Archive for December, 2017

A Question of Alignment XII: Conclusion

Wednesday, December 27th, 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.

All articles in this series: Typological Considerations · ‘Trigger Languages’ · Definition of Terms · Some General Observations · Verb agreement · Syntactic Pivot · Quantifier Float · Relativization · Control of Secondary Predicates · Raising · Control · Conclusion


Now that a few tests have been conducted, let us collect the results. As Table 1 shows, Tagalog and Ayeri are not really similar in syntax despite superficial similarities in morphology. According to Kroeger (1991)’s thesis—which essentially seeks to critically review and update Schachter (1976)’s survey by leaning on LFG theory—Tagalog prefers what Kroeger analyzes as the nominative argument for most of the traits usually associated with subjects listed below. That is, in his analysis, the nominative argument is the NP in a clause which is marked on the verb, which corresponds to Schachter (1976)’s ‘topic’, or Schachter (2015)’s ‘trigger’—’trigger’ is also the term often seen in descriptions of constructed languages in this respect. Kroeger (1991) finds in his survey that the nominative argument is largely independent from the actor, so that the logical subject is not necessarily the syntactic subject; what Schachter (1976) calls ‘topic’ also does not behave like a pragmatic topic in terms of statistics.

Essentially, what Tagalog does according to Kroeger (1991)’s analysis, is to generalize voice marking beyond passive voice, so that any argument of the verb can be the subject. However, unlike passives in English, higher-ranking roles (for passives, the agent) appear not to be suppressed or to be demoted to adverbials like it happens in English with the periphrasis of the agent with by in passive clauses. Linguists have been grappling for a long time with this observation, and constraint-based approaches, such as LFG (recently, Bresnan et al. 2016) or HPSG (Pollard and Sag 1994) pursue, may be able to explain things more succinctly than structuralist ones due to greater flexibility. In any case, Kroeger (1991) avoids the terms ‘active’ or ‘passive’ possibly for this reason, and instead uses ‘actor voice’ (AV), ‘objective voice’ (OV), ‘dative/locative voice’ (DV) etc. (14–15).

Ayeri, in contrast to Tagalog, very much prefers the actor argument (called agent here for consistency) for traits usually associated with subjects, independent of whether the agent is also the topic of the clause—in Ayeri it is the topic which is marked on the verb, not the nominative argument. In spite of a few irregularities like patient agreement in agentless clauses and using topicalization as a way to disambiguate the syntactic pivot in ambiguous cases, Ayeri is remarkably consistent with a NOMACC language. The fact that there is a subject in the classic, structural sense is also evidence for the hypothesis that Ayeri is configurational. Since it clearly prefers agent NPs over other NPs, not all arguments of a verb are on equal footing. Tagalog, on the other hand, treats the arguments of verbs in a much more equal manner.

Table 1: Comparison between Tagalog (Kroeger 1991) and Ayeri
Criterion Tagalog Ayeri
Marked on the verb nominative argument (NOM) topic argument (TOP)
Verb agreement optional; if present with NOM, independent of being A required; typically with A, independent of being TOP
Syntactic pivot determined by NOM, independent of being A usually with A, but determined by TOP in ambiguous cases
Quantifier float referring to NOM, independent of being A referring to A, independent of being TOP
Relativization only of NOM, independent of being A (all NPs may be relativized)
Control of secondary predicates referring to NOM, independent of being A referring to A or P depending on semantics, but independent of being TOP
Raising usually of NOM; A possible but marked for some only of A, independent of being TOP; no ECM
Control A deletion target, independent of being NOM (with exceptions) A deletion target, independent of being TOP

It was pointed out before that in Tagalog, the syntactic pivot depends on what is marked as a subject (Kroeger 1991: 30–31). This and other examples from Kroeger (1991) may make it seem like Tagalog is not fixed with regards to the distinction between NOMACC and ERGABS alignment. However, Kroeger (1991) also points out that there is a statistically significant preference to select patient arguments as subjects, and that OV forms of verbs are “morphologically more ‘basic’” (53) than their respective AV counterparts. These observations point towards an interpretation of Tagalog as syntactically ergative, though Kroeger (1991) deems such an interpretation problematic due to non-nominative agents keeping their status as arguments of the verb—which also distinguishes Tagalog from an ergative languages like Dyirbal, where “ergative (or instrumental) marked agents are relatively inert, playing almost no role in the syntax, and have been analyzed as oblique arguments” (54).

In conclusion, is Ayeri a so-called ‘trigger language’? Yes and no. It seems to me that what conlangers call ‘trigger language’ mostly refers to just the distinct morphological characteristic of languages like Tagalog by which a certain NP is marked on the verb with a vague notion that this NP is in some way important in terms of information structure.1 Ayeri incorporates this morphological feature and may thus be counted among ‘trigger languages’ by this very broad definition. However, the real-world Austronesian alignment as a syntactic phenomenon goes much deeper than that and is much more intriguing, as I have tried to show in this series of blog articles, and I did not even cover all of the effects Kroeger (1991) describes in his survey. Ayeri, in syntactically behaving rather consistently like a NOMACC language, (somewhat sadly, in retrospect) misses the point completely if ‘trigger language’ is understood to also entail syntactic characteristics of Philippine languages.

  • Bresnan, Joan et al. Lexical-Functional Syntax. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2016. Print. Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics 16.
  • Kroeger, Paul R. Phrase Structure and Grammatical Relations in Tagalog. Diss. Stanford University, 1991. Web. 17 Dec. 2016. ‹http://www.gial.edu/wp-content/uploads/paul_kroeger/PK-thesis-revised-all-chapters-readonly.pdf›.
  • Pollard, Carl and Ivan A. Sag. Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar. Chicago, IL: U of Chicago P, 1994. Print. Studies in Contemporary Linguistics.
  • Schachter, Paul. “The Subject in Philippine Languages: Topic, Actor, Actor-Topic, or None of the Above?” Subject and Topic. Ed. Charles N. Li. New York: Academic P, 1976. 493–518. Print.
  • ———. “Tagalog.” Syntax—Theory and Analysis: An International Handbook. Ed. Tibor Kiss and Artemis Alexiadou. Vol. 3. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2015. 1658–1676. Print. Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 42. DOI: 10.1515/9783110363685-007.
  1. I want to encourage everyone to actually do some reading of the professional literature on a given topic instead of only relying on the second-hand knowledge of other people in the conlanging community. It’s hard but you’ll learn from it. With the internet, finding articles and books is as easy as ever. This is one of the reasons why I give citations under the more serious blog articles, and make sure to link literature that is legally available online.

27th Lexember Word

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

akimés [äd͡ʑɪˈmëːɕ], intransitive verb: “to hurt, to be painful, to be in pain”

Expanding on yesterday’s noun, we now have the associated verb. In terms of morphology, this verb is formed like urmés, with the -mes verb-forming suffix. To explain its shape, either -mes was added to akíhi which lost its last, unstressed syllable as a result (a likely outcome: syllables in direct post-stress position are very weak in Haotyétpi), or -mes was added directly to the interjection akí (not as unlikely as one might think). It’s not possible to rule out either of these origins. This uncertainty does not change anything about the meaning of this verb though.

Akimés is an intransitive, stative verb, referring to the state of pain (or, in a more dynamic meaning, referring to reaching that state). Its subject is always either the person experiencing pain, or the specific body part that hurts them. It cannot be used in the transitive sense of “to hurt (s.o.)”. We’ll see how that is done tomorrow :-).


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27th Lexember Word

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

akimés [äd͡ʑɪˈmëːɕ], intransitive verb: “to hurt, to be painful, to be in pain”

Expanding on yesterday’s noun, we now have the associated verb. In terms of morphology, this verb is formed like urmés, with the -mes verb-forming suffix. To explain its shape, either -mes was added to akíhi which lost its last, unstressed syllable as a result (a likely outcome: syllables in direct post-stress position are very weak in Haotyétpi), or -mes was added directly to the interjection akí (not as unlikely as one might think). It’s not possible to rule out either of these origins. This uncertainty does not change anything about the meaning of this verb though.

Akimés is an intransitive, stative verb, referring to the state of pain (or, in a more dynamic meaning, referring to reaching that state). Its subject is always either the person experiencing pain, or the specific body part that hurts them. It cannot be used in the transitive sense of “to hurt (s.o.)”. We’ll see how that is done tomorrow :-).


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26th Lexember Word

Monday, December 25th, 2017

akíhi [äˈd͡ʑiˑʝɪ̆], alienably possessed noun: “pain”

So, while this may not be a very Christmas-y kind of word (here in the Netherlands we celebrate Boxing Day as “2nd Christmas Day”, so it’ll still be Christmas here when this post is published :-)), my shoulder is killing me as I am typing this, and my husband had to have a tooth extracted yesterday, so I really couldn’t think of any other word to coin.

Quite simply, akíhi refers to the very disagreeable sensation one gets when hurt. In principle, it refers to physical pain only, and the word is probably of onomatopoeic origin: the cry of pain that is transcribed as “ouch” or “ow” in English is akí or akkí in Haotyétpi.


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26th Lexember Word

Monday, December 25th, 2017

akíhi [äˈd͡ʑiˑʝɪ̆], alienably possessed noun: “pain”

So, while this may not be a very Christmas-y kind of word (here in the Netherlands we celebrate Boxing Day as “2nd Christmas Day”, so it’ll still be Christmas here when this post is published :-)), my shoulder is killing me as I am typing this, and my husband had to have a tooth extracted yesterday, so I really couldn’t think of any other word to coin.

Quite simply, akíhi refers to the very disagreeable sensation one gets when hurt. In principle, it refers to physical pain only, and the word is probably of onomatopoeic origin: the cry of pain that is transcribed as “ouch” or “ow” in English is akí or akkí in Haotyétpi.


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25th Lexember Word

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

eów [e̞ˈo̞͡ʊ], intransitive verb: “to be/become white”

I already knew of the verb réy, which refers to both lack of colour (“to be/become black”) and lack of light (“to be/become dark”). Moreover, I already knew that verb has an antonym: murí. However, murí is the opposite of réy only in the “light” sense, not in the “colour” sense. In other words, murí strictly means “to be/become bright/light”, and not “to be/become white”. So réy had to have another opposite for the “colour” sense. And I finally found it: eów.

Just like murí opposes réy on the “light-dark” scale, eów opposes réy on the “white-black” scale.

Notice that eów is never used to refer to a skin colour, except maybe for corpses and people with skin diseases. The Mountain Folk themselves do not have what people in Europe and the US would consider “white” skin anyway.


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25th Lexember Word

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

eów [e̞ˈo̞͡ʊ], intransitive verb: “to be/become white”

I already knew of the verb réy, which refers to both lack of colour (“to be/become black”) and lack of light (“to be/become dark”). Moreover, I already knew that verb has an antonym: murí. However, murí is the opposite of réy only in the “light” sense, not in the “colour” sense. In other words, murí strictly means “to be/become bright/light”, and not “to be/become white”. So réy had to have another opposite for the “colour” sense. And I finally found it: eów.

Just like murí opposes réy on the “light-dark” scale, eów opposes réy on the “white-black” scale.

Notice that eów is never used to refer to a skin colour, except maybe for corpses and people with skin diseases. The Mountain Folk themselves do not have what people in Europe and the US would consider “white” skin anyway.


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24th Lexember Word

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017

urmésko [uɾˈme̞ˑɕkə̆], nominalisation: “named person, child, boy, girl, teenager”

So far we’ve been so busy talking about namelessness and how nameless children are referred to despite their namelessness that we haven’t talked about what happens afterwards, when they have actually been named. How do you refer to them once that’s happened?

Now, we’ve seen that for nameless children, we have words like turáppo, ussáppo (rarely), and things I’ve not mentioned yet like poyá (“child”, i.e. offspring of someone), hóm (“son”) or tán (“daughter”). For adults (i.e. people who have come of age), kár (“person”) does nicely, or more rarely urák (“human being”, used to refer to Mountain Folk only). But for people that have received a name but haven’t yet come of age (i.e. between the ages of about 3 to about 16), the Mountain Folk prefer not to use any of the options I just gave:

  • Ussáppo is just not valid anymore for named children, and it is insulting;
  • Turáppo is only usable for nameless children, except in certain specific contexts (it could still find its way on school reports for instance :-) );
  • Poyá, hóm and tán simply feel too “childish” to be used on children older than 3, except when the speaker is a parent of the child in question;
  • Kár and urák, on the other hand, feel too “adult” to be used on children that have yet to undergo their coming of age ceremony.

So, what’s a good Haotyétpi speaker to do in this situation? In this case, a common way is, rather boringly, to use the nominalisation of urmés. And indeed, urmésko (“one who is named”) has become so associated with children and teenagers that it’s never used of adults, despite the fact that adults have names as well.


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24th Lexember Word

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017

urmésko [uɾˈme̞ˑɕkə̆], nominalisation: “named person, child, boy, girl, teenager”

So far we’ve been so busy talking about namelessness and how nameless children are referred to despite their namelessness that we haven’t talked about what happens afterwards, when they have actually been named. How do you refer to them once that’s happened?

Now, we’ve seen that for nameless children, we have words like turáppo, ussáppo (rarely), and things I’ve not mentioned yet like poyá (“child”, i.e. offspring of someone), hóm (“son”) or tán (“daughter”). For adults (i.e. people who have come of age), kár (“person”) does nicely, or more rarely urák (“human being”, used to refer to Mountain Folk only). But for people that have received a name but haven’t yet come of age (i.e. between the ages of about 3 to about 16), the Mountain Folk prefer not to use any of the options I just gave:

  • Ussáppo is just not valid anymore for named children, and it is insulting;
  • Turáppo is only usable for nameless children, except in certain specific contexts (it could still find its way on school reports for instance :-) );
  • Poyá, hóm and tán simply feel too “childish” to be used on children older than 3, except when the speaker is a parent of the child in question;
  • Kár and urák, on the other hand, feel too “adult” to be used on children that have yet to undergo their coming of age ceremony.

So, what’s a good Haotyétpi speaker to do in this situation? In this case, a common way is, rather boringly, to use the nominalisation of urmés. And indeed, urmésko (“one who is named”) has become so associated with children and teenagers that it’s never used of adults, despite the fact that adults have names as well.


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23rd Lexember Word

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

turáppo [tuˈɾäˑpːə̆], nominalisation: “baby, nameless child”

As I mentioned before, the “logical” way to refer to a nameless child or baby, i.e. the word ussáppo, has taken on such a negative connotation that it’s hardly ever used that way anymore. But people still need a way to refer to babies, don’t they? How can they do so?

That’s where turáppo comes in. When a serviceable word becomes so pejorative that it cannot be used in its original sense anymore, people will either start extending another word to cover that sense, or create a new way to refer to that sense. In this case, the Haotyétpi speakers chose the second method. They started referring to unnamed children as turáppo, which is the nominalisation of turáp, a verb which when used intransitively means “to be able to be, to be able to exist” (it’s the potential form of ás: “to be, to exist”). In other words, it means “one that can be, one that can exist, one that has potential”.

This way of referring to children goes very well with the Mountain Folk point of view that nameless children have the potential to be many things, hence they shouldn’t hastily be given a name that may not fit what they are going to become. Also, it is a very positive way of referring to someone, even if that person were to be an adult, so there is little chance that the word will get a negative connotation anytime soon.

Because of that, the use of turáppo has spread among the Haotyétpi speaking community quite fast, despite it being a relatively recent coinage (at least when used in that sense), and is now the standard way of referring to babies or nameless children. It is, however, never used as a temporary name for nameless children. The main reason is probably the very positive connotation this word brings, which clashes with the strong tradition to use words with negative connotations to call nameless children.


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