Archive for January, 2017


Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

This year I will be participating in Verbruary (a verb a day for the month of February), but with a twist. See, Verbruary (and Lexember) are for new vocabulary, and I create languages with closed classes of verbs. So, beginning tomorrow, I will have write-ups on all 38 verbs in the new language, Xunumi-Wudu, spread out over 28 days.

Conlangery SHORTS #23: Lexember 2016 reflection

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017
I reflect a bit on Lexember 2016. Links and Resources: My post on -piq Dragonlinguistics on Tumblr Also please check out Phonetic Calligraphy on Tumblr and Facebook!

Detail #330: Interrogative Article

Monday, January 30th, 2017
In a language with indefinite and definite articles, have an article that is historically related to the interrogative pronoun/determiner 'what'. Unlike 'what', however, it signifies that a definite noun is the topic of a yes/no-question. In the pseudo-English used to illustrate this, I'll form it analogously to a/an: wha, whan.

you saw wha car?
have you heard whan opera?

the emissary gave wha gift to the king?
the emissary gave a gift to wha king?
wha emissary gave a gift to the king?
A cool thing about this is that definiteness is neutralized in polar questions. Also, other determiners might be forced to behave in quirky ways of the syntax of determiners is anything like that of English:
* you saw wha my car
you saw wha car of mine
(or quirks analogous to that).

Detail #329: A Verbal System and Noun Classes

Sunday, January 29th, 2017
Consider a system with several noun classes, and a complicated system of moods, aspects, aktionsarts and tenses. Now, different noun classes – both as subjects and objects – force different conflations of the actual available TAMs.

A Dairwueh Preprepositional Construction

Friday, January 27th, 2017
In Dairwueh, having is expressed using the preposition edə in combination with the third person II copula -

Thus, baud ŋe edə vena  - I had a farm (farm was by me).

The preposition edə occurs in some temporal expressions and some fossilized locative expressions, but is otherwise not used much.

However, edə can also take a preprepositional noun or adjective (or even adverb). In combination with the possessive construction, the adjective corresponds to the bolded elements below:
  • to have object as/for complement
  • X's object is complement
  • object is X's complement 
  • object is complement by X/for X
  • owner perceives object as complement
In a few dialects, the complement can also be an infinitive, in which case it's a causative structure, or an active(!) participle, in which case it's a passive.

Sargaĺk: Some Spatial Postpositions

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

A short translation of the table would be something like
out ofaroundinto




out of



This image should be fairly self-explanatory: the circle expresses insides of things, the upper half circle represents the outside of a convex surface (hill, convex structure, etc), the lower half circle express the outside of a concave surface. 'ule', with regards to a convex surface expresses 'under, beneath', etc. It's worth noting that the surface of the sea also patterns with the concave surfaces.

This is not an exhaustive description of Sargaĺk spatial postpositions, nor does it fully exhaust the spatial usages of the ones presented.

Update on the Grammar Writing Process II

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

A problem I have recently come to see with conlanging is that while a whole number of people may research a natural language at any time, each researcher contributing to scholarly discourse from their area of expertise, your typical conlanger is working on their fictional language all by themselves. I’m no exception with regards to this. This also means, however, that only you are acquainted with your conlang, which also means that while fleshing it out, you have to be a kind of jack-of-all-trades if you want to do it well. On the other hand, a single person does not have talent for or interest in all areas of a field to the same degree, nor can you know everything about a field as variegated as linguistics. In addition to this, acquiring some deeper knowledge and experience just in a part of a field takes time.

While writing my new Ayeri grammar, describing phonology at least roughly, and morphology with a little more attention to detail seemed fair enough.1 Describing a language, however, doesn’t end at elaborating on how to form words. Syntax is just as important, as it describes how to form larger units of meaning, which is certainly no trivial issue either. Since Ayeri’s structure departs from English in some basic ways, it definitely warrants more serious attention.

Most conlangers I know seem to be mainly interested in morphology, and may even go so far as meeting formal syntax theories with suspicion. Moreover, I have never had a proper introduction to syntax myself either, for instance, in class at university. However, since Ayeri is rather different from German or English, I have long had an itch to figure its syntax out in a more structured way, in order to find out and describe in standard terms what I have been doing so far without giving it too much of a second thought. Since I’ve been trying to keep up a certain level of seriousness in the grammar, simply stating that Ayeri is VSO and heads mostly go first, and treating everything within 5 pages won’t do. Dealing with such a complex topic this superficially does not seem satisfying to my own curiosity and ambition. I am hoping that finding out more about Ayeri’s syntax would uncover more remaining blank spots, the filling of which would allow me to add yet more depth.

A colleague of mine had suggested to get acquainted with Lexical-Functional Grammar, actually with regards to my day job as a grad assistant. Describing Ayeri in this framework, however, might be interesting as well, since LFG was developed with flexibility in mind so that configurational, non-configurational, and mixed languages can all be dealt with in a straightforward manner. With its VSO constituent order, Ayeri may fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, though this needs further analysis, which I can’t provide just yet. I have been trying to work through Bresnan et al. (2016), but I realized that trying to study these things on my own is no adequate replacement for correction by teachers, since it’s too easy to accidentally gloss over important details by reading a textbook without discussing its contents. Furthermore, this book presupposes familiarity with common structuralist paradigms, such as Generative Grammar (Carnie 2002/2013 seems to be a popular introduction), Government and Binding, and X-bar theory, which it seems reasonable to acquaint myself with before I continue.

Yet, I am impatient to keep on writing, since I really don’t want to let the grammar drift off into negligence again this time. I had written some 20 pages on syntax earlier this month, however I realized that much of what I had written is probably wrong, since, for example, I disregarded lexical integrity as a fundamental principle with regards to what I assume to be clitics, simply for the reason of not being aware of this principle for the lack of formal training in a very formal discipline. For the time being, I have deleted what I wrote about the phrase structures of DPs/NPs and AdjP/AdvPs from the PDF in the main development branch on Github (‘master’) to not spread misinformation. Once I know more and have reevaluated some things, development on this part will go on in the ‘trunk’ branch, which I will merge back into ‘master’ once I am confident enough that my analyses are at least not completely off.

Thus, for the time being, the grammar will have to pause at morphology, and hopefully not for another 5 years. Alternatively, I may need to find a way to adequatly describe how to form clauses and sentences without getting too deeply into theories, at least provisionally, if that is possible.

  • Bresnan, Joan et al. Lexical-Functional Syntax. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016. Print. Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics 16.
  • Carnie, Andrew. Syntax. A Generative Introduction. 3rd ed. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Introducing Linguistics 4.
  • Spencer, Andrew and Ana R. Luís. Clitics. An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2012. Print. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics.
  • Zwicky, Arnold M. On Clitics. 1977. Arnold M. Zwicky. 21 Apr. 2015. Stanford U. 21 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 Jul. 2016. ‹›.
  1. I will still have to rewrite some things with regards to cliticization, though. For instance, I am not quite sure whether manga with verbs is inflection or rather a special clitic; the term ‘bound word’ from Zwicky (1977) I used in the grammar hasn’t stood the test of time. I’m currently reading up on more recent research and positions on clitics in Spencer & Luís (2012), so corrections to the morphology chapter will follow eventually.

Detail #328: Deixis for Verbs

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017
This set of ideas were inspired by discussions with the author of Ayeri.
Let's have a look at deictic marking in the verb complex. We can consider some obvious things - deictic marking can sort of be dependent on person – one could have here unmarked on first person verbs, there unmarked on third person verbs, and maybe put second person in a situation where here is unmarked in the present, but there is unmarked in the past.

Now, since some are marked and some are unmarked, we could go for a direct-inverse kind of situation here:



Certain third person NPs could of course doubly inverse this: the demonstrative 'this' itself, as well as a third person listener pronoun.

Now, with verbs of movement, there may be two slots, although both are not necessarily filled. If both are empty in a verb meaning 'depart', a first person subject in the present would be parsed as 'I am leaving (from here to there)'.
Here and there are obviously distinguished, but movements can also happen between two distinct theres, or even from or to an indefinite place - which have their own morphemes, cognate to indefinite pronouns. For verbs of movement, the deictic markers also become more complicated, interacting with aspect in various ways. Perfective movements towards will by default be oriented herewards, so direction towards there is marked by a distinct morpheme, movement towards anywhere is marked by the same indefinite morpheme previously mentioned. Perfective verbs of departure will by default be parsed the opposite way to the table given above, and likewise perfectie verbs of movement along. Imperfective verbs of movement depend on the person in the same way as given in the table above.

The indefinite morpheme previously mentioned is also used when interrogative pronouns are used.

Challenge: Person-like Things

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017
Person is quite common in conlangs, but we can even almost find other person-like structures in human languages - some Asian pronoun systems rather may be ranked by social stature than by speaker > listener > other.

We could imagine some other system, though - the simplest being some way of adjusting how social stature is determined (age, with gender as tie-breaker? gender, with age as tie-breaker? some other type of social structure than any known human structure); maybe to some not entirely 'ordered' type of ranking (so it's more of a social network than a social hierarchy).

Suggestion: come up with a different system than person, and post in a comment.

Detail #327: Gender, Anaphora, Hierarchies and Definiteness

Friday, January 20th, 2017
Let us consider a language different anaphora depending on whether the NP it refers to is definite/specific or indefinite.The definite anaphora are the baseline - the pronoun for the masculine definite noun we call the masculine pronoun, the pronoun for the feminine definite noun we call the feminine pronoun, etc.

Now, we have a hierarchy of genders and numbers:
plur anim > masc sg > fem sg > neut
plur inanim > neut
For each indefinite noun, an anaphora referring to it will use the noun from the class to the right, so 
If any people arrive, he(=they) must wait here.

Iif any man arrives,  she(=he) may wait here.

If my boss arrives, he(=he) must wait here.