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.

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.