Archive for October, 2017

Detail #356: Case, Gender and Copulas

Thursday, October 12th, 2017
In some languages, some complements of copulas can be in non-nominative cases, e.g. in Russian and Polish where they sometimes are in the instrumental case. A situation where such a thing could make sense in a language could be when there is some form of perceived gender disagreement between the complement and the subject, e.g. situations like 'she is a soldier', and this could make sense in a language even if the language lacks grammatical gender. However, I guess it would make most sense in a language with a grammatical gender system, whenever that gender system provides a mismatch.

A Question of Alignment I: Typological Considerations

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

In this series of blog articles—taken (more or less) straight from the current working draft of chapter 5.4 of the new grammar for better visibility and as a direct update of an old article (“Flicking Switches: Ayeri and the Austronesian Alignment”, 2012-06-27)—I will finally reconsider the way verbs operate with regards to syntactic alignment.

Verbs govern the relations of the various phrase types to each other and they are thus central to the formation of clauses. Just from looking at the numerous examples given both on this website and in the grammar, it should be clear that Ayeri’s preferred word order is verb-first, which opens up a few typological questions—first and foremost, whether Ayeri actually has a verb phrase, or in terms of generative grammar: whether it is configurational in this regard. Ayeri definitely has a constituent structure as far as NPs, APs, PPs, etc. are concerned. However, due to VSO word order, it is not obvious whether verb and object actually form a VP constituent together, since V and O are not adjacent to each other. Since Ayeri marks topics in terms of morphology, it will also be necessary to discuss how this mechanism works and how it relates to the notion of the subject.

A discussion of subject, topic, and configurationality is interesting also in that Ayeri’s syntactic alignment was originally inspired by the Austronesian or Philippine alignment system, though then under the term ‘trigger language’ which is itself not unproblematic. Tagalog, an Austronesian language of the Malayo-Polynesian branch, spoken mainly in the Philippines (Hammarström et al. 2017: Tagalog; Schachter and Otanes 1972), usually serves as the academic poster child in descriptions of Austronesian alignment. Ayeri departs from Tagalog’s system in a number of ways, though, and probably towards the more conventional. Austronesian alignment is not necessarily the best model to liken Ayeri’s syntax to. It will nonetheless be informative to compare both systems based on the work of Kroeger (1991, 1993), who provides an analysis of Tagalog’s syntactic alignment roughly in terms of the LFG framework and describes some heuristics which may be helpful in establishing what is actually going on in Ayeri. As mentioned in a previous blog article (“Happy 10th Anniversary, Ayeri”, 2013-12-01), I started Ayeri in late 2003—then still in high school and not knowing much about linguistics. Of course, I had to go and pick the one alignment system which has long been “a notorious problem for both descriptive grammarians and theoretical syntacticians” to the point where it “sometimes seems as if Austronesian specialists can talk (and write) of nothing else” (Kroeger 2007: 41).

As mentioned above, Ayeri’s unmarked word order gives the verb first, and then, in decreasing order of bondedness to the verb, the phrases which make up the verb’s arguments: subject (agent), direct object (patient), indirect object (dative), followed by adverbials in the genitive, locative, instrumental, and causative case. Ayeri’s basic word order is thus VSO, a trait it has in common with about 7 % of the world’s natural languages according to Dryer (2013). Regarding word order typology, we can declare the generalization in (1), which is consistent also with word order in other areas of the language, where the head precedes the modifier. The head is here represented by the verb, the modifier by the object—like English, Ayeri is a VO language, thus. In addition to this, however, Ayeri regularly puts the verb as the head of the clause itself first.

    1. Order of subject, object and verb: VSO
    2. Order of verb and object: VO

It is commonly assumed that languages have a subject which occupies a certain position in the constituent structure—the predicate—and which commands a constituent jointly formed by the verb and its dependents—the predication. An SVO sentence in English thus very generally looks like in (2) (compare the examples in Bresnan et al. 2016: 101–111).

However, Ayeri is a VSO language, so the question arises how the basic constituent structure should be diagrammed in tree form, since V and O are not adjacent. As an initial hypothesis one might assume that they cannot form a unit together, since S somehow stands in between the constituents it is supposed to command. A very first stab at diagramming would probably be to come up with a flat, non-configurational structure, all but lacking a VP, as shown in (3).

  1. ?

Such a structure, though, does not do Ayeri justice in that, for instance, right-node-raising of a subject and object NP together is possible, so there is evidence that they form a constituent subordinate to the verb. NP–XP constructions where XP is not a maximal projection of a verb also exist in isolation, so NP and XP are probably contained in a small-clause constituent S separate from the verb. The verb in the initial position furthermore shows inflection, so one might rather construe it as an I⁰, projecting an IP, which frees up VP for other purposes while we can use IP to govern both Iʹ and S. In fact, such a structure is basically the conclusion Chung and McCloskey (1987) come to for Irish, which is also a VSO language (4a). Bresnan et al. (2016) give the chart in (4b) for Welsh, equally a VSO language (also compare Dalrymple 2001: 66, sourcing Sadler 1997). Kroeger (1991) suggests the two structures depicted in (4c) for Tagalog, based on the suggested constituent structure for Celtic languages.

    1. Irish (Chung and McCloskey 1987: 235):

    2. Welsh (adapted from Bresnan et al. 2016: 134):

    3. Tagalog (Kroeger 1991: 131):

What all of these c-structures have in common is that the inflected verb appears in I⁰, which is a sister of S. S, in turn, is a small clause containing the arguments of the verb. In the cases of Irish and Welsh, however, there is a VP sister of the subject NP which itself does not have a head, but contains the object NP as a complement. In the case of Tagalog, S is non-configurational, that is, while XP may contain a non-finite verb, the subject and object NPs are on equal footing.

Bresnan et al. (2016: 129–138) inform that the phenomenon of the verb ending up in a different head position (V⁰ apparently moves to I⁰) in (4b) is commonly known as ‘head movement’, except that LFG is built specifically without any movement. Since LFG is based on the assumption that all nodes in a syntactic structure are base-generated, that is, that there are no transformational rules generating the surface structure from a deeper layer of representation underneath it, there cannot be a trace of V left behind in VP. LFG avoids empty categories, as there is no information contained in an empty node. The functional information provided by the verb is not lost, however, it is merely now provided by the verb in I⁰. Essentially, the Welsh example does not violate endocentricity, since the finite verb in I⁰ still forms the verbal head in the functional structure representation of the clause. With regards to constituent structure, V⁰, if present, c-commands its NP sister; both V⁰ and NP are dominated by VP:

    1. Exhaustive domination (Carnie 2013: 121):

      “Node A exhaustively dominates a set of terminal nodes {B, C, …, D}, provided it dominates all the members of the set so that there is no member of the set that is not dominated by A and there is no terminal node G dominated by A that is not a member of the set.”

    2. C-command (Carnie 2013: 127):

      “Node A c-commands node B if every node dominating A also dominates B, and neither A nor B dominates the other.”

The AVM in (4b) shows that the contents normally found in V⁰ are provided by the head of its equivalent functional category, I⁰. I⁰ and VP are said to map into the same f-structure (Bresnan et al. 2016: 136). Endocentricity still holds in that IP dominates all nodes below it, thus also I⁰ and the object NP. In addition, I⁰ c-commands its sister node and all of its children, hence also the object NP. As Bresnan et al. (2016) put it: “X is an extended head of Y if X is the Xʹ categorial head of Y […], or if Y lacks a categorial head but X is the closest element higher up in the tree that functions like the f-structure head of Y” (136). For our example, replace X with I⁰ and Y with VP in the second half of the quote: I⁰ is the closest element higher up in the tree that functions like the f-structure head of VP, which itself lacks a categorial head.

The analysis of the sentence structure of Celtic languages shows that VSO languages do not automatically need to be considered ‘non-configurational’ and lacking a VP if the notion of extended heads is accepted. In any case, tests need to be performed to see whether one of the analyses presented in (4) holds true for Ayeri as well. However, this will not be in the scope of this series of blog articles.

  • Bresnan, Joan et al. Lexical-Functional Syntax. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2016. Print. Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics 16.
  • Chung, Sandra, and James McCloskey. “Government, Barriers, and Small Clauses in Modern Irish.” Linguistic Inquiry 18.2 (1987): 173–237. Web. 11 Aug. 2017. ‹›.
  • Dalrymple, Mary. Lexical Functional Grammar. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 2001. Print. Syntax and Semantics 34.
  • Dryer, Matthew S. “Order of Subject, Object and Verb.” The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Eds. Matthew S. Dryer and Martin Haspelmath. 2013. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, n.d. Web. 11 Aug. 2017. ‹›.
  • Hammarström, Harald et al., eds. “Language: Tagalog.” Glottolog. Version 3.0. Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, n.d. Web. 11 Aug. 2017. ‹›.
  • Kroeger, Paul R. Phrase Structure and Grammatical Relations in Tagalog. Diss. Stanford University, 1991. Web. 17 Dec. 2016. ‹›.
  • ———. “Another Look at Subjecthood in Tagalog.” Pre-publication draft. Philippine Journal of Linguistics 24.2 (1993): 1–16. Web. ‹
  • ———. “McKaughan’s Analysis of Philippine Voice.” Piakandatu ami Dr. Howard P. McKaughan, 41–. Eds. Loren Billings and Nelleke Goudswaard. Manila: Linguistic Society of the Philippines and SIL Philippines, 2007. Print.
  • Sadler, Louisa. “Clitics and the Structure-Function Mapping.” Proceedings of the LFG ’97 Conference, University of California, San Diego, CA. Eds. Miriam Butt and Tracy Holloway King. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications, 1997. Web. 12 Aug. 2017. ‹›.
  • Schachter, Paul and Fe T. Otanes. 1972. Tagalog Reference Grammar. Berkeley: U of California P, 1983. Google Books. Google, 2011. Web. 6 Nov. 2011. ‹›.

A Number and Numeral-Related Thing in Sargaĺk and Dairwueh

Sunday, October 8th, 2017
There's no need for a language to have a 'perfect' analogy to the word 'both' (despite the fact that it exists in several subfamilies of European as well as in several Uralic languages, and these are only the ones I've been able to verify that they are not direct cognates or derivatives of the lexeme for 'two'). However, Sargaĺk manages to double that, by having two words with similar meanings but different morphosyntactical behaviours as well as slight differences in meaning.

In Sargaĺk, two is yor. 'Both' is either vrir or lyəs. Vrir takes a formally singular noun after it:
There are some complications: vrir does not distinguish the absolutive and pegative. For nominative or pegative nouns, it is always itself unmarked, but has the pegative singular marker on the main noun. For all other cases, the noun is in the singular case, and vrir takes the singular oblique case congruence:
Lyəs however, takes plural congruence with all cases and the main noun too is consistently plural. As subjects the verb for both of lyəs and vrir take plural congruence, except if vrir is used with certain words like 'hands', 'eyes', 'ears', 'nostrils', 'scissors' or 'the side of a boat'.

Both of these can also be used as pronouns, much like English 'both'. They can also be used for a dual reflexive construction which can be used with any subject numbering two, regardless of morphological number.

The semantic difference lies in the extent to which the two referents are seen as separate units ('lyəs') or a concerted group ('vrir')

In Dairwueh, a cognate of vrir exists, ŋrəz. This particle has a few uses that have developed out of an original meaning of 'both': in NPs it goes before any number to mark 'all N of', but without any explicit number present it signifies 'both'. In numeral complements it serves to mark the number as that of a group, rather than as a number of independent individuals.  This it also does with plural, indefinite determiners and pronouns, thus:
they aresix
They are (a group of) six.
they aresix
they number six, there are six of them, (but as individual things)
ŋrəz is the only 'numeral' in Dairwueh to take case. It roughly follows the plural paradigms:
nom: ŋrəzo
acc: ŋrizna
dat: ŋrizit
gen: ŋriŋa / ŋridin
loc-instr: ŋriŋa / ŋrider
nom: ŋriri
acc: ŋrizar
dat: ŋrizit
gen: ŋrizin
loc-instr: ŋrizar
nom: ŋrəza
acc: ŋrəza
dat: ŋrizit
gen: ŋrizit
loc-instr: ŋriŋa

Conlanger Lore: Lists of Cases|Tenses|…

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017
This isn't quite a piece of 'lore', but it's a common enough thing in conlang descriptions. I will also have to mention some notable, very thorough exceptions.

Conlangers, even fairly far into developing a language, sometimes are happy just to list the cases, tenses, etc, without ever really describing their use. This betrays, in my opinion, a very naive (or essentialist, or whatever) view of what such things - cases, tenses, aspects, etc - are. This post will focus on cases, because they illustrate the problem fairly well.

One point I like to drive home is that names like 'accusative' are but labels, and the accusative of one language does probably not behave like the accusative of another. (For a scholarly source, see this.) They are not the same case except by virtue of having the same name. Yes, the prototypical use may be the same, but the prototypical use may be but one of the many uses of a case, and might not even be the primary use in practice – see, for instance, the plural genitive in Russian.

The naivety that I accuse this of showcasing is simply the notion that labels for grammatical things are somehow rigid references: all datives are the same, all accusatives are the same, all past tenses are the same, etc. This is far from the case. The dative of German, and the dative of Icelandic, to pick two very closely related datives are distinct cases. Despite sharing a name and even a historical origin, they are not the same case; yes, they share some properties - including some of their most frequent uses, but they also have several differences. For one, they don't go with the same prepositions (and of course, what I am saying about cases also applies to prepositions - 'in' in different languages differ!). Secondarily, they appear as quirky case subjects or objects with different verbs. Thirdly, being a quirky case subject (or object) is not quite the same thing in Icelandic as it is in German.

Looking at other languages with a dative, we find even more of a divergence between them. We also find that things sometimes go by different names but would fit very well in that category - e.g. the Finnish allative. As a sort of mid-conclusion: names can be both one-to-many and many-to-one, i.e. many things can carry the same names yet be quite different things, and many similar things can have different names.

As for non-case things, even pretty obvious categories like grammatical number may present a similar trap: the singular vs plural distinction is not the same in all languages – a trivial example would be things in general. Some languages prefer generic nouns to be singular, some prefer them to be plural, some seem to accept both ways by different ways of delineating them (e.g. lexically determined vs. influenced by grammatical context vs. other things.)
Tenses, moods and aspects, obviously, can present even greater differences.

To get back on cases, I would like to point to some good descriptions of case systems or even just locative systems that I feel avoid falling in the trap of 'just being a list''. Examples include Salmoneus' description of the locative adpositions of his Rawang Ata. Yes, this isn't about a case system per se, but functionally equivalent so you better just tolerate my use of it as an example.

A good example of doing a rather no-frills case system right is Carsten Becker's Ayeri. Some of the interesting stuff there appears in the interaction of case, transitivity and pragmatic concerns.

And a very naturalistic, alt-historiy Slavic case system is presented by Martin Posthumus in his Novegradian.

Of course, I am vain enough to toot my own horn here: I think there's some merit to my descriptions of my conlangs' case systems as well. The Bryatesle case usage description is fairly in-depth, but even then somewhat incomplete (see I, II, III, IV, V, and VI).  Dairwueh has a short, but sweet description that attempts to analyze the cases in terms of abstract features. Ŋʒädär too has a nice description in the same style.

Sargalk and Cwarmin still have not gotten that treatment, but it'll happen soon enough.

Conlangery SHORTS #26: Phonix

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017
This week, George discusses Phonix, a sound change applier that will help you with your historical conlanging.

Konstruierte Sprachen – Aufbau, Entwicklung und Vergleich am Beispiel von Hymmnos

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

Mathias Dietrich started studying Japanese studies and sociology at the Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg in 2012. From 2015 to 2016 he studied abroad at the Senshū University in Tokyo. He will shortly finish he studies and receive his BA in 2018. He works as a freelance journalist for the German video game magazine Gamestar and first became interested in constructed languages after playing the playstation game Ar Tonelico which features Hymmnos, a language invented by Akira Tsuchiya.

Mathias Dietrich studiert seit 2012 Japanologie und Deutsche Sprache und Literatur an der Martin-Luther-Universitat Halle-Wittenberg. Von 2015 bis 2016 absolvierte er ein Auslandsstudium an der Senshū Universitat in Tokio. Seinen Bachelor-Abschluss wird er im Jahr 2018 erreichen. In seiner Freizeit arbeitet er als freier Autor fur das deutsche Videospielmagazin Gamestar. Sein Interesse fur konstruierte Sprachen entwickelte er, nachdem er das Playstation-Spiel Ar Tonelico spielte und mit der Sprache Hymmnos von Akira Tsuchiya in Kontakt kam.


The expression of emotions plays a big role in Akira Tsuchiyas Hymmnos. After a short basic introduction to conlangs itself, this essay takes a short look on Tsuchiyas conlang and compares the aspect of expressing emotions with German using a theory by Norbert Fries who researched emotions from the perspective of linguistic semiotics. (German Text)

Der Ausdruck von Emotionen ist ein wichtiger Aspekt in Akira Tsuchiyas konstruierter Sprache Hymmnos. Nach einem kurzen Überblick über konstruierte Sprachen im Allgemeinen, gibt diese Arbeit einen Einblick in Tsuchiyas konstruierte Sprache und vergleicht den Ausdruck von Emotionen mit dem Deutschen anhand einer Theorie von Norbert Fries, welcher Emotionsausdrücke vom Standpunkt der linguistischen Semiotik aus untersuchte.

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