Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Detail #369: An Unusual Type of Word

A word class that is fairly common in European languages, and undoubtedly elsewhere as well, is the conjunction. Here, of course, a small warning is justified: 'and' as a word is less common cross-linguistically than you'd think.

Let's consider a language with rather little in ways of nominal marking: no case, or potentially very ambiguous case.

An example of the latter could be a language with GenN and SO order, where the possessum is marked by the same case as the object. Coordination ('and') would basically be dealt with by parataxis: "this that" → this and that.

Now, sometimes you may have things that are lined up in a way that looks very much like they belong to a GenN or an SO line-up, and one or the other might seem more like the 'reasonable' interpretation. In this case, a 'disjunction' could be introduced to mark that the two are not part of the same NP, or in the case of two nouns of the same marking next to each other, the disjunction could mark that they do not form a coordinated structure - an example for this would be a possessed noun and an object. 

This might well be called a 'conjunction', but somehow it seems to behave syntactically in a way quite dissimilar from a conjunction.

I bet something along these lines does exist in some languages, and I would be happy to see comments if anyone knows of it!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Detail #368: A Verb-like 'Than'

Obviously, one can have a verb that compares things with things. This is the basic notion behind exceed-comparatives and the like, but also verbs like Swedish 'likna' ('to be similar to'). One could also do a simple thing like incorporate verb morphology like tenses and person marking onto a particle, so that 'than him' comes out as a third person verb, "thans". In a language with a more full person morphology, this obviously permits some succinctness, and one could of course also have tense morphology agreeing with the main verb - or even disagreeing to convey ideas like
she is faster than I was
she is fast(er) (and?/but?/that?) than-past-1sg
However, stopping there seems a tad underwhelming. Why not go and do things with voice.
she teaches good/better than-past-pass-1sg
she teaches better than I was taught
Now we can also consider making adverbial participles out of this:
he operates heavier machinery than-1sg-active-ptcpl-advbl
he operates heavier machinery than I
In this case, the point would be to de-emphasize the role of the comparison. Finite 'than' would make the comparison central to the utterance, infinite 'than' would make it peripheral. Maybe peripheral comparison should not (mandatorily?) trigger comparative marking on the adjective.

A thing like this could also permit for a nice way to group together things that are being compared, especially if the verbs of the language have a very rich congruence morphology.

Another turn could be letting this verb take a finite clause as its complement, so a bit analogous to verbs like 'say [that]', this could form a structure along the line of 'than [that]'.

Some less well-baked ideas on top of this then: in an ergative language with this construction, one could permit for intransitive verbal comparison to use either ergative or absolutive nouns for the subject of this particular verb in order to differentiate something, maybe degree of difference or such - absolutive possibly indicating that the subject is considerably less X than the standard of comparison.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Detail #367: Neutral Participles

Consider participles that are not marked for voice at all. (Note: the English past vs. present participles are rather passive vs. present, although the way English participles work is a bit more complicated than that.) Now, such participles could behave in different ways depending on how we want to structure the language - animacy hierarchies, for one, could be a very natural approach to how to parse them.

However, let's go for something less obvious, but still pretty obvious: let's have the case role of the NP with regards to a finite VP also double as its role for the participle:
the man sold the castrate-PTCPL horse:
horse is the object of sold, so it's also the object of castrate, thus:
the man sold the castrated horse

the travel-PTCPL man made a bid:
man is the subject of offer, and therefore also of travel, thus:
the travelling man made a bid
What can we do with this? One obvious potential restriction could be one of only permitting this to work for arguments – non-argument adverbials and such seem less likely to have their 'role' passed on to a participle. 

A second thing we could do is make the role that is passed on to the participle be less carefully differentiated - maybe not distinguishing objects from indirect objects or somesuch.

Here, a light ergativity could be introduced: intransitive participles could be accepted as 'active' participles for objects of transitive verbs.

To make the system more flexible, one could use resumptive pronouns in the desired case, which could lead to a neat way of turning case markers into voice markers.

I had an idea on ergativity and participles, that I have since forgotten. I am hopeful that I might be able to reconstruct it fully and post it soon enough.