Real Language Examples: Reflexives in Swedish, pt 2

February 13th, 2021
I have previously written about features of Swedish grammar, and this post continues that theme. I have mentioned the reflexive pronouns in a previous post. In that post, I did not get into the question of reference - simplifying it significantly by stating that the reflexive pronoun refers to the subject.

This is not the entire truth, and figuring out some of the complications with regards to its reference deserves a post of its own.

It can in fact also refer to objects, indirect objects as well as any head within a noun phrase under certain circumstances. In the latter case, the reference is fairly unambiguous - except that prepositional attributes can be ambiguous with adverbial prepositional phrases. In cases of object or indirect object reference, the reference may sometimes be ambiguous.

Finally, there are cases where the reflexive pronoun refers to some non-existent argument, such as an implicit agent of an infinitive.

I will not present the case when it refers to the subject.

The reflexive possessive pronoun will be "sy" throughout this, by analogy:

min: my
sin : sy

1. Object

Elin visade Per till sitt nya kontor.
Elin showed Per to sy new office.

For many Swedish-speakers, reference to the object here is perfectly fine. It does become ambiguous, but you can find some speakers who think 'hans' (his) is wrong in this context, and others who think 'sy' is wrong in this context.

2. Objects that are subjects of infinitives

Mamman lärde pojken att stryka sin skjorta
The mother taught the boy to iron sy shirt 

For most Swedes, the shirt here would be the boy's, but the construction is somewhat ambiguous. "Hennes" (hers) for reference to the mother may be considered wrong by some speakers.

3. Absent subjects of subjectless infinitives

Att känna sina gränser är viktigt.
To know sy limits is important.

4. Heads of NPs, (sy in adpositional attributes)

Sven läste inte boken i sin helhet.
Sven did not read the book in sy entirety.

The rule that normally is bandied about - that sy refers to the subject - would make 'sy' here refer to Sven. However, pretty much every swede understands this as referring to the book, and this kind of expression are very common in all registers of Swedish, including academic, literate, poetic and colloquial speech.

5. Beliefs about 'sin' among speakers

Many speakers believe that 'sin/sitt/sina' unconditionally refer to the subject. Many of these parse other constructions correctly, use them frequently, but correct them whenever they are made aware of them. This is probably because teachers have taught them an excessively simple rule - viz. that it refers to the subject. For over a century, grammarians have been aware of the complexity in reference for 'sin/sitt/sina', and every serious grammar of Swedish accounts for this. It is shameful how many Swedish grammar nazis tend to be ignorant of this, and I find them to be laughably ignorant, to be entirely honest.


This post is meant to show that a feature of a natural language oftentimes is both more complex than the most common description of it -viz. "reflexives refer to the subject", - and also note how speakers sometimes have conscious ideas of how their language works that differs from how the language works and from how they actually use it.

Trigedasleng: A Study of the Verb System of a Possible Future Creole English

February 1st, 2021

Tvrtko Samardzija is a Croatian tabletop game designer, worldbuilder, but first and foremost, he is a husband and father. He received a BA in English and Philosophy in 2018, an MA in English Linguistics and Philosophy in 2020, both at the Faculty for Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Zagreb. As a professional, his passions lie in the publishing business, but also storytelling, worldbuilding, and designing tabletop roleplaying games, and anything to do with the genre of science-fantasy. His favorite books belong to the old sword-and-planet period of the early 20th century, but he also loves a good dark fantasy novel. He is always interested in new ways of applying linguistics and in linguistic research, as well as any form of artistic cooperation where he might contribute with his knowledge and skills. His biggest flaw is, he likes really, really dark humor.


The aim of this thesis is to explore the possibility that Trigedasleng, a conlang, could be a future development of Present-Day English (PDE). The main argument of this thesis is that Trigedasleng developed from PDE as a creole. Three aspects of Trigedasleng will be analyzed and discussed: the pronunciation and possible changes; the system of verb auxiliaries that English-based creoles use, which determine the tense, mood and aspects of verbs (TMA auxiliaries), and its comparison to the verb system found in Trigedasleng; the phrasal aspect of Trigedasleng’s verb system, referred to as “phrasality” in this work, and an exploration of the possible developmental connections to PDE, as well as connections to the development of this feature through the history of English since the Old English period. The firm conclusions that can be drawn from this work are that Trigedasleng does seem to fit the profile of an English-based creole as far as the analyzed features are concerned, but also that phrasality “runs in the veins” of the English language, and ties Trigedasleng firmly to the English family in this aspect; lastly, it can be firmly concluded that Trigedasleng subscribes to compounding and phrasal construction seemingly as much as PDE does. Loose conclusions include the possibility of a creole developing within the “confines” of a single language, that there exists a shared cognitive reality that governs the grammar of a language as well as its possible developments, as well as that studying such constructed languages that are proposed future developed forms of present-day languages might help linguists predict the direction in which a language’s development might proceed. What remains inconclusive is whether the changes observed in Trigedasleng’s development are distinctly English.

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A Terminology Thing / (Non)underlying Case

January 5th, 2021

I will use an example from Swedish. This example does not hold universally for Swedish, and I doubt anyone who has it even has it in every register (i.e. at least in one commonly known prayer, there is an exception).

For some speakers, in most contexts, far and fader ('father') are exchangeable, as are mor and moder. There is, however, an exception: for some, fader and moder cannot be used as a vocative. (Possibly with the sole exception 'fader vår ...', which is part of the Lord's Prayer.)

Now, consider a language in which such pairs are common. Would 'antivocative' or 'avocative' be a good term for the synonym that is restricted from occurring as a vocative?

Could similar names be used for forms that cannot be used as complements or maybe as subjects or as objects be a reasonable term? "Antinominative", "antiaccusative", "anticomplemental", etc?

This type of thing is probably not entirely uncommon in the languages of the world, but as a phenomenon it's a bit underreported or underdescribed.

A Discovery of Conlangs and Conlangers: A personal history

January 1st, 2021

Jessie Sams is an Associate Professor of Linguistics at Stephen F. Austin State University. She generally teaches courses rooted in linguistic analysis of English, though one of her favorite courses to teach is her Invented Languages course, where students construct their own languages throughout the semester (she was even able to get Invented Languages officially on the books at SFA with its own course number). Her research primarily focuses on syntax and semantics, especially the intersection of the two within written English quotatives; constructed languages; and history of the English language and English etymology. Since 2019, she’s worked as a professional conlanger on the Freeform series Motherland: Fort Salem. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hosting game nights with friends, baking (especially cupcakes), and, of course, conlanging.


In this essay, Jessie Sams recounts her personal history with language and conlanging, as well as how she came to join the wider conlang community.

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Kílta Lexember 31: lamerun “in due course, in good time”

December 31st, 2020

It's the last day of Lexember, so a time expression.

lamerun /læˈme.ɾun/ in good time, in due course, in/at the right time < lamerin round, plump, ripe + -un temporospatial suffix

The adjective lamerin covers a wide range of meaning, but one primary sense is that of culmination after a waiting period. Thus, ripe, plump, right time, etc. The suffix -un derives adverbs of place or time. It's not incredibly common.

Ton në lamerun katihëstat no re.
ton në lamerun katih-ëst-at n-o re
2SG TOP in.due.course understand-INCH-INF be-PFV PTCL
You'll understand in due course.

Here's another example of Kílta using the inchoative where English would be content with a simple verb. I could, I suppose, translate this "you'll start to understand in due course," but a lot of the time it's clunky to capture Kílta's inchoative too fastidiously in the English.

Lorátin Naram mëli rum!
Happy New Year!

Kílta Lexember 30: omulutta “earthquake”

December 30th, 2020

I'm not entirely thrilled that today's word comes out looking a bit like breakfast, but these things happen sometimes.

omulutta /o.muˈlut.ta/ earthquake < om earth + lúto move + -ta nominalizer

Kílta has two entirely different stems for English move, one transitive, one intransitive. I've used the transitive one here, focusing on the effect (the earth moves things), rather than the merely describing the event in isolation.

Luikin omulutta vima si tuëmo.
heavy earthquake city ACC pound.PFV
A terrible earthquake struck the city.

This is exactly the sort of example sentence I like best, if I can pull it off — it gives two collocational usage hints. First, a bad earthquake in Kílta is luikin heavy, and second, the verb for earthquake destructive activity is tuëmo pound.

Kílta Lexember 29: tetila “joint, knuckle; inch”

December 29th, 2020

I already had the word tetila with just the meaning joint. I've decided to extend the meaning to knuckle — a common enough polysemy — and through that to also mean inch (the measurement).

Tetila has no etymology. You can specify knuckle if you have to by using ol hand:

Pácha si chokët, ol vë tetilur kwalo.
table ACC hit.CVB.PFV, hand ATTR joint.PL hurt
After I hit the table my knuckles hurt.

To measure precipitation (the occasion for today's Lexember efforts), a secondary predicate construction is used:

Hëru tetilur mai mechuhítat no re.
hër-u tetil-ur mai me(ch)-uhít-at n-o re
8-PL joint-PL LAT CIS-snow-INF be-PFV PTCL
It will snow eight inches here.

Time and measurements are my hardest time learning natural languages, and not my favorite part of language invention. I'll get to the metric system eventually.

Kílta Lexember 28: oléla “gloves”

December 28th, 2020

More winter weather vocabulary today.

oléla /oˈleː.la/ gloves

This is an eccentric reduplication starting from ol hand. A few pieces of paired clothing get not entirely predictable forms like this.

Samma vë oléla në vurël no?
fur ATTR gloves TOP where be.pfv
Where are the wool gloves?

Even though I've taken up weaving as a rage-absorbing hobby during The Covidities, and have added weaving vocabulary to Kílta, I hadn't yet committed to a word for wool. The polysemy I picked, from the already existing samma fur, is a common one. Two words settled with one example sentence.

Kílta Lexember 27: káhutiëha “bureaucracy”

December 27th, 2020

Nearly all Kílta words are internally generated, either from derivation of existing vocabulary, or generated from scratch using my word shape generator. I do have a few borrowings, though, and those are confined to two main domains: places, especially country names; and very ancient cultivated plants and foods, with a few ancient technologies. Most of the borrowings that aren't contemporary place names come from languages of the ancient Near East, such as Sumerian via Akkadian, and some Egyptian. A few terms from from the Silk Road, for which I usually turn to Sogdian. Monta or something like it for dumplings, for example, shows up all along the silk road.

Today's word starts with káha paper, which is from Sogdian:

káhutiëha /kaː.xu.tiˈə.xa/ bureaucracy < káha paper + tiëha authority, power, rule

Tiëha is a usual compound element for -cracy words.

Iminachin káhutiëha katama si útauno.
RED-big bureaucracy workplace ACC dominate.PFV
A huge bureaucracy dominates work.

A representative of the bureaucracy is of course káhutiëhil a bureaucrat, the original word with the agent noun ending -il tacked on.

Finally there is káhutiëkkis, a piece of bureaucracy, piece of bureaucratic work, which could be paperwork or one of the many procedural rituals that warms the hearts of the process-oriented. A light verb construction with salko put, place generates the meaning assign someone a bureaucratic task:

Hiëmma si tirëtiu, nalaiku káhutiëkkisá si salko.
hiëmma si tir-ëtiu, nalaik-u káhutiëkkis-á si salk-o
revenge ACC give/1-PURP.CVB.PFV, further-PL bureaucratic.task-PL ACC put.PFV
To get revenge, he gave me more bureaucratic tasks.

There are a few arguments in the English translation that aren't explicit in the Kílta. Because the verb tiro give is only used when the recipient is a first person argument, that sets up the reasonable interpretation for the rest of the sentence.

Kílta Lexember 26: aroccha “boots”

December 26th, 2020

Another seasonally appropriate word for people living in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere.

aroccha /aˈɾot.tʃa/ boots, by default the full pair; no etymology

I entertained a few etymologies (relating to: foot, leg, to wrap), but nothing was satisfying, so I ultimately decided on an altogether new word.

Mechuhítirë so! Aroccha si relësti re.
me-uhít-irë so! aroccha si rel-ëst-i re
It's snowing! Put on your boots.

The particle re is used to make imperatives less face-threatening.

Except for an attributive to maybe define the purpose or other qualities of them, there doesn't seem to be much call for special vocabulary around boots.