Sunday, September 26, 2021

Detail #417: Some ideas about relativization

I assume everyone knows of the relativization hierarchy by now. 

1. A Second Relativization Hierarchy

Let's instead imagine a species with a language faculty that creates two relativization hierarchies, but also permits for a systematic exception.

The first hierarchy is familiar - the relativization hierarchy. I will not even modify it for this idea.

The second hierarchy is an "external" relativization hierarchy. It, and the first one, have implications between them. I will have the same order for that hierarchy:

Subject > Direct Object > Indirect Object > Oblique > Genitive > Object of comparative

What the second hierarchy tells us is which roles an NP of an external clause can be relativized as.

Thus, if a genitive in the main clause can take a subclause in which it corresponds to the oblique, then so can also the oblique, the indirect object, the direct object and the subject. 

One could also imagine extreme things like "only the subject in the main clause can take relative clauses" or "only the subject in the main clause can correlate with anything but the subject in the subclause".

However, I imagine it could be likely for any NP to also permit an "echo" of its own role in the subclause, which would create a systematic exception. This type of exception I'd like to term a "linear" exception.

2. Subdivisions of the relativization hierarchy

One could imagine, for instance, that inanimate nouns have a stricter hierarchy than animate nouns.

3. Questions about the relativization hierarchy

3.1 Do we know where secundatives are with regards to the relativization hierarchy?

3.2 Is there any research or even any hypotheses around as to whether there's any roles that go to the right of objects of comparisons, or between the known elements?

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Detail #416: Disjunctive Reciprocals

It is conceivable that a language distinguishes the following meaning-structures in the morphology of its reciprocals:

A acts on B and B acts on A > A and B act on each other

A acts on B or B acts on A > A or B act on each other_disjunctive. 

One could even imagine, then, that partial negations also could fit into this:

A but not B act on each other_disjunctive. 

This could be done by differential case or by some marker that is entirely separate from case. 

Detail #415: Reciprocals and Collective Nouns

Normally, reciprocals take a plural noun (or several coordinated noun phrases) and make the entities that make up an agent (or comparable role) act upon each other.

A rather interesting situation is the use of collective nouns and reciprocals:

?the team watched each other in astonishment

*laget såg förvånat på var-andra (literally: team-the saw surprisedly on each-other)

Yeah, no, the ? mark there is probably wrong, for a huge majority it probably genuinely is *. I am convinced that some languages permit, without hesitation, constructions analogous to the one above.

Historically, "one another" and the Russian construction "drug druga" (drug = nom, druga = acc) probably consist of two bits - one ("one", "drug") encoding the subject, and the other ("another", "druga") the object. From a purely abstract look at it, it feels like this construction might be marginally more tolerable in English? In Russian, I have it on a fairly reliable source that this is entirely acceptable.

*the team watched one another in astonishment

para obnimala drug druga 

In Swedish, some passive verbs primarily have a reciprocal meaning:

vi kysstes ('we were kissing')

vi slogs ('we were fighting (each other, but can also mean 'we fought random people')

Now, most Swedes accept

paret kysstes ('the couple were kissing')

despite this being a reciprocal with singular subject. 

However, I can't just let it stand at "this is okay in a language so there you go", can I?

We could imagine, for instance, that a language does get any number of congruence or discongruence-phenomena with this.

1) Singular forms of 'each other'.

In Swedish at least, 'varandra' is morphologically plural. One could imagine a system where a singular form appears with a singular subject. In Russian, 'drug druga' is morphologically singular, but one could imagine a partitive genitive instead on the subject noun - getting us something like 'druga druga'.

Here, an unrelated idea appears: in the dual, a language could very well have a reciprocal singular pronoun: 'both saw the other', but 'the thief and the policemen saw each other' .

2) Plural verb forms and adjectives with singular subjects.

Some varieties of English permit plural verb forms with collective singulars, but one could imagine a situation where plural verb forms only are used with singulars in situations where the singular is blocked by the presence of a reciprocal pronoun.

3) Congruentially Forced Plurals

The subject could exhibit other behaviors that are typical of plurals, including morphological or congruence-related behaviors. Maybe the reciprocality forces an explicit plural marking, so that "the groups saw each other" can signify both 'the members of the group saw each other' or 'the different groups' members saw the other groups'. Maybe adjectives need plural congruence. Maybe they are forced to take a plural article.

 

 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

A Bryatesle Mystical Practice

In the Bryatesle-Dairwueh religious landscape, there is a variety of mystical practices in the religious communities. Some schools of mysticism overlap many of the faiths, some schools of mysticism are closely aligned with some particular faith, and some schools of mysticism are more or less synonymous with a faith.

Within the stedbaprian faith, a widely held idea is that humans live their lives in a state comparable to inebriation. We do not realize the true state of affairs, because this pseudo-inebriety prevents us from seeing clearly it.

There are several ways of dealing with this. Note, however, that the state is not the same as inebriation. From this emerges a notion: if a person can, during inebriation, practice his ability to think clearly, this will help him see clearly when sober.

Thus, the stedbaprian mystics will consume alcohol and various psychoactive herbs at certain times, and then practice a variety of cognitively demanding tasks. This tends to be done in groups of at least three.

A person who is very proficient at these tests when intoxicated will be considered more likely to be able to see the world as it is, and hence will be more trustworthy and proficient in thought, perception, behavior and skills.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Feasibility, Conlangs and a Challenge

Through the years, I have suggested some typologically unlikely, and maybe even some typologically impossible ideas in this blog. I find typologically unlikely - and even antiuniversal - systems somewhat interesting. However, I do believe there are some types of systems that we even find in some conlangs, which violate a type of constraint that I believe is a solid wall of impossibility.

In my own thoughts on this topic, I basically think of them just by the term "genuinely impossible systems". However, an issue with them is that their surface realization is possible - and there's probably multiple genuinely impossible systems corresponding to every possible surface realization.

Here's a phonological example. In antirealistic, there are two phonemes /b/ and /p/. These have the following realizations. NB: the phones themselves aren't really the interesting thing here, their relative realizations are:

initial: /b/ : [b], /p/ : [p]
medial: /b/ : [p], /p/: [b]

Why do I hold this to be unrealistic? Unless there's super-strong morphophonemic reasons to identify the [b] inside a word with /p/, and the [b] in the onset with /b/, I am very certain that any child or foreigner learning this language will identify the [b]-sounds as /b/, and the [p]-sounds as /p/. In lieu of a very strong morphophonemic relation here, there's no way a learner would identify them like that - even if the writing system maintained the identity.

A morphological example, then - and I don't think we find much of these in conlangs (unlike the phonological example seen above). In unrealistic, there are special verb forms corresponding to English -ing, and in unrealistic it's -int. However, for intransitive verbs, this consists of -i- (intransitive) and -nt (intransitive active participle), whereas for transitive verbs it consits of -in- (transitive) and -t (transitive active participle). Unless -in-, -i-, -n-, -t and -nt exist as independent morphemes but only ever occur in this context, there's no reason a learner would identify this as a complex suffix.

Syntax, then. Can anyone come up with a good syntactical example of a similar infeasible structure?



Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Detail #414: Passives and Reflexives

Passives and reflexives sometimes are fairly similar (and in some languages even indistinguishable). One of the Russian passive constructions is the reflexive construction, and the Swedish synthetic passive originates in a perfectly analogous construction - a reduced reflexive pronoun becoming a verb morpheme.

In some languages, the "passive" does not promote the object to subject position. This, for instance, is the case in modern Finnish (but earlier, it does seem it might have been the case). However, since the passive fulfills many of the roles the passive fulfills in other languages - emphasizing the object as the "central" participant, omitting the subject, etc - it gets to be called a passive.

This leaves open a simple way of keeping the reflexive and passive distinct, yet reuse the morphology:

noun.nom verb.refl = reflexive
noun.obj verb.refl = passive

However, there are of course reflexive constructions (and passive ones!) that do not directly pertain to the direct object - "I gave myself a surprise", "I looked at my toe", "I did it for myself". In such circumstances, I like the idea of letting a language conflate the two, or possible allow for disambiguating the reflexive by inserting a pronoun.

Further, third person pronouns could possibly have an anti-reflexive morpheme available for such constructions:

he saw.refl him.nonrefl in front of him

he1 saw him2 in front of himself1

I am pretty sure the idea of a nonreflexive pronoun has occurred previously in this blog, but I am pretty sure the general idea here is new. I am considering including it in Bryatesle, since its reflexive and passive system is still underdeveloped. However, it feels like integrating this with the Bryatesle case system would be a nightmare.

Alas, Ćwarmin, Sargaĺk and Bryatesle all have sufficient passive/reflexive systems fleshed out, Ŋžädär isn't really suitable for this, and Tatediem is off the table, for now at least. Maybe I should revive it.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Real Language Details: Word Order operations in Swedish

As usual, my real life language example will come from Swedish (a habit I really need to break). This time, we're looking at word order in main clauses. First, Swedish is in many ways similar to English, but differs on a few important points:

  • thou/you-distinction, and case distinction on both. I will use thou/thee and you/ye for nom/acc in my English examples.
  • In spoken Swedish, 'de' (they) and 'dem' (them) have - in most regiolects - been conflated to 'dom', which I will write 'thom'.

Swedish is V2, unlike English, which means that almost always, there'll be one constituent left of the finite verb, and the rest will go to the right. Exceptions include a handful of adverbs that can go between the subject and the verb, and questions, which have a fairly strict VSO order.

Basically, some linguists describe the Swedish word order in main clauses as follows:

[fundament] V S * iO * dO *

The asterisks represent adverbs, whose rules are not all that interesting with regards to this point (but may be dealt with later). If the fundament remains empty, it is a question, but if any thing from the right of the verb is moved to the fundament, you get a statement. Adverbs can be moved, subjects, objects, indirect objects, etc. If it's a prepositional phrase that is moved, the preposition can be stranded at the end of the clause.

Now to some exceptions. For conservative speakers, objects that are personal pronouns can further be shifted leftwards to the slot directly right of the verb, displacing the subject:

then saw thee a friend

It seems there are some restrictions:

  • a heavy subject is more likely to move right, or a subject that has some "association" rightwards - i.e. coordination with something in the next clause
  • a pronominal subject cannot be displaced
  • a definite, non-heavy subject  seems unwilling to be displaced

Now we're getting to an interesting bit, were there's two groups of conservative speakers, and the less conservative group is shitting on the more conservative group for being sloppy.

The they-them distinction, as mention, is weakened in the spoken language, such that 'thom' has replaced both. Thus, 

thom see me
I see thom

are both permissible in most speakers' eyes and ears. This causes a complication where speakers who are unsure of the written form tend to err on the side of using 'them', giving results such as

them see me
I see them

This annoys a fairly large contingent of conservative speakers - even those conservative speakers who themselves have 'thom' in the spoken form but who have good intuitions for when which form is used.

Some conservative speakers seem to instinctively correct every 'them' that is in even a slightly unusual position to 'they'. Thus,

then answered them a voice over the speaker

will be hypercorrected by them to

then answered they a voice over the speaker

even in contexts where this makes no sense. There seems to be four kinds of readers with regards to this:

  1. Some readers do not react at all that anything is wrong, and will read 'them' as the subject.
  2. Some readers react that something is wrong, and will read 'them' as the subject, and would correct it to 'they'. These will consider the sentence sloppily written and a sign of the modern degradation of the language.
  3. Some readers react that the word order is wrong, but read 'them' as the object. These will consider the sentence sloppily written and a sign of the modern degradation of the language.
  4. Some readers do not react at all that anything is wrong, and will read 'them' as the object. If they are keenly aware of Swedish linguistic developments over the last 100 years or so, they will see this as somewhat conservative.

Of course, group #4 and #3 will be aware that some writers do not distinguish they/them, and if the context has several they/them-errors, they will join #2 temporarily.