Archive for May, 2016

Detail #287: Suppletion and Voice

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016
Let's consider a language with a relatively rich verbal morphology. One thing in this language is a set of voice/transitivity operators, including passives, causatives, applicatives and a variety of others.

Now, for most verbs, these only come as some kind of affix, but for a handful, there's a suppletive causative root. The usual situation would be this:
regular root: die-
causative root: die-
applicative root: die-
passive*: die-
* The passive of an intransitive verb might default to being parsed as the passive of the causative.
Some verbs might have a causative alteration going, where the causative has a distinct root - English die/kill is of course an example of that kind of situation.

However, for some verbs – maybe specifically movement verbs - the causative root is used for all voices except the unmarked one, making, for instance, the following set:
regular root: go-
causative root: send-
applicative root: send-
passive: send-
Now, applicatives include several potential subforms, of course, but e.g. a lative applicative, 'to go to', would thus have the same root as the causative send. 

This would be pretty neat.

The bulk of this post was contributed by an American gentleman.


Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

Evidentiality is marked by the meter of a clause. Anything directly observed is iambic, hearsay evidence is dactylic, inferences are anapestic, etc.

twelve is bakitaima

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016
bakitaima = twelve (numeral) (Some things Google found for "bakitaima": a nearly unique term; somewhat similar Baketime is a UK biscuit and snack company; somewhat similar Bumitama is an Indonesian oil palm plantation company; somewhat similar Biktima is a 2012 Filipino drama film)

Word derivation for "twelve" :
Basque = hamabi (from ten + two)
Finnish = kaksitoista (two + -teen)
Miresua = bakitaima (two + -teen)

This is a new word. Now I've remembered why I didn't make numbers above 10 before. My number naming scheme looks like it will run into issues with eighteen and nineteen.

The word twelve occurs four times in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
"And that's the jury-box," thought Alice, "and those twelve creatures," (she was obliged to say "creatures," you see, because some of them were animals, and some were birds,) "I suppose they are the jurors."

Detail #286: Some Fun with Grammatical Gender

Monday, May 30th, 2016
It turns out that gender systems sometimes bring along syntactical complications. This post is not well structured, it just provides some ideas to put into a power-blender and run together.

A few ideas and example phrases are taken straight away from a paper by Bobaljik, which is linked at the end.

The following situation is kind of interesting with regard to syntax and gender:
  1.  he's an actor, and she is too 
  2. *she is an actress, and he is too 
We have another class, where prince/princess form a good example:
  1. *he's a prince, and she is too
  2. *she's a princess, and he is too
A third class, where the nouns are clearly fairly adjective-like, morphologically, exist, where both ways go. English lacks this class, though. Spanish medico is an example, however, where both
  1. he's a medico, and she is too
  2. she's a medica, and he is too
are permissible, even if #2 might be slightly less favoured than #1. 

Now, what if a language had morphologically marked gender for all nouns, and each noun had a lexically determined default gender, a gender that (although explicitly marked) we could call the unmarked gender for that word. Now we could have situations where
  1. she's a danceress and he is too
  2. *he is a dancer and she is too
  1. he's a singer and she is too
  2. *she's a singeress and he is too
occur in the same language. Thus neither masculine nor feminine are systematically 'preferred'.

We can go on to imagine some further complications. An example Bobaljik mentions is Spanish medica/medico, which apparently go both ways. 

Now, what if we imagine nouns where the gender change also marked a meaning change - imagine that medica meant 'nurse', while medico meant 'doctor'. Let's further imagine they still can be coordinated, but of course mean different things even when coordinated.
he is medico and she is too
he's a doctor and she is a nurse
Alternatively, the coordination might not overrule the meaning:
he is medico and she is toohe's a doctor and she is a doctor (despite medica signifying nurse in this imaginary language)
Maybe we'd obtain a situation where medico ... (___a) is ambiguous - we are never told whether she's a doctor or a nurse; and of course, the other way around could apply for other nouns where the default gender is feminine.
Maybe, to obtain the "higher ranking" meaning for subjects of one gender with predicate nouns of the other gender, we need some kind of dummy pronoun situation:
hedummy pronoun and she is a medico
'she is a doctor'
Notice that the discongruence in the verb is intentional there.

Let's go further! Let's imagine the nouns always default to the "highest" meaning for the leftmost noun, and "decline" with each gap:
she is medica and he is too
she's a doctor and he is a nurse
What if it could decline even further:
he is medico and she is too
he's a doctor and she's a nurse

she is medica and he is too
she's a nurse and he's a nurse's assistant
Let's go one step worse, and have this happen even when the nouns have the same gender:
she1 is my mother, and she2 is too
she1 is my mother, and she2 is my sister ('is also my close relative' is the parsing the speakers would have)
This no longer has to do with gender, necessarily, but would be "nouns whose meaning changes over referents in a list", so e.g.
lexical item 1: mother, sister, cousin, female member of the same tribe
lexical item 2: high priest, assistant high priest, clergyman in general

Jonathan David Bobaljik, Cynthia Levart Zocca, May 2009,
Gender Markedness: The Anatomy of a Counter-Example

Ŋʒädär: A Few Verbs with Suppletive Incorporation of Recipient

Sunday, May 29th, 2016
For a number of verbs, there are suppletive roots depending on the person and number of the recipient. The number of the recipient for third person is absent, but may be marked by a reduced form of the pronouns. Some person distinctions not present in the pronominal system are present in these verbal suppletions, and vice versa, however, making their use rather complicated.
give temporary control over
I sgmasət-
I plmadot-
II sgkep'är-
II plyüvür-
III refl. poss.melezm-
III indef/neg/atelicmelige-
III reflčehme-
give ownership of land or housing
I sgnocotr-
I plnodot-
II sgnop'ar-
II pltüvür-
III refl. poss.naɣazm-
III indef/neg/atelicnaruga-
III refl(d)ɣaɣma-
give ownership over other property
I sgp'əsıɣ-
I plp'ədıɣ-
II sgvap'ıl-
II pltöp'ül-
III refl. poss.p'aɣasp'-
III indef/neg/atelicp'aruga-
III refl(d)ɣaɣma-
bestow a title upon
I sgɣosat-
I plɣodot-
II sgvabal-
II plyöbül-
III refl. poss.k'öɣözb-
III indef/neg/atelick'öɣ-
III reflN/A
give someone authority as chieftain over
I sgsöčösäm-
I plsöčödäm-
II sgöčövör-
II plsüčüvör-
III refl. poss.kammazm-
III indef/neg/atelickazm-
III reflN/A
give religious authority over
I sgsödösü-
I plsödödü-
II sgödövör-
II plsüdüvör-
III refl. poss.tarazm-
III indef/neg/atelicN/A
III reflN/A
give someone a blessing*
I sgdise-
I pldidiev-
II sgdevm-
II pldeir-
III refl. poss.dinihni-
III indef/neg/atelicdinizm-
III reflN/A
* there are a number of nouns corresponding to different types of blessings
give an order
I sgp'aru-
I plk'alu-
II sgsarvo-
II plyarvo-
III refl. poss.xuzm-
III indef/neg/atelicxugu-
III reflxuɣmu-
obtain someone as a godparent**
I sglavır-
I plɣavır-
II sgkavir-
II plɣövür-
III refl. poss.ɣäzm-
III indef/neg/atelicɣägü-
III reflɣäɣmü-
** there are a number of nouns corresponding to different kinds of godparents; the subjects and objects can either be the parents of the child or the child itself
Syntactically, most of these are ergative verbs - the thing that is bestowed or given to the embedded recipient, thus:
p'orga masət
herd I_was_given_temporary_control
I was given temporary control over a herd

ehi p'orga masə(t)-z
he herd I_was_given_temporary_control-direct
he gave me temporary control over a/his herd

The reflexive possessive third person means a third person was given control over something that previously was also his or her or theirs in some other sense. A pronoun in the dative can serve to disambiguate number for the recipient. 

The indefinite/negative/atelic is used when the action in the third person is not telic, not reflexive, not reflexive-possessive, and not telic, i.e. transferring the property was interrupted or failed or was just underway. The reflexive sometimes is used to imply taking something unjustifiedly, and can sometimes have recipients of other persons given as explicit dative pronouns.

There are obvious almost-regularities in here, but also some pretty wild variations; historically, these seem to originate with roots under various stages of contamination with other synonymous roots with incorporated pronouns.

Ŋʒädär: ‘The More the Merrier’ and the like

Friday, May 27th, 2016
Ŋʒädär has a construction that can express the notion of 'the X, the Y:er'. The quality or quantity  or even noun labelled X in the English construction above would be in the comitative-genitive; either the copula or a verb of perception is required, and another quality or quantity in the instrumental. These two adjectives or quantifiers need to be placed just before the verb.

The verb can have subjects and objects, and the adjectives may in fact take inverse markers in these cases - markers that go before the case marker - which 'agree' with the role of the nouns with regards to the main verb. So, e.g. 'hunter prey good-com.gen.-direct more-instr.-inverse catch-direct' - 'the better the hunter the more prey he catches'
jalt'ar k'ıvər maba-z-hus dov-jut-rok söly-z
hunter prey-plur good-direct-com.gen many-instr catch-direct
Although the notion 'the more the merrier' might not have been uttered, it would come out as
dovhos malırık ıh
many-com.gen joy-instr is

eleven is ystaima

Friday, May 27th, 2016
ystaima = eleven (numeral) (Some things Google found for "ystaima": a very rare term; somewhat similar Systema (meaning the System) is a Russian type of martial arts; somewhat similar istana means palace in Indonesian; in English stamina is a somewhat similar word)

Word derivation for "eleven" :
Basque = hamaika
Finnish = yksitoista (yksi means one and -toista means -teen)
Miresua = ystaima (yst means one)

This is a new word. I could only count up to ten in Miresua before. Although there are some words for larger numbers, such as a hundred and a thousand.

The word eleven doesn't occur in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking-glass.

Detail #285: A Multi-Inverse Alignment

Thursday, May 26th, 2016
Consider a language where each noun belongs to a multitude of binary categories, e.g. masculine vs. feminine, human vs. non-human, animate vs. inanimate, older vs. younger, upper social class or lower social class. Some of these are absolute, e.g. human vs. non-human, but some are mutable: older vs. younger is dependent on the other nouns involved.

Now, most verbs have an associated category, and the direct form generally prefers the older, the animate, etc, [...] noun as the subject. Feminine and masculine, however, do not form a typical hierarchy, and both of them have verbs where 'direct' assumes one or the other gender.

A few verbs have two categories - breast-feed, for instance, assumes older and female, teach assumes older and higher social class. Resolving a situation where both participants fail to have both requires some special morphology.
The exact function of the inverse in such a situation is not a thing I care to think about right now, and it can safely be left as an exercise for the diligent reader.

However,  a situation that will appear often enough is that both arguments have the same properties - both are animate, both are human, both are masculine, etc. In this situation, a different system sets in: the highest ranked class in which the subject "wins" gets a class-specific marker present on the verb; however, if the subject does not win, the verb is detransitivized, and the object gets demoted to an oblique position.

Detail #284: A ‘Count’ Case

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016
Imagine a case that is associated in some way with counting. So, in its normal form, it appears on nouns after non-singular quantifiers. However, it can also turn other things into quantifiers?
how X-count did you see?how many X did you see?
I saw five-acc men-count.
This is not per se particularly interesting. So let's try and add some stuff to it!

Some nouns lack this form, and force the number to carry the count-case, whereas the main case appears on the noun itself:
five-count father-gen
Maybe, just maybe, the count case replaces both nominative and accusative on both noun and number: five-count men-count, but five-dative men-count.

Without a quantifier, the count case indicates that some implicit or previously stated quantifier is relevant in some way - e.g. coordinated nouns over a numeral;
we have five-acc wrenches-count, dollars-count and three-acc hours-count to solve this problemwe have five wrenches, five dollars and three hours to solve this problem

The count marker also appears on the number when it's an ordinal, and on infinitive verbs when they express the number of times something has occurred.

Other uses include subjects of predicates that express quantities ('we were only five at work today'); if the numeral expresses some other fact about the subject, other cases may be used, and the number may take the count case ('he-gen is ninety three now').

I had some more ideas for this while bicycling home, but it seems they are entirely lost now :(

ANADEWS: Yukaghir: The Core Case System

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016
It turns out that Yukaghir has a rather unusual split-intransitive core case system: Yukaghir combines pragmatic roles with syntactic roles in this cool little system:

So, unlike most languages - which get by with two cases for this (and I mean two cases even for isolating languages - many languages, including English, do have syntactical features that distinguish subjects from objects in a very case-like manner) - Yukaghir has four here. Further, the O-Topic (green) is marked as S/A-topic if the A-topic outranks the O-topic in a person hierarchy (speaker > non-speaker).

A-focus is the least marked form, and apparently for most nominals mostly identical to S/A-topic - third person pronouns being the exception where they're always distinct.

This interacts in weird ways with the verbal system, to which I will return in a follow-up post. For now, grasping this should be a good start.

Elena Maslova, Tundra Yukaghir, Languages of the World/Materials 372, 2003, Lincom Europa.