Archive for December, 2017

15th Lexember Word

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

nihárpa [ɲiˈɦäˑɾpə̆], transitive verb: “to help/assist/aid (someone)“

What we’ve got here is an interesting case of semantic shift. Nihárpa is morphologically the causative form of nihár. However, it’s an old causative form that is not productive anymore and that has changed meaning with time, going from “to make (someone) strong” to “to help (someone)” (because helping is effectively giving, or at least lending, someone the power to solve their problem).

In terms of meaning, nihárpa is used strictly for “non-vital” help. It is used for instance to speak about helping someone do their homework, or helping someone fill in their tax forms (Being late with one’s tax declarations is not lethal, right?). Helping someone out of a dangerous, life-threatening situation is handled differently, as we’ll soon see :-).

Like a number of other verbs, nihárpa has a separate, slightly irregular plural form: nihámmo. It’s used when the object of the verb is plural or indefinite (i,e. not mentioned in speech or known by context), as with every transitive verb with a plural form.


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15th Lexember Word

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

nihárpa [ɲiˈɦäˑɾpə̆], transitive verb: “to help/assist/aid (someone)“

What we’ve got here is an interesting case of semantic shift. Nihárpa is morphologically the causative form of nihár. However, it’s an old causative form that is not productive anymore and that has changed meaning with time, going from “to make (someone) strong” to “to help (someone)” (because helping is effectively giving, or at least lending, someone the power to solve their problem).

In terms of meaning, nihárpa is used strictly for “non-vital” help. It is used for instance to speak about helping someone do their homework, or helping someone fill in their tax forms (Being late with one’s tax declarations is not lethal, right?). Helping someone out of a dangerous, life-threatening situation is handled differently, as we’ll soon see :-).

Like a number of other verbs, nihárpa has a separate, slightly irregular plural form: nihámmo. It’s used when the object of the verb is plural or indefinite (i,e. not mentioned in speech or known by context), as with every transitive verb with a plural form.


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14th Lexember Word

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

nihár rosen [ɲiˈɦäˑrə̆ʑe̞̽ŋ], verb phrase: “to be weak; to be trivial“

I will not spend much time on the semantics of this phrase, which is basically the opposite of yesterday’s word. Rather, I want to point out that it’s a rather interesting construction.

To put it simply, =rosen (the = is used to emphasise its status as enclitic) is a verbal clitic used to mark the desiderative mood (i.e. “to want” or “to need”). However, with intransitive verbs, it often forms more idiomatic constructions marking a state of lack or want. For instance, with cupí: “to sleep“, one can form cupí rosen: “to be tired, to be sleepy“ (literally “to want/need to sleep”, compare and contrast with urún: “to tire, to be/get tired”). With : “to eat“, you get ayóm rosen: “to be hungry“ (literally “to want/need to eat”. Ayóm is the antipassive form of , turning it into an intransitive verb with no need of an object). This is a relatively common construction, and nihár rosen is just another example, where “weakness” is described as a “need to become strong”.

There is also a level of euphemism going on here. Calling someone weak is a relatively strong insult in Mountain Folk culture, so people tend to avoid directly pointing that out. A circumlocution like nihár rosen contains the word nihár itself, and thus “feels” more acceptable. Also, =rosen implies a will to leave that state of weakness, which further softens it. That’s why this idiomatic use of =rosen is rather common: when people want to ascribe a negative quality to someone else, it is much more diplomatic to say that they “want to reach” a positive quality, rather than abruptly stating that they lack it altogether.


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A Question of Alignment X: Raising

Wednesday, December 13th, 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.


Raising verbs involve the sharing of the subject of an embedded clause with the structural subject or object position of its matrix clause; the complement clause’s subject appears as a gap in English. The raised subject is not semantically an argument of the matrix clause’s verb. The matrix clause’s subject may also be a dummy ‘it’ or ‘there’ in English.

    1. It seemed that Johni knows the answer.
    2. Johni seemed _i to know the answer.
    3. *Johni seemed it.

    1. I expected that Lindai sings the national anthem.
    2. I expected Linda _i to sing the national anthem.
    3. !I expected Linda.

Kroeger (1991: 27–28) states that, as expected, raising is restricted to nominative arguments in Tagalog. Non-nominative actors may be raised into the matrix clause as well, however, but at least for some speakers there needs to be a resumptive pronoun—basically, an overt pronominal ‘trace’ in terms of GG—in the complement clause, as shown in (4). Example (3) shows a case of raising of the nominative argument of the complement clause to the patient of a transitive verb; the nominative argument of the complement clause subsequently is realized as a gap coindexed with the patient of the matrix clause, that is, the raised argument. In English, one would speak of to-object raising, though here the patient of gusto, sila, is in its nominative form, so syntactically, ng Nanay ‘mother’, the actor, is the object in this clause. In (4a), the verb of the complement clause, lutuin ‘cooks’, marks its patient argument as the subject. Yet, the non-subject agent, Charlie, is raised to occupy the patient role in the matrix clause. The position of the non-subject agent in the complement clause is subsequently realized as a resumptive pronoun, niya, coindexed with the raised NP. Example (4b) shows that it would be ungrammatical to have a gap in its stead.

  1. Tagalog (adapted from Kroeger 1991: 26):

  1. Tagalog (adapted from Kroeger 1991: 28):
    1. *gusto ko si Charliei na lutuin _i ang suman

Kroeger (1991) presumably switches to labeling the raised NP as ABS in (4) because it is the patient-subject of gusto ‘want’ (note the actor ko occurs in genitive case); the patient of the embedded clause, suman ‘rice cake’, is also marked as a subject with the verb indicating this by object-voice marking. This is basically consistent with how an ABSERG language would mark subjects. Unfortunately, Kroeger (1991) only gives examples of ‘to-patient’ raising, but not of ‘to-actor’ raising (Carnie 2013: 430). As we will see below, Ayeri has no problem with the former (as to-subject raising), however, it cannot do the latter (as to-object raising), probably for semantic reasons. First of all, let us look at to-subject raising, however.

    1. *

      Surpye {ang Pada.}

      surp-ye ang=Pada

      seem-3SG.F A=Pada

      ‘Pada seems.’

In (5), Pada is both the topic and the subject of koron- ‘know’, but not of surp- ‘seem’, as (5d) shows. However, Pada can be made the subject of the matrix clause, as shown in (5b). Raising results in an intransitive matrix clause, which means that topicalizing the only argument of the verb is blocked, as illustrated by the ungrammaticality of (5c). The verb in (5b) also becomes non-finite, like in English. Unlike in Tagalog, it cannot carry any marking for grammatical relations. Furthermore, it is possible in Ayeri to form a complex predicate like surp- koronyam in (6), literally ‘seems knowing’, with all of the arguments of the embedded clause becoming arguments of the matrix clause, that is, the matrix verb is interpreted as a transitive clause and may carry topic marking for any of its syntactic (rather than semantic) arguments.

If the topic is actually the subject, it should be possible in Ayeri to raise non-actor topics into the matrix clause easily. Of course, this is possible in Tagalog. In (7a), thus, Manuel is the one arrested, so he is the patient of the subordinate clause which acts as the subject of the matrix clause. The fact that Manuel is a patient-subject of the subordinate verb, hulihin ‘be caught’, is reflected in its being marked for objective voice. The English translation is consequently given with the subordinate clause phrased in the passive voice. Similarly, in (7b), the subordinate verb, sinuhulan ‘be bribed’, is marked for directional voice. According to this, ang pangulo ‘the president’ is a non-actor subject of the subordinate verb here as well. It also is in the matrix clause, since the matrix verb, napagbintangan ‘be accused of’, is marked for directional voice.

  1. Tagalog (adapted from Kroeger 1991: 26):

As we have seen above, the marking of the privileged NP on the verb in Ayeri has no effect on grammatical relations; making a transitive verb agree with an NP other than the agent NP was also judged questionable. Thus, we would expect Ayeri to not allow for the same flexibility as Tagalog. The next two sets of example sentences, (8) and (9), thus feature non-actor topics in the complement clause in the (a) examples which we attempt to raise into the subject position of the matrix clause in the (b) examples.

Comparing (8) and (9) with (7a) and (7b), it becomes apparent that Ayeri is very dissimilar to Tagalog with regards to the promotion of a non-actor NP to the subject of the matrix clause in that it is not possible to produce a grammatical result this way. Besides yet more evidence for the disconnect between the marking on the verb and subject assignment and also evidence in favor of an interpretation of the actor NP as the subject, it is possibly the fact that the subordinate verb appears in a non-finite form when raising occurs that prevents some of the flexibility of Tagalog observed above. Even if Ayeri were to work like Tagalog large and by, since finiteness in Ayeri also includes topic marking, it would not be possible for the non-finite verb to mark the assignment of grammatical roles to its complements, overt or covert.

The examples (3) and (4) from Tagalog quoted initially both feature to-object raising: the subject of the complement clause becomes an object of the matrix clause’s verb. This phenomenon is also known as exceptional case marking (ECM) or accusative and infinitive (AcI) and entails that the matrix verb assigns accusative/objective case to the raised subject (Carnie 2013: 439–442). The raised subject is not semantically an object of the matrix verb, however, but an external agent:

    1. Mother wants them to study tonightMother wants them
    2. Mary expects him to tidy the roomMary expects him
    3. John hears people sing in the streetJohn hears people

Ayeri avoids this kind of construction. The reason for this is probably that even though it treats agent and patient as semantic metaroles rather permissively, case marking is nonetheless based on semantic roles rather than purely based on syntactic function. Due to the uniqueness condition, a verb in Ayeri cannot have two agent arguments, yet the raised object is an agent, albeit an external one. It is still salient enough as an agent to preclude assigning it patient case, though.

    1. Galamye {ang Sipra,} {ang sibunja} Ijān sangalas.

      galam-ye ang=Sipra ang=sibund-ya Ø=Ijān sangal-as

      expect-3SG.F A=Sipra AT=tidy-3SG.M TOP=Ijān room-P

      ‘Sipra expects that Ijān tidy up the room.’

    2. *

      {Ang galamye} Sipra {ang/sa Ijān} sibunjam sangalas.

      ang=galam-ye Ø=Sipra ang=/sa=Ijān sibund-yam sangal-as

      AT=expect-3SG.F TOP=Sipra A=/P=Ijān tidy-PTCP room-P

      Intended: ‘Sipra expects Ijān to tidy up the room.’

    3. *

      {Ang galamye} sibunjam Sipra {sa Ijān} sangalas.

      ang=galam-ye sibund-yam Ø=Sipra sa=Ijān sangal-as

      AT=expect-3SG.F tidy-PTCP TOP=Sipra P=Ijān room-P

      Intended: ‘Sipra expects Ijān to tidy up the room.’

The example sentences in (11) show that to-object raising is not possible with verbs of wanting—here using galam- ‘expect’ by way of example. That is, the subject of the complement clause in (11a), Ijān, cannot take the object position of the matrix clause in (11b), nor is it possible to form a complex predicate with the arguments of the subordinate verb, sibund- ‘tidy’, becoming arguments of the matrix clause’s verb, galam- ‘expect’, in the way of (6) in (11c).

Other verbs which allow to-object raising in English include verbs of wanting like need or want, or verbs of perception like see or hear. English also permits this construction for verbs of cognition like believe, consider, know, and think, and for verbs expressing a causative relationship like make or let. Verbs like make or let do not have direct counterparts in Ayeri, as Ayeri uses a morphosyntactic strategy rather than a lexical one to express causative relationships. However, as (12) shows, Ayeri does not allow to-object raising with verbs of perception and verbs of cognition either.

    1. *

      {Ang tangya} Yan keynamas malyyam kirinya.

      ang=tang-ya Ø=Yan keynam-as maly-yam kirin-ya

      A=hear-3SG.M TOP=Yan people-P sing-PTCP street-LOC

      ‘Yan hears people sing in the street.’

    2. *

      Paronyeng {sa Avan} tesayam.

      paron=yeng sa=Avan tesa-yam

      believe=3SG.F.A P=Avan lie-PTCP

      ‘She believes Avan to lie.’

13th Lexember Word

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

nihár [ɲiˈɦäˑɾ], intransitive verb: “to be/become powerful, to be/become strong; to be/become serious”

With nihár, we leave the semantic field of warm and cold, and get into that of power :-). Interestingly, this is not the first time I introduce a word meaning “to be strong” during a Lexember event. Last year, I coined már: “to be violent, to be intense; to be strong”. The two are definitely not synonyms, as you can see from the glosses, but they do overlap a little. Basically, már is used when extreme force is currently being exerted. In particular, it is used with weather phenomena to indicate that they are stronger than usual (hence the noun markó: “windstorm”). Nihár, on the other hand, refers to intrinsic strength or power, whether it currently translates into applied force or not.

Moreover, már’s semantic field extends into the areas of violence and intensity (a light can már, if it is blinding), while nihár is rather used of situations, to indicate that they are to take seriously and not as a laughing matter. Here again, notice that we are not talking about an immediate threat: a situation can be serious without immediately being an issue. Rather, it is potentially an issue. Nihár refers to strength as a potential, már to strength as it is observed.

Notice that in the gloss, I indicated that nihár can mean both “to be powerful” and “to become powerful”. This is a general property of stative verbs in Haotyétpi that they can also take a dynamic meaning of becoming or reaching that state, without any derivation needed. So a verb like nák can mean both “to stand” or “to stand up”, and a verb like ankyoyták can mean both “to be cold” and “to become cold”. Context is usually more than enough to disambiguate between the stative and dynamic meanings of such verbs (and there are ways to make them explicit if needed). The only reason I didn’t mark all the relevant glosses of the stative verbs I introduced so far that way is because that made the glosses much too long and somewhat confusing. For the same reason, I will usually not add the “/become” next to “be” in the glosses of the upcoming stative verbs. But remember that it is always there :-).


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Detail #365: Quirky Case and Morphological Intrigues

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

Let us consider a language that, like Finnish or Russian, marks the agent-like argument of 'to have to' with a non-canonical case. It is arguable whether such a noun is a subject, and the claim is that in Russian at least they aren't, but they pass subjecthood tests in Finnish rather splendidly.

Now, both the Russian and Finnish constructions lack subject marking entirely on the VP. and in some sense maybe we could say this is a result of the nominative controlling congruence on verbs in these languages.

Now, let's keep that situation intact with regards to finite verbs, but introduce a conflicting notion for certain infinitives! In Finnish, there are several different constructions for obligation, some using specific verbs, and one using the 3rd person sg. copula in combination with the passive present participle. Thus, mine is eat-en-ing sort of expresses 'I have to eat'. 

Some languages have person marking on infinitives - examples include Portuguese. Now, we can imagine the semantics of the situation forcing an explicit subject marking on such infinitives even when the subject is not nominative (or maybe even when the agent is not a subject), even when the finite verb does have no subject marking.

Now we can start imagining somewhat weirder stuff. Where do these subject markers originate? Possibly with possessive markers (and further down the line with pronouns), right? Some languages have reflexive possessives distinct from regular possessives - Scandinavian sin, Slavic swój, etc. We can imagine such pronouns also to become part of a system of possessive affixes, thus not only giving us 'mine, yours, his/hers/its, ours,  yours, theirs" as affixes, but also a distinct 'his/hers/its own' as a suffix.

In Scandinavian, the reflexive possessive is only used with third person possessors, so
Stina sålde sitt hus
Stina sold her (own, not someone else's) house
consider, in English, conversely
Etta was angry after Stina had sold her houseElna var arg efter att Stina sålde hennes hus
Thus, this lets us distinguish two potential possessors in Scandinavian, but English requires at least one extra word, and the presence of that extra word ('own') is sometimes ambiguous even at that. And even omitting 'own' does not exclude a reflexive parsing, and getting the non-reflexive parsing explicit can be awkward.

Anyways, in Slavic languages, swój and its cognates are used for all persons. So, if 'I sell my portfolio', it is я who sells свой portfolio.

Back to the infinitives: now we can imagine a situation where a quirky case construction with an infinitive verb has a reflexive subject. We can, for instance, consider a situation where 'has to' and 'needs' are the same verb, and an embedded participle, for instance, can take a different subject:
me-obl [has to, needs, must] hear-2sg this-acc
I need you to hear this
and possibly
she-obl [needs, ...] hearing-refl this-acc
she needs to hear this

she-obl [needs, ...] hearing-3sg this-acc
she1 needs for him/her2 to hear this
Another thing this could introduce is differential subject marking! First and second person embedded infinitives could go either way with regards to having 'canonical' pronominal agreement or reflexive agreement, and communicate, say, volition or somesuch in that way.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Patreon Fee Changes

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017
Conlangery Statement on Patreon Fee Changes (audio and transcript) We use Patreon to get a little money to pay some of the site fees and such for Conlangery. Our Patreon has grown some since it started, and I’m grateful to all our Patrons. However, I need to inform you that the way you pay through... Read more »

12th Lexember Word

Monday, December 11th, 2017

okkoáp [o̞kːo̞̽ˈäˑp], intransitive verb: “to be/feel warm/hot (to the touch)”

With okkoáp, we finally finish our trip through the various ways of talking about temperature in Haotyétpi (well, of course there are more ways, but this will do for now! :-P).

Okkoáp is quite simply the opposite of titúp. It doesn’t refer to the environment, nor to a feeling that is experienced due to the environment, but to an object’s inherent warmth or heat. Something (or someone) is okkoáp if they feel warm or hot to the touch (or if they look like they would feel that way if you were to touch them). Of course, okkoáp forms a complementary pair with yesterday’s ankokkoáp, in the same way that titúp forms a complementary pair with ankyoyyé:

  • Things that are ankokkoáp: people in a warm environment, rooms, porches, halls;
  • Things that are okkoáp: a nice sweater, coffee, hot water, anything coming out of an oven, living people (they can feel cold, but that’s usually a temporary state, or they are not well!).

A peculiarity of okkoáp is that unlike the other words referring to warmth that we’ve seen so far, but like okkó itself of which it is an obvious derivation, it doesn’t distinguish between plain warmth and uncomfortable heat. So something that is simply warm will be just as okkoáp as something that is scalding hot. If you really need to make the distinction, a simple way to do so is to simply qualify okkoáp. There are various ways to do so, but simply using peksó (an adverb meaning “badly”, which is also commonly used as an intensifier) is an easy way to achieve that, with peksó okkoáp meaning “to be very warm” or “to be hot”. Another common way is to use the excessive suffix -yatome, forming okkoápyatome: “to be too hot”.

As I mentioned before, titúp is not only used for the literal coldness but also for the metaphorical one. This extends to okkoáp, which can also be used of people to indicate that they are kind or caring.


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A Composition

Monday, December 11th, 2017
I recently uploaded another track onto Soundcloud. Here it is:


As usual, it's not in standard tuning - as most of my compositions over the last few years, this is in 11-edo.

11th Lexember Word

Sunday, December 10th, 2017

ankokkoáp [äŋgo̞̽kːo̞̽ˈäˑp], intransitive verb: “to be hot, to feel hot”

Following yesterday’s counterpart to angaróm and ankyoyták, today we have the counterpart of aróm and ankyoyyé!

Like its counterparts, ankokkoáp is used of people, to indicate that they are experiencing uncomfortable heat, and of enclosed spaces, to indicate that they are uncomfortably hot. It is basically a more extreme version of aróm, but its formation is virtually identical to that of ankyoyyé: they both use the prefix ank(e)-, and while they use different verb-forming suffixes, -ap vs. -ye, these suffixes are quite close to being synonyms, both being added to nouns describing a property to form verbs that indicate that something has that property. The difference between the two is difficult to pin down, but besides some irregular phonological considerations, the main distinction between these suffixes is that -ap is usually added to nouns that have a positive connotation, while -ye tends to be used with nouns that have a negative connotation. It’s not a hard rule though, as evidenced by today’s verb: despite ankokkoáp not really having a positive connotation (and neither does okkó itself, at least in the sense that it is used in forming this verb), it still is formed with the suffix -ap.


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