Conlangery 141: The Eighth Language Creation Conference

August 5th, 2019
George brings on Christophe and Joey to talk about their experience at the Eighth Language Creation Conference. We also have clips from interviews Joey made at the conference. Top of Show Greeting: Bizhida Links: 8th Language Creation Conference Livestream: Day 1, Day 2

Me Nem Nesa: A Phonological Analysis of Dothraki

August 1st, 2019

Sanjeev Vinodh is an undergraduate at UC Berkeley studying Linguistics and Cognitive Science. His interests include phonology, pragmatics, persuasive speaking, and p-alliteration. Sanjeev also teaches two classes at Berkeley: Magic: Theory and Deception, and Charisma: The Art of Genuine Connection.

Abstract

This paper provides an analysis of three phonological processes found in David J. Peterson’s conlang Dothraki (created for the HBO series Game of Thrones)—”r” alternations, vowel laxing, and stress assignment—including a discussion on the language’s typological tractability. This was Sanjeev’s final project for Linguistics 111, Phonology, taught at UC Berkeley.

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But then I took an aversion to the knee: constructions and collocations

July 22nd, 2019
I've been on a Construction Grammar (CxG) kick for a while now. I gave a talk about using it as a creative tool at LCC7. We talked about it on a recent Conlangery episode (Conlanger #140: Word Classes with William Croft). I don't want to go into great detail here, but the fundamental difference between CxG and the usual grammatical theories we're familiar with is that in CxG a construction is any pairing of form and meaning. In CxG, your grammar and your lexicon are not separate things — they're all constructions. Examples:

  • morphemes: pre-, -ing
  • word: and, sleep, peanut
  • complex word: daredevil
  • schematic complex word (partially filled): [N-s] (regular plurals)
  • idiom: give the Devil his due
  • schematic idiom: jog memory
  • ditransitive: Subj V Obj1 Obj2 (e.g., he gave her a book)
For conlanging, the most exciting thing about uniting lexicon and syntax into constructions is that everything that can happen to words can happen to all constructions: polysemy (have several meanings), grammaticalize, undergo semantic shift historically, appear and disappear as a fad (think "I did it because reasons"), etc., etc.

One very important feature of words is that they tend to have friends — words they appear with more often than chance or even semantics would suggest. Often these pairings mean something more than just the combination of the parts. For example, "dry land" is not simply land that is dry. It is used to contrast to bodies of water. Think also of: confirmed bachelor, insist firmly, seriously ill, etc., etc. These collocations (as they are called) are also a kind of construction.

I heard an English turn of phrase recently that go me thinking about collocations. I'm going to work out the associations and collocational restrictions a bit, with some help from Google. But this is not just an analysis of English. Think about using things like this in your own conlangs.

The schema is: Take (a/the) X to Y.  Now, this can be used as simple expression with an obviously compositional (non-idiomatic) meaning: I took the book to work. But things get interesting when we make specific selections for X and Y.

For example, if for X we pick a bladed object, and Y is some normal target for activity with that object: he took a razor to my beard; Thomas Jefferson took a scalpel to his copy of the gospels; [Girl] took a machete to this kid's car and completely just smashed it.

The word razor is in this, and from there it seems that other grooming tools can be brought into this construction: She took a razor to my hair, and it looked good at first; Ellen DeGeneres took a trimmer to Julian Edelman! she did use a diffuser but then also took a comb to my hair.

Another line of development, again seemingly related to cutting implements, is tools: the Fire Department took a Ax to the trunk and windows; on the last week of lab a lab technician took a saw to the top of the cadaver's head and removed his brain as a final organ for study in our lab; the aftermath of a carpenter bee infestation can look like a deranged carpenter took a drill to your property just for the fun of it. And then this use seems even to spread to stapler, and from that to other adhesion methods: it feels like someone took a stapler to my left eyeball; I took glue to my wanton collection, pasted together each part of each story and tried to make the edges fit; we took some pictures of a "DADS INN" (the sign obviously a Days Inn until someone took duct tape to it).

Perhaps yet another development of either the blade sense or the tool sense, weapons can be used: in the early part of the campaign, Baker took a bazooka to an entire ridge of enemy forces assaulting his company. Interestingly, when I looked for take a shovel to, most clear examples of this construction when the shovel was being used offensively, though not always: I took a shovel to the tawny daylilies that doubled in number every year; 7 grammar mistakes that make others want to take a shovel to your face.

From here there's a an interesting development where if X is a ballistic item and Y is a body part, the subject of the expression is on the receiving end of the action, always bad: McCarthy stepped in front of President Reagan, and took a bullet to the chest but made a full recovery; he took a mortar to his chest, and he was cut off behind enemy lines; he took a baseball to the face this weekend, but temporarily stayed in the game; "I used to be an adventurer like you, but then I took an arrow to the knee."

Finally, there is a completely different development, an interpersonal reading where certain nouns of liking and aversion are used to indicate an inchoative sense: He took a liking to his new neighbor; that's why Biggie took a like to them, because they lived what they rapped about; Laura took a shine to her at the interview and offered her the job; she took a dislike to me after a small argument over my political beliefs; I remember a race of lispers, fine persons, who took an aversion to particular letters in our language.

Here's a map of what I think is going on semantically:


There are problem some senses I have missed. This is probably an over-rich example of constructional flexibility. Regardless, it's working thinking along these lines when developing vocabulary and idiom for your conlang.

Conlangery 140: Word Classes with William Croft

July 3rd, 2019
George and William invite Prof. William Croft to talk about his theoretical approach to word classes and constructions. Forget a language without adjectives, let’s talk about how your property concepts are predicated! Links and Resources: Croft, William. in preparation. Morphosyntax: constructions of the world’s languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 1, Chapter 2 Croft, William.... Read more »

Sargaĺk: Mistaken Ideas about Biology

July 2nd, 2019
The gender of certain nouns in Sargaĺk showcase that biology and grammatical gender sometimes are mismatched. Several genderless animals have nouns for both genders. No regard is given to whether there actually are gender distinctions in the actual species, and sometimes the speakers have misconstrued what particular traits characterize the genders.
saləb a small common species of worm (masc)
saluta a small common species of worm (fem)
kaxar tadpole (masc)
ipxaž tadpole (fem)
Many tadpoles in the Sargaĺk area only differentiate by gender after reaching the (almost) mature stage.
karč scallop, oyster (masc)
əltas scallop, oyster (fem)
the gender distinction is made by the colour of the shell, which has no actual implication visavis the actual gender of the oysters of the Sargaĺk world. However, different communities may map the colours to genders in different ways.

sreb snail (masc)
srewta snail (fem)

tirs slug (masc)
tirast slug (fem)

əktəl a slightly larger species of worm (masc)
əkta a slightly larger species of worm (fem)
k'ets a type of crayfish (masc)
k'enast a type of crayfish (fem)
The Sargaĺk do not eat this particular crayfish because it's poisonous. However, they assume small claws imply feminine gender, which is not entirely accurate.

inis ant (fem)
inast a different, slightly larger species of ant (masc)

Sargaĺk: Mistaken Ideas about Biology

July 2nd, 2019
The gender of certain nouns in Sargaĺk showcase that biology and grammatical gender sometimes are mismatched. Several genderless animals have nouns for both genders. No regard is given to whether there actually are gender distinctions in the actual species, and sometimes the speakers have misconstrued what particular traits characterize the genders.
saləb a small common species of worm (masc)
saluta a small common species of worm (fem)
kaxar tadpole (masc)
ipxaž tadpole (fem)
Many tadpoles in the Sargaĺk area only differentiate by gender after reaching the (almost) mature stage.
karč scallop, oyster (masc)
əltas scallop, oyster (fem)
the gender distinction is made by the colour of the shell, which has no actual implication visavis the actual gender of the oysters of the Sargaĺk world. However, different communities may map the colours to genders in different ways.

sreb snail (masc)
srewta snail (fem)

tirs slug (masc)
tirast slug (fem)

əktəl a slightly larger species of worm (masc)
əkta a slightly larger species of worm (fem)
k'ets a type of crayfish (masc)
k'enast a type of crayfish (fem)
The Sargaĺk do not eat this particular crayfish because it's poisonous. However, they assume small claws imply feminine gender, which is not entirely accurate.

inis ant (fem)
inast a different, slightly larger species of ant (masc)

Designing an Artificial Language: Anaphora

July 1st, 2019

Rick Morneau is a long time language creator who lives in rural Idaho. In the early 1990s, he wrote a series of essays on language design that proved to be quite influential in the early language creation community. Their quality has endured since their original publication, and continue to be read and enjoyed by language creators the world over.

Abstract

This essay discusses anaphora and how they can be implemented without ambiguity in an AL.

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One of these things…

June 30th, 2019

Here is a picture of my cat:

Cat in the line with flowerpots
One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn’t belong. Can you tell me which thing is not like the others by the time I finish my song?

That sounds like a translation challenge! In Kenda Soro:

ŋiri
ŋiri
PL
koyonda
koyo=nda
this=SRC
idiridu
idiri=du
others=GOAL
naravu.
nara=vu
one=NOT
One of these is not like the others.

ŋiri
ŋiri
PL
koyonda
koyo=nda
this=SRC
kozos
kozo=s
here=LOC
nara
nara
one
ŋodose.
ŋodo=se
wrong=STAY
One of these is wrongly here.

ŋiri
ŋiri
PL
koyonda
koyo=nda
this=SRC
idiridu
idiri=du
others=GOAL
naravuza
nara=vu=za
one=NOT=PATH
evihi
e=vi=hi
3PL.IN=OUT=POT
Can be told which one is not like the others

zimivito
zimi=vi=to
music=OUT=STOP
tileya?
tileya
before
before the music stops?

Bryatesle: Adpositions vs. Location and some thoughts on Subjecthood and Adpositions

June 27th, 2019
I will be talking about a technical notion of subject for a lot of this post, but at times, I will need to also refer to a less technical notion of subject. Not quite topic, since it's clearly not a role that can be filled by any old NP, nor necessary is it the topical NP. It rather is some vague notion of the quality that distinguishes the NP which in some way is active, whose state or change thereof the verb describes or whose active part in the interaction with some other NP or itself is expressed by the verb. Subjects are defined by certain subjecthood tests, but would almost all exhibit that vague notion (except maybe the subjects of passive verbs), but not all nouns that exhibit these vague notions are strict subjects, nor would pass subjecthood tests.

I will call any NP that carries these vague notions - including proper subjects - subjectids, and any subjectid that is not a subject is a subjectoid.

Proto-BDS did not strictly speaking have grammatical subjects, and their evolution in all the daughter languages showcases traces of the pre-subject state of the language. This statement requires a rather technical notion of what a subject even is, but for now, let's look at what NPs in Bryatesle with any kind of certainty are proper subjects, starting at the most certain:
1st and 2nd person pronouns that trigger verb congruence
proper nouns pertaining to humans that trigger verb congruence
These are, in all analyses, beyond doubt  as far as subjecthood goes.
Third person pronouns with human referents that trigger verb congruence are almost certain to be subjects as well
Here, congruence only really helps determine those cases where explicit congruence is present, e.g. plurals or non-neuters. (The neuter congruence is in fact a kind of zero congruence, as can be seen with the many instances where a verb gets neuter congruence despite no neuter argument being present).

A verb lacking a subject does not necessarily signify that no one or nothing is doing that, or even that who- or whatever is doing is not present in the clause. It simply means there is no noun phrase present with certain syntactical properties - it cannot control reflexives, it cannot undergo certain syntactical operations, it cannot be relativized, etc.

Now, this lax subjectness can be seen with inanimate masculine or feminine subjects:
aryktëk-utë--tyrn-ai
winteryouaccRESLTkill3sg neuter
winteryou
(will)kill

winter will kill you
The non-subjectness of aryk, winter, is not obvious from the example above, but  if we change the structure of the clause a bit we find for instance, the following permissible construction:
ark-ity tëk-u të-tyrn-ai

ark-itytëk-u-tyrn-ai
winterABLyouACCRSLTkill3sg neuter
winter-fromyou
(will)kill
winter will kill you
It turns out most inanimate nouns can be somewhat subject-like even in the ablative and dative cases.

A similar lack of subjecthood even occurs with intransitive verbs, and we find, for instance, that verbs like 'cease, end', 'begin' or 'last' basically can take an inanimate subjectoid in any case, but is more picky with the case marking on animate subjects. Plural animates may also behave as subjectoids at times, and this seems to correlate with the extent to which the plural animates act as a group or as a bunch of independent agents. Funnily enough, the 'independent agents' end of the spectrum behaves more like inanimate subjectoids than like animate subjects; it seems there is, among Bryatesle speakers a sense that the less internally organized a plural NP is, the less it is like an animate NP.

Neuter nouns fall even lower, however, on the rank of animacy, than inanimate feminine and masculine nouns, and it seems this is the reason why a separate ergative construction has emerged specifically for them. The assumption has been so strong when parsing that a neuter noun is an object if the verb is not intransitive. We shall divert our attention for a while to the formation of the ergative case:

Neuter nouns, when subjects of transitive verbs, take a masculine nominative pronoun as a particle. This pronoun is somewhat phonologically reduced, and comes immediately before the noun. Adjectives preceding the noun mark masculine congruence.

A piece of evidence that quirky case subjectoids are proper subjects in Bryatesle emerge in some dialects: quirky case neuter noun subjects of ~transitive verbs in fact also take the masculine pronoun – in some dialects in the appropriate quirky case, in some only the noun (and adjectives!) are marked for the appropriate quirky case. This could arguably be called 'quirky ergative case'.

Now that we have looked at the notions of subjectids and subjectoids, let's delve further into a different relation that oftentimes is one between two nouns; that encoded by adpositions. An adposition can relate not just a verb to a noun, e.g. telling the location of a verb's occurrence, but also of nouns related to that verb, or even more specifically, telling us about the location or direction of a noun. Like with subjectids, we sometimes get nouns displaced from their adposition, either due to them being fronted as topics, or due to some other noun being more strongly attracted to the adposition. Maybe we could name this relation anchors in lack of any better term. We get a similar set of anchors, anchoroids, anchorids. 

The oblique/obliquid/obliquoid generally sort of is analogous to the object of a verb phrase, but sometimes, an adposition also has something similar to a subject as well - e.g. in simple statements of where something is - "John is in Western Papua". In English - and mostly in Bryatesle - such NPs are not just similar to subjects, they are subjects. However, we do get situations where the notional subject of the adpositional phrase is not the subject of the VP:
I put the bottles in the refrigerator
The children found berries in the forest
Bryatesle has a tendency of not wanting to have the topic be the object of an adposition, but it also has a tendency of not wanting to have adpositions without NPs. Thus, if we were to topicalize 'refrigerator', we would get the following transformations:
I put [bottle.acc.] [[refrigerator.dat.def] in]
refrigerator.dat.def I [put bottle.acc] [[_____(.dat.def)] in]
refrigerator.dat.def I [Ø →] [[put bottle.dat] in] 
Secondary case is not as closely tied to morphosyntax as primary case is, and so does not carry over, whereas the primary case is morphosyntactical in nature, and therefore the erstwhile 'subject' of the postposition now does adopt the case the object previously had, but usually remains on the left-hand side of the adposition.

In some sense, verbs and objects behave in a similar manner here: verbs push certain types of subjectids away from being actual subjects, but rather some kind of oblique argument with subject-like properties. Somethings, postpositions push anchorids away from being anchors and into being oblique objects with anchor-like properties.

However, looking at it from a different direction they seem very different:
Verbs permit non-subject subjectoid nouns to be parsed as agents, and do not require syntactic gaps to be filled. Postpositions do not permit gaps, but permit anchors to become objects in order to fill them.

This treatment is probably a bit too technical, but this should be read as a policy statement rather than an actual grammatical treatment. This is a post clearing up some of my thoughts on this issue, attempting to form a coherent idea of the Bryatesle subjects

Bryatesle: Adpositions vs. Location and some thoughts on Subjecthood and Adpositions

June 27th, 2019
I will be talking about a technical notion of subject for a lot of this post, but at times, I will need to also refer to a less technical notion of subject. Not quite topic, since it's clearly not a role that can be filled by any old NP, nor necessary is it the topical NP. It rather is some vague notion of the quality that distinguishes the NP which in some way is active, whose state or change thereof the verb describes or whose active part in the interaction with some other NP or itself is expressed by the verb. Subjects are defined by certain subjecthood tests, but would almost all exhibit that vague notion (except maybe the subjects of passive verbs), but not all nouns that exhibit these vague notions are strict subjects, nor would pass subjecthood tests.

I will call any NP that carries these vague notions - including proper subjects - subjectids, and any subjectid that is not a subject is a subjectoid.

Proto-BDS did not strictly speaking have grammatical subjects, and their evolution in all the daughter languages showcases traces of the pre-subject state of the language. This statement requires a rather technical notion of what a subject even is, but for now, let's look at what NPs in Bryatesle with any kind of certainty are proper subjects, starting at the most certain:
1st and 2nd person pronouns that trigger verb congruence
proper nouns pertaining to humans that trigger verb congruence
These are, in all analyses, beyond doubt  as far as subjecthood goes.
Third person pronouns with human referents that trigger verb congruence are almost certain to be subjects as well
Here, congruence only really helps determine those cases where explicit congruence is present, e.g. plurals or non-neuters. (The neuter congruence is in fact a kind of zero congruence, as can be seen with the many instances where a verb gets neuter congruence despite no neuter argument being present).

A verb lacking a subject does not necessarily signify that no one or nothing is doing that, or even that who- or whatever is doing is not present in the clause. It simply means there is no noun phrase present with certain syntactical properties - it cannot control reflexives, it cannot undergo certain syntactical operations, it cannot be relativized, etc.

Now, this lax subjectness can be seen with inanimate masculine or feminine subjects:
aryktëk-utë--tyrn-ai
winteryouaccRESLTkill3sg neuter
winteryou
(will)kill

winter will kill you
The non-subjectness of aryk, winter, is not obvious from the example above, but  if we change the structure of the clause a bit we find for instance, the following permissible construction:
ark-ity tëk-u të-tyrn-ai

ark-itytëk-u-tyrn-ai
winterABLyouACCRSLTkill3sg neuter
winter-fromyou
(will)kill
winter will kill you
It turns out most inanimate nouns can be somewhat subject-like even in the ablative and dative cases.

A similar lack of subjecthood even occurs with intransitive verbs, and we find, for instance, that verbs like 'cease, end', 'begin' or 'last' basically can take an inanimate subjectoid in any case, but is more picky with the case marking on animate subjects. Plural animates may also behave as subjectoids at times, and this seems to correlate with the extent to which the plural animates act as a group or as a bunch of independent agents. Funnily enough, the 'independent agents' end of the spectrum behaves more like inanimate subjectoids than like animate subjects; it seems there is, among Bryatesle speakers a sense that the less internally organized a plural NP is, the less it is like an animate NP.

Neuter nouns fall even lower, however, on the rank of animacy, than inanimate feminine and masculine nouns, and it seems this is the reason why a separate ergative construction has emerged specifically for them. The assumption has been so strong when parsing that a neuter noun is an object if the verb is not intransitive. We shall divert our attention for a while to the formation of the ergative case:

Neuter nouns, when subjects of transitive verbs, take a masculine nominative pronoun as a particle. This pronoun is somewhat phonologically reduced, and comes immediately before the noun. Adjectives preceding the noun mark masculine congruence.

A piece of evidence that quirky case subjectoids are proper subjects in Bryatesle emerge in some dialects: quirky case neuter noun subjects of ~transitive verbs in fact also take the masculine pronoun – in some dialects in the appropriate quirky case, in some only the noun (and adjectives!) are marked for the appropriate quirky case. This could arguably be called 'quirky ergative case'.

Now that we have looked at the notions of subjectids and subjectoids, let's delve further into a different relation that oftentimes is one between two nouns; that encoded by adpositions. An adposition can relate not just a verb to a noun, e.g. telling the location of a verb's occurrence, but also of nouns related to that verb, or even more specifically, telling us about the location or direction of a noun. Like with subjectids, we sometimes get nouns displaced from their adposition, either due to them being fronted as topics, or due to some other noun being more strongly attracted to the adposition. Maybe we could name this relation anchors in lack of any better term. We get a similar set of anchors, anchoroids, anchorids. 

The oblique/obliquid/obliquoid generally sort of is analogous to the object of a verb phrase, but sometimes, an adposition also has something similar to a subject as well - e.g. in simple statements of where something is - "John is in Western Papua". In English - and mostly in Bryatesle - such NPs are not just similar to subjects, they are subjects. However, we do get situations where the notional subject of the adpositional phrase is not the subject of the VP:
I put the bottles in the refrigerator
The children found berries in the forest
Bryatesle has a tendency of not wanting to have the topic be the object of an adposition, but it also has a tendency of not wanting to have adpositions without NPs. Thus, if we were to topicalize 'refrigerator', we would get the following transformations:
I put [bottle.acc.] [[refrigerator.dat.def] in]
refrigerator.dat.def I [put bottle.acc] [[_____(.dat.def)] in]
refrigerator.dat.def I [Ø →] [[put bottle.dat] in] 
Secondary case is not as closely tied to morphosyntax as primary case is, and so does not carry over, whereas the primary case is morphosyntactical in nature, and therefore the erstwhile 'subject' of the postposition now does adopt the case the object previously had, but usually remains on the left-hand side of the adposition.

In some sense, verbs and objects behave in a similar manner here: verbs push certain types of subjectids away from being actual subjects, but rather some kind of oblique argument with subject-like properties. Somethings, postpositions push anchorids away from being anchors and into being oblique objects with anchor-like properties.

However, looking at it from a different direction they seem very different:
Verbs permit non-subject subjectoid nouns to be parsed as agents, and do not require syntactic gaps to be filled. Postpositions do not permit gaps, but permit anchors to become objects in order to fill them.

This treatment is probably a bit too technical, but this should be read as a policy statement rather than an actual grammatical treatment. This is a post clearing up some of my thoughts on this issue, attempting to form a coherent idea of the Bryatesle subjects