Archive for the ‘grammar’ Category

Detail #409: Number and gender dyscombination

Sunday, April 18th, 2021

In many languages, number and gender are somewhat dependent, somewhat independent. C.f. French il, ils, elle, elles.

Naturally, sometimes there will be conflicts in marking. French is the standard example as far as this goes, and the basic mechanism is, I guess, fairly common: if there's even a single man in a group, the whole group as an entity is masculine.

In Indo-European languages, number and gender is fusional (also with case), e.g. in historical Swedish, -or is +fem, +plur (, +nom); -ar is +masc, +plur (, +nom), -n is +neut, +plur (, +nom/acc).

What if we entirely separate the number and gender markers into a more purely agglutinating system. (NB: in modern Swedish, there is almost a hint at that, if we consider -r a plural marker and the preceding vowel a gender marker.)

Let's start out with not having any zero-marked gender, or at least having the zero-marking only pop up in very limited contexts. For this part of the post, I entirely ignore ideas like case, definiteness, etc.

The setup will be thus:

Nouns: root-(gender*)-(number*)
Adjectives: root-(gender)-(number)
Verbs: root-(gender)-(number)
Determiners: (root)-gender-number
pronouns: (root)-(gender)-(number)

On nouns, some gender may be zero-marked, and the number is zero-marked for singulars. Determiners and pronouns may consist of as little as the gender and number marker with no root, although most pronouns (such as indefinites, various demonstratives, etc) do have roots. The * on gender and number at nouns signify that they're not necessarily always explicitly marked - some nouns may have inherent gender, or possibly, some gender is zero-marked in the noun morphology.

Now for the interesting parts: constructions where the gender or the number is omitted for congruence reasons. 

1 Disjunctions

Disjunctions are an obvious contender for such constructions:

Is-[]-[sg] Eve or Peter responsible-[]-[sg] for this.

Here, we could actually consider a meaning distinction encoded in the congruence on the adjective: if the number is unspecified, we leave it open that the adjective is plural - and thus that they both are responsible. Imagine, however, this type of construction:

Is-[masc]-[dual] Peter, John or Albert responsible-[masc]-[dual] for this?

Are we now asking which two out of the three that are responsible?

One more extreme approach could be having disjunctions block all gender marking, such that

Is-[]-[sg?] Peter or Evan responsible-[]-[sg?]

is the only permissible construction. I am a bit partial to that idea myself - I like having the structure per se be the triggering factor instead of the actual gender difference.

2. Indefinite pronouns

Sometimes, we know something about otherwise indefinite actants. E.g. "I saw someone outside the door" - sometimes, you did see enough to be able to specify further. Obviously, sometimes you saw more than one person; sometimes you may be unsure if the several instances of seeing people actually were the same person in slightly different times. Sometimes you have a good guess as to the sex of a person. Sometimes, you may think you've seen one or several men, but you're sure they're all men.

So, in a gender-centered grammatical system, the utility of being able to specify additional optional information - but potentially also omitting it depending on the available knowledge - should be clear. 

A distinction between "multiple persons, with several genders in the group" vs. "multiple persons, I was unable to distinguish their genders from the information I got" is possible, but I don't really prefer that kind of system in my own sketches of conlangs, because, well, introducing such a meta-distinction is just not how I roll with under- or overspecifying information in languages in this blog.

3. Non-conjunction-like grouping

In many languages, "and" and "with" basically are not strongly distinguished. In languages that do, however, we could consider a system whereby the number fails to agree with whoever it really agrees with:

I is-[]-[pl] playing music with them


4. Different rules for gender markers and plural markers?

We could also consider a situation whereby the scoping rules for the two markers behave differently over conjunctions, etc, so that

I-masc or they-fem will-[]-[plur] win this game
they-masc or she will-[]-[plur] win this game

In this case, the scoping rule for gender is that gender-disagreement leads to no marking, but plural marking outranks singular marking and always wins if possible.

Another possibility could be that any coordination will trigger plural marking, but congruent gender will permit gender marking:

I-masc or she will-[]-[plur] win
he or she will-[]-[plur] win
Tim or Tom will-[masc]-[plur] win

We could also consider rules like "leftmost number but rightmost gender takes precedence for marking".

Detail #408: Thinking about parts of speech

Wednesday, April 14th, 2021

The impression I get when looking at how conlangers deal with parts of speech is that the main method in existence is this:

  1. Take the English set of parts of speech
  2. Conflate some of them (typically <verbs and adjectives>, <nouns and adjectives> or <adjectives and adverbs>).
  3. Break even.
Let's break even in some other manner. (NB: I claim very few conlangers will profit!)

What distinguishes word classes? The following seem to be reasonable characteristics, ranked from strong to weak:
  • syntactical properties (strong)
  • certain, but not all information structural properties (strong, but diffuse!)
This one's somewhat unclear, and that's good, because it gives us some flexibility. Clearly there's information-structural differences between words within the same word class sometimes.
  • morphological properties (somewhat strong)
  • semantic features (weak)
Strength should be seen as correlating with how easily applicable it is. Semantic features is weak because, well, "life", "live", "alive" have a really strong semantic overlap - they seem to refer to the same underlying concept, but they provide different information-structural and syntactic "interfaces" for that meaning. If a word satisfies either of the two top requirements, or two of the weaker features, or partially one of the top features and wholly one of the weaker features, I think that should be sufficient.

So, some ideas here.

Three Parts of Speech
These do not quite fit in the same language.
Titles of address
Consider a language in which titles - sir, mister, reverend, etc - deviate sufficiently from nouns and adjectives as far as syntax and morphology go  not to qualify as either.

These particles can go anywhere in a noun phrase - including the edges - have no morphosyntactical markers, but there may be unique morphemes that go on them. These may correlate with grammatical subsystems of the language - gender and number and such. They cannot stand by themselves as head of an NP, however. 

This class is not entirely closed, and there may be ways of turning adjectives, nouns and verbs into this class. There are, however, some titles that do not have corresponding nouns, verbs or adjectives. Many of those that have no nominal, adjectival or verbal cognates are also morphologically very simple.

Particles of Social Relations
Similar to the previous category, but these mark social relations of humans. In particular they (optionally?) mark the relation of nouns to the higher ranking noun (either by some rank hierarchy or by some syntactical notion of rank). A quirk is that they can also mark the relation of vocatives to the speaker - as long as the vocative is morphologically distinct from the object case, which it isn't for all nouns and names.
Ways of manipulating the rank - voice transformations or other tricks - may permit for marking social relations centered on a person of lower status, or who occupies a syntactical role with lower syntactical status.

There could maybe also be a way of introducing persons who have no semantic role other than being the syntactic center. Maybe having an auxiliary (or some voice construction) whose subject is the social hub and which demotes all other nouns to lower status? Maybe topics always are social hubs, and hanging topics are permitted? Maybe there's some adposition or case marker that raises the rank of a person. Also, the social hubs material possessions can take a similar, inanimate marker.
Particle of Reference
A referential particle is a postposition-like optional word that goes after an NP to which a third person pronoun in the same clause or nearby will refer. There are also a separate particle of possessive reference, which goes on the possessor of a possessum, if these also have separate syntactical roles in the sentence. Unlike a proper postposition, they cannot "outrank" a conjunction: man PARTICLE and his house : a man and his own house (not a man and some other man's house). Multiple particles can be on separate NPs that are co-referred to, even if these are different syntactical entities or possibly even separated by subclause boundaries: the man PARTICLE listened while the woman PARTICLE played the piano PARTICLE and they formed a beautiful scene.

Post mortem:
I have been thinking about this post for a while now, but the three types of particles I came up with seem to be about borderline for whether they make sense as word classes. Clearly, I have provided them all with rather unique semantics and made sure to give them unique syntactical behaviors, but it still seems a bit much to call them word classes.

Detail #407: A New Locus for Irregularities

Tuesday, April 13th, 2021

Normally, 'irregularity' in the popular idea of linguistics consists of patterns in morphology that don't hold. I have, for some time, been interested in other kinds of irregularities, such as quirky case.

Let's consider something in the ballpark of transitivity or valency. Of course, a simple way of creating irregularity for valency would be valency-marking on verbs, and then having a few verbs that deviate from the pattern. But then we're back in the irregular morphology rut again.

We could do another thing:

Have certain unmarked valency-changing operations occur under some circumstances, but have irregularities in this application for some particular verbs.

What kinds of circumstances could these be?

  • Subjects (or possibly objects) of certain noun classes
  • Subclauses vs. main clauses
    • Specific types of subclauses
  • Infinites vs. finite verbs?
  • Certain TAMs?
  • Certain voice, valency, transitivity or subcategorization changes
  • Presence of certain adverbs?
For this I am primarily thinking of adverbs that convey TAM-like information, voice-like information or introduce information-structure dependencies not unlike subclauses.
  • Certain word order changes?
  • Under certain pragmatic conditions?
  • Utterance-initial sentences? Discourse-initial sentences?

Entr’acte: The vanity of logic and typological neutrality

Thursday, April 8th, 2021

Continuing to think about pronominal predicates (about which more is forthcoming) and embedded clauses has led me to some difficult realizations over the past couple weeks. Here's the setup: how should clauses used as predicates really work? We've gone to considerable length to motivate this theoretically final decision that the i marking finiteness should simply be deleted, e.g.

le Iuli i loha ti mehe
NAME Julie FIN love this person
"Julie loves this person"

ka mehe [ (ko) le Iuli loha ]
DEF person [ (ABS) NAME Julie love ]
"the person Julie loves"

The core argument here is that, from the first principles underlying Koa grammar and syntax, there should be no difference between a clause used as a predicate and any other simplex predicate; and the structure of dependent clauses themselves should follow logically from those same first principles. I tried to show how in a clause like the above, the verb phrase (loha) could be said to be modifying the head (le Iuli), producing a Turkish-style nominalization meaning something like "the person of loving-Julie-ness."

Here's the thing: the structure of the Koa clause does not proceed from logic. Within predicates we have this very solid, logical, well-described system of modification, and likewise between predicates and particles...but with clauses we began with what turns out to be an essentially arbitrary formula:


It's a sensible system, a typologically neutral system, but there's nothing at all logical about it. The division between the subject NP and the VP simply had to be made somehow, so we made it. But in the argument above, we tried to create an alternative history where we could reconstruct logical, derived-from-first-principles meaning across a whole dependent clause, when in fact that kind of logic was never present in the simplest of main clauses to start with!

I've realized that we've been holding two competing foundational philosophies simultaneously all this time: typological intuitiveness represented by creoles in one hand, and logic inspired by something like Loglan in the other. We've let each of them grow and flourish and tried to avoid situations where the streams might cross, but with embedded clauses this strategy has just run out of road.

The truth is that at some level of complexity -- such as where we now find ourselves -- this becomes a zero-sum contest. The more genuinely cross-linguistically intuitive these structures are, the less formally logical they will be; the more logical they are, the less intuitive. It's been vanity to imagine that I could indefinitely maximize both simultaneously; self-deception to deny the centrality of the muse of my own aesthetics.

Let's level: Koa isn't really going to become an international auxiliary language, regardless of whether I deem I've met my goal of besting Esperanto or not. This seems to be the moment where I have to decide what kind of language I want this to be, and that choice will underlie the structures that enable Koa to rise up from the banality of example sentences and become a vibrant, truly usable human language.

So what do I do about relative clauses? Do I make them unreduced and internally-headed like Navajo, by far the most elegant, internally consistent choice, despite the fact that that would feel alien to 99% of the Earth's population? Or follow the example of Yoruba (and most other languages, honestly), accept a relative pronoun, and decide that there's something that makes these kinds of clauses different from others? Or go back to the drawing board on what really makes a clause in Koa in the first place, trying to build something up from first principles that will survive this particular wave of complexity...knowing that the result also will likely be elegant and logical at the cost of typological neutrality?

I'm not sure, but what's becoming clear is that the choice is mine to make, and that no amount of rigorous exploration of semantics will decide it for me. In a way it's freeing: maybe after more than 20 years of devotion to principles, I've earned the right to let my personal aesthetics unabashedly lead me for a while. It would be a relief to choose a structure or a system that I like, and feel justified in doing so because there is no alternative to choice so I might as well make it one that pleases me.

More to come, clearly.

A review of “A Hand-book Of Volapük” by Andrew Drummond, and an interview with the author

Thursday, April 1st, 2021

Jim Henry was born in 1973 in Decatur, Georgia, and has lived in the Atlanta area most of his life. He started creating constructed languages in 1989 after discovering Tolkien’s Quenya and Noldorin (in The Book of Lost Tales rather than his better-known works), but his early works were all vocabulary and no syntax. In 1996, after discovering Jeffrey Henning’s conlang site and the CONLANG mailing list, he started creating somewhat more sophisticated fictional languages; and in 1998, he started developing his personal engineered language gjâ-zym-byn, which has occupied most of his conlanging energies since then, and in which he has developed some degree of fluency. He retired recently after working for some years as a software developer, and does volunteer work for the Esperanto Society of Metro AtlantaProject Gutenberg, and the Language Creation Society.


Jim Henry reviews the book A Hand-book of Volapük, and then interviews its author, Andrew Drummond.

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Possession versus ownership

Thursday, March 18th, 2021

All that discussion about possessive pronouns and oma versus keme -- and particularly the Malay structure in which the possessive predicate construction involves what is technically the verb of belonging -- got me to thinking: what actually is the logical relationship between these concepts of "one's own," "owning" and "belonging?"

It turns out there's a very straightforward one, and was basically already fully wired and ready to be discovered! Oma doesn't just mean "one's own," it's a verb meaning "to belong to!" The flexibility of lexical class in Koa had obscured this before. So for example:

ka talo oma ni
DEF house belong 1SG
"my own house"

...but technically oma ni is here actually an adjectival clause rephrasable as "the house that belongs to me," exactly analogous to

ka tupo ma polo
DEF horse IMPF run
"the running horse" or "the horse that is running"

We also have a lovely economical phrase for a Valentine's heart:

vi oma ni
IMP belong 1SG
"be mine"

All this is why oma didn't feel right when I was trying to say "this is my house": there's too much of a semantic of belonging or owning in there.

ti talo i oma ni
this house FIN belong 1SG
"this house is my own" or "this house belongs to me"

What we were really looking for was a purely conceptual relationship of possession, blanched of as much additional meaning as possible: that's exactly what keme is. After all, this is in origin a derivative of with; ti talo i keme ni just means "this house is mine," in the sense of "this house is associated with me." We're not trying to talk about owning or belonging in this imaginary conversation. It seems to be a distinction I'd never really considered before between possession and ownership.

There's this really fascinating-looking Oxford University Press cross-linguistic typological survey of possession and ownership across the world's languages, and one thing I was reading in the summary is that languages from cultures where ownership is 100% the same as possession tend to have very different corresponding linguistic structures than what we're used to. Clearly (A) I need to find a copy of this book and read it as soon as humanly possible, and (B) there's going to have to end up being a fuzzy limit to Koa's pretensions of universality where structure intersects with radically different underlying cultural needs. Still, I'll keep trying my best...

Detail #406: Another spot for limited ergativity

Wednesday, March 17th, 2021

In some languages, certain particles can be pretty adposition-like, yet stand by subject-like nouns:

no-one but he/him knew ...*

One could easily imagine that a language for this particular type of particle had an ergative-like pattern going on, thus

no-one but him slept
no-one but he saw it
they saw no-one but him

* This is apparently a construction where English grammars differ on recommendation, yet some standardized tests require one to take a stance, thus forcing the pupil to know which fucking grammar the author of the test holds to be correct. If you make standardized tests, you should fucking well be knowledgeable enough not to do that shit to people.

Return of the Pronominal Predicate

Tuesday, March 16th, 2021

Over the years there's been a lot of hemming and hawing about predicate-length (i.e. bisyllabic) versions of the personal pronouns, which I've tended to refer to as "emphatic." I'm not sure where the idea came from originally; maybe the full versus clitic forms of the pronouns in Polish planted the seed? It occurs to me to wonder how well-represented a strategy this is cross-linguistically. The other clear examples I can think of come from Welsh (i vs innau), Ancient Greek (με vs ἐμέ) and Nahuatl ( vs nèhuātl): not much ground for generalizations.

Since the idea first occurred to me some version of it has never left at least the theoretical lexicon, despite occasional deep skepticism. Most recently, in this post -- since which more than two years inexplicably seem to have passed -- I think I pretty firmly established that there does need to be a form of the personal pronouns that makes it possible to use them as predicates. It's important to note that as such they may have nothing whatsoever to do with emphasis, though, except for the fact that these predicates have a tendency to show up in pragmatically marked syntactic structures. For this reason I'm thinking we should ditch the "emphatic" nomenclature that probably has its origins in IE languages anyway, and choose a better-motivated term like "extended" or "predicative."

As to form, we've seen three options:

A. Reduplicating the pronoun (the longest standing): nini, sese, etc.
B. Lengthening the pronoun to produce a bisyllable of analogous form: nii, sei, etc.
C. Adding -a on the analogy of ke > kea, to > toa, and so on.: nia, sea, etc.

I've thought of a couple others recently:

D. Adding -imi "self," currently used also as a true emphatic: niimi, seimi, etc.
E. Adding some other formative, like -pe: nipe, sepe, etc.

Option A was the original idea long ago and I'm still a big fan, other than the fact that this would necessitate giving up tata "dad" in favor of papa which I just do not like. Aside: this has been a bigger problem than you might think, because I really truly actually seriously detest papa and this has held up the whole thought process for probably almost 15 years. I honestly don't know what to do about this, because I apparently can't let go of either and I obviously can't have both. Could there be some completely different "dad" word? I feel like I might die on this hill while the whole of civilization grinds to a halt around me.

ANYWAY, back to the subject: I've never much cared for the aesthetics of option B, or the fact that the pronouns with mid vowels end up looking less like their simplex forms than the others, so I think we might as well just toss that one. Option C is totally reasonable and logical, though let's discuss the semantic implications below, and I'd just like to take a moment to bemoan the loss of taa for "surpass," as I've increasingly been thinking of it. Option D I apparently brought up just to instantly dismiss, because using a form with this literal semantic meaning in this pragmatic way feels very ad hoc and un-Koa. Option E is possible if we really need it, so maybe let's leave it in the back pocket for the moment.

As to option C: the idea here is that we already use -a to make pronouns out of specifiers, which initially makes this seem like a pretty solid plan. An important thing to notice, though, is that the Koa "personal particles" actually live a double life -- they do act as pronouns, but in other contexts they're specifiers! And as specifiers their value is possessive. If, then, -a makes a specifier into a pronoun -- or to look at it another way, into a predicate -- then nia should mean not "I" but "mine!"

I actually don't have a ready argument for why this shouldn't immediately be declared canon. A structure like this gives us possibilities like:

ti talo i nia
this house FIN mine
"this house is mine"

ka nia i pavasu
DEF mine FIN PASS-wear.out
"mine is worn out"

Currently, without these forms, we're forced to co-opt other words in what is unavoidably an arbitrary way, or repeat the coindexed referents redundantly:

ti talo i keme ni
this house FIN attribute/possession 1SG
"this house is my possession"

ka keme ni i pavasu
DEF possession 1SG FIN PASS-wear.out
"[this possession of] mine is worn out"

ti talo i ni talo
this house FIN 1SG house
"this house is my house"

Okay, so honestly, to my surprise I don't hate the structures with keme ni. I actually don't think they're arbitrary at all: this seems like a completely logical, consistent extension, and maybe even the most consistent way of expressing this concept. The real question, then, I guess, ends up coming down to aesthetics and word-worthiness. Before digging in here, though, note what happens when we use predicates like nia in an adjectival position:

ka lina nia
DEF city mine
"my city"

This gives us a genuinely emphatic meaning, as against the unmarked ka lina ni "my city." Important! And without these forms we'd be limited to

ka lina keme ni
DEF city possession 1SG
"the city of my possession" = "my city"

There's no question that the form with nia is more elegant. What I'm not sure of is (A) whether giving up 6 predicates to this cause is being unnecessarily improvident, and (B) what's the cross-linguistic word on possessive pronouns? Would these predicates be typologically motivated?

Indo-European has a variety of strategies, often the genitive of the personal pronoun or a separate possessive form. Modern Greek uses an adjective meaning "own," e.g. δικός μου "my own," "mine," which is kind of cool and a little like keme ni (and as to that, does Koa have a way of expressing that meaning of "own?" Oh yes of course, oma). Finnish and Turkish both use the genitive of the pronoun: tämä talo on minun, bu ev benim. Hungarian interestingly has distinct possessive pronouns, which I'd forgotten about: ez a ház az enyém, etc. Basque -- if I'm interpreting this forms correctly -- seems to put a definite ending on a genitive pronoun, so ni > nire > nirea...fascinating, a bit like el mío in Spanish, I guess? That about wraps it up for Europe, I think.

For a minute I got excited about Hebrew because the modern vernacular language seemed to use a structure 100% analogous to ka talo keme ni with its הבית שלי ha bait sheli but then I learned from Marisa that sheli is just the 1SG form of the preposition "of" and I was disappointed. But then I discovered that shel comes originally from something like "...which is to me," "to me" being the way Arabic still expresses "mine": هذا البيت لي hadha al-beyt li "this is my house," lit. "this the house to me." So a prepositional phrase -- that's a cool different strategy. (Thanks, Liorr, for these translations!)

Mandarin just uses the genitive of the pronoun again: 这房子是我 的 zhè fángzi shì wǒ de "this house COP 1SG GEN." Japanese says "my thing": この家は私のものです kono ka wa watashi no mono desu "this house TOPIC 1SG GEN thing COP." Interesting. Malay has "my possession"!!! rumah ini milik saya, "house this possession me"; apparently milik can also be a verb "belong."

Most of the rest of human languagedom is still untouched, but maybe this is enough. Clearly lots of very unrelated languages are happy with "my X," and I don't think I want discrete lexemes for possessive pronouns anyway: it just doesn't feel right. I'm intrigued by the semantics at the perhaps unlikely intersection of Greek and Malay, though, and I wonder whether we might use oma in this context:

ka talo ni oma
DEF house 1SG own
"my own house"

...wait, or is it

ka talo oma ni
DEF house own 1SG
"my own house"

Oh yikes. Let's not even get into the fact that the official lexicon gives oma for "self," when I thought it was imi! Okay, okay, no, actually we'd better. Deep breath: oma could be "one's own," whereas imi could be "the self" in, like, consciousness terms. So ni imi oma "my own self." Apparently reflexive pronouns do tend to come from the word for the self, so it's also not arbitrary to potentially say things like ni nae ni imi "I see myself."

That now being settled, which version above is correct? If we accept ni imi oma that would suggest that oma is applied to an existing possessive phrase, in which case it should be the first. Then:

ka ni oma
DEF 1SG own
"my own"

...and potentially

ti talo i ni oma
this house FIN 1SG own
"this house is mine"

Ugh, though, why is an alienable object ("house") being described with inalienable possession, then? Either we say that that's just how oma rolls, which would be realistic to natural languages but not exactly in line with Koa's goals of being reducible to first principles, or maybe the noun modified by oma "groups" together before possession happens? So ni [imi oma] "myself," obviously inalienable, but then [ka talo oma] ni "my own house," alienable. And since utterances like "this mother is mine" are pretty pragmatically anomalous and therefore unlikely outside of bad reference grammars, oma ni is a better form to be the default predicate.

WHICH MEANS that either of the following could mean "this house is mine":

ti talo i oma ni
this house FIN own 1SG
"this house is my own" = "this house is mine"

ti talo i keme ni
this house FIN possession 1SG
"this house is my possession" = "this house is mine"

However, there's a distinct semantic in the oma sentence worth pointing out: it's essentially saying "this is my very own house." In other words, there's no way besides ti talo i oma ni to say "this house is my very own." That's worth being able to say, but not really what we were trying to get at with this now absurdly long odyssey into the subject. Ti talo i keme ni seems much more neutral: this is just the house that I have.

This was extremely productive -- although it left me with the very same conclusions I'd previously reached here, albeit with much less exhaustive motivation -- but not even slightly the matter I actually meant to spend the apparently last 24 hours exploring! Will try again tomorrow...

Detail #405: Doubly Redundant Numerals

Saturday, March 13th, 2021

A redundant numeral system is one where numbers have multiple ways of being expressed. This can easily be constructed by, for instance, having digits for larger numbers than the base, e.g. base 10, but digits up to twelve. Let's call them J, K, L (10, 11, 12).

This provides two ways of writing 11: <11>, <B>. 22, likewise, can be written as <22> or <1C>.

A different type of redundancy could be one where some information in the number is given in a redundant fashion. We in fact have some of that already - digit grouping is a redundant feature.

I will use the roman numeral D (500) as an illustration. Imagine we used D for 500, and it permitted the following uses:

D00 = 500
D = 500
D4 = 504
1D = 1500
1D00 = 1500
1500 = 1500

Using the D here would introduce some redundancy: we now know how far away the unit is, even if it is omitted. Imagine further using M as an alternative for 1000. We could also go a slight additive route here, and if we have the letters J K L M N O P Q R S following the previously given pattern, 

DSS would signify 500 + 190 +  19 = 709, which also could be written 709 or 69S or 5SS. The double redundancy, of course, comes from the fact that we can know the D is 500, and that its order of magnitude is not the result of a digit having been lost to the right. 

However, dedicated symbols like these could maybe also permit for things like this:

D250 = 500 + 250 = 750

I will not get into that kind of thing any deeper right now. I am inclined to think I might include something like this in the Bryatesle-Dairwueh number system.

Ćwarmin: How to distinguish a clitic postposition from a case

Friday, March 12th, 2021

Ćwarmin has a rich system of cases, which to some extent form fusional forms with number and the definiteness system. Ćwarmin also has a rather rich system of postpositions which are not considered cases. What makes one set considered cases and the other set not?

The Ćwarmin cases can be found here. However, nearly all Ćwarmin postpositions also are suffixed (and the prepositions are prefixed) to words. There are, however, certain traits that distinguish them. Some suffixes are sometimes cases, sometimes not.

1. Possible carriers

Postpositions are less picky than cases. They go on the final word of a noun phrase, regardless of what that is. Cases can only go on nouns, adjectives, pronouns and numbers. However, some postpositions also have case suffixes on them, often showing their origin as nouns, adjectives or pronouns.
(Make up etymologies for "apart (from)", "together with", "between" and some others).

apart from: -źəd-ir (egəd 'roads' + plural general ablative)
"roads away (from each other)"
together with: -xədəŋ-ic
between: -xədəŋ-ijn (xədəŋ is related to the adaŋ-morpheme in numerals)

Similarly, only cases distinguish the paucal from the plural, or the specific from the definite. Postpositions tend to go on the accusative stem, but one also find examples of general ablative, the dative or the instrumental or negative, with the occasional comitative-to thrown in. Sometimes, a postposition will take a different case in the plural than in the singular. Postposition-case pairings are not entirely regular: there seems to be both a lexical component which is basically a parameter to a probabilistic parameter. In addition, many of the postpositions cause some morphological wear at the end of the suffix, sometimes making it unclear which case is involved. Factors which affect the postposition-case pairing are:

* the more individuated the noun, the more likely to be dative it is
* the more involved despite lack of volition, the more likely to be instrumental
* negations, absence, etc tend to favour the negative case
* the comitative-to sometimes is used to emphasize a noun as being central to the events or important
* the general ablative tends to be lexically determined by some nouns to appear in the plural
* the dative tends to be lexically determined by some verbs to appear with the postposition

Only in the case where a postposition goes on the accusative or general ablative stem is there any suspicion that they're actually cases.

2. Morphological position

Postpositions go after all the other suffixes of a word. Postpositions can, however, take their own suffixes. Cases go after derivational suffixes, and after case-number-definiteness*.

* Ćwarmin grammatical tradition is to consider the whole case-number-definiteness-complex a single marker, despite clear agglutination.

3. Behavior over gaps and ellipses

This, in particular, is the behavior where some cases in some constructions behave like cases, and in other constructions do not. Adpositions in Ćwarmin can mark a whole coordinated phrase, case can only mark one noun phrase each:

milt-əneś (ul) mar-ummona
[milti-əneś (ul) maruw-ummona]
"for liver (and) kidneys"
*milti ul mar-ummona

*wekre (ul) pokr-oku
wekr-iki (ul) pokr-oku
with garlic and onion

Two cases that have different behaviors in different contexts are the negative and the general ablative. The singular dative can also showcase both in a few particular constructions, e.g. with verbs for 'resemble x.dat', and other verbs of perception where something the stimulus is compared to is in the dative, it seems both case-like and case-unlike use is permissible for many speakers.

3.1 The negative

The negative, when communicating an abessive/caritive meaning, does not seem to be a proper case, but rather a postposition. Thus, you could get

wekre dar pokr-usta
garlic nor onion-without
without garlic and onion

but as subjects or objects,
*wekre dar pokr-usta ogm(o)-ur-ka źub-u
garlic nor onion stone-from-in grow-3sg

wekr-istə (dar) pokr-usta ogm-ur-ka źub-u
neither garlic nor onion grow from stone

4. Interactions with the reflexive accusative

Most postpositions can interact with the reflexive(ly possessed) accusative. Thus

wicxə-sin (my/your/his/her/... (own) house)
wicxə-sin-rede (behind my/your/his/her/... (own) house)
*wicxə-sin-itite (of ... (own) house)
Thus we can see that -rede, "behind" is a postposition, whereas -itite is not. The negative can combine with the reflexive possessive accusative whenever it is of a postpositional construction as well.

5. Congruence with numerals

The congruence with numerals is limited already, and is sometimes blocked by other case-marking constructions. However, the case suffixes do not participate in it at all, and only the case of the noun itself prior to case suffixing can affect case marking of numerals.

6. Fusionality

Fusionality with number and definiteness is generally not required to be a case, but if it is present, it is a case. All numbers that have such fusion have all the other hallmarks.

7. Coordination of postpositions

Postpositions can be coordinated, cases cannot:

bećəś-xədəŋ-ic ej-źəd-ir
you-together_with or_apart_from

*xarsab-ac-ak:a ej-enek:e
*the roof-on or-onto
*on or onto the roof