Archive for June, 2016

Detail #293: Indefinite Pronouns and Noun Morphology

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016
Integrating definiteness and the whole indefinite pronoun system with its various functions into noun morphology instead of having things like case could be an interesting approach to noun morphology - it seems to me the order by which conlangers go for noun morphology beyond the derivative morphology is a hierarchy something like
number (maybe fused with gender)
possession marking (head or dependent marking)
other cases (maybe fused with gender)
possessive affixes
definiteness marking
noun class / gender (maybe fused with number)
This is not particularly bad or anything, but we could do something else with nouns than that. Some Native American languages offer us the idea of marking for obviativeness/proximativeness, which interacts with the verb and the more general discourse in interesting ways. Few conlangers make Native American languages, however.

The last in the hierarchy above is gender, which any Bantu-style language would almost necessarily be present.

Now, I've often gone and linked the typological classification of indefinite pronouns that Apollo Hogan wrote way back. To this, we could add some definite pronouns and determiners - demonstratives, maybe articles (if we go so far as to distinguish 'that', 'this' and 'the'; seems 'the' may easily turn superfluous). From this point on, 'the/a/any/some/...' represents whatever system you come up with from that classification.

Incorporating that whole system of 'the/a/any/some/...' into the noun, possibly in combination with possessive affixes (either giving {the, a, any, some, no, every, ...} * {my, your, his/hers, our, ...} or {the, a, any, some, no, every, ...} + {my, your, his/hers, our, ...} could give interesting results. Let's further permit a "light recursion", having the third person possessive suffixes further be marked for a less granular set of distinctions - merge a few of the different 'anies' and 'somes' that you have for that suffix, and maybe forbid certain combinations ('than any X of than any X' seems unlikely to ever be needed, i.e. forbid double indefinite standard of comparison. I find it likely that you'll ever need the possessor to be the indefinite standard of comparison, but you could of course permit having the marking go there nevertheless for whatever reason, or heck, require doubly marking it.)

Since indefinite pronouns often have somewhat overlapping functions (just check the amount of overlap in the example systems section of the link), this gives us a somewhat more overlapping system than the typical case system - which is a nice effect, in my opinion.

Even more interest could maybe be created by having different noun classes divide up this functional space in slightly different ways, maybe even having different numbers of divisions of it.

Detail #292: A Grammaticalization Path for Imperatives

Monday, June 20th, 2016
Have imperatives form from infinitives with vocative case congruence.

Ŋʒädär: Verbal Aspect (pt 1)

Thursday, June 16th, 2016
Ŋʒädär's verbal system is characterized by a lack of 'thoroughness': few grammatical categories can be found throughout the verbal system, often only being marked on a minority of the verbs. The same marker can take on different functions with different verbs, and one of the verbal aspect markers can be pretty informative.

One of the approaches Ŋʒädär uses for aspect is reduplication. For some verbs, reduplication indicates telicity or perfectivity:
p'an- : hit at
p'amp'an- : kill, to kill by hitting at
duʒ- : to think
duʒduʒ- : to solve, to think through

k'ıv- : to reach for
k'ıvk'ıv- : to be tall, to strive for
 For others, it implies progressive or continuous, even habitual aspect:
ŋʒis- : to bring (by carrying)
ŋʒiŋʒis- : be bringing, carry something somewhere
ʒgur- : to escape
ʒguʒgur- : to be exiled, to be an escapee

rəŋ- : to partition
rəŋrəŋ- : to have a share in something
Thus the meaning of reduplication is specific to each verb. Sometimes, the aspectual difference may - as seen above - amount to significant differences in actual meaning as well. 

Challenge: A New Frame

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016
A partial dichotomy that often is presented is that between verb framed and satellite framed languages. Obviously, this is a spectrum, and I doubt anyone even questions that.

Verb-framing languages express the type of motion with regards to a location by using different verbs (enter, exit, approach, ascend, descend, etc); satellite-framing verbs use particles of some type to mark the type of movement, and this often frees up the verb to mark the type of movement (running, walking, rolling, skipping, jumping etc).

For the challenge itself: come up with other things about motion than manner and direction with regards to the location that could be pushed into 'satellites'. Come up with other things that could be more central for what verb to pick.
(Wikipedia has a suggestions already: type of noun involved. So, that one's not going to cut it for now.)

A main reason why I post this is to get a challenge for myself as well - finish some things about framing in at least one of my conlangs before someone else suggests the same idea.

Sargaĺk and Ćwarmin vs. Ŋʒädär: What’s in a Hand

Monday, June 13th, 2016
"In the hand" signifies different things in Ŋʒädär when compared to what it signifies in Sargaĺk and Ćwarmin. This is not all that surprising with Sargaĺk, where 'hand', knuk originates in an earlier word *knəkw, 'reach'. Knuk is a masculine noun, but we find an exception in the locatives: a singular hand takes the feminine locative marker, thus knukrut: in the hand, knukru: under manual control . The masculine locative gives a more general meaning of 'within (close) reach'.

Other non-related languages in the region have a similar 'wide' meaning for their words for hands. It seems early ĆŊ had a similar situation that Ćwarmin also conserves. Thus the word vilke (*xvülk'ö), hand, in the local cases in Ćwarmin too signifies 'reach, holding with a tool' in the singular, actual grasp in the paucal*, and actual grasps in the plural. The ablative lacks a distinction between paucals and plurals, and the semantics-to-morphology interface here gets slightly odd: the other forms' paucal maps to the ablative singular.

The definite and specific also merge in the ablative cases. Thus, we get a matrix along these lines, with G for physical grip, actual hands, W for wider reach and a suffixed s for singular, p for plural in parts where there may be ambiguity as to how the number is parsed.
Notice below that the order of "lat loc abl" is inverted for plural, in order to enable merging pc abl and pl abl.



Plural for wider reach signifies 'many wider reaches', i.e. many people's separate reaches.

In Ŋʒädär, xülk'i is very concrete: a thing in the hands is physically located in the palms, or between the two palms being held together.

Dagurib goes further than Ćwarmin though, and extends 'hand' all the way to even very indirect grasping, such as 'in a vessel I control' or 'in a trap I have set'.

Ćwarmin, Sargaĺk, Bryatesle, Dairwueh, Ŋʒädär: Verbs for Speaking Foreign Languages and Babbling

Monday, June 13th, 2016
The main approach to forming words for 'babbling' is using a syllable that sounds inherently nonsensical, often with some measure of reduplication:
English: babble
Georgian ლუღლუღი
‎(luɣluɣi), ბუტბუტი (bubui)
Greek: βάρβαρος (barbaros)
Note that 'barbaros' basically meant 'someone who speaks incoherently' or somesuch. Similar words can be found in Bryatesle and Dairwueh:
klaklan (type II verb)
klaklasi (noun, masculine, 'babbler', 'barbarian')
klaklara (noun, feminine, 'babbler', 'barbarian')
klakyli (noun, masculine, 'babble')
xrəxlə- (verb, 'babble')
xrəxlaŋo (noun, masculine, 'babbler', 'barbarian')
xrəxli (noun, feminine, 'babbler', 'barbarian')
xrəxle (noun, neuter, 'babble')
Being less culturally dominant, Ćwarmin, Ŋʒädär and Sargaĺk do not associate speaking a different language with being a barbarian. Klaklas has been borrowed into Ćwarmin as a word for barbarian. 

The Ćwarmin word for babbling (and also speaking foreign languages) is the verb dindin, and similarly Ŋʒädär has the verb vörvör. Both are formed by reduplication of some slightly 'nonsensical-sounding' syllable. In Ŋʒädär, this verb is especially interesting since it is the usual verb for describing the ability of speaking a foreign language:
saɤ brıətəs-rık vörvör-dü*-s
I-abs bryatesle-instr speak_foreign-POT*-1sg_intr
I (can) speak (in) Bryatesle
* this morpheme isn't, strictly speaking, a potential marker throughout the verbal system; the TAM&c system in Ŋʒädär is fairly complicated, with different markers acquiring different meanings in different combinations and with different verbs.
Vörvör can be made transitive - the object then is whoever one speaks to. In the intransitive with a language as instrumental it is seldom used without the potential mood, although it is possible to just omit the potential marker. If the instrumental argument is missing, it just means 'babble'.

Ćwarmin does not have a similar use for dindin - it merely signifies babble or speak an incomprehensible language. Ćwarmin therefore uses the regular verb for 'to speak' when discussing particular linguistic competences, with the language in the instrumental.

Sargaĺk has unique verbs for each of their close neighbours' languages:
tvemarej - to speak Bryatesle (from Bryatesle tvem, 'you')
becarej - to speak Ćwarmin (from Ćwarmin bec, 'you')
soŋarej - to speak Lamen (from Lamen sõq, a very common particle)
erbarej -
to speak Dairwueh (from Dairwueh erb-, 'to be')
The Sargaĺk have such verbs for three other minor languages of the area. For general babbling, Sargaĺk has sormoj, which is unusual in not having any reduplication in it.

Detail #291: Personal Pronouns with Complications

Sunday, June 12th, 2016
Few conlangs complicate up the third person pronoun a lot. Certainly such conlangs exist, but I still think it's reasonable to make up a short sketch of a language where personal pronouns are significantly more complicated, in order to inspire more such conlanging.

Let's consider a language where grammatical gender does not exist. There's one primary distinction, however – either animate-inanimate or human-nonhuman. I'll go with the latter. So, we now have pronouns for humans (let's use the Finnish pronoun 'hän' as a stand-in for this), and non-humans (let's borrow from Finnish again, 'se'). 

However, the language permits using other pronouns for third persons along a variety of distinctions. There's no necessity for there to be a pair of contrasting pronouns, even. We could imagine a pronoun for 'masculine' existing without a pronoun for 'feminine'; thus 'hän' could refer to either a man or a woman, but 'he' would refer specifically to a male. We could imagine certain age groups having pronouns, people of certain statuses or maybe in certain relative ranks of status, etc. Different pronouns could make different number distinctions as well. 

What could we do to make such words sufficiently unlike nouns to justifiably deem them pronouns? A few strategies exist:
  • they can mark different grammatical categories
    • more or fewer case distinctions (esp. convincing if nouns almost fully lack them)
    • more or less specific number distinctions
    • more suppletion
    • lack of definiteness marking
    • differences in distribution of articles and the like (i.e. they do not take counters or articles at all)
  •  syntactical differences
    • require antecedent or other referent to bind to
      • follow the same binding rules as other pronouns with regards to what nouns they can refer to
    • may not permit having adjectives or even attributes at all; may just restrict what kinds of attributes they accept (e.g. no relative clauses)
    • may be cliticized as 'almost-congruence' markers on verbs in ways that nouns don't; sometimes, appear doubly due to this.
  • tend to keep referring to the same referent after the first use, even if other possible referents surface - other third person pronouns that may fit the bill for the new referent will be used
  • form reflexive pronouns
  • have class-specific indefinite pronouns for each of the kinds of indefinite pronouns that the language distinguishes for indefinite pronouns in general, whereas nouns behave in a less complicated way with regards to indefiniteness of that type


Sunday, June 12th, 2016

Your language has a couple of example words and phrases that are only ever used to document itself, e.g. in its reference grammar. Alternatively they also mean, in other contexts, “example”, “invalid” or “test”.

Ŋʒädär: Explicit Absolutive and Adverb Marking, Zero Absolutive and Adverb Marking

Saturday, June 11th, 2016
In Ŋʒädär, there is a distinction among adjective-like words - those that are primarily adjectival, and those that are primarily adverbial. There are both morphological and minor syntactical differences between them.

Morphologically, the primary adjectives have zero marking in the absolutive, whereas those primary adverbs that can be turned into adjectives have an absolutive morpheme, -Or. Primary adjectives take -OlA if turned into adverbs.

A few examples of primarily adverbial adjectives are
ŋatu, fast (as in having great speed)
ləsnı, fast (as in occupying a short span of time)
änäc, slowly (either occupying a long span of time or having a slow speed)
ɣöv far away
rıdus, carefully
vada, meticulously (regarding religious observations)
ıgrəı, carelessly
, bountifully, plentifully
must'o, in a line, straight, without intermediate pauses, directly
uŋa, alternating, in a waving motion
Thus these have the absolutive form
ŋator, ləsnər, änäcör, ɣövör, rıdusor, vador, ıgrəıər, t'oɣŋor.
Other cases have no special congruence marker, but adhere to the regular congruence markers. The same marker, -Or, can also serve as a nominalizer with verbs. With adpositions, it can create nouns or adjectives - e.g. 'the underside', or 'the lower one'.

fourteen is nelutima

Saturday, June 11th, 2016
nelutima = fourteen (numeral) (Some things Google found for "nelutima": a nearly unique term; similar nelutina seems to mean something in Latvian but I'm unable to translate it; somewhat similar Nelutu is masculine first name that can be Romanian)

Word derivation for "fourteen" :
Basque = hamalau (from ten + four)
Finnish = neljätoista (four + -teen)
Miresua = nelutima (four + -teen)

Another new word, as I continue to make words to count upward from ten.

The word fourteen doesn't appear in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but I found it once in Through the Looking-glass.
"Are you a child or a teetotum?" the Sheep said, as she took up another pair of needles. "You'll make me giddy soon, if you go on turning round like that." She was now working with fourteen pairs at once, and Alice couldn't help looking at her in great astonishment.

"How CAN she knit with so many?" the puzzled child thought to herself.