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Update on the Grammar Writing Process IX

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

And there I thought that the manuscript of my Ayeri grammar were basically done … Looks like I will have to do some reanalysis of noun phrases and adjective phrases after all. This blog article is a cross post from Conlang-L. While Jeffrey Brown already said over there that the apparent N⁰-to-D⁰ thing (in parallel of apparent V⁰-to-I⁰) shouldn’t be a problem, the question of what to do with APs hasn’t been answered yet. I’m leaving the comments on this article open because I’d like to know if the below is a reasonable analysis.

(In case the pictures of trees and stuff below appear too small on your screen, click to enlarge.)

OK, since two of you suggested to summarize what I’m uncertain about specifically … Ayeri is a VSO language, and I analyzed it previously as having the following basic sentence structure for transitive clauses where the subject NP is not a pronoun (view this email in a fixed-width font to see the examples and charts lining up):

As I said in my original post, I analyzed my conlang’s syntactic structure in terms of LFG, so the c(onstituent)-structure tree above contains functional annotations instead of relying solely on bar levels in order to identify syntactic functions; non-branching pre-terminal bar levels are moreover typically pruned for tidiness. ↑ = ↓ means that the semantic content of the current node is simply passed on to (or actually, united with, as in set theory) the next higher node; (↑ SUBJ) = ↓ identifies the current phrase as the superior node’s (and ultimately IP’s) subject, etc. This way, Ayeri relies on an extended head for its verb (the head of VP is empty but its functional equivalent is found as the head of IP), so that it is still “configurational,” also since I⁰ still c-commands V⁰’s modifiers this way.

I should add that the verb—normally branching off of VP to the left as V⁰—is analyzed here as being found in I⁰ instead. This way, I⁰ holds the inflected verb, its sister XP optionally holds e.g. an adverb. S contains the arguments of the verb: the left NP is the subject, its sister is the VP we extracted the verb from, and VP’s daughter is the object NP. So in linear order we get verb–subject–object (or VSO for short) for the constituents.

Now, the thing that is still puzzling me is that Ayeri very regularly places modifiers after heads, and since there is no agreement morphology on adjectives, adjectives follow their heads immediately to keep scope unambiguous, even though they are adjuncts and not complements. Complements move up further to the right if an adjective is present: NOUN–ADJ–COMP. To give an example:

  1. {Ang vacya} John koyās dano gindiyēri.

    ang=vac-ya Ø=John koya-as dano gindi-ye-eri

    AT=like-3SG.M TOP=John book-P green poem-PL-INS

    ‘John, he likes the green book of poems.’

Here, the adjective dano ‘green’ follows its head, koyās ‘book’ rather than the head + complement koyās gindiyēri ‘book of poems’ to signal that its head is ‘book’ rather than ‘poems’ (‘*green poems’ are maybe the kind of poetry colorless green ideas prefer, I don’t know). Functionally, this construction should be in no way different from the ‘normal’ constituent order N–COMP–ADJ. It’s simply a quirk of Ayeri to invert the order of complement and adjective/adverb, although as we will see below have seen above, this quirk is motivated.

Here, the part in question is the f(unctional)-structure labeled ‘OBJ’ for its function as an object: its lexical head (‘predicator’) is ‘book’, which subcategorizes for a complement. This requirement is satisfied by the subordinate f-structure labeled ‘COMP’. The object also contains an adjunct function (ADJ), and the only member of the set is given as the adjective ‘green’. The question is now, however, how to analyze this in terms of c-structure. In LFG, functional heads are regarded as co-heads of their equivalent lexical categories, which is why I⁰ and V⁰ are regarded as functionally the same: both functional and lexical heads of the same kind (verbal, nominal) write their semantic features into the same f-structure. The strategy of verbs should thus in principle also be applicable to D⁰ and N⁰, with D⁰ as NP’s extended head. However, I have so far analyzed NPs with adjuncts and complements in the following way and was wondering if this is correct:

While it is generally possible to adjoin a phrasal node to a phrasal node, the restriction according to LFG’s annotation rules is that phrasal nodes adjoined to another phrasal node either need to be unannotated (I suppose, this means ↑ = ↓) or not to embody an argument function, however, COMP is an argument function. For nouns, I suppose one could still invoke lexocentricity—the word as such identifies the NP as a complement, here by way of its case marking. This does not work for all phrase types, however, since e.g. CPs as complements of predicative adjectives (nice [CP that you’re here]) do not mark case. I was wondering therefore if the following analysis might not actually be better, also because it parallels the way Ayeri handles verbs:

The head noun is found as a functional head D⁰ here, while N⁰ itself is empty, however, its complement is still in place. This parallels how V⁰ is empty, while the object, as V’s complement, is still constructed as a daughter of VP. This also allows for annotation of the nodes according to the rules, or at least without bending them, as far as I can tell.

A question arising from this is how to deal with determiners. Since I modeled my analysis in (1) on Bresnan et al.’s (2016) analysis of Welsh—which they analyze as not using Spec as a parametric choice—I implicitly assumed for Ayeri as well not to make use of Spec. This means that I analyzed determiners like ‘my’ or sinya ‘which’ (as an interrogative pronoun) as heads of DP which are complemented by an NP, as in (6a). However, with the analysis in (5), can I still follow this strategy and have [DP [DP NP]], as in (6b), or is it preferred for DP not to recursively include another DP for some reason? This is probably a Syntax 101 question, but I’ve never really had a Syntax 101 class.

I mentioned above that adjectives can have phrasal complements. If an adverb is present, complements of adjectives move up as well, but adjective phrases do not have a functional equivalent. So what would I do there, if the strategy outlined for nouns in (5) is followed mutatis mutandis? Would I simply put an AP inside another AP, or would I maybe rather use DP, since adjectives are a nominal category in my conlang?

  • Bresnan, Joan et al. Lexical-Functional Syntax. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2016. Print. Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics 16.

Conlangery on hiatus!

Friday, July 6th, 2018
I apologize for being quiet for so long. Many of you will notice that we have not put out a new episode for a couple months. I (George) am currently working furiously on finishing my dissertation. Between data wrangling, writing, looking for jobs, and playing with a toddler I haven’t had much time or opportunity... Read more »

Update on the Grammar Writing Process VIII

Monday, June 18th, 2018

I wrote earlier this month that I had been revising the index of my Ayeri grammar. I also noticed that a discussion of verbs with predicative complements like tav- ‘become’, maya- ‘feel’, etc. has been missing so far. I added those things yesterday. This also means that the manuscript is basically finished since it should now include everything I meant to discuss, and it should be rather presentable. However, hold your horses, it still needs another round of proofreading to weed out mistakes that have crept in due to adding and deleting index tags from the source files, as well as mistakes which are due to my not being a native English speaker, or just plain lapses.

Update on the Grammar Writing Process VII

Monday, June 4th, 2018

Oh wow, it’s been a full hundred days since I last gave a report here about my progress. The project is still going on, in case anyone wondered.

After littering the LaTeX source files of the grammar with index tags in April, I’ve been working on clearing them up again for the last 3 weeks or so to make the keyword index actually useful. And while I’ve been at it, I’ve been fixing the one or the other issue I’ve come across as well—spelling, formatting, content. I had hoped to be done with this task by June 1st, but just as usual, everything is taking twice as long as expected. Let me tell you, it’s pretty annoying to go through all page references one by one, and to check whether they’re leading to actually relevant information.

I seriously want this off my desk as soon as possible now, even though I’ve learned a lot by writing this book. However, it’s been preoccupying me for long enough—on July 3rd, it’s going to be 2 years. July 1st is the deadline I gave myself, though knowing my perfectionist tendencies, it’s probably rather going to be August: I’ve been considering to ask some native English speakers I know for some additional proofreading.

I also feel a little guilty about spending so much time on writing this grammar instead of working as hard on my Ph.D. project for university: there are about 1,800 commits to the repository (about 1,000 in the last 12 months alone), and if we assume that each one equals about 45 minutes of work on average (reading takes a lot of time, which is balanced by correcting small things), this amounts to 1,350 hours. This, in turn, is about equal to 34 weeks on a full-time job. On the other hand, I suppose I should be fine if I’ll continue working on my thesis with as much zeal as on the grammar, once the grammar book is done for the time being. Blood, sweat, and tears, etc. Anyway, I’ve come so far with this book project, I don’t want to put it on hold indefinitely, especially now that it looks like the end is only weeks away. And then I can hopefully move on.

Update on the Grammar Writing Process VI

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

Incidentally, it was the 600th day since I started working on a refined version of the Ayeri Grammar just yesterday. I’ve spent the last 2 weeks proofreading the chapter on syntax and I’m now ready to go back to the start and proofread the whole book again. You can see the very raw manuscript containing the first round of corrections right after writing the chapters and under it the batch waiting for the second round of proofreading in the first photo. The second photo shows that it’s not an inconsiderable amount of paper—and I printed it as 4 pages per sheet.

Top: first draft of the new Ayeri Grammar, bottom: virgin second draft waiting to be proofread All 470-ish pages of the second draft of the new Ayeri grammar, waiting to be proofread gradually over the next weeks.

I’ve said before that I definitely wanted to have a bound copy of the book myself once it’s done (maybe in summer?), so I’ve looked a little at print-on-demand services recently since I figured that other people might want to have one as well. Apparently, whether you use Amazon’s CreateSpace or, a paperback the size I’ve been considering—15.6 × 23.4 cm with approx. 480 pages—can be produced for about $16, so about €13, which sounds pretty reasonable. You even get an ISBN and distribution included, though I have no idea whether a very small profit margin for the author is already factored in as well (we’re likely talking quarters per copy here). I’m certainly not expecting to sell many copies, since conlangs are a pretty specific thing, but if I made the one or the other buck this way which I could then reinvest in running this site, I’d not be entirely unhappy. Since I like to use print and digital in parallel especially with textbooks, I’m planning to keep up the PDF version of the grammar for free. This is essentially what Language Science Press does, minus the peer review they also provide. If anyone were to want a print copy, they could order it in addition and pay a reasonable price for getting a proper book. I think this is a pretty fair offer.

Update on the Grammar Writing Process V

Monday, January 1st, 2018

Happy new year, everyone! I suppose it’s time again to provide a brief update on my progress with writing my grammar of Ayeri. The whole last year I’ve been trying to figure out describing its syntax formally. This will continue to preoccupy me for the time being also in the new year because verbs are still not fully described, and complementizer phrases (used for complement clauses, relative clauses and such) are lining up to be next. Then, I will also have to work on correcting some things in the sections on raising and control with regards to syntactic typology (I should have figured out constituent structure first), and also describe pronominal binding. And after this, I will have to go back to the beginning of the chapter and fix things for consistency and do proofreading.

The compiled PDF is now close to 400 pages (in A4 format, but with generous margins because LaTeX) without frontmatter, appendices and backmatter, and 400 pages is what I had wanted the main part to be at most once everything is done. The section on the syntax of verbs alone is already almost 100 pages long currently, though granted, verbs are probably the most complex part of the language (or any language?), and all those diagrams take up an awful lot of space. I will definitely have to shave some pages off after writing will be done hopefully some time later this year, though, and especially the argumentative parts are probably predestined for some literal cutting to the chase in spite of my trying not to ramble unnecessarily. The description of Ayeri’s alphabet might also rather go in the appendix. Years at university have taught me that good writing can’t be produced on the spot, anyway.

Honestly, sometimes I wish I had an editor to look over my writing to guide me with it. With the syntax chapter especially, I wish someone could check the plausibility of my hypotheses and analyses once writing is done, too. And then, there’s still proofreading of the whole grammar to do. My English may be pretty good overall, but I’m always somewhat distrusting my abilities as a non-native speaker. Proofreading one’s own writing is generally hard in my experience, though, even in one’s native language.

Should I stay or should I go?

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

I was recently wondering again whether I should move my Ayeri stuff to my own top level domain from its current residence at I haven’t planned anything concrete, I’m just curious for your opinion. There’s a poll embedded in the following tweet.

The thing is, Ayeri’s been living at its current address since July 2008, and thus, things from this site are linked in quite a few other places. In this regard, I feel somewhat uneasy breaking continuity. On the other hand, people usually come in from a handful of sources only, besides search engines, and I can always put a redirect up here.

Update on the Grammar Writing Process II

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

A problem I have recently come to see with conlanging is that while a whole number of people may research a natural language at any time, each researcher contributing to scholarly discourse from their area of expertise, your typical conlanger is working on their fictional language all by themselves. I’m no exception with regards to this. This also means, however, that only you are acquainted with your conlang, which also means that while fleshing it out, you have to be a kind of jack-of-all-trades if you want to do it well. On the other hand, a single person does not have talent for or interest in all areas of a field to the same degree, nor can you know everything about a field as variegated as linguistics. In addition to this, acquiring some deeper knowledge and experience just in a part of a field takes time.

While writing my new Ayeri grammar, describing phonology at least roughly, and morphology with a little more attention to detail seemed fair enough.1 Describing a language, however, doesn’t end at elaborating on how to form words. Syntax is just as important, as it describes how to form larger units of meaning, which is certainly no trivial issue either. Since Ayeri’s structure departs from English in some basic ways, it definitely warrants more serious attention.

Most conlangers I know seem to be mainly interested in morphology, and may even go so far as meeting formal syntax theories with suspicion. Moreover, I have never had a proper introduction to syntax myself either, for instance, in class at university. However, since Ayeri is rather different from German or English, I have long had an itch to figure its syntax out in a more structured way, in order to find out and describe in standard terms what I have been doing so far without giving it too much of a second thought. Since I’ve been trying to keep up a certain level of seriousness in the grammar, simply stating that Ayeri is VSO and heads mostly go first, and treating everything within 5 pages won’t do. Dealing with such a complex topic this superficially does not seem satisfying to my own curiosity and ambition. I am hoping that finding out more about Ayeri’s syntax would uncover more remaining blank spots, the filling of which would allow me to add yet more depth.

A colleague of mine had suggested to get acquainted with Lexical-Functional Grammar, actually with regards to my day job as a grad assistant. Describing Ayeri in this framework, however, might be interesting as well, since LFG was developed with flexibility in mind so that configurational, non-configurational, and mixed languages can all be dealt with in a straightforward manner. With its VSO constituent order, Ayeri may fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, though this needs further analysis, which I can’t provide just yet. I have been trying to work through Bresnan et al. (2016), but I realized that trying to study these things on my own is no adequate replacement for correction by teachers, since it’s too easy to accidentally gloss over important details by reading a textbook without discussing its contents. Furthermore, this book presupposes familiarity with common structuralist paradigms, such as Generative Grammar (Carnie 2002/2013 seems to be a popular introduction), Government and Binding, and X-bar theory, which it seems reasonable to acquaint myself with before I continue.

Yet, I am impatient to keep on writing, since I really don’t want to let the grammar drift off into negligence again this time. I had written some 20 pages on syntax earlier this month, however I realized that much of what I had written is probably wrong, since, for example, I disregarded lexical integrity as a fundamental principle with regards to what I assume to be clitics, simply for the reason of not being aware of this principle for the lack of formal training in a very formal discipline. For the time being, I have deleted what I wrote about the phrase structures of DPs/NPs and AdjP/AdvPs from the PDF in the main development branch on Github (‘master’) to not spread misinformation. Once I know more and have reevaluated some things, development on this part will go on in the ‘trunk’ branch, which I will merge back into ‘master’ once I am confident enough that my analyses are at least not completely off.

Thus, for the time being, the grammar will have to pause at morphology, and hopefully not for another 5 years. Alternatively, I may need to find a way to adequatly describe how to form clauses and sentences without getting too deeply into theories, at least provisionally, if that is possible.

  • Bresnan, Joan et al. Lexical-Functional Syntax. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016. Print. Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics 16.
  • Carnie, Andrew. Syntax. A Generative Introduction. 3rd ed. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Introducing Linguistics 4.
  • Spencer, Andrew and Ana R. Luís. Clitics. An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2012. Print. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics.
  • Zwicky, Arnold M. On Clitics. 1977. Arnold M. Zwicky. 21 Apr. 2015. Stanford U. 21 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 Jul. 2016. ‹›.
  1. I will still have to rewrite some things with regards to cliticization, though. For instance, I am not quite sure whether manga with verbs is inflection or rather a special clitic; the term ‘bound word’ from Zwicky (1977) I used in the grammar hasn’t stood the test of time. I’m currently reading up on more recent research and positions on clitics in Spencer & Luís (2012), so corrections to the morphology chapter will follow eventually.

Issues with Lexember posts

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

So, as you may have noticed with the last two posts, things have been a bit messed up here on this blog. As I mentioned in this post, I make my Lexember posts on Tumblr (my main blog these days, sorry about that), and they should automatically be copied over here for my readers and the readers of the Conlang Aggregator. I have a special IFTTT applet set up specifically for that.

Unfortunately, it seems IFTTT is throwing a fit with my Lexember posts, and cannot copy their contents over to Blogger. The result being the empty post you may have seen appear yesterday (before I filled it by hand when I discovered the issue). I tried to solve the issue with IFTTT, but quite simply failed (I can't seem to find what is wrong with IFTTT. It should work, but it clearly doesn't), so today's Lexember post ended up as an empty post here again. This time I immediately set out to fill it by hand, but I did so using the mobile Blogger app, and it messed things up too (I need to check how to make it accept HTML input). I've now cleaned up the post contents so it shows up correctly, though.

Basically, this has been a train wreck, and to prevent further damage, I have disabled the misbehaving IFTTT applet. I'll simply copy my Lexember posts over by hand (and will do so on my computer only, at least until I can figure out how to make the Blogger app work correctly). I am not abandoning this blog, don't worry about it. However, being unable to count on automation means the Lexember updates may not always appear on time here. If you really want to read my Lexember updates as soon as they are available, I advice you check out my Twitter stream instead, or to follow my Tumblr blog directly (but I hope you don't mind pictures of cute animals, especially dogs!).

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Update on the Grammar Writing Process

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

Draft for the 2016 Ayeri grammar cover
Draft for the 2016 Ayeri grammar cover
At the moment I’m still working on rewriting the grammar. It’s at about 150 pages of content proper now (at regular copy paper size, no less) and I’m working on describing the morphology of the verb right now. Much more still needs to be written, for instance, the chapter on syntax. It’s proven useful to some degree that I’ve already written blog posts detailing the one or the other issue in the past. In these cases, I could simply adapt what I had written before, which sped up the writing process a little. Other than that, I’ve more or less come to mostly ignore what I had written some 5 years ago, since most of it was not very detailed anyway. The new grammar will thus be completely rewritten for the most part, not merely adapted to LaTeX and with extended contents.

For the past four months I’ve tried to basically return to the mode in which I worked on my MA thesis last winter, which involved writing at least 1–2 pages every day. This seems to be the most workable way for me, since taking too long breaks has proven deadly with regards to motivation before. Thus, permanence is probably a virtue with such things, at least as far as I’m concerned, and seeing things grow in manageable increments effectively counters the paralysing fear of the whole mountain of work. Since life is life, however, I have not managed to keep this schedule up very strictly, but I’m still trying to do my best.

At the top of this article, you can see a front cover draft I’ve come up with some weeks ago. My current motivation is to finish writing this thing this time, and to then print out a full copy and have that bound as a reward to myself. It won’t be quite like a real book, of course, but it will still be something I can proudly put on my shelf as an Achievement. I’ve already written an 80-page MA thesis before, so I know I can manage this as well if I want to, even though this time it’s likely going to be three times as long. Plus, if I manage this, I suppose a PhD thesis will also be manageable.

You can still find all the source files in my GitHub repository at There’s also a PDF of the most recently compiled version of the grammar there, as well as an overview of the topics covered so far.