Archive for April, 2017

Detail #335: Possessive Suffixes and Dative Congruence

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017
Consider a language with possessive suffixes as well as an additional, lightly similar thing. We can imagine some interesting restrictions, though, and an immediate detour into that is called for about now.

In Proto-Finnic, the subject could not be marked with possessive suffixes; only the other cases permitted it. This is basically a nominative-alignment thing. Morphologically, this has left the trace that even subjects in Finnish, when marked by a possessive suffix, morphologically are identical to objects.

Now, the kind of suffix I am thinking of is an indirect object congruence marker. Thus, 'I gave a book to him' would come out as 'I gave book.[3sg ind. obj]'. Now, possessive and indirect object suffixes are in complementary distribution - they cannot cooccur.

However, we can imagine a weird situation where the indirect object congruence is permissible on intransitive subjects as well (at least for a short while, until the possessive marker catches up), for situations like 'the book is for him' and such.

For a short while, thus, the possessive marker would follow a nominative pattern, whereas the indirect object congruence marker would follow an ergative pattern.

Conlangery SHORTS 24: Personal Conlanging Progress

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017
George talks a bit about his personal progress with Middle Pahran.   Draft Grammar of Middle Pahran

Detail #334: Number Congruence and Discongruence with Numerals

Monday, April 3rd, 2017
A fair share of languages use singular nouns after numerals - in e.g. Turkish, you say 'two man', not 'two men'. In part this is a reduction of redundancy, but on the other hand, redundancy can be a feature rather than a bug.

Now, let's consider a language that operates like Turkish on this count, but has an extra quirk: many determiners' stems also encode number, so e.g. the singular 'this' and the plural 'these' do not share a stem. However, both also use a full set of case congruence markers that encode both number and case.

For 'these.acc four.acc dog.acc', "these" would thus have a plural stem with a singular accusative suffix on it. 

An obvious suggestion for a situation where the opposite could happen - singular stems with plural morphology - could be when the speaker wants to imply some kind of collective. Thus, collectives would be morphologically plural, and only marked whenever there are determiners involved.

Using Language Invention to Teach Typology and Cross-Linguistic Universals

Saturday, April 1st, 2017

Matt Pearson received his Ph.D. in Linguistics from UCLA, and currently serves as Professor of Linguistics at Reed College (Portland, Oregon), where he teaches syntax, typology, morphology, semantics, and field methods. His research on word order and clause structure in Malagasy has appeared in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory and other publications. In 1996-97 Matt created the alien language for the NBC science fiction series Dark Skies. Matt’s naturalistic artlang Okuna, developed over more than 20 years, earned a Smiley Award from David Peterson along with a mention in his book The Art of Language Invention.


Matt Pearson discusses a project where students learn about language typology by creating a naturalistic constructed language. Students review cross-linguistic variation in natural languages (in areas such as phoneme inventory, word order, case alignment, etc.), and then determine which properties their invented language will have. Decisions are made at random by spinning a wheel. Attached to the wheel is a pie chart, where the size of each slice represents the percentage of the world’s languages possessing a given setting for some structural parameter or set of parameters. Crucially, each decision constrains subsequent decisions in accordance with known implicational universals: e.g., in determining whether the language has prepositions or postpositions, the pie chart is adjusted based on verb-object order in the language, as decided by a previous spin of the wheel.

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