Detail 158: Even More Inverse Alignment and Ditransitives

May 4th, 2015 by Miekko
So, the situation for which I came up with the least elegant solutions for a wider inverse alignment was the ditransitive situation. This is a result of the factorial increase in rearrangements, obviously.
one argument: one possible arrangement
two arguments: two possible arrangements
three arguments: six possible arrangements
Having to have markings for six possible arrangements does feel mighty wasteful, even if you construct the markings from a smaller set of morphemes that combine to create the six possible syntactic role assignments.

A suggestion gleaned from IRC (thanks h13) is to incorporate the theme into the verb, but this of course only works if incorporation is a thing in the relevant language. 

Now, one thing we may notice is that IO and Subject often may be of comparable levels of agency, animacy, etc. Of course, there's no guarantee that this would hold, but ... let's assume it does hold in this language.

One thing we could do is have the inverse marking on the verb only affect the relative order of two nouns (usually the two that are the least similar in agency/animacy/etc). The third noun, however, takes an explicit case marker. The verb then simply gets to assign the two remaining roles - and maybe it'd be nice with one extra marker for the verb for the situation when it's IO vs. Subj that are being inversed, or some other arbitrarily picked pair.

Thus we get, assuming man > bear >> fish. Notice that I've set the definiteness arbitrarily, but of course these different phrasings could possibly affect definiteness, i.e. maybe the case-marker tends to be drawn to definite nouns. Notice however that definiteness in this language is not quite the same as in English - unmarked is just that: unmarked, can be either definite or indefinite, marked is explicitly definite. :
man kill-DIRECT fish: a man kills a fish
man kill-INVERSE fish: a fish kills a man
no case markers:
man kill-DIRECT bear fish: a man kills a fish for a bear
*man kill-INVERSE bear fish

case marker present: 
man kill-DIRECT bear-DAT fish: a man kills a fish for the bear 
man-ERG kill-DIRECT bear fish: the man kills a fish for a bear
man kill-DIRECT bear fish-ACC: a man kills the fish for a bear 
man kill-DAT.INVERSE bear fish-ACC: a bear kills the fish for a man
man-DAT kill-DIRECT bear fish: a bear kills a fish for the man
man kill-DIRECT bear-ERG fish: the bear kills a fish for a man 
man kill-INVERSE bear-DAT fish: a fish kills a man for the bear
man-ACC kill-INVERSE bear fish: a fish kills the man for a bear
man kill-INVERSE bear fish-ERG: the fish kills a man for a bear 
man-DAT kill-INVERSE bear fish: a fish kills a bear for the man
man kill-INVERSE bear-ACC fish: a fish kills the bear for a man
man kill-DIRECT bear fish-ERG: the fish kills a bear for the man 
man-ACC kill-DIRECT bear fish: a bear kills the man for a fish
man kill-INVERSE bear-ERG fish: the bear kills a man for a fish
man kill-INVERSE bear fish-DAT: a bear kills a man for the fish 
etc. (The remainder, of course, being the man killing the bear for the fish, wherein man-ERG, fish-DAT and bear-ACC occur. You can probably figure the verb markings out by now).
Personally, I prefer a system that omits at least one of the possibilities above - I wouldn't mind dropping the accusative or the dative altogether. Maybe have a system whereby accusative and dative are distinguished solely by discourse pragmatics or by some weirdo marking on the verb.

Maybe we could go even further and have a separate bunch of cases with somewhat restricted use:
two arguments high in the animacy hierarchy, one argument low: IO can take -DAT, SUBJ can take -ERG
one argument high in the animacy hierarchy, two arguments low: IO can take -DAT2, DO can take -ACC
roughly equidistant distribution: SUBJ can take -NOM, DO can take -ACC2
Anyways, I shouldn't be trying to fully exhaust the possibilities of weird things to do with inverse alignment - I just hope to show some examples of directions one could pursue within the world of inverse markings. So for now, I think the inverse marking spree I've been on suffices for a while.


May 3rd, 2015 by Bad conlanging ideas

Conlanging is a very silly hobby - temper this by making some Serious Conlangs. Make a conlang where your first words are “business suit”, “briefcase”, “performance review”, “synergy”, "impactful", and “twenty-first century thinking”.

Notes on a Vaporware Conlang VI: Sound Changes, Part 3

May 3rd, 2015 by carsten

Review of Stage II

Last time, we changed quite a few things from Stage I. The phonemes *p, *b, *d, *g, *z and *j were created while got lost, and also *x changed to other things or was lost in many places. The phonemic difference between aspirated and unaspirated *t, *k and *tʰ, kʰ has been weakened in unstressed with the emergence of the voiced consonants *b, *d and *g.

MOA bilabial alveolar palatal velar glottal
nasals *m *n
plosives *p *b *t *d *k *g
*tʰ *kʰ
taps/flaps *r
fricatives *s *z *x *h
approximants *w *l *j

We also created the vowel phonemes *e, *o and while weakening , as well as creating long versions of all of them (except for ) and the diphthongs *iɪ, *ɨɪ, *uɪ and *aɪ:

Height Front Central Back
high *i, *iː
*ɨ, *ɨː
*u, *uː
mid *e, *eː
*o, *oː
low *a, *aː

Stage II to Stage III

1. Palatalization of *Cj sequences:

  • *j → *ʲ / C _

2. Simplification of word-final coda clusters:

  • *C₂ → Ø / VC₁ _ #

Word-final coda clusters get simplified by losing the last consonant, e.g. like

  • *a.kúsk*a.kús*kús,
  • *ga.táns*ga.tán and
  • *pu.kʰánt*pu.kʰán.

3. Apocope in post-tonal unstressed open syllables:

  • *V → Ø / [–stress] C _ #

Vowels in post-tonal open syllables get lost but only under the condition of not creating new final clusters. Examples:

  • *í.daíd,
  • *ká.gakág and
  • *náː.dʲanáːdʲ.

This change may have gone through a stage akin to Latvian weak final vowels or by a weakening of the vowel to ?ə, which was subsequently lost, as e.g. in many Upper German dialects (Kariņš 15–34; König 159, Paul 109–111). This change goes hand in hand with the next one:

4. Vowel reduction in unstressed open monosyllables:

  • *V → *ə / # [–stress] (C) C _ #

Example: *ga*gə.

5. Loss of short-vowel only and schwa-containing simple initial unstressed syllables:

  • *V[–long] → Ø / [–stress] # _ $
  • *Cə → Ø / [–stress] # _ $
  • *əC → Ø / [–stress] # _ $


  • *u.kʰɨ́ɪt*kʰíət;
  • *gə.krú*krú; and
  • *əŋ.sú*sú.

6. Loss of *r with compensatory lengthening:

  • *VCr → *VːC

Long vowels and diphthongs don’t get extra length, again. Example: *káː.dra*ká:.da.

7. Weakening of initial *x:

  • *x → Øː / _ a
  • *x → *j / _ [–back]
  • *x → *w / _ [+back]

*x weakens to a labial and palatal approximant respectively before back and non-back vowels; it drops out completely before *a (possibly going through *x?ɰ → Ø). In all cases, it leaves compensatory lengthening behind. Examples:

  • *xá.gas*áː.gas;
  • *xís.kri*jíːs.kri; and
  • *xú.gʲu*xúgʲ*wúːgʲ*úːgʲ.

8. *ns simplifies:

  • *ns → *s

Example: *sáns.kun*sás.kun.

9. Generate diphthongs with :

  • *(w)u → *ʊ / V _
  • *w → Ø / _ u

Again, don’t create long diphthongs. Examples:

  • *da.wús*dáʊs;
  • *tɨ́ws.tal*tɨ́ʊs.tal.

10. Avoid vowel hiatus:

  • *ɪ → *j / V _ V
  • *ʊ → *w / V _ V

A diphthong in with another vowel following is turned into a *VjV sequence to avoid hiatus. The same goes for *VʊV, where turns into *w.1 Example: rúɪ.wuk?rúɪʊk*rú.juk.

11. Open *iɪ, *ɨɪ, lower *iʊ:

  • *iɪ, ɨɪ → *iə
  • *iʊ → *əʊ2


  • *nas.kɨ́ɪs*nas.kíəs
  • *síɪ.sa*síəs

12. Initial stress

Probably under foreign influence:3 change all stress to initial.4

13. Move length from long unstressed vowel to preceding short stressed vowel:

  • *V́ … *Vː → *V́ː … *V

This is in parallel with the stress shift, though not limited to words that experienced it. Again, no long diphthongs or doubly long vowels. Examples:

  • *su.túːs (→ ?sú.tuːs) → *súː.tus;
  • *táŋ.goːm*táːŋ.gom.

14. Apocope of :

  • *ə → Ø / V C _ #

Where it still exists, drop final , but only so that there are no final consonant clusters. Example: *té.srətéː.sə*téːs.

15. Lowering of remaining :

  • *ə → *a (except in *iə)

This gets finally rid of all , basically.5 Example: *sá.gəs*sá.gas.

Phonemic Inventory for Stage III

In this stage, we did … things! Most radically, a stress shift to first syllables. We also kind of killed off schwa and created diphthongs with . The consonant inventory hasn’t changed much, but there are palatalized variants of *d, *k, *g and *s (at the very least) now. This feels kind of imbalanced, so we will see some more regularization in the next step.


MOA bilabial alveolar palatal velar glottal
nasals *m *n
plosives *p *b *t *d *k *g
*tʰ *kʰ
*dʲ *kʲ *gʲ
taps/flaps *r
fricatives *s *z *x *h
approximants *w *l *j


Height Front Central Back
high *i, *iː *ɨ, *ɨː *u, *uː
mid *e, *eː *o, *oː
low *a, *aː
Height Front Central Back
high *iə *ɨʊ *uɪ, *uʊ
low *aɪ, *aʊ
  • Kariņš, A. Krišjānis. “Vowel Deletion in Latvian.” Language Variation and Change 7.1 (1995): 15–34. Print.
  • König, Werner. DTV-Atlas Deutsche Sprache. 16th ed. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1994. Print. 159.
  • Paul, Hermann. Mittelhochdeutsche Grammatik. Eds. Thomas Klein, Hans-Joachim Solms et al. 25th ed. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2007. Print. 109–111.
  1. This is not attested as happening in my list of 2000 generated words, so I don’t know if it actually happens.
  2. I’m not sure whether this occurs at all at this stage, I left it in just in case. Again there’s no occurrence in my 2000-word list at the very least.
  3. Or more accurately, because reasons.
  4. My Python script also has a thing here to clean up weird syllabifications: VCCVVC.CV; CCCCC.C everywhere else; VCVV.CV. This doesn’t always work perfectly, but well enough to require very little manual fixing.
  5. Not sure if this is believable, but let’s go with it for now. I guess, you could also interpret this as (〈a〉 on its head if it doesn’t appear as such), rather.


May 3rd, 2015 by Bad conlanging ideas

Your noun class system is actually a Java class system, and allows speakers to define the behavior of new classes and use them on the fly. In fact, every sentence must define its own class, even if it doesn’t do anything interesting.


May 3rd, 2015 by Bad conlanging ideas

Your noun class system is actually a D&D class system, dividing nouns into “wizard-like”, “paladin-like”, “rogue-like”, etc.

A Link (a webcomic)

May 3rd, 2015 by Miekko
Jumping a bit late on the bandwagon (since badconlangingideas got there first), but ... just in case I have readers who don't also read BCI (like such readers exist, right?), I might as well recommend this webcomic:
Grammaticality and other Judgments
A pretty clever webcomic about linguistics. Should appeal to linguistics nerds.

chicken is oikano (revisited)

May 3rd, 2015 by Mariska
oikano = chicken (bird) (noun) (Some things Google found for "oikano": a rare term; Oikano Car Parts of Greece; Oikano Restaurant and Oikano Cafe & Sports in Manado, North Sulawesi, Indonesia; user names; similar Oikana is a place in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia; similar Oikeno-cho (or Oikenocho) is a place in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan)

Word derivation for "chicken" :
Basque = oilasko, Finnish = kana
Miresua = oikano

My previous Miresua conlang word for chicken was onoilaka. I'm changing this word to use another, better Finnish word for chicken, the bird. The Finnish word I used previously, kananpoika, also means chicken, but as a chick, and as chicken meat as food.

The word chicken doesn't appear in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. But chicken, a bird, appears in Through the Looking-glass.
It certainly was a VERY large Gnat: "about the size of a chicken," Alice thought. Still, she couldn't feel nervous with it, after they had been talking together so long.


May 3rd, 2015 by Bad conlanging ideas

Y’all should check out my friend’s fledgling but beautiful webcomic at


May 2nd, 2015 by Bad conlanging ideas

A poetic language in which each morpheme has thirty different meanings; kwal can mean steal, cat, bridge and terror, while nothdhos can mean secret, fly, raindrop and misfortune. Most speakers of this language become depressed with the meaninglessness of their world; more hopeful speakers hear declarations of love in every conversation they have.

Detail 156: Inverse Alignment and Splits

May 1st, 2015 by Miekko
It seems to me that the most natural split-alignment where an inverse system is part of it would be along these lines:
present tense, non-perfect(ive), ... : inverse
past tense, perfect(ive), ... : ergative
The appearance of the ergative part following the same lines as usual in split-ergative languages. However, we could maybe do something else. How about a scenario as follows:
A nom-acc or erg-abs language that has a reflexive possessor along the lines of Swedish "sin", i.e. 'his/her/its own' where his/her/it refers to the subject (or the absolutive, if we want hardcore syntactice ergativity in the ergative subsystem). We form a bunch of adverbs along the lines of "after doing VERB" and so on as "after hisrefl VERBING y", whereas intransitives don't take subjects: "after VERBING", and with the other subject we get "after hisnonreflexive VERBING y". We go on to grammaticalize these types of adverbs into predicatives. We lose the reflexive pronouns elsewhere, after first reanalyzing them as part of past tense agreement morphology. We further reinterpret the two morphemes as referring to whichever noun is higher on the animacy hierarchy (or other relevant hierarchies) rather than to previous subject/previous (dominant?) non-subject.
Now we have a nom-acc or erg-abs language with a good start at getting an inverse system rolling for past(/...) verbs. One thing that would help rid these past tense verbs from a more clearly nominative-accusative pattern is if non-finite verbs take nominative rather than accusative objects. This does happen in some languages for whatever reason so no weirdness there - except we of course need some rather specific circumstances for that to vanish. For an ergative-absolutive language, the problem with accusative objects steering the thing back onto an erg-abs pattern is not applicable. 

However, since ergatives and genitives often are morphologically identical, it could initially seem unlikely for something like this to appear, as the non-finite past tense verbs would be parsed as having ergative subjects anyway - but there's the clever thing, the reflexive/nonreflexive distinction for possession might not really apply for pronouns-as-subjects but very well for pronouns-as-possessors. Or alternatively, they may be to distinguish whether it's the previous ergative or absolutive noun that is referred to in a new sentence (or subclause), and this - I would figure - increases the likelihood slightly for something like this to come about.