Archive for the ‘grammar’ Category

Ćwarmin Voice Markers beyond the Passive

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016
Ćwarmin has some more voices beyond the passive and active, but unlike the active voice, all of them use the passive -aśp morpheme for the third person, and lack person marking for first and second person subjects. The main voices beyond passive and dative-passive are the causative (of intransitives), and the causative (of transitives). There is also a detransitive-habitual aspect-voice combination.

Morphologically, there is some overlap between the two causatives. Almost all causatives of intransitives are entirely unmarked in the present tense, as are a handful of causatives of transitives. A few entirely regular such verbs are:
taun - sit, seat
wecəm - smile, make someone smile
gaxar - laugh, make someone laugh
miler - rise, raise
colan - sink, submerge
Some intransitives that are marked in the present causative include
pəlnəm - jump
polnom - jump
kəjn - run
The few transitives that are not marked in the present causative are
taslon - leave, make someone leave
kolkor - carry, load
kolćojn - carry, send
In all other TAMs but the present indicative tense, the intransitive causative has the marker -ka(n)-/-ke(n)-, and takes either no person suffix (for 1st and 2nd person) or the passive suffix -aśp/-eśp for the third person. A more "neutral" way of describing -aśp/-eśp would be as a non-canonic voice marker, which in the absense of other markers is parsed as a passive.

The causative, further, has the causee in either the accusative or the nominative, often depending on the amount of coercion or force involved (nominative indicating less such).

The use of the causative voice is clearly and easily related to the structure of a fact: someone made someone be or do something, and that is what is being expressed. Asking someone to do something, telling them to do something, suggesting they do something, placing them in a situation where they are forced to or even prone to do something is all considered forms of causation.
A further voice marker is a sort of passive causative, which is formed by -kar(u)-/-kər(i)-. This passive causative signifies a few different meanings:
(being made to do something (subject in nominative))
doing something with little volition involved (subject in genitive)
resigning to doing something (subject in dative)
accidentally doing something (subject in genitive, aspect being punctual)
No matter the case of the subject with these forms, the congruence works similarly to the passive: -aśp/-eśp for third person, no marker for first and second person.

Usage of the passive causative is more pragmatically marked, mainly indicating that something is accidental, non-volitional or even somewhat undesirable. Sometimes there is no causer stated, and this basically communicates that there is no causer but that the whole state described by the verb is very untowards according to the speaker or the subject.

There is a further voice, the applicative. It turns a locative of any type or an instrument into a direct object. For transitive verbs, it also permits turning the object into an instrumental, although we also finds speakers that permit retaining the direct object as an accusative direct object (thus having two direct objects). The applicatives morpheme is -tak-/-tək-.

With locatives the kind of locative (that is, direction or location) correlates with the aspect of the verb.
hethe doors(a few)deliver (by wagon)

he delivers all the way to the doors(paucal)
This serves to emphasize a non-patient argument or to make it available for certain syntactical operations.


Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

The negation particle has worn down to a null morpheme, so whether a sentence is positive or negative must be determined from context.

“Most of these chemicals are safe. However, some of them are safe. You must handle them with caution, and it goes without saying that you must eat them.”

Detail #315: Noun-specific Quirky Case

Friday, October 21st, 2016
Since I am a fan of various forms of irregularities, I find the idea of quirky case that only applies to particular nouns with particular verbs to be kind of interesting. However, let's phrase it vaguely as 'nominally conditioned quirky case' and we can use this vagueness to generate even more ideas.

Quirky case possession, for instance, could have certain nouns (or even noun-noun combinations) require their possessors to be marked for an exceptional case, or vice versa, certain nouns could be marked for an exceptional case when possessors (despite having a genitive that as far as everything else but possession goes has the same distribution as the genitive for other nouns), or the whole thing requires two nouns that together trigger the quirk.

Quirky case could of course be extended to nouns with adpositions, but this would sort of just be an extension of the previous two - no matter whether the adpositions originate as semantically bleached nouns or verbs, a previous stage exists to account for it.

Detail #314: "Untransitive" Verbs and an Odd Voice

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016
Let's consider verbs with meanings such as 'to be at', 'to stand at', 'to lie at', etc. These verbs could easily take accusative complements without being perceived as really being transitive (or for that part, in an ergative language might fail to have the subject marked for ergative!).

Now, we can start considering what it'd mean for an accusative complement of a verb not to be an object. This would mean we can't coordinate them, despite identical marking, with other objects:
*John wasat and hated school
 This in itself is kind of interesting. However, we could imagine something really weird going on here: using some kind of circumstantial (or whatever) voice to turn these verbs into actual transitive verbs; then, some voice marker could be used to permit something along the lines of
John was being be-at-ening and hated school
where obviously be-at-ening is a pretend form in English, a nonsense thing I use to present this form. This use of voice would probably have to be called something like explicit active or somesuch.

The Ŋʒädär Vowel Harmony and its Development

Monday, October 17th, 2016
Ŋʒädär's vowel system is somewhat more complicated than that of Ćwarmin. The following system, in fact, is the basic layout:
iüɯ <ı>u
eöɤ <ə>o


This originates with a slightly different system, the ancestor system of both Ŋʒädär and Ćwarmin:




The symbols used are somewhat misleading: ɒ is not necessarily fully rounded, nor is ɶ. The distinction of e vs. ɛ, ø vs. œ etc was only maintained in stressed syllables. The vowels of the neutral column were also retracted significantly in words with back rounded vowels.

This originally allophonic retraction became phonological with the loss of a number of vowels in various positions, such as unstressed final short vowels after sibilants.
/'gisu/ ['gɯsu] > /gɯs/ sling
/'gise/ ['gise] > /gis/ feather
/'keza/ ['kezɒ] > /kɤz/ thing
/'keze/ ['keze] > /kez/ straw of grass

ser'teʒi/ [ser'teʒi]> /ser'teʒ/ keep for later
/'sɛrteʒa/ ['sʌrtɤʒɒ] > /'sɤrtɤʒ/
Final vowels have thence reappeared due to loss of final -t, -p and -k after vowels. These have thence reappeared due to simplification of final clusters (-nk, -nt, -mp, -st, -sp, -sk, -rk, -rt, -rp). 

Another position where vowels have disappeared is unstressed initial ijV-, ıjV-, ıwV-, uwV-, etc. Of these, only uwV- and ar- affect vowel harmony.
/a'rik/ [ɒrɯk] > /rɯk/ knee
/rik/ [rik] > /rik/ shard
/u'wir/ [u'wɯr] > /wɯr/ dough
/i'wir/ [i'wir] > /wir/ soft
/u'jent/ [u'jɤnt] > /jɤt/ sleep (stem)
jent [jent] > /jet/ eyelid

A Python HTML Table Gloss Maker

Sunday, October 16th, 2016
Since making glosses using the blogger editor by hand is tedious and boring, I suddenly realized I'm doing it often enough anyways to benefit from writing a short script for dealing with it. The code is not particularly beautiful or anything, but I figure it might be useful for some conlangers who want to write glosses in html, and just find doing so by hand tedious. Adding css or whatever to keep it beautiful is up to you. 

Here goes: 
 def Tokenzr(T, symbols):
        for sym in symbols:
                T = T.replace(sym, ' ' + sym)
        return T.split(' ')

def TRow(words):
        tr = " "
        for word in words:
                tr = tr + "" + word + "
        return tr + " "

def DefElems(description, elements):
        print(description + ":\n")
        output = []
        for element in elements:
                temp = raw_input("\n" + element + "\n")
        return TRow(output)

T_tb_glossd = raw_input("Text to be glossed:\n")
tokend_T = Tokenzr(T_tb_glossd, [',', '.', '-', '_'])

gloss = "" + TRow(tokend_T) + DefElems("Grammatical glosses", tokend_T) + DefElems("Word for word translation", tokend_T) + ""
By request, a python3 version, which is better whenever you use non-ascii symbols:
def Tokenzr(T, symbols):
    for sym in symbols:
        T = T.replace(sym, ' ' + sym)
    return T.split(' ')

def TableRow(words):
    tr = " "
    for word in words:
        tr = tr + "" + word + ""
    return tr + ""

def DefineElements(description, elements):
    print(description + ":\n")
    output = list()
    for element in elements:
        temp = input("\n" + element + "\n")
    return TableRow(output)

T_tb_glossd = input("Text to be glossed:\n")
tokend_T = Tokenzr(T_tb_glossd, [',', '.', '-', '_'])
gloss = "" + TableRow(tokend_T) + DefineElements("Grammatical glosses", tokend_T) + DefineElements("Word for word translation", tokend_T) + "

The script prints the result out to the console - to me at least that's more convenient than printing to a file. Making a browser plugin seems like overkill for such a trivial task. Just copy-paste and put in a .py file if you want to run it. The ugly abbreviations are just my own conventions.

From now on, I should never be caught making badly layed-out glosses for this blog, at least.

Detail #313: A Noun Morphology (for once without cases!)

Sunday, October 16th, 2016
Let's consider a language in which almost all noun stems begin on consonants; the exceptions are few enough that the minds of the speakers basically are able to keep track of them pretty well. All nouns belong to a variety of noun classes, which are (sometimes optionally) marked by a suffix.

The interesting bit is a set of five prefixes, a-, e-, i- and u-. These have different functions depending on the definiteness, the number and the class of the noun. Before -r-, -l-, and -w-, a- appears in the allomorph o-, whereas in the handful of nouns that begin with vowels, u- appears as w-, i- as y-, and the others get an intrusive -l-, also causing a- to appear as o-.

The class of thin, long things have these prefixes mark for orientation:
i-  away from the current reference (sg, pl)
u- towards the current reference (sg, pl)
a- perpendicular to the line of sight of the reference
e- moving (sg, pl) , in disarray (plural)
The class of round and irregular things have
i- small
a- large
u- large (very irregular shape)
e- varying sizes (only plural)
Places have
i- close by
a- forest
e- inhabited
u- pasture
Humans have
i- sibling
u- at least one generation older
e- slave or otherwise non-free
a- higher in social status
Animals have
i- small
e- tame
u- wild
a- large
Some of these may have meanings differing by definiteness as well, e.g. foodstuffs have this:
i- a small amount of
a- sweet, fat
u- sour, bitter
e- medical, poisonous

i- a small piece of
a- sweet, fat
u- sour, bitter
e- of ritual importance

Unlike nominal or adjectival attributes, these cannot form simple predicates. You can of course take a noun with the prefix and use that as a predicate. However, a special verb exists that has the prefix appear twice in it:
  These of course take noun class congruence. For these, however, the noun class congruence is sort of half-way derivational: saying something like 'my brother is far away' would use the place-class congruence marker as well as the human-class marker.

New Language Needed for Comic Book Series

Monday, October 10th, 2016


Jurgen Wattmann is looking for a language expert to create a language for a comic series set in an urban fantasy world. The language itself should not be created from scratch, but will be derived instead from Uto-Aztecan stock. The employer possesses relevant information and will share it with the chosen applicant.
The job itself consists of:

  • A full conlang derived from an existing Uto-Aztecan language, with a complete grammatical description and about 500 words of vocabulary;
  • Translating texts for the comic book series. A first translation job of moderate length (no more than 1000 words) is included in this project. As this is a series, the employer may contact the language creator for additional translation work. This is not part of this project and compensation for it should be negotiated separately.

All material should use the Latin alphabet. There is no script needed.


Jurgen Wattmann

Application Period

Open until filled


The deadline of the initial project is four to six months after agreement, to be negotiated with the employer.


€600 for the language and the translation work as described above (€200 upfront, €200 at midpoint, and €200 upon completion). Compensation for additional work can be negotiated.
Besides compensation, the language creator will be fully credited for their work.

To Apply

Email Jurgen Wattmann at lennsridarin “at” gmail “dot” com to express your interest in the project. Please include qualifications and samples of previous work.

Note: Please assume that comments left on this post will not be read by the employer.

Ćwarmin Names

Saturday, October 8th, 2016
Ćwarmin names come in several patterns, depending on regional and family traditions.

One common tradition is using suffixes on 'name stems' to express the significance of a child:
-ot | -ət
'oldest son'. Whether it goes by mother or father differs by region, but most regions go by father. In some families, it is replaced by
-sako | -səke
upon the death of the father.
-otkom | -ətkəm
A younger twin of an oldest son

A female twin of an oldest son
Outside of the core cases (nom, gen, acc, dat), -ot/-ət is omitted, but the case marking follows the definite paradigm as far as possible.

-otol | -ətəl
'oldest living son'. Changes upon the death of a previously oldest living son; in some regions, goes to oldest living daughter once if no sons remain). In regions with the -sako/-səke morpheme, this is also replaced by -sakol/-səkəl upon the passing of the father.

-oxan | -esən
'daughter born after the death of her father'

-anko | -ənke (son)
-asko | -əśke (son)
-olku | -elki (daughters)
'a son or daughter born significantly later than other children of the same mother'
Patronymics likewise have some doublings of the same information present.
The usual patronym for male offspring is name-stem+julor, from julo, son. The patronym for female offspring is [name-stem]+-ćəŋer, from ćəŋel. However, oldest sons get -julot, as do oldest living sons. Female twins of an oldest son gets -ćəŋet. -ćəŋsən is applied to daughters born after the death of their father.

Toponyms often appear in the general ablative in full names.

Ćwarmin naming is not very solidly set in stone, and differs by what is needed; several small, distant communities basically never use the patronymics, because no confusion appears anyway. Communities involved in trade routes, military raids, or even urban living use increasingly complex names:
toponym patronym [optional descriptive term] name
The optional descriptive term can be basically any adjective or profession. Some other nouns appear at times, but are unusual.

Detail #312: Conjugations, Declinations and Exceptional Lexemes

Friday, October 7th, 2016
Consider a language along the style of Latin, Russian or Finnish, where nouns and verbs belong to conjugations or declensions. Each conjugation or declension provides somewhat different patterns for inflecting your nouns and verbs. Usually in languages such as these, a noun or verb belongs to one in particular, although dialectal, *-lectal and even historical variation may exist. A lexeme might also be somewhat ambiguous as to what particular such class it belongs to.

However, you can also imagine lexemes that in most normal use belongs to a particular class, but have individual exceptions – a certain case or TAM+person or whatever behaving like the lexeme belonged to a different class.

These are fairly plausible exceptions and can be found in many languages. However. A thing that I am unaware of any careful description of are semantically conditioned exceptions. I.e. a word that belongs to a particular class, except for a specific set of phrases including that word - for instance, sausages belong to declination III, but in a particular compound or with a particular attribute that turns it into a specific type of sausage, the lexeme "sausage" is suddenly inflected as though it belonged to a different conjugation. Referring to sausages of that particular type even without the compound or attribute may also trigger the exceptional inflectional pattern.

A couple of things one could do with this:
  • restrict this quirk to only some specific case or number - say having the nominative plural behave exceptionally for the specific phrase, but no other case or number; or have it go for all the plurals?
  • generalize it as a kind of derivational tool for those lexemes belonging to a particular declension or conjugation
This kind of detail is an easy way of giving one's conlang a kind of 'realistic texture', the kind of 'lived-in' feeling of, say, Finnish, German, Russian, Latin or Georgian.

The reason, btw, why I used the noun "sausage" as an example is that some speakers of Southwest Finnish have that exact distinction, apparently. Makkara has the plural stem makkaroi- in the plural for most sausages, but a few specific types of sausage have makkari- in the plural.