Archive for the ‘grammar’ Category

Conlangery #129: Non-Vocal Languages

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017
Jake Malloy and David Peterson join George to talk about sign language as well as a few other ways humans communicate non-vocally. Top of Show Greeting: Bakom Links and Resources: SLIPA ASL Lessons ASL classifiers Non-manual markers in ASL ASL Internet slang Plains Indian Sign Language Tactile Signing Black ASL Signed Exact English (signed English... Read more »

Detail #345: Alignment-Thing with Locative Cases

Monday, June 5th, 2017
Let's consider (and extend) the notion of cases for nouns located somewhere, and nouns heading somewhere. I.e. this wouldn't be "the man is at the lake", this would be "the man who ats is (at, with regards to) the lake" or some other silly way of expressing it. Let's consider how this interacts with
  • subjects vs. objects and alignment more generally
  • more metaphorical uses (e.g. becoming, being, being averb, going to verb)
  • indirect objects and such
  • more general effects throughout the language
Ok, so we come up with two cases, the stationary case and the motionary case. The stationary case is used when we state that the subject (or object) is located somewhere, or that the object is located somewhere as a result of a static VP: e.g.
A holds B.stat (in place)
A encloses B.stat
A contains B.stat

The motionary case is used whenever motion is involved, obviously:
A.mot approaches B
A.mot runs
A.mot leaves B
but also when A sets B in motion:
A scared B.mot (away)
A threw B.mot
A pushed B.mot

Verbs like 'leave' and 'come' may not be distinguished, and are not strictly speaking morphologically distinguished either: both involve a motionary subject, and both involve motion (obviously). Adverbs may serve to indicate the direction, but also context. As far as cases go, this seems to behave entirely unlikely both subject and object marking, and one would expect there to be some kind of object marking (or ergative marking) to balance this system up, so that the non-motionary non-stationary argument's role can be unambiguously parsed. However, it's not entirely unconceivable that each verb's semantics is clear enough that no subject/object distinction is needed: the motionary/stationary and the unmarked noun may well have easily parsed roles.

As for more metaphorical uses, we can consider the way many languages use locative expressions with infinitives, similar to how the 'to' in 'to VERB' became part of the infinitive construction in English. At this point we can consider the regular locative as 'being averbing', and the lative as 'going averbing'. In this case, a subject that is averbing would be stationary, and one that is going averbing would be motionary. However, in causative utterances (or utterances of, say, seeing someone verbing) the causee (or the object) could easily be in the stationary, or motionary, depending on the aspect and tense and whatnot of the situation.

    Detail #344: V2 to the Extreme

    Sunday, June 4th, 2017
    V2 is an interesting word order type, and as a speaker of a language with it (Swedish), I am interested at what happens sometimes when the brain exaggerates it by accident.

    Swedish permits using intransitive verbs in a copula-like fashion more than English does. English permits similar things - e.g. 'stand tall' - but such examples are far fewer in English than in Swedish. Examples would include "he sits tired", "I went confused to my destination", etc. So basically, conflating both expressing something about physical position or movement as well as something about the state of the subject. 

    I've noticed that I tend to overuse that construction to reduce the size of the NP to the left of the verb, and I think this is a result of V2 on overdrive.

    However, the most extreme thing I've accidentally done is split coordinated NPs on the left and shifted the first half to a sentence-final position:
    John brought wine Lisa and
    Lisa and John brough wine.
    I imagine one could take any syntactical feature of a language and exaggerate it in similar ways, have other syntactical features' use change to accomodate the exaggeration of such a trait, etc. I'd recommend looking at features of your native language (or any other language you know), and exaggerating that trait and having other traits pick up that slack. It'll definitely contribute to coming up with interesting conlanging ideas.

    Update on the Grammar Writing Process III

    Thursday, June 1st, 2017

    I’ve recently done a lot of proofreading of basically anything besides the introduction chapter of the new Ayeri Grammar. I did this to weed out errors I’ve previously overlooked and also to make sure that what I’d written earlier in the morphology chapter was consistent with the rather extensive work I did in order to come to terms with why certain pre- and suffixes should be clitics. This detour took quite a while—from January to April—but it was probably worth it, since it clarified some questions I had. My quest for clarity on clitics versus affixes in Ayeri culminated in a lengthy blog article, a version of which, revised in parts, can be found in the new grammar as section 3.2.5.

    Starting to document Ayeri’s syntax is the logical next step now after I tried to describe its phonology and morphology as well as I could. So, what I’m up to now is trying to describe the morphosyntactic structure of the various syntactic constituents: noun phrases, verb phrases, adjective phrases etc. Since there is very little agreement morphology in Ayeri, this should be rather straightforward for the most part, except for verb phrases (I recently discovered that Dalrymple (2001) contains a whole lot more examples than Bresnan (2016), so that might come in handy). Currently, however, I’m still only concerned with NPs and DPs. What’s still making me self-conscious about all this is that I still have never really studied syntax formally, as I pointed out earlier. So, if you take a look at the grammar and see something implausible, please let me know!

    When I tried to figure out clitics in Ayeri earlier, I also came up with a lot of examples of coordination, and one thing I wondered is if the following is actually reasonable.

    An attempt to describe formally the distribution of the progressive clitic over two coordinated verbs

    What you can see here is an attempt to apply LFG to an example sentence which contains a coordinated constituent: manga sahaya rangya ‘is coming home’ is coordinated with nedraya ‘sits (down)’. The question now is, how to formally describe that manga as the (enclitic) progressive marker is to be understood as distributing over both verbs, sahaya ‘comes’ and nedraya ‘sits’? I actually looked up a few articles (Belyaev et al. 2015; Kaplan and Maxwell 1988; Maxwell and Manning 1996; Peterson 2004) and at least took a casual glance at them, but nowhere did I see any discussion of how to indicate when certain markers in the verb phrase distribute to multiple conjuncts. Instead, I could only find discussions of how to indicate the distribution of the subject to conjuncts. The distribution of the subject is also indicated in the argument-value matrix on the right in the illustration above, namely, in that the first verb’s SUBJ(ect) is connected by a line to the second verb’s empty SUBJ slot.

    The question I now have is whether connecting items this way is possible also for other features, like ASP(ect). From what little I know, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be plausible to analogize here, but I might as well be wrong. If you know, please let me know as well. What is slightly frustrating is that a lot of times, you can only easily find information on English.

    Also, I’ve been working on writing this grammar for almost a whole year now. Wow.

    • Belyaev, Oleg, et al. “Number Mismatches in Coordination: An LFG Analysis.” Proceedings of the LFG ’15 Conference, Tokyo, Japan, 18–20 Jul. 2015. Ed. by Miriam Butt and Tracy Holloway King. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications, 2015. 26–46. Web. 25 May 2017. ‹›.
    • Bresnan, Joan et al. Lexical-Functional Syntax. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2016. Print. Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics 16.
    • Dalrymple, Mary. Lexical Functional Grammar. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 2001. Print. Syntax and Semantics 34.
    • Kaplan, Ronald M., and John T. Maxwell, III. Constituent Coordination in Lexical-Functional Grammar. Palo Alto, CA: Xerox PARC, 1988. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. ‹›.
    • Maxwell, John T., III, and Christopher D. Manning. “A Theory of Non-constituent Coordination Based on Finite-State Rules.” Proceedings of the LFG ’96 Conference, Rank Xerox, Grenoble, France, 26–28 Aug. 1996. Ed. by Miriam Butt and Tracy Holloway King. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications, 1997. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. ‹›.
    • Peterson, Peter G. “Coordination: Consequences of a Lexial-Functional Account.” Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 22.3 (2004): 643–679. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. ‹›.

    Detail #343: Places to Put Differential Case Markings

    Thursday, June 1st, 2017
    Differential case marking is something that to me is mainly associated with:
    • subjects and objects (c.f. Turkish or Finnish objects, Turkish subjects of some infinitive verb types; also, fluid-S languages kind of qualify for this!)
    • adpositions (Latin, German, Russian, Greek, etc prepositions)
    • some kinds of secondary subjects (e.g. the agent that is caused to do something with some types of causative constructions)
    Conversely, the features I associate it with are:
    • negative vs. positive
    • aspect (telic vs. atelic, for instance)
    • direction vs. location (the adposition thing)
    • definiteness (Turkish object and (infinitive) subject marking)
    • volition (fluid-S)
    • in some Finnish causatives, "permit X to ..." vs. "have X do ...", so basically sort of volition again?
    Could we go for some different things? For contexts where differential case could make sense, how about:
    • relative pronouns
    • resumptive pronouns
    • interrogative pronouns
    • reflexive pronouns pronouns
      With relative and resumptive, we could consider for, say, subjects and objects, whether  the relative clause is restrictive or not. For interrogative pronouns, a relevant distinction could be analogous to what vs. which. For reflexives, maybe reflexive vs. Reciprocal.

      An Invented Language Project for the Introductory Linguistics Classroom

      Thursday, June 1st, 2017

      Skye Anderson is a graduate student in Linguistics at the University of Arizona; her research are the phonology and morphology of Semitic languages, speech perception and corpus linguistics. She started studying Linguistics when she realized all of her invented languages had words for aardvark, but no grammar.

      Shannon Bischoff is an Associate Professor in the Department of English and Linguistics at Purdue University Fort Wayne. His Ph.D. is in Formal and Anthropological Linguistics with a minor in Computational Linguistics. His research interests include English and Spanish in Puerto Rico; English as a language barrier to minority and endangered language communities; language documentation, revitalization; formal and computational approaches to language; and Indigenous languages of the Americas. He has been teaching using language invention since 2006.

      Amy Fountain is an Associate Professor, NTE, in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Her Ph.D. is in Anthropology and Linguistics. Her research interests are in language endangerment, documentation, and revitalization, and the indigenous languages of the Americas. She has been teaching freshmen about linguistics using language invention since 2006, and is always learning new things about language, and students, because of it.

      Jeffrey Punske is an Assistant Professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He earned his PhD in Linguistics in 2012 from the University of Arizona. His research focuses on morphosyntax. He teaches courses on invented languages, syntax, semantics, historical linguistics, phonology, among other topics. He previously taught at the University of Oklahoma and Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. He is frequently bow-tied.


      This paper presents a brief description of a constructed language project developed for the introductory to linguistics/language classroom. The paper describes the project, its history of development and use, and provides links to sample syllabuses, the project outline, and student project examples. The project described has been used with thousands of students at three different universities. Developed for a large lecture-style setting with up to 500 students at a major research university enrolling over 30,000 students, the project has been taken to a smaller research university (12,000 students) and a metropolitan university (13,000 students), where it has been implemented in a variety of undergraduate courses. The project has been used as a means to introduce basic linguistic concepts to the non-major in a general education setting. In addition, it is currently being piloted in a course on typology. These applications demonstrate the versatility of the project as tool for a variety of linguistic classrooms.

      Version History

      Creative Commons License
      This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


      Sunday, May 28th, 2017

      Make a conlang with some noun classes:

      • a class for liquids, like water 
      • a class for solid objects like the earth - people could also be in this class too (compare humus > humanus)
      • perhaps even a class for dangerous things à la Dyirbal, like fire
      • a class for abstract concepts and gases, like air

      Then perhaps a grammatical shift can be introduced in which most air-class nouns start getting reanalyzed as fire-class nouns, except for one air-class noun, which could be anything, like /æŋ/ - perhaps this noun may preserve its marking due to a special circumstance such as a religious meaning, such as “an incarnation of a deity”. Perhaps due to its synchronic irregularity, speakers become confused as to which noun class it’s in, so in addition to taking air-class marking it can also be treated like a water-class noun, an earth-class noun, or even a fire-class noun.

      Detail #342: Other Quirky Things besides Case

      Sunday, May 28th, 2017
      Quirky case is probably familiar to anyone with an interest in case systems. We could, however, considered similar lexically caused quirks for other things than case!

      Quirky Voice

      Consider some nouns that trigger exceptional voice marking on some, or even all vers? Maybe they cannot be direct objects, so whenever they are objects, they force some detransitivizing voice and some kind of oblique marking.

      Quirky TAM

      Some adjectives as complements, or maybe some nouns as verbs or objects, might cause unusual behaviours with regards to tense, aspect or mood. Maybe some noun as subject (or as object) always triggers some irrealis mood regardless of the reality of the VP and of the subject.

      Quirky Gender

      Some Semitic languages have some numbers mark opposite gender agreement. We could consider, though, verbs or adjectives that mismatch gender. Coming up with a historical reason for these might be interesting.

      Quirky Adjective/Adverb Things

      One could imagine certain nouns or verbs forcing comparatives or superlatives, or vice versa, some nouns or verbs blocking comparatives and superlatives (but making superlative or comparative meanings mandatory).

      Quirky Number

      Some adjectives or verbs or adpositions could imaginably also require some noun in some relation to it to mark number exceptionally. Alternatively, some verb could break the number congruence if verbs have that in the language.

      Quirky Definiteness

      I guess by now the reader should be able to come up with some ideas for this as well, analogously to the ideas given above.

      Ćwarmin: The Phonology, pt I

      Friday, May 26th, 2017

      The basic consonant inventory:



      The voicing of /b/, /d/ and /g/ sometimes borders on stiff voice rather than modal voice, especially word-initially.  In previous transcriptions, I've used <h> for <ǧ>. I prefer  ǧ over ǵ due to ˇ being easier to spot. Sequences of stop + fricative even over word boundaries are rendered as affricates if possible. Otherwise, one part of the sequence is  lost. Generally, voiceless stops win over voiced fricatives, so ts → t, pf → p, but voiced fricatives win over voiceless stops, so dz → z, bv → v. A light lengthening of the resulting segment may occur in some idiolects, giving ...Vd zV.... → ...V z:V, ...Vp fV... → Vp: V...

      Since this is the only position where consonant length has any significance for obstruents in Ćwarmin, and the distribution of this is rather the same as the distribution of stop+fricative, length is not considered a distinctive feature for stops.

      Historically, /ts/ has also existed in the phonemic inventory, but has merged with /t/ and /s/ depending on position in the word – /s/ favoured in the end and onset, /t/ favoured elsewhere.

      ń and ň are very marginal phonemes. Ń and n are only distinguished over morpheme boundaries; ...-ńć... would come out distinct from ....n-ć... This situation sometimes appears in some verbal inflections. ň and n are distinguished in a few words before and after /ž/. Minimal pairs and near minimal pairs are /kažna/ (snow drift), kažňa (accident), uňžo (friend), unžon (to sharpen), ižňət (important), ižnel (reject, leave, abandon). These are not distinguished in the orthography.

      /n ń ň/ do not assimilate to ŋ before velars. /m n ŋ/ all three go back to proto-ĆŊD. The only assimilation that has occurred is n, ŋ > m / _labial obstruent.

      A cluster cannot contain both palatals and postalveolars in sequence. The leftmost sound's place of articulation wins out in cases where such sounds somehow get stuck together. Postalveolars and palatals also tend to win over alveolars. Rhotics and laterals only ever appear in postalveolar or palatal versions as allophones of /r/ and /l/ in such clusters.

      The maximal syllable would be CCVVCC. It is unusual for three or more consonants to occur in a row. The sonority hierarchy is rather strictly observed, except that fricatives, affricates and stops are tied. Rather peculiar clusters do occur even initially, such as xpan (rake), ǧdisən (to sieve), fkarul (badger), but these are not very common. Clusters of fricatives also occur, such as lašxur ('to peel'), "ǧzin yə ǧvin" ('this and that'), vǧum ('to yawn'), vžuk ('a tick'), vźuc ('a thread'). Word initially, labials do not cluster with each other, except mw- and a few bw-.

      Stress is almost invariably on the initial syllable, after which every other syllable has secondary stress. However, if the final syllable would carry stress and there is a following word, the final syllable's stress is weakened. The language is roughly speaking syllable-timed, with stressed syllables being slightly longer. Some styles of poetic recital, however, seem to intentionally go for something more like stress-timed rhythms.

      Sargaĺk Vocabulary: Colors, Clothing and Certain Status Symbols

      Thursday, May 25th, 2017
      The Sargaĺk vocabulary for colours is not very extensive, but some terminology exists. The nouns for these colours - e.g. '(the colour) red' are syntactically not quite nouns, and thus often require some kind of auxiliary noun toform well-formed NPs. These nouns only have two cases, the absolutive and pegative. The form given with extra indentation is the adjective form, which does have a full set of congruence marking.
      stal red, includes most pink, some purple, some brown and orange
      kəma white, includes some pink and gray.
      buxu yellow
      ŋoca - blue, includes some brown and gray.

      ŕt'a - green
      sokca - black, overlaps partially with red and blue
      These are the basic color terms. To express, say, 'the colour green', you would use the noun sibik (fem) and the colour name in the pegative:
      sibik stalta, sibik kəmta, sibik buxta, sibik ŋocta, sibik ŕt'əta, sibik sokta
      Sibik is a normal noun and can be inflected in any case.

      As for colours more generally, the Sargaĺk do not have access to many coloured fabrics or paints. Green and red paint do exist, but are very expensive.
      White clothing is a status symbol - it's hard to keep clean, and obtaining really white cloth is not trivial either. The colour ŋoca, ~blue, includes many seal fur colours.