Archive for February, 2018

Detail #373: The Copula vs. Habitually Becoming

Monday, February 26th, 2018
One could imagine that a certain set of adjectives or nouns instead of being expressed with the regular copula, instead were expressed with an habitual form of 'to become', and this would reflect some semantic property of these nouns or adjectives – maybe they are only expressed fleetingly, or they are less intrinsic properties, or less obviously intrinsic properties. Properties which only are evident on occasion.

One could also of course have some kind of systematic distinction marked this way as well, but then again, what's the actual difference between two similar verbs like 'be' and 'become (regularly)' if not a systematic distinction? What I want to go for here is maybe something that is more un-subtle: a difference greater than that implied by the actual "usual" semantic difference - with some nouns or adjectives, maybe 'become (regularly)' marks some kind of disdain or some kind of respect or whatever? Fear? Hope? Whereas the use of a copula would just be neutral, or even +(mainly neutral) +(precluding the particular thing implied by the habitual for this set of lexemes).

Detail #373: The Copula vs. Habitually Becoming

Monday, February 26th, 2018
One could imagine that a certain set of adjectives or nouns instead of being expressed with the regular copula, instead were expressed with an habitual form of 'to become', and this would reflect some semantic property of these nouns or adjectives – maybe they are only expressed fleetingly, or they are less intrinsic properties, or less obviously intrinsic properties. Properties which only are evident on occasion.

One could also of course have some kind of systematic distinction marked this way as well, but then again, what's the actual difference between two similar verbs like 'be' and 'become (regularly)' if not a systematic distinction? What I want to go for here is maybe something that is more un-subtle: a difference greater than that implied by the actual "usual" semantic difference - with some nouns or adjectives, maybe 'become (regularly)' marks some kind of disdain or some kind of respect or whatever? Fear? Hope? Whereas the use of a copula would just be neutral, or even +(mainly neutral) +(precluding the particular thing implied by the habitual for this set of lexemes).

Update on the Grammar Writing Process VI

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

Incidentally, it was the 600th day since I started working on a refined version of the Ayeri Grammar just yesterday. I’ve spent the last 2 weeks proofreading the chapter on syntax and I’m now ready to go back to the start and proofread the whole book again. You can see the very raw manuscript containing the first round of corrections right after writing the chapters and under it the batch waiting for the second round of proofreading in the first photo. The second photo shows that it’s not an inconsiderable amount of paper—and I printed it as 4 pages per sheet.

Top: first draft of the new Ayeri Grammar, bottom: virgin second draft waiting to be proofread All 470-ish pages of the second draft of the new Ayeri grammar, waiting to be proofread gradually over the next weeks.

I’ve said before that I definitely wanted to have a bound copy of the book myself once it’s done (maybe in summer?), so I’ve looked a little at print-on-demand services recently since I figured that other people might want to have one as well. Apparently, whether you use Amazon’s CreateSpace or Lulu.com, a paperback the size I’ve been considering—15.6 × 23.4 cm with approx. 480 pages—can be produced for about $16, so about €13, which sounds pretty reasonable. You even get an ISBN and distribution included, though I have no idea whether a very small profit margin for the author is already factored in as well (we’re likely talking quarters per copy here). I’m certainly not expecting to sell many copies, since conlangs are a pretty specific thing, but if I made the one or the other buck this way which I could then reinvest in running this site, I’d not be entirely unhappy. Since I like to use print and digital in parallel especially with textbooks, I’m planning to keep up the PDF version of the grammar for free. This is essentially what Language Science Press does, minus the peer review they also provide. If anyone were to want a print copy, they could order it in addition and pay a reasonable price for getting a proper book. I think this is a pretty fair offer.

Detail #372: Limited Tripartite Marking for Participles

Friday, February 23rd, 2018
Not only nouns in verb phrases and congruence on finite verbs can showcase alignment. Participles are a main other locus of alignment. English has a fairly limited system on its participles, with tense/aspect and voice being somewhat conflated in a peculiar way.

An alignment I have spoken very little about on this blog is tripartite marking. This one has a unique marker for each of
  • intransitive subject
  • transitive subject
  • object
Implementing this on participles is rather easy:
  • intransitive → intransitive participle
  • transitive, active  → active participle 
  • transitive, passive  → passive participle 
However, the topic of this post is limited tripartite marking. How would we limit it, and what would we gain by doing so?

Consider a system that is either accusative or ergative or even split. Now, certain verbs may have a different meaning depending on whether they're intransitive or transitive, such as run. When intransitive, running generally refers to motion, either concretely or in some metaphoric way. When transitive, it can sometimes refer to the same action, with the object being the distance or the path, but sometimes, it refers to being in charge of something.

We could imagine that at least some verbs with this property would have a different intransitive participle available.

What marking strategies would be nice for this? Maybe double the participle marking for the transitive version, getting, here in an accusative alignment setting:
  • running: actually running, physically
  • runninging: being in charge
  • run: being controlled by
Unique morphemes could of course also be used, but some other type of reuse of morphology could be interesting: maybe omit congruence for the intransitive participle?

Detail #372: Limited Tripartite Marking for Participles

Friday, February 23rd, 2018
Not only nouns in verb phrases and congruence on finite verbs can showcase alignment. Participles are a main other locus of alignment. English has a fairly limited system on its participles, with tense/aspect and voice being somewhat conflated in a peculiar way.

An alignment I have spoken very little about on this blog is tripartite marking. This one has a unique marker for each of
  • intransitive subject
  • transitive subject
  • object
Implementing this on participles is rather easy:
  • intransitive → intransitive participle
  • transitive, active  → active participle 
  • transitive, passive  → passive participle 
However, the topic of this post is limited tripartite marking. How would we limit it, and what would we gain by doing so?

Consider a system that is either accusative or ergative or even split. Now, certain verbs may have a different meaning depending on whether they're intransitive or transitive, such as run. When intransitive, running generally refers to motion, either concretely or in some metaphoric way. When transitive, it can sometimes refer to the same action, with the object being the distance or the path, but sometimes, it refers to being in charge of something.

We could imagine that at least some verbs with this property would have a different intransitive participle available.

What marking strategies would be nice for this? Maybe double the participle marking for the transitive version, getting, here in an accusative alignment setting:
  • running: actually running, physically
  • runninging: being in charge
  • run: being controlled by
Unique morphemes could of course also be used, but some other type of reuse of morphology could be interesting: maybe omit congruence for the intransitive participle?

Detail #371: Quirky Coordination

Sunday, February 18th, 2018
I previously posted a list of quirky things beyond case suggesting a few different places to place systematic quirks. So, I acquired the help of a bunch of rabbit mining engineers, just in order to figure out how deep the hole of quirkiness in grammars could go. For now, "quirkiness" is badly defined, and I am happy to leave it at that. I am happy as long as some kind of 'mismatching' is forced or required or permitted in some way or this mismatching permits some kind of differential marking. So, here's the first out of many weird ideas this line of thinking has lead me to:
Quirky Coordination
So, maybe in some circumstances, some given type of noun will trigger a case mismatch (or some other mismatch) in the coordinated structure. Even weirder, what if certain nouns force coordination even if the level is different? Let's imagine nouns for siblings and cousins force coordination whenever a pronoun also is a sibling of that NP.
Here, we can imagine some interesting distinctions:
I and brother met.sg = I met my brother
I and brother met.pl = I and my brother met (each other)
I met.sg brother = I met the brother (of someone else that is salient)
I met.pl brother = I and (someone else's) brother met
In a language with paucal and plural in the verb morphology, we could further, of course, introduce the same difference in the plural, with paucal signifying the more transitive, and the latter the more reciprocal reading. Of course, 'meet' need not be the only verb behaving this way, we could have it happen for every verb, so
I and my brother told.sg a story = I told my brother a story
Here, we can imagine that the siblings as proper subject would let personal pronouns go to object positions instead:
sister met me = my sister met me
However, we could also imagine a situation whereby even as a proper subject, family members also force pronouns into coordinated positions:
sister and I met.sg = my sister met me
I and sister met.sg = I met my sister

Thinking up situations where neither is the subject, we can of course imagine that the same rules go there, but object congruence on the verb or whatever distinguishes the way it is to be parsed. Maybe there is a role hierarchy where e.g. the noun or pronoun is moved to whatever position is higher in the hierarchy, or maybe the pronoun always forces the other noun to go wherever it is.

However, we can also imagine that this rule only applies for some spots: subjects, maybe objects and indirect objects. In other spots, the nouns remain in their usual positions:
I told the police about (my) brother
In such spots, maybe the distinction between my brother and someone else's brother is made non-mandatory, or maybe marked by means of possessive pronouns (or possibly reflexive pronouns if possible). Of course, in the language we're designing, "telling about" maybe has the told-about thing as a direct object, so it wouldn't work like this, so you're of course supposed to substitute in anything where an oblique appears, and we're golden.

Now, how about something like
the PR office favoured my sister over me
Such a language could easily permit for this kind of construction with regular NPs in a way similar to how English does it, but handle pronouns + these particular nouns like this:
the PR office favoured sister and not me
the PR office favoured me and not sister

vs.

the PR office favoured the computer scientist over the amateur
Of course, there's a whole lot of ideas that can be turned into binary decisions about which way to go once you start developing this idea, and documenting all of the potential choices would require a huge post, I think I stop here and leave further thinking to the reader.

ALSO, yay, just passed 3/4 of the way to a thousand posts! (And still leading over badconlangingideas in total post count, despite getting comparably few contributions from elsewhere! Is the race to a thousand posts on?)

Detail #371: Quirky Coordination

Sunday, February 18th, 2018
I previously posted a list of quirky things beyond case suggesting a few different places to place systematic quirks. So, I acquired the help of a bunch of rabbit mining engineers, just in order to figure out how deep the hole of quirkiness in grammars could go. For now, "quirkiness" is badly defined, and I am happy to leave it at that. I am happy as long as some kind of 'mismatching' is forced or required or permitted in some way or this mismatching permits some kind of differential marking. So, here's the first out of many weird ideas this line of thinking has lead me to:
Quirky Coordination
So, maybe in some circumstances, some given type of noun will trigger a case mismatch (or some other mismatch) in the coordinated structure. Even weirder, what if certain nouns force coordination even if the level is different? Let's imagine nouns for siblings and cousins force coordination whenever a pronoun also is a sibling of that NP.
Here, we can imagine some interesting distinctions:
I and brother met.sg = I met my brother
I and brother met.pl = I and my brother met (each other)
I met.sg brother = I met the brother (of someone else that is salient)
I met.pl brother = I and (someone else's) brother met
In a language with paucal and plural in the verb morphology, we could further, of course, introduce the same difference in the plural, with paucal signifying the more transitive, and the latter the more reciprocal reading. Of course, 'meet' need not be the only verb behaving this way, we could have it happen for every verb, so
I and my brother told.sg a story = I told my brother a story
Here, we can imagine that the siblings as proper subject would let personal pronouns go to object positions instead:
sister met me = my sister met me
However, we could also imagine a situation whereby even as a proper subject, family members also force pronouns into coordinated positions:
sister and I met.sg = my sister met me
I and sister met.sg = I met my sister

Thinking up situations where neither is the subject, we can of course imagine that the same rules go there, but object congruence on the verb or whatever distinguishes the way it is to be parsed. Maybe there is a role hierarchy where e.g. the noun or pronoun is moved to whatever position is higher in the hierarchy, or maybe the pronoun always forces the other noun to go wherever it is.

However, we can also imagine that this rule only applies for some spots: subjects, maybe objects and indirect objects. In other spots, the nouns remain in their usual positions:
I told the police about (my) brother
In such spots, maybe the distinction between my brother and someone else's brother is made non-mandatory, or maybe marked by means of possessive pronouns (or possibly reflexive pronouns if possible). Of course, in the language we're designing, "telling about" maybe has the told-about thing as a direct object, so it wouldn't work like this, so you're of course supposed to substitute in anything where an oblique appears, and we're golden.

Now, how about something like
the PR office favoured my sister over me
Such a language could easily permit for this kind of construction with regular NPs in a way similar to how English does it, but handle pronouns + these particular nouns like this:
the PR office favoured sister and not me
the PR office favoured me and not sister

vs.

the PR office favoured the computer scientist over the amateur
Of course, there's a whole lot of ideas that can be turned into binary decisions about which way to go once you start developing this idea, and documenting all of the potential choices would require a huge post, I think I stop here and leave further thinking to the reader.

ALSO, yay, just passed 3/4 of the way to a thousand posts! (And still leading over badconlangingideas in total post count, despite getting comparably few contributions from elsewhere! Is the race to a thousand posts on?)

#516

Sunday, February 18th, 2018

Let’s say you have a language, let’s call it , Tajnəsor, with single-morpheme polypersonal agreement

For example:

rɔ-mi
love-2s>1s
“You love me”

rɔ-r 
love-1s>2s
“I love you”

rɔ-ŋ
love-3sf >3sm 
“She loves him”

rɔ-kəs
love-3pl>3sm
“They love him”

However, to make it easier for Anglophones, give it a very English based orthography. In it, <rawr> means “I love you” in <Dinosaur>.

Detail #370: Defective Pronouns and Ways of Dealing with them

Saturday, February 17th, 2018
So, the thing we're used to seeing with regards to pronouns and case systems is pronouns having more cases than regular nouns: trivially, English has I vs. me, he vs him, she vs. her, etc. Finnish has a completely distinct accusative for most personal pronouns. However, we find exceptions: in Georgian, some personal pronouns merge the nominative, ergative and dative (which also is the accusative).

I was wondering what interesting things we could do with this.

1) Voices
An obvious solution is having the defective pronouns always have the same syntactical role, and voices are used to modulate its semantic role. This could get especially interesting if you also have voices that conserve the desired information structure - i.e. they are not used to make an argument less or more salient, they're just forced by the presence of a personal pronoun.

This could lead to interestingly distinct uses of voices depending on whether there's a pronoun present or not. For instance, emphasizing an argument might be part of the function when only normal nouns are present.

Notice how I said that the defective pronouns always have the same role. This is actually ambiguous: either it means 'there is one particular role A, and each defective pronoun always has that particular role'. The other meaning would be 'there is a set of particular roles A, and for each defective pronoun there is exactly one member of that set that it always will have'.

With that we can probably start getting into some pretty interesting wild notions, where we end up with a multitude of voices that can be combined to switch pronouns of different types simultaneously around the semantic role-space.
2) Permit case / role marking on some different entity.
This is basically sort of the idea that evolved into this post. This could be made very boring: extract the case marking onto a particle that goes somewhere else, so e.g.
I you see particle.me : you see me
In this case, the particle sort of becomes a stand-in for the personal pronoun, in effect doubling the existing personal pronoun. What I want is something more befuddling. So, let's go with this: place the case on a reflexive pronoun!
I see bear > I see the bear
I see bear self.acc > the bear sees me
I see you self.acc > I see you? you see me?
Normally, reflexives only happen with transitive verbs with no other explicit object, thus making their use in transitive clauses a reasonable approach. The only exception is when there's two pronouns present. Of course, some other rule may disambiguate there: proximity, some ranking thing (e.g. the reflexive pronoun always tells us the case of the pronoun highest in this order: 1 > 2 > 3). This may force there to be a nominative reflexive form, which obviously may well be useless in all other positions due to reflexives often not appearing as anything even remotely subject-like.
  
Further, one could bring in some coordination! Coordination often has some kind of restriction like 'one can only coordinate things of the same type', so e.g. 'I and the girl gave flowers' is not a valid reordering of 'I gave the girl flowers'. Then one could have some semantically empty element that can carry explicit case, and coordinate it with the pronoun that needs the marking. This also permits for separate case markings if needed for multiple pronouns. However, this leads to things like
I and self.nom give you and self.acc he and self.dat for a slave.
 3) Have Differential Case Marking on Other NPs
So, let's have non-subject personal pronouns force some slightly odd things going on with other NPs, like maybe making subjects go instrumental or something. So essentially begetting a split-ergative kind of thing, but with the pronouns just not marking for anything.

Detail #370: Defective Pronouns and Ways of Dealing with them

Saturday, February 17th, 2018
So, the thing we're used to seeing with regards to pronouns and case systems is pronouns having more cases than regular nouns: trivially, English has I vs. me, he vs him, she vs. her, etc. Finnish has a completely distinct accusative for most personal pronouns. However, we find exceptions: in Georgian, some personal pronouns merge the nominative, ergative and dative (which also is the accusative).

I was wondering what interesting things we could do with this.

1) Voices
An obvious solution is having the defective pronouns always have the same syntactical role, and voices are used to modulate its semantic role. This could get especially interesting if you also have voices that conserve the desired information structure - i.e. they are not used to make an argument less or more salient, they're just forced by the presence of a personal pronoun.

This could lead to interestingly distinct uses of voices depending on whether there's a pronoun present or not. For instance, emphasizing an argument might be part of the function when only normal nouns are present.

Notice how I said that the defective pronouns always have the same role. This is actually ambiguous: either it means 'there is one particular role A, and each defective pronoun always has that particular role'. The other meaning would be 'there is a set of particular roles A, and for each defective pronoun there is exactly one member of that set that it always will have'.

With that we can probably start getting into some pretty interesting wild notions, where we end up with a multitude of voices that can be combined to switch pronouns of different types simultaneously around the semantic role-space.
2) Permit case / role marking on some different entity.
This is basically sort of the idea that evolved into this post. This could be made very boring: extract the case marking onto a particle that goes somewhere else, so e.g.
I you see particle.me : you see me
In this case, the particle sort of becomes a stand-in for the personal pronoun, in effect doubling the existing personal pronoun. What I want is something more befuddling. So, let's go with this: place the case on a reflexive pronoun!
I see bear > I see the bear
I see bear self.acc > the bear sees me
I see you self.acc > I see you? you see me?
Normally, reflexives only happen with transitive verbs with no other explicit object, thus making their use in transitive clauses a reasonable approach. The only exception is when there's two pronouns present. Of course, some other rule may disambiguate there: proximity, some ranking thing (e.g. the reflexive pronoun always tells us the case of the pronoun highest in this order: 1 > 2 > 3). This may force there to be a nominative reflexive form, which obviously may well be useless in all other positions due to reflexives often not appearing as anything even remotely subject-like.
  
Further, one could bring in some coordination! Coordination often has some kind of restriction like 'one can only coordinate things of the same type', so e.g. 'I and the girl gave flowers' is not a valid reordering of 'I gave the girl flowers'. Then one could have some semantically empty element that can carry explicit case, and coordinate it with the pronoun that needs the marking. This also permits for separate case markings if needed for multiple pronouns. However, this leads to things like
I and self.nom give you and self.acc he and self.dat for a slave.
 3) Have Differential Case Marking on Other NPs
So, let's have non-subject personal pronouns force some slightly odd things going on with other NPs, like maybe making subjects go instrumental or something. So essentially begetting a split-ergative kind of thing, but with the pronouns just not marking for anything.