct
the Talpa clanwithbelongI
dat ŋul-ır ʒgaŋ-da-z
datŋul-ırʒgaŋ-da-z
weselfplur nombelong1pl/(intransitive/3sg)-directdirect
weselvesbelong1 pl

we belong to the same family unit (rather wider than core family, though)

datŋul-ırʒgaŋ-da-jut
weselfplur nombelong1pl/(intransitive/3sg)-directinverse
weselvesbelong1 pl
we belong to the same clan

2. Non-object Reciprocal vs. Reflexive distinctions

There is an adverb ıbars, cognate to the -bara suffix. It can signify something along the line of 'in haphazard, random disarray' -
datıbarsban-da
wearoundrun1pl/intransitive
wearoundare running

we are running around / we are running all over the place
It can also be used for transitive verbs to signify e.g. sending things all around, doing something in multiple places, etc. However, it can also signify reciprocality. Some verbs in Ŋʒädär have suppletive forms for different recipients, and with these, for instance, ıbars will signify reciprocality:
 ür karos ıbars kep'är-ür-z
'you give each other gifts'
(note: karos, "gift" is non-count!)
The same holds with other verbs of giving, but also goes with less semantically specific verbs, albeit there is some ambiguity:
sint ıbars vörvör-täs
'they speak over each other/they speak in all directions/they speak random stuff/they argue'

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Detail #383: A Tiny Idea about Mixed Alignments

All the low-hanging fruit regarding mixed alignments and alignment in general probably already has been picked (and even cooked into marmalade) by now, but this one has eluded that grasp.

So, consider a system of split alignment whereby the split is conditioned on something like TAM; the usual is of course that present, imperfect, realis, ... are nom-acc, and perfective, past, etc... are absolutive-ergative.

Now, there's an obvious twist to add here: lexical exceptions. A few verbs may have nom-acc in all TAMs, alternatively a few may have erg-abs in all TAMs; possibly, you may have both these in parallel.

Of course, there could also be a separate set of systems that enforce splits anyway: e.g. subclauses might still always have erg-abs, or maybe first person always enforces nom-acc, despite the lexical exceptions.

And finally, of course, over the life-span of a language or the territory over which it is spoken, verbs may migrate from type to type, giving dialectal and historical variation!

Monday, June 25, 2018

Sargaĺk: Reciprocality and Reflexives

The Sargaĺk reflexive marker -fuš- is cognate to the reciprocal object markers 'sy(v)-' and '-sus' of Bryatesle, all three going back on a PDBS lexeme 'izguš', signifying 'spirit, soul'. The reflexive marker is a bit more complicated in behaviour than English, and can even be the subject of an embedded verb, e.g. in constructions like
nen manda-tsa tamup-ser-i mar k'an-sepem*-fuš
I thought-from fall-past*-1sg something do-inferential active past-reflexive
I fell from the thought of something self did
I forgot what I did
* marks morphemes that really are participal forms that encode tense as well as evidentiality.

Here we also see how Sargaĺk forms its usual past tense in main clauses: participles (e.g. -ser-) followed by 2nd conjugation morphemes. The subordinated verb is not finite, and so does not have a finite verb morpheme. However, not all constructions use participles, but rather require finite verbs and may have the reflexive marker followed by a person marker.

The reflexive marker also appears when the reflexive action is not done as unto an object, but rather as unto an oblique. In these cases, either an oblique dummy pronoun will appear as well, usually the pronoun corresponding to the person of the subject combined with the suffix -fuš, or the morpheme -fuš will be affixed to an adposition.
nen nəru-fuš lonk-ser-i
I me-at.refl told-past*-1sg
I told of myself

nen iknur oxi-fuš yər(a)-ser-i
I seal skin onto-refl put-past*-1sg
I wrapped myself in the seal skin

Sargaĺk has two main reciprocality markers, '-ant' and '-jivi'.
These are are cognate to the Bryatesle words  'jyg', 'centre, in the middle of' and 'amet', 'guild, private pact'. The PDBS words were something like 'amate' - 'a temporary, loose grouping of people', and 'ʒiɰ̊gu' - 'a pair'.

There are certain differences in their use:
-jivi is mainly used with subjects that actually form a pair, although the pair may also be two groups acting on each other. It can also be used for groups of pairs acting reciprocally within their pairs.

-ant can be used for larger groups with more random interactions, but is also permissible with dual subjects if the interaction is not entirely symmetric.
Like the reflexive, these can also be subjects of embedded verbs.

These do not only go on verbs, but also on a particle that can go after adjectives and nouns. The circumstances under which these markers follow nouns and adjectives will be described below.

When a complement of a verb is a noun, the -jivi may mark that the relation is mutual, e.g.
nista  uvas-jivi k'ivo
they are members of the same seal-hunting team

nista k'omo-jivi k'ivo
they are friends
Adjectives behave similarly:

nista k'omosi-jivi əvo
they are friendly (to each other)

miv-air tobas-air-jivi əvo
the villages are far-recp(apart)
However, if villages A and B are far from village C, it will say
villages A and B village-from C-from far are
miv-air A B miv-rut C-rut tobas-air əvo
('villages A (and) B are far-plur.fem in village C')
If the relation is mutual among a bigger set than two, -jivi is still used, -ant only appearing in this use in some dialects.

The -jivi and -ant morphemes are also entirely missing from Imraj Sargaĺk, which uses a unique system of adpositions for reciprocal constructions.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Piece of Music

Since it's become a bit of a thing I do, I'll also post my new piece of music here. It's in 11-tones per octave, and so sort of fits in with the conworlding aspect of this blog: essentially, this could be music of a culture where intervals such as 11/8, 14/11, 7/4 and 17/14 are valued, but where equal temperament also became a thing. For the most likely way in which such a culture could develop, I suggest looking into Paul Erlich's paper on the 22-tone scale.
For the record, the paper is not a conworlding paper, it is a paper about the tuning. But, since these properties exist, it is conceivable that some culture would like those properties and therefore start using 22-tet as their tuning.
A culture that develops music based on 22-tone equal temperament would sooner or later possibly try to utilize a variety of arbitrary subsets of that temperament, including the rather obvious idea of using only every other tone, and even from there of using even fewer out of those. (An analogy could be how in the late 19th century, the wholetone scale started finding favour among some composers. 11-tet is obviously almost twice as large as the wholetone scale, so a further search for scales 'inside' it makes sense.)

Anyways, here's the piece.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Detail #382: Gender Congruence Marker being Partially Reused as Derivative Morpheme

Let us imagine a language with a gender or noun class system of some description. Now, let's imagine that usually, adjectives (maybe verbs too) have gender congruence with the main noun, but sometimes an adjective (or verb) will gain a different meaning in some gender markings, and this gender marking turns into a semantic marker - almost a derivative marker - for these lexemes.

Let us consider a system with a noun class for 'tools'. Let us imagine that due to metal object  being quite hot when red, the adjective 'red' thus starts signifying 'hot' when dealing with tools. "red-tool" then becomes one of the ways of describing any hot object, and so "red-tool drink-comestible" means "hot drink", but "red-comestible drink-comestible" signifies a red drink.

This would be some kind of differential gender congruence. Let's consider onwards what happens when we want to describe an actually 'red' tool:
  • We can make the distiction only be available in every other noun class, so in the tool-class, this distinction cannot be made using congruence as a tool. So, expressing 'red tool' requires something like 'tool whose color is red' or 'tool of redness'.
  • We can even say the speakers don't care for the distinction, since differential object marking only is used in situations where the difference is not important for the particular class of things (i.e. all red tools are also hot when they're red, but for other things, 'hotness' and 'redness' do not necessarily coincide)
  • We can permit the use of a default noun class marking (i.e. 'red.masc knife.tool')
  • We can permit the use of zero marking (red knife.tool) to provide the default meaning
A few examples of potential meaning distinctions:
bad - with animate noun classes: 'evil', with inanimate: 'unfit, useless, no moral judgment implied'.
heavy - with feminine noun class: pregnant (also when used of non-human animals in their noun classes). Here, maybe using male gender for the adjective denoting heavy females could also be justified
talkative - signifies 'loud' when used with an inanimate noun class marker
angry - signifies 'dangerous' when used with an inanimate noun class marker


Monday, June 4, 2018

Detail #381: Underlying Split Alignment * Quirky Case

Let's imagine a situation wherein a language has quirky case. The language normally is nom-acc, but the situations where quirky case appear are all underlyingly erg-abs.

The language has quirky subjects as well as objects. Let's for the sake of simplicity assume that subjects sometimes are dative, objects sometimes ablative. Here, any substitutions, even to the extent of replacing both with the same oblique case, could work. I am just establishing this in order to have a terminology that makes it clear.
Thus


canonicalquirky
subjectnominativedative
objectaccusativeablative

Now, how does the underlying ergativity look? Well, let's decide on some quirky verbs:
quirky subject:
verb1 : 'to have the time to', 'to do on time', 'to have time for'
verb2: 'to forget (to do something)'
quirky object:
verb3: 'to refuse (a proposal, a guest, a gift or a favour)'
verb4: 'to fear'
Now, let's consider what the underlying ergativity of these implies: the subject of verb1 would be absolutive if there is no direct object, and thus can be coordinated with another intransitive verb:
 I have time to wait and (so) (I) sit here
however, it cannot be coordinated with a transitive verb:
 I have time to wait and __ (am) eating pirogies
 With a direct object, however, we get the following situation:
I have time for the committee and will discuss the issue
 However, an intransitive second verb will take for its subject the object of the previous verb:
I have time for the committee now and will be seated in room 101
 here, it's the committee who will be seated in room 101. Semantically, this seems to be a reasonable thing - whoever has time for a thing may be seen as active in some sense, and the object may be more likely to do intransitive things.

Similar examples could be constructed for the other verbs, obviously.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Explaining the Dereflexive

A long while ago I posted a description of a voice, which I dubbed the 'dereflexive'. In retrospect, it is an unclear post. (Not an unusual problem on this blog, to be entirely frank.) So, let's try and rephrase the content.

Sometimes, in languages, you may have multiple possible third persons. Oftentimes, one is more prominent than the other, and will be the 'basic' third person you will assume a subject pronoun refers to. However, object pronouns in the presence of a third person subject often refers to a 'less' prominent third person.

Thus
I saw him
has him = prominent third person,but
he saw him
has he = prominent third person, him = less prominent third person.
Basically this sort of equates to something along the lines of proximal and distal. Now, it is not uncommon for languages to permit reflexivity by reflexive pronouns (or some other approach), and we thus get
he saw himselfvs.
he saw him
where 'himself' is the same person as 'he', and 'him' is a different person. Now, what if we can introduce a way of using the existence of this distinction in objects to distinguish the "semantic subject". Maybe by having a distal third person subject rendered as a vanilla third person direct object, but a proximal third person subject as a third person reflexive direct object.

So, some possible complications: maybe we want proper objects to still exist, and this we can permit by either demoting them to some kind of oblique position or maybe have double objects - if used strictly, this voice would only really be used with pronominal arguments anyway, so any regular noun will be "safe". Thus maybe we will have a two-pronged approach: regular nouns can be "regular objects" even in the presence of object-like pronouns with this voice, but pronominal objects have to be demoted to some type of obliques.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Detail #382: A Small Congruence System

Let us consider a language where no 'adjectives' proper exist. Such languages, by received wisdom, come in two forms: languages that use verbs instead, and languages that use nouns instead.

This dichotomy is somewhat exaggerated in conlang circles, or at least it was about a decade ago or thereabouts. Obviously, pretty much every language has a noun that is pretty much the same as some adjective in another language, and pretty much every language has a verb that is pretty much the same as some simple adjective in another language.

However, let's consider a situation where most of the words an anglophone would think of as adjectives are in fact nouns, so e.g. 'red' is maybe semantically closer to 'a red one' than to 'red'. However, this language permits using nouns in apposition as attributes.

Now, the language has a simple noun class system, maybe four or five classes, and these classes are mainly 'visibly' seen in a fairly small congruence system, with congruence markers appearing on quantifiers, pronouns, demonstratives,  articles, and verbs. Thus, the nouns themselves usually do not have a clear class marker (or rather, the morphemes that do appear on nouns may be misleading some of the time, c.f. Latin 'nauta' or Russian 'дядя', both of which end on -a, and "usually" would be feminine, but due to semantics also influencing gender in fact are masculine.

However, nouns used adjectivally need to be of the same noun class. The markers used for 'typecasting' a noun into another noun class, however, have been worn down so that they are all identical, thus the adjectival congruence basically consists of 'no morpheme' = 'same class as head of phrase', 'that morpheme' = 'different class than head of phrase'. Numbers also is part of the class system, but certain nouns are essentially 'plurale tantum' words anyway, and so get 'that morpheme' whenever with a singular noun.

Finally, the genitive in part overlaps with this system: the genitive construction does not use the congruence-marker, being happy enough to just put nouns in apposition. With two nouns of the same noun class, this will be indistinguishable from an "adjectival" noun in apposition to a "nominal" noun.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Unnumbered Detail: Oddly Unbalanced Tense Systems

The three usual 'basic' tense systems are "past" vs. "non-past", "non-future" vs. "future" and finally "past" vs. "present" vs. "future". Some languages mix these a bit, having different systems in different aspects (e.g. Russian with its present-shaped gap in the perfective aspect - which given the semantics of Russian aspects makes complete sense.)

However, there also exist other tenses beyond these: there are the hodiernal, the hesternal and crastinal tenses, for instance. The names relate to different days: today, yesterday, tomorrow.

Could an unbalanced system exist of, e.g. "hesternal past vs. non-hesternal tenses" or "crastinal future vs. non-crastinal tenses"?

Oh, the weird ideas that pop up while contemplating the tenses of a conlang.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Ŋʒädär: Introduction to the Perfective side of the TAM system

Beyond the reduplication mentioned here, Ŋʒädär is rich in moods and aspects. Its tense system permits rather complicated things by auxiliaries, but for a clause without an auxiliary, there are two tenses: past and non-past, which are not distinguished in all moods. Auxiliaries are used for specific times such as 'yesterday', and in combination with aspect forms, obtain forms like 'until yesterday', 'since yesterday', 'intermittently a long time ago', etc.

Non-past is generally not marked by any morpheme, although a handful of verbs do get the marker -vul/vıl/vil/vül- in the inverse when the verb is non-past, instead of the usual marker. These are verbs of perception, of opinion, and of mental states in general. The morpheme originates with the noun *vurl that in Proto-ŊƷD signified the 'soul' of animals. The reason for this only appearing in the non-past tense may originate with some kind of belief that animal cognition did not much care about the past - that animals were more present-centered than man, and this fits with ideas about animal psychology in ŊƷD superstitions throughout the ŊƷD tribes.

The past is marked by a suffix after the aspect marker, but before the person marking. This suffix appears in the realis, optative and dubitative, and takes the form -(I)c'l(I)-.


Beyond this, we get the aspect system. The location of the aspect marker is immediately after the verb root, sometimes causing slight morphophonological alterations of the root itself. The perfective marker has somewhat merged with modal markers.

Perfective, realis:

-mOl-
After stops, this mutates into
-wOl-
Before velar sounds and -w-, the -l- is lost, and before -v-, it's lost while turning the -v- into -w-.  The -m-/-w- part can cause a variety of other things as well: -pw- and -tw- tend to become -kw-. -nm- becomes -m(:)- or -n(:)-. Depending on dialect, -wm- becomes -m(:)-.

Note: intrinsically perfect verbs do not take this marker, unless the perfectivity is emphasized.

Infinitives do not form perfectives by agglutination, but rather as phrases consisting of two infinitives, with the second infinitive being 'modan', which never appears in any inflected form (since it has been subsumed into the morphology of the finite verb.)

Perfective, optative:
-mUksA-
After stops, this mutates into
-wUksA-, where if U = u, the w- further vanishes.
The -m(closed vowel)- part of these morphemes comes from a particle, 'mod', which was a reduction of the verb 'took' and came to signify perfectiveness. -ksA- comes from a similar particle, 'okta', which signified 'maybe'. The optative perfect is always intransitive. If the verb usually would be transitive, the perfect optative is understood as a passive.

Perfect, conditional
-OlOb-
If followed by a morpheme beginning in a labial, this turns into -OlwO-.
The historical origin is a noun olob, signifying 'circumstance, case, chance, fate'.

Perfective, imperative:
-rOn (sg)
-rOndA (pl)
From the imperative form of the verb 'go'. The marker that exists in other related languages had been lost, and the auxiliary 'go!' slowly was merged into the verb morphology. Certain verbs have their own exceptional forms.

Perfective, dubitative
The dubitative marks things that are somewhat unsure. The historical origin is a suffix -EŋdzE, whose further origins probably lie in an assimilated auxiliary. The suffix now is -ŋŋE

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Detail #380: Stealing a Thing from Georgian but Refactoring it so It Applies to Nouns Instead

Consider a system of nouns with a rich derivational morphology, where a single root can be used for a variety of vaguely related concepts, e.g.
aras: 'a thing or person in some way related to return of an action'
arat: an opponent or an accuser
aras-in: answer
aras-uk: responsibility
aras-tab: resistance
aras-tuk: physical support or counter-force
v-aras-k: payment
at-aras: reaction
er-ras: a replacement
Now, one could imagine that in a variety of positions, these affixes are omitted, and I am going to go by the Georgian verb route and omit them in the least marked instance. For Georgian verbs, it's the present imperfective that omits semantically significant prefixes, but for these nouns, it will be the definite subject that does so.

Thus, an answer, an opponent, a responsibility or a payment all will be 'aras' in the definite nominative, and the rest of the morphemes appear in non-nominative contexts. How does this work out with regards to understandability?

Well, the verb itself will by sheer semantic content help the listener figure out what type of noun the subject can be in the first place. In such a language, it could help if the verb also encoded some information about the speaker's opinion of or relation to the subject.

Here, we could also imagine a situation wherein the personal pronouns also permit for a slightly richer semantic range than just persons, e.g. "I" also encoding for 'me and my family' or even things like 'these concerns of mine', 'my business', 'my past actions', 'my intentions' and such, just by means of what verbs one uses. Thus something like
"I worked out like planned"
would signify
my plans worked out like I planned
but
"I settled the new house"
works out as
me and my family moved into the new house
Different verbs would obviously need to have rather complicated associations.

An alternative way of designing this idea would conflate everything in the accusative instead (or even absolutive or ergative), and let the verb influence how to parse the object instead.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Ŋʒädär: The Conditional

The conditional verb in Ŋʒädär (marked by -OlOb- directly on the stem) can be used for a variety of uses, even strictly indicative/realis uses. It has three main usages:

1. Irrealis / Conditional
The presence of -OlOb- on a verb is most commonly used to signal a conditional construction. Usually, both the protasis and apodosis are marked with -OlOb-, especially if they are of the same tense. However, if if the protasis is in the past, and the apodosis in the present, you sometimes only get -OlOb- on the protasis. The protasis often comes before the apodosis, but this is not mandatory. In the case of the protasis coming after, however, the postposition -ok'an is mandatorily suffixed to the verb or to a third person dummy obviative pronoun. Here, a slight indication that the irrealis is somewhat 'infinitive-like' appears.

2. Statements about VPs
What in English would be expressed as 'it is unfortunate/good/... that ..." would, in Ŋʒädär be constructed as
unfortunate/good/... VP (with V having -OlOb-)
An interesting difference is that for proper adjectives, use of the absolutive indicates that the statement is realis, whereas use of the complement case indicates that the statement is irrealis. For nouns, it is dative vs. complement, where the dative indicates realis. For "improper adjectives" (or adverbally inclined adjectives, see this), the distinction is maintained by omitting the absolutive marker in the realis, and the use of the complement case in the irrealis.

3. Denoting wishes and desires
If used in a statement with no apparent apodosis, and no apparent adjective or NP (or even other VP) to parse as qualifying the quality of the statement,  -OlOb- cannot be parsed as marking neither a condition nor a result, and will be parsed as expressing a desired circumstance.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Detail #379: Differential Object Marking with a Twist

Many languages have some type of differential object marking, even, arguably English, if we consider verb pairs like shoot x vs. shoot at x to be distinguished not by 'shoot at' being a phrase, but by the object phrase containing a preposition. In English, it gets a bit complicated due to being lexically determined to a great extent.

However, other languages have a more predictable system: Turkish, for instance, uses the nominative with indefinite objects, and accusative with definite objects. This is fairly simple. For a more complex system, let's look at ... Finnish. Now, I'm leaving out a truckload of details here.

Finnish uses the partitive whenever the verb is either of
  • atelic
  • negative
  • certain verbs just generally use it
 It uses the partitive whenever the verb is all of
  • telic
  • positive
This asymmetry between the two is sort of notable:


atelictelic
negativepartitivepartitive
positivepartitiveaccusative
Now, let's imagine a language where the differential marking really serves to distinguish a three-valued thing, let's call the values A, B and C. This system only has two surface forms, however. Singulars merge B and C, plurals merge A and B.

However, we could imagine that a language may want to distinguish all three of these on, for instance, pronouns. And we can imagine a multitude of ways that this distinction is done: unique morphemes, reduplicated morphemes, change of roots or some more shenanigansy approach.

1. Unique Morphemes
Trivial, really. whereas regular nouns use two morphemes (whereof maybe one is a null morpheme), the pronouns have a unique case morpheme here.

2. Overlap Elsewhere
A bit like the previous, but here, the pronouns overload some other case here. Maybe the pronouns can use the genitive for direct objects to distinguish this third option, whereas regular nouns can't.

3. Reduplicated Morphemes
A bit like the 'unique' morphemes solution, but simply just have the accusative suffix go twice on the pronoun. A simple alternative would be to have both the accusative and the genitive combine to form this case.

4. Change of Roots
This is an obvious and simple solution, ... but. We can do something interesting about it. Much like the I-me suppletion in English, this would have a unique root involved. However, to make this interesting, we could have one of the object cases conflate several pronouns. For instance, maybe gender distinctions are fewer for the special root? Maybe number is not distinguished in third person? Or even in first person? Or hey, let's be radical and let's not distinguish first and second person at all!


Monday, April 2, 2018

Detail #378: An Unlikely Type of Numeral

Consider imprecise numbers. In normal usage, one can assume some leeway with the unstated digits, so e.g.
370.3
permits any number in the range [370.25, 370.35[. However, final zeroes offers a small problem here, as 370 can be imagined to be 37 * 10 or 37.0 * 10, giving us the following possible ranges:
[369.5, 370.5[
[365, 375[
A jargon for some mathematically inclined profession, or the language of a highly technological culture could potentially include these distinctions in their spoken numbers by having a significant zero. This significant zero would appear in the same kinds of constructions giving higher numbers as do regular numbers, with the exception that it only appears once, at the least digit position that is significant (not the least significant such). 

Thus, you'd get numbers like zeronty, zero hundred, zero thousand, and these would cut off the number at the desired level of precision.

The tens would in addition need two tens - one that is just ten, the other is ten and zero.

Thus ten thousand would signify 'ten +/- 500', 'ten and zero' would signify 'ten +/- 50', and ten thousand zeronty would signify ten thousand +/- 5, and finally 'ten thousand zero' would signify ten thousand +/- 0.5.

Smaller fractions could also be formed using the regular ways fractions are formed.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Detail #377: Number vs. Collectiveness meets Morphology, and a Verb Voice is Accidentally Born

Consider a language which has fusional marking for number and something else. A familiar situation is of course case, but we could also consider, say, definiteness or something else. I will, for easiness' sake, use case for the example given below.

Now, consider nouns that are sort of collective by nature - family, team, group, tribe, etc. Case morphology could maybe conflate some cases' number, or even make them behave morphologically quirkily in such a way that, say, oblique cases are marked like plural nouns, but nominative and accusative are marked like singulars (or even, with the potential for distinguishing plurals and singulars in those cases). 

Now, we could go on a bit and come up with ways of distinguishing many families/groups/etc from one family/group/etc in the mandatorily plurally marked cases: maybe the number 'one', maybe adjectives have singular congruence for singulars, maybe doubling the plural case marker makes for an explicit plural (but a single plural case marker leaves the grammatical number open), maybe rephrasing so the noun is expressed as a direct object permits for the accusative to distinguish singular vs. plural. One could imagine yet another voice there, one that reduces the emphasis on the object, and simply shifts it to the obliques. This could be an interesting voice!

See, we didn't necessarily turn the oblique into an object by a voice operation, but rather by rephrasing. We might've changed the verb entirely, from, say, 'carry a thing (+ an oblique 'towards X' )' to 'approach X (with a thing)'. Now, what this voice would do - and could be used for even in other contexts where this particular rephrasing is not used to enable distinct number marking - would simply consist of making 'approach a place with a thing' be more about 'a thing' than about 'a place'. Which particular oblique takes on 'object-like significance' is somewhat fluid, and depends on contextual cues - definite nouns are more likely to do so than others, animate nouns more so than others, and maybe some oblique hierarchy like instruments > places > times > ...

Could such a 'voice-like' thing have a participle of its own? Possibly, but that'd be weird.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Detail #376: Quirky Adjectives

There are some obvious 'quirky' things an adjective could be made to do, e.g. itself be in a strange case or cause the noun to be in an unusual case. However, we can also imagine other things.

1. Case
Certain adjectives could force their noun to be in some case, or at the very least block one case from being marked. Maybe something like
nom → acc
acc → acc
dat → dat
abl → abl
gen →gen
Another option would simply be that the adjective never occurs in NPs of a certain case. This has two possible interpretations: 1) such NPs mark a different case instead, or 2) such NPs simply are never used in positions/constructions that take the forbidden case, and some synonymous phrasing is used instead.

Further, we can imagine quirks in certain case marking positions. Consider, for instance, object complement adjectives, e.g.
I painted the house red
One could imagine that certain adjectives require special marking that other adjectives do not. And here, we could have a slight bit of alignment shenanigans appear - maybe some adjectives, such as 'dead' follow an ergative alignment,meaning that they take the nominative|absolutive when applied to objects or to  intransitive subjects. It's not common in English for transitive subjects to take adjective complements, but maybe your language does.
The example clause of painting a house red suggests to me a different thing; we'll stick to painting for now, I hope the reader is able to re-apply the idea to other topics. Maybe basic and non-basic colours (for some way of dividing colour-space up) take different markings:
I painted the house redI painted the house of orange
The question with regards to the language then is whether this is specific to the combination of the verb "paint" and a set of adjectives, or whether it's just specific to adjectives in that position in general, e.g. would something along this line also have 'of' or not:
I found it (to be) orange
Both ways are reasonable in a language with this kind of marking, and one can probably imagine different subtypes of complements that a conlang could have acting differently, classified by aspectual or volitional or kinetic features or whatever.


2. A Vaguely Alignment-like Thing for a Marker
In e.g. Sami languages, adjectives have a thing that isn't quite congruence, but is not far away from it either. As attributes, they take a suffix, as complements they do not. Thus "the red house" has the marker, "the house is red" does not. We could now imagine situations where this is broken, or even having some adjectives go the other way around, maybe even introducing some kind of 'alignment-like' way it works.

Consider, for instance, adjectives that take this marker whenever they have any kind of NP as complements. I'll use -X as a shorthand for the morpheme in the examples:
the big-X man
"the big man", because big is an attribute.

the man is big
"the man is big", because big is not an attribute
Now, 'afraid' is not really used as an attribute much in English afaict, but let's pretend:
the man is afraid - not an attribute, no nominal complement

the man is afraid-X of spiders - not an attr, but does have nom. compl.

the afraid-X man - a compl.

the afraid-X of spiders man - attr., as well as nom. compl.

to be afraid-X of spiders is a common phobia - nom.compl, but not an attr.

to be afraid is counterproductive - not nom.compl, not attr.

3. A Dummy Head for Adjectives
Let us imagine a situation where adjectives take case marking when attributes, but never when complements. Now, this language has, historically, developed a need for case marking on attributes on occasion, but the restriction still exists. A dummy NP head has turned up that does carry case, though. However, this dummy head is defective, and lacks the nominative. Now, we can imagine situations where adjectives still are needed as subjects, and we can further imagine that, say, the accusative form of the dummy head turns into a nominative-accusative case form. However, we can also imagine a situation where voice operations are used to turn the adjective into a permissible subject without introducing an additional case form to the dummy head.


Monday, March 5, 2018

Detail #375: A Weird Pairwise Voice Construction

This post is adapted from a comment I almost made in a facebook conlanging group, but has been reworked a bit. The first half of the idea was just meant to answer a question about marking something else but subject vs. object on the pronouns, but I went whole hog for full NP marking, and ended up taking a twisty turn towards the end:
So, normally, in a nominative-accusative language, the transitive subject and the intransitive subject have the same marking, and the object a different one. In an ergative-absolutive language, the intransitive subject and the object have the same marking and the transitive subject a different marking.

In some split-s languages, viz. the fluid-s* ones, most intransitive verbs can go either which way - either have subjects marked as transitive subjects or as objects. In different fluid-s languages this is used to mark different things, but volitionality seems popular.

However, this only permits the feature to be marked for on intransitive subjects. Workarounds? Well, voices! With the passive voice, you can mark whether the patient volitionally got acted upon, and with the antipassive, you can permit for the subject of a transitive verb to mark whether the action was carried out volitionally or not.

What if you want both? Well, maybe there could be some kind of "split-voiced" verb, where you turn a verb into two, each with an opposite voice, and each intransitive. Maybe using a special conjunction or a special verb controlling them both, or a special form of the main verb with two independent intransitive auxiliaries:
fight-SPECIALFORM Mark-nominative do-3sg Tom-abs do-3sg
Mark (volitionally) fought Tom (against Tom's will)
Maybe the object and subject have different verbs to make it clearer which is which:
fight-SPECIALFORM Mark-nominative do-3sg Tom-abs stand-3sg
Mark (volitionally) fought Tom (against Tom's will)
 Maybe other arguments as well have dedicated verbs? A different solution already hinted at could be this:
verb-splitter Eric-nominative fight-antip. and Samuel-antip. fight-intr
Eric fought Samuel
Now, you may not always have volitionality implying subjectness:
verb-splitter Eric-absolutive kill-intr and Samuel-absolutive kill-pass
Eric reluctantly/accidentally killed Samuel
The verb splitter may be more conjunction like or more verb like or whatever.

*The other kind of split-s language has the verbs being lexically determined as to whether they take the nominative or the absolutive.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Detail #374: Cases and coordination blocking

Coordination is often a relevant thing with regards to identifying the syntactic structures underlying a language. A question like 'are indirect and direct objects the same thing' can in some languages be decided to be negative because the two cannot be coordinated:
*I gave him and a gift
We also find that we can't coordinate subjects and objects in English:
*I and him hit
However, we can also imagine semantic restrictions on objects, e.g. forbidding something like
he kicked the wall and the man
due to the difference in animacy (or whatever) being too large. Sometimes, we find that different cases can coordinate, e.g. with locatives or certain other obliques:
he is in jail and out of luck
However, these usually are of similar phrase-types, e.g. adverbials or complements or whatnot.

We could go and do weird things with this though. What if the singular and the plural version of, say, the object case, could not be coordinated?
*I saw her and them
*I saw the teacher and the pupils
This would force some periphrasis, or alternatively there'd be morphological cheats - maybe possessive markers hide the plural accusative marker (like in Finnish), and permits it again, so you could say 'I saw the teacher and his pupil(s)'. Or maybe a 'fake pluralizing' strategy emerges, where singulars can have a formally plural but semantically empty pluralization going? A depluralizer of sorts: maybe the numeral 'one' with plural congruence on it?
I saw the one-s teacher-s and the pupil-s

Monday, February 26, 2018

Detail #373: The Copula vs. Habitually Becoming

One could imagine that a certain set of adjectives or nouns instead of being expressed with the regular copula, instead were expressed with an habitual form of 'to become', and this would reflect some semantic property of these nouns or adjectives – maybe they are only expressed fleetingly, or they are less intrinsic properties, or less obviously intrinsic properties. Properties which only are evident on occasion.

One could also of course have some kind of systematic distinction marked this way as well, but then again, what's the actual difference between two similar verbs like 'be' and 'become (regularly)' if not a systematic distinction? What I want to go for here is maybe something that is more un-subtle: a difference greater than that implied by the actual "usual" semantic difference - with some nouns or adjectives, maybe 'become (regularly)' marks some kind of disdain or some kind of respect or whatever? Fear? Hope? Whereas the use of a copula would just be neutral, or even +(mainly neutral) +(precluding the particular thing implied by the habitual for this set of lexemes).

Friday, February 23, 2018

Detail #372: Limited Tripartite Marking for Participles

Not only nouns in verb phrases and congruence on finite verbs can showcase alignment. Participles are a main other locus of alignment. English has a fairly limited system on its participles, with tense/aspect and voice being somewhat conflated in a peculiar way.

An alignment I have spoken very little about on this blog is tripartite marking. This one has a unique marker for each of
  • intransitive subject
  • transitive subject
  • object
Implementing this on participles is rather easy:
  • intransitive → intransitive participle
  • transitive, active  → active participle 
  • transitive, passive  → passive participle 
However, the topic of this post is limited tripartite marking. How would we limit it, and what would we gain by doing so?

Consider a system that is either accusative or ergative or even split. Now, certain verbs may have a different meaning depending on whether they're intransitive or transitive, such as run. When intransitive, running generally refers to motion, either concretely or in some metaphoric way. When transitive, it can sometimes refer to the same action, with the object being the distance or the path, but sometimes, it refers to being in charge of something.

We could imagine that at least some verbs with this property would have a different intransitive participle available.

What marking strategies would be nice for this? Maybe double the participle marking for the transitive version, getting, here in an accusative alignment setting:
  • running: actually running, physically
  • runninging: being in charge
  • run: being controlled by
Unique morphemes could of course also be used, but some other type of reuse of morphology could be interesting: maybe omit congruence for the intransitive participle?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Detail #371: Quirky Coordination

I previously posted a list of quirky things beyond case suggesting a few different places to place systematic quirks. So, I acquired the help of a bunch of rabbit mining engineers, just in order to figure out how deep the hole of quirkiness in grammars could go. For now, "quirkiness" is badly defined, and I am happy to leave it at that. I am happy as long as some kind of 'mismatching' is forced or required or permitted in some way or this mismatching permits some kind of differential marking. So, here's the first out of many weird ideas this line of thinking has lead me to:
Quirky Coordination
So, maybe in some circumstances, some given type of noun will trigger a case mismatch (or some other mismatch) in the coordinated structure. Even weirder, what if certain nouns force coordination even if the level is different? Let's imagine nouns for siblings and cousins force coordination whenever a pronoun also is a sibling of that NP.
Here, we can imagine some interesting distinctions:
I and brother met.sg = I met my brother
I and brother met.pl = I and my brother met (each other)
I met.sg brother = I met the brother (of someone else that is salient)
I met.pl brother = I and (someone else's) brother met
In a language with paucal and plural in the verb morphology, we could further, of course, introduce the same difference in the plural, with paucal signifying the more transitive, and the latter the more reciprocal reading. Of course, 'meet' need not be the only verb behaving this way, we could have it happen for every verb, so
I and my brother told.sg a story = I told my brother a story
Here, we can imagine that the siblings as proper subject would let personal pronouns go to object positions instead:
sister met me = my sister met me
However, we could also imagine a situation whereby even as a proper subject, family members also force pronouns into coordinated positions:
sister and I met.sg = my sister met me
I and sister met.sg = I met my sister

Thinking up situations where neither is the subject, we can of course imagine that the same rules go there, but object congruence on the verb or whatever distinguishes the way it is to be parsed. Maybe there is a role hierarchy where e.g. the noun or pronoun is moved to whatever position is higher in the hierarchy, or maybe the pronoun always forces the other noun to go wherever it is.

However, we can also imagine that this rule only applies for some spots: subjects, maybe objects and indirect objects. In other spots, the nouns remain in their usual positions:
I told the police about (my) brother
In such spots, maybe the distinction between my brother and someone else's brother is made non-mandatory, or maybe marked by means of possessive pronouns (or possibly reflexive pronouns if possible). Of course, in the language we're designing, "telling about" maybe has the told-about thing as a direct object, so it wouldn't work like this, so you're of course supposed to substitute in anything where an oblique appears, and we're golden.

Now, how about something like
the PR office favoured my sister over me
Such a language could easily permit for this kind of construction with regular NPs in a way similar to how English does it, but handle pronouns + these particular nouns like this:
the PR office favoured sister and not me
the PR office favoured me and not sister

vs.

the PR office favoured the computer scientist over the amateur
Of course, there's a whole lot of ideas that can be turned into binary decisions about which way to go once you start developing this idea, and documenting all of the potential choices would require a huge post, I think I stop here and leave further thinking to the reader.

ALSO, yay, just passed 3/4 of the way to a thousand posts! (And still leading over badconlangingideas in total post count, despite getting comparably few contributions from elsewhere! Is the race to a thousand posts on?)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Detail #370: Defective Pronouns and Ways of Dealing with them

So, the thing we're used to seeing with regards to pronouns and case systems is pronouns having more cases than regular nouns: trivially, English has I vs. me, he vs him, she vs. her, etc. Finnish has a completely distinct accusative for most personal pronouns. However, we find exceptions: in Georgian, some personal pronouns merge the nominative, ergative and dative (which also is the accusative).

I was wondering what interesting things we could do with this.

1) Voices
An obvious solution is having the defective pronouns always have the same syntactical role, and voices are used to modulate its semantic role. This could get especially interesting if you also have voices that conserve the desired information structure - i.e. they are not used to make an argument less or more salient, they're just forced by the presence of a personal pronoun.

This could lead to interestingly distinct uses of voices depending on whether there's a pronoun present or not. For instance, emphasizing an argument might be part of the function when only normal nouns are present.

Notice how I said that the defective pronouns always have the same role. This is actually ambiguous: either it means 'there is one particular role A, and each defective pronoun always has that particular role'. The other meaning would be 'there is a set of particular roles A, and for each defective pronoun there is exactly one member of that set that it always will have'.

With that we can probably start getting into some pretty interesting wild notions, where we end up with a multitude of voices that can be combined to switch pronouns of different types simultaneously around the semantic role-space.
2) Permit case / role marking on some different entity.
This is basically sort of the idea that evolved into this post. This could be made very boring: extract the case marking onto a particle that goes somewhere else, so e.g.
I you see particle.me : you see me
In this case, the particle sort of becomes a stand-in for the personal pronoun, in effect doubling the existing personal pronoun. What I want is something more befuddling. So, let's go with this: place the case on a reflexive pronoun!
I see bear > I see the bear
I see bear self.acc > the bear sees me
I see you self.acc > I see you? you see me?
Normally, reflexives only happen with transitive verbs with no other explicit object, thus making their use in transitive clauses a reasonable approach. The only exception is when there's two pronouns present. Of course, some other rule may disambiguate there: proximity, some ranking thing (e.g. the reflexive pronoun always tells us the case of the pronoun highest in this order: 1 > 2 > 3). This may force there to be a nominative reflexive form, which obviously may well be useless in all other positions due to reflexives often not appearing as anything even remotely subject-like.
  
Further, one could bring in some coordination! Coordination often has some kind of restriction like 'one can only coordinate things of the same type', so e.g. 'I and the girl gave flowers' is not a valid reordering of 'I gave the girl flowers'. Then one could have some semantically empty element that can carry explicit case, and coordinate it with the pronoun that needs the marking. This also permits for separate case markings if needed for multiple pronouns. However, this leads to things like
I and self.nom give you and self.acc he and self.dat for a slave.
 3) Have Differential Case Marking on Other NPs
So, let's have non-subject personal pronouns force some slightly odd things going on with other NPs, like maybe making subjects go instrumental or something. So essentially begetting a split-ergative kind of thing, but with the pronouns just not marking for anything.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Ŋʒädär and Ćwarmin Phonologies and Correspondences: Vowels pt 1

This post has been under work for a very long time. Now that it is done, Ćwarmin, Ŋʒädär and even Dagurib stuff might start appearing at a steadier pace.
Ŋʒädär has a much larger vowel inventory than its relative Ćwarmin has:
FrontBack
UnroundedRoundedUnroundedRounded
iüɯu
eöɤo

ä*
a
/ä/ is not strictly speaking rounded, but mostly patterns with the rounded vowels as far as distribution goes.
A thoroughly consistent orthography that occurred to me, but is somewhat unwieldy and has a weirdly placed <e> would be the following:
FrontBack
UnroundedRoundedUnroundedRounded
ïüıu
ëöeo

ä
a
I am not going to use this orthographical system,
but it is appealing in some way.
Halfway through typing this thing, I realized the best way of representing the vowel system would probably be this, and I will be editing old posts on Ŋʒädär to conform to this system. Changes are marked with bold typefaces: 
FrontBack
UnroundedRoundedUnroundedRounded
iüıu
eöəo

ä
a
 /ä/ is not necessarily as rounded as ü and ö, but patterns with them.
Diphthongs currently basically exist in the following forms in Ŋʒädär:
Opening: ie, üö, öä. ıə, uo,oa
Closing: äe, äü, ei, a͜u, əı, aə
Diphthongs in Ŋ originate in several different situations in PŊƷD: long vowels under some circumstances, original diphthongs, vowels in hiatus, vowels with semivowels, vowels in combination with certain consonants, stressed vowels in open syllables.

The front unrounded and back unrounded vowels in Ŋʒädär are separate phonemes, and not allophones triggered by different vowel harmony situations. Minimal tuplets exist, like
ri - day, today (from *dzij)
rı - weak (from *rig or *rix ?)
rü? - is this so? (from *rü)

dəb - sweet (from *dɛɔb)
deb - niece (from *deib)
döb - belt (from *düǧp')
dob - plate (from *dob)

Compare this system to the much reduced Ćwarmin system:
Front
(-Centre)
Back
i
u
eəo


a
Diphthongs: ie, ei, əi, eə, əe, ua, au, ou, oa. Diphthongs only appear in morpheme-initial syllables.
We find the following cognates to the Ŋʒädär words not preserving the minimal-pair:ness on account of vowel harmony, but on account of other phonemic distinctions, here, some cognate Ćwarmin vocabulary:
zi, ziti - day, today (from *dzij)
rəŋi - loose, soft (from *rig:ə or *riǧ:ə, derived from *rig or *rix by -suffix)
-ri/-ru - suffix that marks doubtfulness (from *)
dəp - honey
listep - sister-in-law (*lins-deib > linstep > listep), where lins- originally signified 'by marriage', and was restricted to use with women, the corresponding male term being 'oŋx-')
dep - a strap used for carrying certain kinds of things
(no cognate to dob)

In Ćwarmin, non-initial PĆŊ diphthongs have been monopthongized, whereas some open, initial syllables have diphthongized. The system out of which these two systems originate may have looked something like this:

Front
(Neutral)
Front
Round
Back
Round
iüu
e(ö)o
ɛ
ɔ

äa
possible reconstructed vowel system
for Proto-Ćwarmin-Ŋʒädär
PĆŊ diphthongs come in a few types with different outcomes. The first group consisted of an onset round vowel tailing toward  neutral vowels, thus
üi, äi, öi, ui, ai, oi, aɛ, uɛ, oɛ, üɛ, äɛ
If /ɔi/ and /ɔɛ/ existed, they seem to have been merged with /oi/ and /ɔɛ/ already by the time Ŋʒädär and Ćwarmin diverged. Sound-change-wise, in Ćwarmin these sometimes leave a slight change on the next consonant:
PĆŊ: üisɛ > üśɛ > iśə (wind > breeze, Ćwarmin)
PĆŊ: uik'ɛs > uć'ɛs > ućos (louse > bug)
PĆŊ: airaw > aʒaw > aʒo (high up > tall (of animate things))
PĆŊ: noɛg > noj (narrow > close)
PĆŊ: ǧoibi > fobu (dull > clumsy)
In Ŋʒädär, these diphthongs often remain in initial syllables, but tend to become uniform as far as frontness or backness goes. /i/ in the second syllable can cause back vowels to front.
PĆŊ: üisɛ > üise (wind > cold)
PĆŊ: uik'ɛs > uık'əh (louse > itch)
PĆŊ: airaw > aırau (not attested)
PĆŊ noɛg > noək (narrow > any physical constriction)
PĆŊ ǧoibi > ǧöibi > ʒöibi (dull > inferior (of the quality of things))
The second set of diphtongs would be open ones to close ones within one harmony group:
ei, ɛi, ou, au, äy, öy
In Proto-Ŋʒädär, these first become long vowels of the first type:
e:, :, o:, a:, ä:, ö:
By the time of Ŋʒädär, this length distinction had been lost.
Proto-Ćwarmin kept these intact. Ćwarmin happens to behave almost identically to Ŋʒädär in these regards, but cognate languages on both sides diverge on this. The only difference between Ŋ and Ć is that  /au/ and /a:/ become /o/.

A final type of diphtong consists of front-to-back or back-to-front movement. In Ŋʒädär, these generally moved to the backness of the latter part, and then eliminated that latter part in Ŋʒädär. In Ćwarmin, the latter part often becomes a consonant:
dɛɔb > dəɔb > dəb (Ŋʒädär)
dɛɔb > dɛwb > dəjb (Ćwarmin, unattested)
The diphtongs in PŊĆ seem more to have consisted of "point of departure + direction", and the actual end point does not seem to have made any difference. So /ɛi/ sometimes may well have come out /ɛe/, and /au/ may well have come out /ao/ in actual pronunciation.

In the Dagurib branch, most languages do not have vowel harmony. Dagurib itself, however, retains many traces of an almost nascent vowel harmony that just about caught on. The vowel system below is from the insular Dagurib language Ěvusǐb.
FrontBack
TenseLaxLaxTense
iǐǔu
eěǒo



a

In Dagurib, an additional (tense) /y ö/ exist, and the cognates of ǔ and ǒ are endolabial mid vowels, giving:
FrontBack
Tense                          Lax              Lax             Tense     
UnroundedRoundedUnroundedEndolabialRounded
iüǐǔu
eöěǒo




a
In Ŋʒädär, some morphemes will have harmony that adheres to (almost) all features of the previous vowel. Most words are either fully front or fully back, but exceptions exist. This system probably evolved out of a system not entirely unlike that of Finnish, but with the back vowels causing retraction of the "neutral" vowels {i, e}. An opposite situation whereby neutral vowels {ı, ɤ} were fronted is unlikely on typological grounds. In Ćwarmin, the system went through quite a different set of changes, merging the neutral vowels with back vowels, so /i, e/ in words with back harmony became /u, o/. Meanwhile /ü/ merged with /i/, and {ö} with {e, ə} in ways where stress as well as surrounding consonants influenced the outcome.

Phonotactically, early Proto-Ŋʒädär seems to have had a restriction whereby the second syllable of a root either had an unrounded vowel, or the same vowel as the previous syllable. Diphthongs only occurred in the first syllable or in open final syllables. A variety of changes where consonants and partial harmony have interacted have led to this system changing, and now the only restriction that exists with regard to vowel distribution is the vowel harmony itself.

The Proto-[[ĆŊ]-Dagurib] vowel system probably was even more complicated, due to various changes that cannot be accounted for by an eight-vowel system with two sets of harmonizing vowels and two neutral vowels. It is, however, somewhat unlikely that Proto-ĆŊD had vowel harmony.