Archive for April, 2016

Detail #274: Negation and Alignment

Friday, April 29th, 2016
Imagine a language with verbs having slots for both subject and object markers, thus:
Oh, this language is ergative, btw, so 
is maybe more accurate.

Let's further imagine that certain other things go on the verb, e.g. negation. Let's further imagine that negation (and maybe something else) occupies the object slot, and intransitive congruence moves to the ergative slot, whereas objects of transitive verbs just don't get congruence at all. (Consider how, for instance, subjects don't get congruence on the main verb at all in negative clauses in certain Finnic languages – having this for objects seems even less weird, really.) 

Now we've created a situation where the ergative is the nominative in negative clauses, which iirc is typologically uncommon. In fact, the ergative serving a nominative role in splits is generally speaking uncommon.

Other things than the negative might occupy the same slot.

The North Wind and the Sun, Revisited

Friday, April 29th, 2016

For the past few days, I have been retranslating the story by Aesop, “The North Wind and the Sun”. Click to read it. While translating, two things came up to consider:

  • How does Ayeri deal with gender resolution (Corbett 243–253)?
  • How does Ayeri handle “the … the …” and “as … as …” constructions? Does it have them at all, or will rephrasing be necessary when translating from e.g. English?

Regarding the latter question, there is a blog article, “Correlative Conjunctions” (2012-12-10), but it fails to account for the two combinations mentioned above.

  • Aesop. “The North Wind and the Sun.” Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A Guide to the Use of the International Phonetic Alphabet. Ed. International Phonetic Association. 9th ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. 39. Print.
  • Corbett, Greville G. Agreement. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics 52. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006. Print.

Detail #273: Passives and Semantic Roles

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016
One thing that could be interesting is to have the passive more sensitive to the semantic role of the object of the verb; thus, objects that are stimuli acquire different passive markers than objects that are patients, etc.

But what if we want to mark a subject's role with similar precision? Simple, use a voice that turns the subject into an object (and drops the regular object, and makes the verb lack subject), then stack the passive on top of it, giving us the following:
verb_stem-antiactive-passive[semantic role]


Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

Just like how scholars compared Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit to come up with Proto-Indo-European, why don’t you make a proto-language tying together Basque and Georgian?

This should be called Comparative Ancient Kartvelo-Euskaran.

Congrats, you now have CAKE to go with your PIE.

Detail #272: A Potentially Weird Grammaticalization Path

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
Consider comparatives and plurals; we could imagine combining the two to form the meaning of 'even more than previously mentioned'. Thus,
our side had soldier-s, they had soldier-s-er
our side had soldiers, they had more soldiers
This goes on to things like
I had students, and they had student-s-er
I had students, and they in turn had students
Now we're getting to the point where the plural comparative may be losing its comparative sentiment. Originally, it signifies |S1| < |S2|, but slowly, the meaning is turning into |S1| < |S1 + S2|, i.e. the comparative's frame of comparison no longer is S1 but the size of the whole set of things - i.e. we're no longer comparing the number of my students to the number of "my grand-students", we're comparing the number of everyone who can trace their educational lineage to me to the number of my direct students.

As this meaning is slowly entrenched, the comparative form's comparative meaning is lost, and the meaning turns more into 'here, new nouns of a type previously mentioned are introduced', so student-s-er simply means '(more) new (as far as the discourse goes) students'.

At this point, the comparative might turn into a marker that is basically an indefinite article for nouns, maybe restricted to nouns of types already participating in the discourse?

Detail #271: A Really Minor Detail

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
Consider a morpheme along the lines of English 'too'. This word has multiple meanings:
~even: a baboon, too, was set to appear on stage ~ even a baboon was set to appear on stage

~also: me too!

~exceeding some kind of limit: that is too big
Historically, too is the same as to, but has gone through slightly different sound changes in most dialects due to different prosodical situations obtaining for the different meanings. Now, cognates to to are used for slightly different meanings as well:
en till: one more (as in one to (the ones already counted/included))
to, obviously, also has a locative and dative meaning. To me this suggests a nice little thing for a language with postpositions: conflate the (singular) dative, the nominative plural, and something along the line of -que (morphemes similar to -que exist in Finnish (-kin), and Georgian (-ts), so I am convinced they're not all that unusual elsewhere either). Obviously it's no huge idea or anything, but it's the kind of nice little twist that has an air of realism to it, while also not being quite identical to, say, English conflating plurals, singular genitives and plural genitives.

Magical Language Needed for Novel/Short Story

Monday, April 25th, 2016


Christian Gainsley needs a magical language for a fantasy short story or novel. A number of phrases (approx. 20) will be needed. These phrases are derivative of four utterances which were spoken at the creation of the world. The initial four utterances will not be needed (they would be very long and will not be revealed), but there needs to be a sufficient system to allow these phrases to exist and be manipulated as necessary. Employer is willing to take input from the conlanger as to the details on how the language would work.


Christian Gainsley

Application Period

Open Until Filled


No firm deadlines as of now. Consult with employer.


$450 ($225 upfront, $225 on completion)

To Apply

Email c <dot> kosasa <at> gmail <dot> com

secret is sekasus

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016
sekasus = secret (noun) (Some things Google found for "sekasus": a rare to unusual term; user names; may possibly mean something untranslatable in Indonesian; similar sukses means success in Indonesian; 1905 telegraph cipher code for a specific number of boxes of a specific size of citrus fruit; similar Sekasua is the name of a place in Ghana)

Word derivation for "secret" :
Basque = sekretu, Finnish = salaisuus
Miresua = sekasus

This is a new word. The Basque word may be a borrowed word, or may be derived from Latin.

I found the word secret once in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, it's in a verse read by the White Rabbit at the court of justice.
"Don't let him know she liked them best,
For this must ever be
A secret, kept from all the rest,
Between yourself and me."

What is your skype user? I wanted to participate in that group and you said it was ok but i dont know what your user name is, and i can’t add you…

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

I’m not really comfortable answering this in public, but message me off anon and I’ll tell you! 

Detail #270: Experiment with Minimal Words

Friday, April 22nd, 2016
Let's consider a word whose earlier form has been one along the lines of
or something else very very small. Let's also assume it's exceptional in some way - e.g. the only word to begin with ʕ, or the only onsetless syllable with a syllabic nasal or something else along those lines. Now let's imagine sound changes where this leads to this word turning into ∅, except also leaving traces on the previous word's last syllable - maybe some tonal thing, or nasalization or whatever.

Now, this wouldn't be so surprising with a grammatical marker, but let's imagine this word means something like, I dunno, 'man' or 'thing' or 'house' or something. Suddenly, you have a word with no syllables, yet it does have phonological form in some sense.

Could a human keep trace of such a thing, which behaves syntactically like a noun (or maybe a verb), yet does not provide its own syllable?