Archive for the ‘grammar’ Category

Dairwueh: Personal Names and Cases

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019
An Indo-European-like trait that Dairwueh and Sargaĺk share (but that Bryatesle lacks!) is case congruence on adjectives. What makes this particularly Indo-European-like (and not, e.g. Baltic-Finnic like or Kayardild-like) is the existence of distinct sets of morphemes for the adjectives and for the nouns. 

I have understood that the origin for this in Indo-European is that morphemes originally used with pronouns for some reason migrated onto the adjectives, although this of course leaves open the question of the origin of the distinct morphemes on the pronouns. (However, typologically I doubt whether that's very unusual. We find small examples of similar things elsewhere, such as the Finnish -t accusative for personal pronouns, or the comitative requiring possessive suffixes on the noun - the latter possibly leading, over time, to a situation where the noun and adjective have distinct forms.)

What's this to do with names? In Dairwueh, personal given names can behave both like nouns and like adjectives, depending on the presence of a clan name. A patronymic can behave like a noun if no other part of the name is present.

Thus,
nom: Doras
acc: Doranna
dat: Doraar
gen: Doraat
loc: Doraŋa
would be the noun-like forms, and if Doras' father was Elti, you get
nom: Eltikar Doras
acc: Eltikan Doranna
dat: Eltikarz Doraar
gen: Eltikarz Doraat
loc: Eltikari Doraŋa
however, if a clan-name was involved, Doras too would - except in the nominative - inflect by an adjectival paradigm:
nom: (Eltikar) Doras Marzi
acc: (Eltikan) Doran Marzinna
dat: (Eltikarz) Dorarz Marziar
gen: (Eltikarz) Dorarz Marziat
loc: (Eltikari) Dorari Marziŋa
In the nominative, the patronymic has its own feminine form e.g. Eltikama (derived from the father's name, though), but in all other forms, it basically used feminine congruence instead on the masculine patronymic stem.

Nick-names of course exist, and tend not to adhere to this pattern. However, a nick-name nearly never is used in apposition with patronymics or clan-names.

As linguistic history goes by, other forms of 'family names' besides clan-names start appearing, with the usual suspects: professions, places of origin, remarkable attributes, etc.

// TODO: I should definitely finally get around to getting those adjective case markers done for Dairwueh.


Detail #393: Differential Alignment

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019
This kinda gets on the border of what makes sense, but hear me out:

Let's consider a split-S language, where e.g. 1st and 2nd person singular and plural are the triggers for one alignment. However, 1st person singular exclusive is excluded from this, and thus alignment communicates clusivity.

Detail #393: Differential Alignment

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019
This kinda gets on the border of what makes sense, but hear me out:

Let's consider a split-S language, where e.g. 1st and 2nd person singular and plural are the triggers for one alignment. However, 1st person singular exclusive is excluded from this, and thus alignment communicates clusivity.

Copulas and Objects

Saturday, March 9th, 2019
I wrote this as a comment in a facebook conlanging group, regarding the assumption that the copula is transitive.

Usually, for European languages, copulas are considered intransitive. They do not have objects in any European language. (Some African languages, however, do seem to have their copulas be properly transitive).

OK, hey... wait a sec. What's the thing that goes on the right side of 'is' then, if not an object? Isn't SVO the rule of the day in English? Let us call the noun that typically is on the right-hand side of a verb the ... 'right-hand noun'. However, do not take this to mean that the 'right-hand noun' has to be on the right hand of the verb.

Objects have more properties than being right-hand nouns! These properties enable us to make tests for determining whether something is an object or not. One thing you can do to objects in English, that you can't do to other things, is turn them into the subjects of passive verbs (Note: some speakers can do this to indirect objects too). So,

he kicked the ball → the ball was kicked
Nearly no speakers, however, will permit
he was the CEO of ACME Industries →
the CEO of ACME Industries was been by him
(This might happen in modern poetry, however, but modern poetry intentionally violates grammatical patterns on occasion)

Another thing English permits is coordinating objects of different verbs:

he saw him and acknowledged him →
he saw and acknowledged the man

Try this with a typical transitive verb ('saw', for instance) and a typical copula ('was') and you'll find a problem.
 

*he was and saw a man
*he saw and was the man in the mirror

I imagine these may appear in poetry, but they feel weird and at the very least will fail to be considered grammatically well-formed by most speakers.

However... you can coordinate the right-hand noun of 'to be' with the right-hand noun of some other verbs:
he suddenly became, and maybe still is, a good chess player

Another test which English kinda-sorta lets us do, but which is bad for a variety of reasons, is case assignment.
Some speakers require the nominative for right-hand nouns of copulas: 

"it is I". 
This seems inconsistently applied, though, and I bet it's rather associated with the particular verb × person pairing, i.e. the same person may have
"it is I", but "it is him!",
or 
"it is he" but "the stem cells that became him". 
In English, apparently, for some speakers, the accusative case is tied to the right-hand noun, rather than to objecthood. English case assignment is inconsistent from speaker to speaker, and even for speakers it is inconsistent from verb to verb, and even for speakers may be inconsistent with the same verb from person to person.

What we further can notice, is that the copula can take arguments that are not nouns, but are e.g. adjectives or adverbs or prepositional phrases, and these are still as closely tied to the subject as would a right-hand noun be. It can take 'red', whereas a transitive verb usually takes 'a red one'. (With weird exceptions like 'see red', which basically is sorta intransitive, since it rather just encodes 'to rage' or somesuch - i.e. 'red' in 'see red' does not really have an actual referent!)

Summary: in very many languages, verbs can take noun arguments that are not objects. Assuming that a verb is transitive just because there is a noun in the same position that an object would normally go does not necessarily work out, and a verb is not necessarily transitive just because it lets you do NOUN VERB NOUN.

Exceptions, however, exist, and in several African languages apparently 'to be' is indeed transitive in the sense that the 'right-hand noun' in fact passes objecthood tests in these languages.


Copulas and Objects

Saturday, March 9th, 2019
I wrote this as a comment in a facebook conlanging group, regarding the assumption that the copula is transitive.

Usually, for European languages, copulas are considered intransitive. They do not have objects in any European language. (Some African languages, however, do seem to have their copulas be properly transitive).

OK, hey... wait a sec. What's the thing that goes on the right side of 'is' then, if not an object? Isn't SVO the rule of the day in English? Let us call the noun that typically is on the right-hand side of a verb the ... 'right-hand noun'. However, do not take this to mean that the 'right-hand noun' has to be on the right hand of the verb.

Objects have more properties than being right-hand nouns! These properties enable us to make tests for determining whether something is an object or not. One thing you can do to objects in English, that you can't do to other things, is turn them into the subjects of passive verbs (Note: some speakers can do this to indirect objects too). So,

he kicked the ball → the ball was kicked
Nearly no speakers, however, will permit
he was the CEO of ACME Industries →
the CEO of ACME Industries was been by him
(This might happen in modern poetry, however, but modern poetry intentionally violates grammatical patterns on occasion)

Another thing English permits is coordinating objects of different verbs:

he saw him and acknowledged him →
he saw and acknowledged the man

Try this with a typical transitive verb ('saw', for instance) and a typical copula ('was') and you'll find a problem.
 

*he was and saw a man
*he saw and was the man in the mirror

I imagine these may appear in poetry, but they feel weird and at the very least will fail to be considered grammatically well-formed by most speakers.

However... you can coordinate the right-hand noun of 'to be' with the right-hand noun of some other verbs:
he suddenly became, and maybe still is, a good chess player

Another test which English kinda-sorta lets us do, but which is bad for a variety of reasons, is case assignment.
Some speakers require the nominative for right-hand nouns of copulas: 

"it is I". 
This seems inconsistently applied, though, and I bet it's rather associated with the particular verb × person pairing, i.e. the same person may have
"it is I", but "it is him!",
or 
"it is he" but "the stem cells that became him". 
In English, apparently, for some speakers, the accusative case is tied to the right-hand noun, rather than to objecthood. English case assignment is inconsistent from speaker to speaker, and even for speakers it is inconsistent from verb to verb, and even for speakers may be inconsistent with the same verb from person to person.

What we further can notice, is that the copula can take arguments that are not nouns, but are e.g. adjectives or adverbs or prepositional phrases, and these are still as closely tied to the subject as would a right-hand noun be. It can take 'red', whereas a transitive verb usually takes 'a red one'. (With weird exceptions like 'see red', which basically is sorta intransitive, since it rather just encodes 'to rage' or somesuch - i.e. 'red' in 'see red' does not really have an actual referent!)

Summary: in very many languages, verbs can take noun arguments that are not objects. Assuming that a verb is transitive just because there is a noun in the same position that an object would normally go does not necessarily work out, and a verb is not necessarily transitive just because it lets you do NOUN VERB NOUN.

Exceptions, however, exist, and in several African languages apparently 'to be' is indeed transitive in the sense that the 'right-hand noun' in fact passes objecthood tests in these languages.


Conlangery #137: Telicity and Lexical Aspect

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019
George and William come back to talk about telicity and lexical aspect. Listen to us talk about endpoints in events and puzzle over why achievement and accomplishment are supposed to mean different things. Links and Resources: Agbo, M. (2010). Verb classification and Aktionsart in Ìgbò. California Linguistic Notes, 35(1), 1–21. Aoki, N., & Nakatani, K.... Read more »

Names Aren’t Neutral: David J. Peterson on Creating a Fantasy Language

Friday, March 1st, 2019

David J. Peterson received a BA in English and Linguistics from UC Berkeley in 2003 and an MA in Linguistics from UC San Diego in 2005. He created the Dothraki and Valyrian languages for HBO’s Game of Thrones, the Castithan, Irathient and Indojisnen languages for Syfy’s Defiance, the Sondiv language for the CW’s Star-Crossed, the Lishepus language for Syfy’s Dominion, the Trigedasleng language for the CW’s The 100, and the Shiväisith language for Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World. He’s been creating languages since 2000.

Abstract

This essay, written originally for the defunct publication Unbound Worlds, is aimed at fantasy authors who aim to invest their fantasy worlds with linguistic verisimilitude. Peterson discusses best practices and pitfalls to avoid in this essay intended as an introduction to the art of language invention.

Version History

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Detail #392: Participles, Alignment, Congruence and Restricted Voice Marking

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019
What if a language did not distinguish by any uniquely dedicated morpheme what voice a participle has, but instead did so by having congruence follow an ergative pattern; thus, an intransitive participle has no congruence, nor does a passive participle, but an active, transitive participle does have congruence.

Of course, this would assume all noun classes have explicit congruence markers.

Detail #392: Participles, Alignment, Congruence and Restricted Voice Marking

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019
What if a language did not distinguish by any uniquely dedicated morpheme what voice a participle has, but instead did so by having congruence follow an ergative pattern; thus, an intransitive participle has no congruence, nor does a passive participle, but an active, transitive participle does have congruence.

Of course, this would assume all noun classes have explicit congruence markers.

Detail #391: A Number

Monday, February 25th, 2019
And by 'a number', I mean a grammatical number. Not a new integer or uniquely weird algebraic entity in some odd field or algebra.

So, let's consider the paucal. This is of course a familiar number, I bet, to most readers. A plural of few. We can consider some potential twists to spice this number up! I doubt combining too many of these in one language works, but potentially some of them may combine. If other numbers also take up some of the

1. Using it with comparatives or superlatives.
In a language with plurals and paucals, and also comparatives and superlatives, comparing sizes of finite sets becomes trivial: comparative on a noun in the paucal means 'fewer', comparative on a noun in the plural means 'more'.  The superlative can of course extend this in trivial ways.

2. Using it to signify 'too few'
One could imagine using a marker that derives, say adverbs or maybe a case marker such as instrumental (or just any case), to signify 'too few'. This could of course also extend to 'too little', and produce a situation where mass nouns only have singular forms and an instrumental paucal.

3. 'one out of', 'a few out of'
One could imagine a situation where partial inclusion of the referent (man, am I trying to sound technical?) is always done by use of the paucal. Here, one could imagine that e.g. the case system or the congruence system intentionally 'breaks' a bit whenever this happens. Since there's so many potential scenarios in my mind right now, I will need to describe them a bit.
We shall call this the 'paucal partitive'.

3.1 Northern Eurasian-style case systems
We could imagine that the paucal partitive is restricted only to some syntactical roles. Let's say objects and subjects.

We could imagine that the paucal noun is exceptionally in the genitive for subject and object (or some other non-canonical subject or object cases). We could also imagine that the congruence on the verb has a number mismatch.

3.2 Noun Class Congruence systems
We could imagine that the congruence for the partitive paucal is reset to some inanimate/default type, or potentially to the singular of the relevant noun-class. This might apply even if we're referring to more than one member of the group.

Conversely, we could imagine paucal congruence on a verb with plural marking on the noun phrase? In this case, the construction would conserve noun class but not number. We can, however, imagine that this particular structure would demand that the NP and the verb congruence only differ by one step in the hierarchy plural > paucal > singular.

3.3 Other discongruences:
We can imagine that numerals, adjectives, articles, etc are discongruent in number, case or animacy, and even gender.

We could imagine that the paucal partitive construction also is considered syntactically non-canonical, and sufficiently so as to alter the transitivity of the verb, leading to the use of valency-reducing morphology on the verb, even if the syntactical situation is conserved (e.g. the paucal partitive subject still is the subject, and the object is still the object, despite a passive marker having been introduced on the verb).

3.4. Alignment change
We could imagine that the use of the genitive paucal for partitive paucal subjects could trigger a change in alignment. This use could also well use some kind of infinitive (participle or verb-noun or whathaveyou), and there you go - split ergativity. Split ergativity with objects seems less likely, but could maybe arise from the use of the same participle or verb-noun after the paucal partitive use of the participle has been well-enough established, then extending to the nominative paucal as object of the participle.