Archive for February, 2019

Detail #392: Participles, Alignment, Congruence and Restricted Voice Marking

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019
What if a language did not distinguish by any uniquely dedicated morpheme what voice a participle has, but instead did so by having congruence follow an ergative pattern; thus, an intransitive participle has no congruence, nor does a passive participle, but an active, transitive participle does have congruence.

Of course, this would assume all noun classes have explicit congruence markers.

Detail #392: Participles, Alignment, Congruence and Restricted Voice Marking

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019
What if a language did not distinguish by any uniquely dedicated morpheme what voice a participle has, but instead did so by having congruence follow an ergative pattern; thus, an intransitive participle has no congruence, nor does a passive participle, but an active, transitive participle does have congruence.

Of course, this would assume all noun classes have explicit congruence markers.

Detail #391: A Number

Monday, February 25th, 2019
And by 'a number', I mean a grammatical number. Not a new integer or uniquely weird algebraic entity in some odd field or algebra.

So, let's consider the paucal. This is of course a familiar number, I bet, to most readers. A plural of few. We can consider some potential twists to spice this number up! I doubt combining too many of these in one language works, but potentially some of them may combine. If other numbers also take up some of the

1. Using it with comparatives or superlatives.
In a language with plurals and paucals, and also comparatives and superlatives, comparing sizes of finite sets becomes trivial: comparative on a noun in the paucal means 'fewer', comparative on a noun in the plural means 'more'.  The superlative can of course extend this in trivial ways.

2. Using it to signify 'too few'
One could imagine using a marker that derives, say adverbs or maybe a case marker such as instrumental (or just any case), to signify 'too few'. This could of course also extend to 'too little', and produce a situation where mass nouns only have singular forms and an instrumental paucal.

3. 'one out of', 'a few out of'
One could imagine a situation where partial inclusion of the referent (man, am I trying to sound technical?) is always done by use of the paucal. Here, one could imagine that e.g. the case system or the congruence system intentionally 'breaks' a bit whenever this happens. Since there's so many potential scenarios in my mind right now, I will need to describe them a bit.
We shall call this the 'paucal partitive'.

3.1 Northern Eurasian-style case systems
We could imagine that the paucal partitive is restricted only to some syntactical roles. Let's say objects and subjects.

We could imagine that the paucal noun is exceptionally in the genitive for subject and object (or some other non-canonical subject or object cases). We could also imagine that the congruence on the verb has a number mismatch.

3.2 Noun Class Congruence systems
We could imagine that the congruence for the partitive paucal is reset to some inanimate/default type, or potentially to the singular of the relevant noun-class. This might apply even if we're referring to more than one member of the group.

Conversely, we could imagine paucal congruence on a verb with plural marking on the noun phrase? In this case, the construction would conserve noun class but not number. We can, however, imagine that this particular structure would demand that the NP and the verb congruence only differ by one step in the hierarchy plural > paucal > singular.

3.3 Other discongruences:
We can imagine that numerals, adjectives, articles, etc are discongruent in number, case or animacy, and even gender.

We could imagine that the paucal partitive construction also is considered syntactically non-canonical, and sufficiently so as to alter the transitivity of the verb, leading to the use of valency-reducing morphology on the verb, even if the syntactical situation is conserved (e.g. the paucal partitive subject still is the subject, and the object is still the object, despite a passive marker having been introduced on the verb).

3.4. Alignment change
We could imagine that the use of the genitive paucal for partitive paucal subjects could trigger a change in alignment. This use could also well use some kind of infinitive (participle or verb-noun or whathaveyou), and there you go - split ergativity. Split ergativity with objects seems less likely, but could maybe arise from the use of the same participle or verb-noun after the paucal partitive use of the participle has been well-enough established, then extending to the nominative paucal as object of the participle.

Detail #391: A Number

Monday, February 25th, 2019
And by 'a number', I mean a grammatical number. Not a new integer or uniquely weird algebraic entity in some odd field or algebra.

So, let's consider the paucal. This is of course a familiar number, I bet, to most readers. A plural of few. We can consider some potential twists to spice this number up! I doubt combining too many of these in one language works, but potentially some of them may combine. If other numbers also take up some of the

1. Using it with comparatives or superlatives.
In a language with plurals and paucals, and also comparatives and superlatives, comparing sizes of finite sets becomes trivial: comparative on a noun in the paucal means 'fewer', comparative on a noun in the plural means 'more'.  The superlative can of course extend this in trivial ways.

2. Using it to signify 'too few'
One could imagine using a marker that derives, say adverbs or maybe a case marker such as instrumental (or just any case), to signify 'too few'. This could of course also extend to 'too little', and produce a situation where mass nouns only have singular forms and an instrumental paucal.

3. 'one out of', 'a few out of'
One could imagine a situation where partial inclusion of the referent (man, am I trying to sound technical?) is always done by use of the paucal. Here, one could imagine that e.g. the case system or the congruence system intentionally 'breaks' a bit whenever this happens. Since there's so many potential scenarios in my mind right now, I will need to describe them a bit.
We shall call this the 'paucal partitive'.

3.1 Northern Eurasian-style case systems
We could imagine that the paucal partitive is restricted only to some syntactical roles. Let's say objects and subjects.

We could imagine that the paucal noun is exceptionally in the genitive for subject and object (or some other non-canonical subject or object cases). We could also imagine that the congruence on the verb has a number mismatch.

3.2 Noun Class Congruence systems
We could imagine that the congruence for the partitive paucal is reset to some inanimate/default type, or potentially to the singular of the relevant noun-class. This might apply even if we're referring to more than one member of the group.

Conversely, we could imagine paucal congruence on a verb with plural marking on the noun phrase? In this case, the construction would conserve noun class but not number. We can, however, imagine that this particular structure would demand that the NP and the verb congruence only differ by one step in the hierarchy plural > paucal > singular.

3.3 Other discongruences:
We can imagine that numerals, adjectives, articles, etc are discongruent in number, case or animacy, and even gender.

We could imagine that the paucal partitive construction also is considered syntactically non-canonical, and sufficiently so as to alter the transitivity of the verb, leading to the use of valency-reducing morphology on the verb, even if the syntactical situation is conserved (e.g. the paucal partitive subject still is the subject, and the object is still the object, despite a passive marker having been introduced on the verb).

3.4. Alignment change
We could imagine that the use of the genitive paucal for partitive paucal subjects could trigger a change in alignment. This use could also well use some kind of infinitive (participle or verb-noun or whathaveyou), and there you go - split ergativity. Split ergativity with objects seems less likely, but could maybe arise from the use of the same participle or verb-noun after the paucal partitive use of the participle has been well-enough established, then extending to the nominative paucal as object of the participle.

A Link About Trigger Systems and ideas about dogs that lead to ideas about pronouns

Sunday, February 24th, 2019
This link was posted at the ZBB recently, and I figured readers who do not frequent that board might find this interesting.

Paul Kroeger's Phrase Structure and Grammatical Relations in Tagalog. This will be my spare-time reading in the coming weeks, whenever some units of time slip between the cracks of folk dance, job, exercise and being the happy 'husse' of Oswald the tibbie.

The last actually brings up some interesting points:
  • Swedish has a term for 'master' of dogs that is way more familiar than 'master' is. "Husse" (and in the feminine "matte"). Apparently these come from husbonde (actually cognate with 'husband', but rather signify 'master of the household'), and matte is from 'matmor' (food-mother).
  • This is sometimes almost used like a first-person pronoun when talking to dogs (and other pets), but since they're gendered, and most couples that exist are heterosexual, the two first-person pronouns sort of become gender-distinct and can flip between first and third person. Thus I would call myself "husse", but would refer to my girlfriend as "matte", and she would do the opposite.
  •  One could imagine that pronoun systems with similar twists exist in languages around the world? E.g. Some pair of pronouns is either first- or third-person depending on the gender of the speaker.
The language games with which humans interact with dogs are of course rather limited, due to the cognitive and more specifically linguistic abilities of dogs being so different from our own. However, one might imagine a conworld where pets have significantly greater linguistic abilities without still achieving quite the same levels as their ~human-analogue masters.

A Link About Trigger Systems and ideas about dogs that lead to ideas about pronouns

Sunday, February 24th, 2019
This link was posted at the ZBB recently, and I figured readers who do not frequent that board might find this interesting.

Paul Kroeger's Phrase Structure and Grammatical Relations in Tagalog. This will be my spare-time reading in the coming weeks, whenever some units of time slip between the cracks of folk dance, job, exercise and being the happy 'husse' of Oswald the tibbie.

The last actually brings up some interesting points:
  • Swedish has a term for 'master' of dogs that is way more familiar than 'master' is. "Husse" (and in the feminine "matte"). Apparently these come from husbonde (actually cognate with 'husband', but rather signify 'master of the household'), and matte is from 'matmor' (food-mother).
  • This is sometimes almost used like a first-person pronoun when talking to dogs (and other pets), but since they're gendered, and most couples that exist are heterosexual, the two first-person pronouns sort of become gender-distinct and can flip between first and third person. Thus I would call myself "husse", but would refer to my girlfriend as "matte", and she would do the opposite.
  •  One could imagine that pronoun systems with similar twists exist in languages around the world? E.g. Some pair of pronouns is either first- or third-person depending on the gender of the speaker.
The language games with which humans interact with dogs are of course rather limited, due to the cognitive and more specifically linguistic abilities of dogs being so different from our own. However, one might imagine a conworld where pets have significantly greater linguistic abilities without still achieving quite the same levels as their ~human-analogue masters.

The deal with predicate fronting

Thursday, February 21st, 2019
Returning to the final concern of the previous post, let’s take a careful look at fronted predicates. Since some afternoon in the early 20-teens at the Bayfair BART station I've been saying things like

Koa ko... "It’s good that..."
Tota ko... "It’s true that..."
Te tai ko... "It’s possible that..."
Io ika ko... "Okay, let’s accept that..."

So what is actually happening here? Are we fronting the predicate because it’s focused? Or some other pragmatic reason? Is there something presentative about this, like as if we were saying

Vo te tai ko tia lu te tota! "Hey look, guys, it's possible this could be true!"

Hm. I feel like there’s something else going on. Can any of these expressions be followed by a simple predicate? Uh...I’m not sure. Maybe we first need to start out with the principle that any predicate can appear on its own, as if preceded by i. [i] koa “it’s/that’s good,” [i] mesúa “it’s sunny,” etc. So how would we append further information to that predicate?

Immediately I think of ve, in the sense “it’s good ‘how’ X”:

Koa ve ta si lai! “It’s good that she’s come back!”

But...in all other circumstances explored so far, ve is interchangeable with ko if we make the referenced clause intransitive. Is that the case here?

TIME OUT: I think I might have grasped it. The clause is actually modifying the initial predicate! If we start with “it’s good,” we could then ask “what kind of good?” And the answer here is a “her having come back” kind of good. If this is so, then there’s no problem switching to ko as I suggested above, because it ends up having just the same meaning:

Koa ko ta si lai! “It’s good that she’s come back!”

But what, semantically or pragmatically, is the difference between that and

Ko ta si lai i koa / Koa sa ko ta si lai?

The latter in particular is so straightforward: it’s a focused predicate. And it feels equivalent...but maybe that’s because I’m not thinking clearly about the pragmatics, and/or because I’ve been using sa wrong in some contexts in the past. Is “it’s good” necessarily new information?

“So Mary came back yesterday. Is that going to be a problem?”
“Actually, I think it’s good that she’s come back!

In that dialog, koa sa feels like the right translation because in context we are genuinely focusing on new information that the speaker is contributing. So what are other possible contexts?

“But she only just came back yesterday...I’m afraid if I tell her how I feel she’ll just leave again.”
“Well, it’s good that she came back, but your feelings are still real and valid and she needs to have accountability for her impact on them.”

“Well you’re certainly cheerful this morning! What’s got you smiling so wide?”
It’s good to have her back!

Actually, I feel like in most contexts phrases like this are kind of neutral in focus, like the contribution of the whole proposition to the discourse is more important than the relationship of any particular constituent to the discourse stage. Maybe more relevant to the question of structure is just balance, style, flow — an aesthetic consideration? Regardless of focus, (A) the critical piece of information being communicated is the predicate and as such it’s weird to bury it under a whole clause, and (B) if the subject is the dependent clause, an issue of parsing arises where we have to figure out where we’ve rejoined the matrix clause again, potentially pretty far down the line if the dependent clause is complex. It’s just a lot easier to understand with that bit of information out in front.

Two main points:

1. Te tai ko-type clauses are motivated by existing Koa principles and clearly grammatical
2. Their use is reasonable both for pragmatics and style and not just an IE calque.

However note: it’s also become apparent in the course of writing this that in the past I’ve unintentionally used sa as a kind of presentative particle which I think is not motivated by pragmatics. I need to be careful and remember that bare-stem predicates carry meaning on their own!

The deal with predicate fronting

Thursday, February 21st, 2019
Returning to the final concern of the previous post, let’s take a careful look at fronted predicates. Since some afternoon in the early 20-teens at the Bayfair BART station I've been saying things like

Koa ko... "It’s good that..."
Tota ko... "It’s true that..."
Te tai ko... "It’s possible that..."
Io ika ko... "Okay, let’s accept that..."

So what is actually happening here? Are we fronting the predicate because it’s focused? Or some other pragmatic reason? Is there something presentative about this, like as if we were saying

Vo te tai ko tia lu te tota! "Hey look, guys, it's possible this could be true!"

Hm. I feel like there’s something else going on. Can any of these expressions be followed by a simple predicate? Uh...I’m not sure. Maybe we first need to start out with the principle that any predicate can appear on its own, as if preceded by i. [i] koa “it’s/that’s good,” [i] mesúa “it’s sunny,” etc. So how would we append further information to that predicate?

Immediately I think of ve, in the sense “it’s good ‘how’ X”:

Koa ve ta si lai! “It’s good that she’s come back!”

But...in all other circumstances explored so far, ve is interchangeable with ko if we make the referenced clause intransitive. Is that the case here?

TIME OUT: I think I might have grasped it. The clause is actually modifying the initial predicate! If we start with “it’s good,” we could then ask “what kind of good?” And the answer here is a “her having come back” kind of good. If this is so, then there’s no problem switching to ko as I suggested above, because it ends up having just the same meaning:

Koa ko ta si lai! “It’s good that she’s come back!”

But what, semantically or pragmatically, is the difference between that and

Ko ta si lai i koa / Koa sa ko ta si lai?

The latter in particular is so straightforward: it’s a focused predicate. And it feels equivalent...but maybe that’s because I’m not thinking clearly about the pragmatics, and/or because I’ve been using sa wrong in some contexts in the past. Is “it’s good” necessarily new information?

“So Mary came back yesterday. Is that going to be a problem?”
“Actually, I think it’s good that she’s come back!

In that dialog, koa sa feels like the right translation because in context we are genuinely focusing on new information that the speaker is contributing. So what are other possible contexts?

“But she only just came back yesterday...I’m afraid if I tell her how I feel she’ll just leave again.”
“Well, it’s good that she came back, but your feelings are still real and valid and she needs to have accountability for her impact on them.”

“Well you’re certainly cheerful this morning! What’s got you smiling so wide?”
It’s good to have her back!

Actually, I feel like in most contexts phrases like this are kind of neutral in focus, like the contribution of the whole proposition to the discourse is more important than the relationship of any particular constituent to the discourse stage. Maybe more relevant to the question of structure is just balance, style, flow — an aesthetic consideration? Regardless of focus, (A) the critical piece of information being communicated is the predicate and as such it’s weird to bury it under a whole clause, and (B) if the subject is the dependent clause, an issue of parsing arises where we have to figure out where we’ve rejoined the matrix clause again, potentially pretty far down the line if the dependent clause is complex. It’s just a lot easier to understand with that bit of information out in front.

Two main points:

1. Te tai ko-type clauses are motivated by existing Koa principles and clearly grammatical
2. Their use is reasonable both for pragmatics and style and not just an IE calque.

However note: it’s also become apparent in the course of writing this that in the past I’ve unintentionally used sa as a kind of presentative particle which I think is not motivated by pragmatics. I need to be careful and remember that bare-stem predicates carry meaning on their own!

The Grand Unified Theory of dependent clauses

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019
In honor of Koa's impending 20th anniversary, I hereby announce a concerted effort to figure out, once and for all, what is going on with dependent clauses: or in Koa-specific terms, as I now realize, clauses used as predicates. This includes nominal (or content) clauses, adverbial clauses, relative clauses, any situation in which a clause is being integrated into syntax in other than a free-standing way.

Further: my instinct going into this is that it's going to turn out that all these various "types" as our traditional grammars consider them actually break down to pretty much identical Koa structures, in the same way that Koa collapses the difference between nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. as IE languages conceive them.

I think the current state of dependent clauses in Koa is represented here, and with much greater sophistication than I had realized before I reread it. This gets us pretty close to a model that can be expanded and adapted to serve all needs coherently and transparently, but there are one or two apparent possible IE holdovers that need to be reconsidered. A summary:

  • Clauses can be made non-finite by deleting the 3rd-person finiteness marker i.
  • Nominal clauses can be preceded by ko (non-finite), or by ve (finite).
  • Adjectival clauses can be internally-headed with the head marked by ke (finite), or optionally preceded by u and gapped (non-finite).
  • Adverbial clauses can be preceded by ko (non-finite), or by ve (finite), following whatever other marking indicates the role of the clause.
  • Verbal clauses — which is to say basically clauses used as stative verbs — are simply non-finite.

Here's the thing: what we're talking about here at base is clauses being used as predicates. In all other cases in Koa, there is an extremely solid system for the use of a predicate as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc., and this differs from the approach discussed above! For example, most particularly, why are adjectival clauses marked differently than nominal clauses?

Clearly, in Indo-European languages, adjectival (i.e. "relative") clauses are treated entirely differently than nominal ones, and that has equally clearly affected my thinking about this topic from the very beginning. Is there in actuality any meaningful way, however, that a relative clause can be said to be "different" from a nominal clause beyond any other predicate when used as an adjective versus a noun?

After some serious brain-twisting thought, and some delightfully old-school conversation with Allison, I have to conclude that the answer is actually no. Despite the way that this screamingly defies my IE intuition, I can't muster a single argument for treating them differently in Koa. Turkish, incidentally, agrees:

Aygül-Ø ekmeğ-i ye-diğ-imiz-i söyle-di-Ø
Aygül-NOM bread-ACC eat-PART-1PL-ACC say-PAST-3P
"Aygül said that we ate the bread"

ye-diğ-imiz ekmek
eat-PART-1PL bread
"the bread we ate"

Translating literally into English, the dependent clause here — yediğimiz ekmek or ekmeği yediğimiz — has a feel sort of like "the our-eating bread": "Aygül said the our-eating bread," etc. Traditionally, and as described by the principles above, these would be translated into Koa in distinct ways:

Áikulu i sano ko/ve [ nu suo ka lepa ]
Aygül FIN say SPEC/COMP [ 1PL eat DEF bread ]
"Aygül said that we ate the bread"

ka lepa (u) [ nu suo ]
DEF bread (REL) [ 1PL eat ]
"the bread we ate"

For the life of me, though, I just cannot rationally motivate the presence of u above. Why not instead:

ka lepa (ko/ve) [ nu suo ]
DEF bread (SPEC/COMP) [ 1PL eat ]
"the bread we ate"

Depending on whether we're calling the dependent clause finite or not, the literal translation comes out sounding something like "the bread of our eating" or "the bread such that we ate it." Either way it looks like very solid Koa of the usual variety in which there is no difference between traditional lexical classes! And as such we can apply this equally well to simple predicates:

ka sivu vihe
DEF leaf green
"the green leaves"

ka sivu ko/ve vihe
DEF leaf SPEC/COMP green
"the leaves that are green"

It appears that u is out of a job.

If this is so, we can rearticulate the principles of dependent clauses as follows:

  • Clauses used as predicates have an optional marker ko when non-finite, a mandatory marker ve when finite.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the way we like it in Koa. Here are some examples of complex predicates being used in different roles...

ADJECTIVAL: "a mommy-not-feeling-well night"

ivo (ko) [ ka mama na mai koa ]
night (SPEC) [ DEF mom NEG feel good ]

ivo ve [ ka mama i na mai koa ]
night COMP [ DEF mom FIN NEG feel good ]

NOMINAL: "she said that mommy's not feeling well"

ta sano (ko) [ ka mama na mai koa ]
3SG say (SPEC) [ DEF mom NEG feel good ]

ta sano ve [ ka mama i na mai koa ]
3SG say COMP [ DEF mom FIN NEG feel good ]

VERBAL: "this night is mommy-not-feeling-well-ish"

ti ivo i [ ka mama na mai koa ]
DEM night FIN [ DEF mom NEG feel good ]

ti ivo i ve [ ka mama na mai koa ]
DEM night FIN COMP [ DEF mom FIN NEG feel good ]

ADVERBIAL: "while mommy's not feeling well"

he (ko) [ ka mama na mai koa ]
TIME (SPEC) [ DEF mom NEG feel good ]

he ve [ ka mama i na mai koa ]
TIME COMP [ DEF mom FIN NEG feel good ]

Adjectival clauses do still have a third, internally-headed option that I don't think is extensible to the other types:

ka talo (ko) [ le Iako si ete ]
DEF house (SPEC) [ QUOT Jack ANT make ]
"the house that Jack built"

ka talo ve [ le Iako i si ete ]
DEF house COMP [ QUOT Jack FIN ANT make ]
"the house that Jack built"

le Iako i si ete ke talo / ke talo sa le Iako i si ete
QUOT Jack FIN ANT make QU house / QU house FOC QUOT Jack FIN ANT make
"the house that Jack built"

Wait. Why does this exist, again? Just for fun? Greater trans-typological intuitiveness? Now that I'm looking at that, it doesn't seem to make any sense at all. I keep wanting to reduce it to ke talo le Iako si ete, as in ke talo le Iako si ete i sulu "the house that Jack built fell down." That agrees with my IE intuitions. But what in God's name is the difference between that and ka talo le Iako si ete i sulu as described earlier? And again, why should relative clauses be treated differently than other dependent clause types?

Okay, I reserve the right to bring this back should circumstances seem to require it at some point in the future, but for the moment I see absolutely no motivation for its continued existence.

A few final points:

1) For the type of clause that in English winds up headless, like "I want to know who said that," Koa syntax using the above principles gets a little muddy. It could be non-finite:

ni halu ilo (ko) keka sa sano toa
1SG want know (SPEC) who FOC say that

...which raises the heretofore never considered question of whether a clause with a focused constituent can be nominalized: an issue for another day. Sa could be left out of the above clause anyway without changing the semantics. In any event, that seems vaguely acceptable if perhaps a little IE-calquish; on the other hand the theoretically equally allowable finite version feels fairly bizarre:

ni halu ilo ve keka sa sano toa
1SG want know COMP who FOC say that

Something seems frankly wrong with this but I can't puzzle it out at the moment. Should ve be le? I don't know. HOWEVER, the point I want to make is that I think the most natively Koa way of expressing this actually avoids all of these structures entirely:

ni halu ilo ka sano toa
1SG want know DEF say that

Literally this is something like "I want to know the sayer of that," and it's a lesson that we really have to remember that Koa can do this and explore the scope and power of it more fully (or at all, really).

2) What's the pragmatic difference between finite and non-finite dependent clauses? Why choose one over the other? I think it's good to have both options, but at this point I don't have any sense of comparative uses.

3) I've said that the marker for non-finite dependent clauses is optional, but under what circumstances would/should it be omitted and retained? It's clearly going to have an impact on clarity and style. Part of me is wondering whether it should actually be optional at all. More later.

4) In the earlier post I referenced above, I was fretting a bit about te tai ko... types of clauses. Just to reassure my past self, I don't think there's any issue here, and we can phrase them either finitely or non-finitely:

te tai ko/ve ta lu lai he leo
ABL be SPEC/COMP 3SG IRR return TIME today
"maybe she'll come back today"

On the other hand, the way this is structured makes it look like a verbal structure like te tai is transitive, in that it accepts a complement! What's actually happening here syntactically? Apparently we can also say things like

koa ko/ve ta lu lai he leo
good SPEC/COMP 3SG IRR return TIME today
"it's good that she's coming back today"

Is this something other than fronting the predicate (as in, is the pre-transformation form really ko ta lu lai he leo i te tai)? Can we do that? When?

?iso to kunu
big DEM dog
"it's big, that dog"

?ma polo la koto ni
DUR run 1SG to home
"here I am running home..."

Should this be focus instead, like te tai sa (ko)/ve ta lu lai he leo? Or is something completely different going on? Um. Let me get back to you.

The Grand Unified Theory of dependent clauses

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019
In honor of Koa's impending 20th anniversary, I hereby announce a concerted effort to figure out, once and for all, what is going on with dependent clauses: or in Koa-specific terms, as I now realize, clauses used as predicates. This includes nominal (or content) clauses, adverbial clauses, relative clauses, any situation in which a clause is being integrated into syntax in other than a free-standing way.

Further: my instinct going into this is that it's going to turn out that all these various "types" as our traditional grammars consider them actually break down to pretty much identical Koa structures, in the same way that Koa collapses the difference between nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. as IE languages conceive them.

I think the current state of dependent clauses in Koa is represented here, and with much greater sophistication than I had realized before I reread it. This gets us pretty close to a model that can be expanded and adapted to serve all needs coherently and transparently, but there are one or two apparent possible IE holdovers that need to be reconsidered. A summary:

  • Clauses can be made non-finite by deleting the 3rd-person finiteness marker i.
  • Nominal clauses can be preceded by ko (non-finite), or by ve (finite).
  • Adjectival clauses can be internally-headed with the head marked by ke (finite), or optionally preceded by u and gapped (non-finite).
  • Adverbial clauses can be preceded by ko (non-finite), or by ve (finite), following whatever other marking indicates the role of the clause.
  • Verbal clauses — which is to say basically clauses used as stative verbs — are simply non-finite.

Here's the thing: what we're talking about here at base is clauses being used as predicates. In all other cases in Koa, there is an extremely solid system for the use of a predicate as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc., and this differs from the approach discussed above! For example, most particularly, why are adjectival clauses marked differently than nominal clauses?

Clearly, in Indo-European languages, adjectival (i.e. "relative") clauses are treated entirely differently than nominal ones, and that has equally clearly affected my thinking about this topic from the very beginning. Is there in actuality any meaningful way, however, that a relative clause can be said to be "different" from a nominal clause beyond any other predicate when used as an adjective versus a noun?

After some serious brain-twisting thought, and some delightfully old-school conversation with Allison, I have to conclude that the answer is actually no. Despite the way that this screamingly defies my IE intuition, I can't muster a single argument for treating them differently in Koa. Turkish, incidentally, agrees:

Aygül-Ø ekmeğ-i ye-diğ-imiz-i söyle-di-Ø
Aygül-NOM bread-ACC eat-PART-1PL-ACC say-PAST-3P
"Aygül said that we ate the bread"

ye-diğ-imiz ekmek
eat-PART-1PL bread
"the bread we ate"

Translating literally into English, the dependent clause here — yediğimiz ekmek or ekmeği yediğimiz — has a feel sort of like "the our-eating bread": "Aygül said the our-eating bread," etc. Traditionally, and as described by the principles above, these would be translated into Koa in distinct ways:

Áikulu i sano ko/ve [ nu suo ka lepa ]
Aygül FIN say SPEC/COMP [ 1PL eat DEF bread ]
"Aygül said that we ate the bread"

ka lepa (u) [ nu suo ]
DEF bread (REL) [ 1PL eat ]
"the bread we ate"

For the life of me, though, I just cannot rationally motivate the presence of u above. Why not instead:

ka lepa (ko/ve) [ nu suo ]
DEF bread (SPEC/COMP) [ 1PL eat ]
"the bread we ate"

Depending on whether we're calling the dependent clause finite or not, the literal translation comes out sounding something like "the bread of our eating" or "the bread such that we ate it." Either way it looks like very solid Koa of the usual variety in which there is no difference between traditional lexical classes! And as such we can apply this equally well to simple predicates:

ka sivu vihe
DEF leaf green
"the green leaves"

ka sivu ko/ve vihe
DEF leaf SPEC/COMP green
"the leaves that are green"

It appears that u is out of a job.

If this is so, we can rearticulate the principles of dependent clauses as follows:

  • Clauses used as predicates have an optional marker ko when non-finite, a mandatory marker ve when finite.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the way we like it in Koa. Here are some examples of complex predicates being used in different roles...

ADJECTIVAL: "a mommy-not-feeling-well night"

ivo (ko) [ ka mama na mai koa ]
night (SPEC) [ DEF mom NEG feel good ]

ivo ve [ ka mama i na mai koa ]
night COMP [ DEF mom FIN NEG feel good ]

NOMINAL: "she said that mommy's not feeling well"

ta sano (ko) [ ka mama na mai koa ]
3SG say (SPEC) [ DEF mom NEG feel good ]

ta sano ve [ ka mama i na mai koa ]
3SG say COMP [ DEF mom FIN NEG feel good ]

VERBAL: "this night is mommy-not-feeling-well-ish"

ti ivo i [ ka mama na mai koa ]
DEM night FIN [ DEF mom NEG feel good ]

ti ivo i ve [ ka mama na mai koa ]
DEM night FIN COMP [ DEF mom FIN NEG feel good ]

ADVERBIAL: "while mommy's not feeling well"

he (ko) [ ka mama na mai koa ]
TIME (SPEC) [ DEF mom NEG feel good ]

he ve [ ka mama i na mai koa ]
TIME COMP [ DEF mom FIN NEG feel good ]

Adjectival clauses do still have a third, internally-headed option that I don't think is extensible to the other types:

ka talo (ko) [ le Iako si ete ]
DEF house (SPEC) [ QUOT Jack ANT make ]
"the house that Jack built"

ka talo ve [ le Iako i si ete ]
DEF house COMP [ QUOT Jack FIN ANT make ]
"the house that Jack built"

le Iako i si ete ke talo / ke talo sa le Iako i si ete
QUOT Jack FIN ANT make QU house / QU house FOC QUOT Jack FIN ANT make
"the house that Jack built"

Wait. Why does this exist, again? Just for fun? Greater trans-typological intuitiveness? Now that I'm looking at that, it doesn't seem to make any sense at all. I keep wanting to reduce it to ke talo le Iako si ete, as in ke talo le Iako si ete i sulu "the house that Jack built fell down." That agrees with my IE intuitions. But what in God's name is the difference between that and ka talo le Iako si ete i sulu as described earlier? And again, why should relative clauses be treated differently than other dependent clause types?

Okay, I reserve the right to bring this back should circumstances seem to require it at some point in the future, but for the moment I see absolutely no motivation for its continued existence.

A few final points:

1) For the type of clause that in English winds up headless, like "I want to know who said that," Koa syntax using the above principles gets a little muddy. It could be non-finite:

ni halu ilo (ko) keka sa sano toa
1SG want know (SPEC) who FOC say that

...which raises the heretofore never considered question of whether a clause with a focused constituent can be nominalized: an issue for another day. Sa could be left out of the above clause anyway without changing the semantics. In any event, that seems vaguely acceptable if perhaps a little IE-calquish; on the other hand the theoretically equally allowable finite version feels fairly bizarre:

ni halu ilo ve keka sa sano toa
1SG want know COMP who FOC say that

Something seems frankly wrong with this but I can't puzzle it out at the moment. Should ve be le? I don't know. HOWEVER, the point I want to make is that I think the most natively Koa way of expressing this actually avoids all of these structures entirely:

ni halu ilo ka sano toa
1SG want know DEF say that

Literally this is something like "I want to know the sayer of that," and it's a lesson that we really have to remember that Koa can do this and explore the scope and power of it more fully (or at all, really).

2) What's the pragmatic difference between finite and non-finite dependent clauses? Why choose one over the other? I think it's good to have both options, but at this point I don't have any sense of comparative uses.

3) I've said that the marker for non-finite dependent clauses is optional, but under what circumstances would/should it be omitted and retained? It's clearly going to have an impact on clarity and style. Part of me is wondering whether it should actually be optional at all. More later.

4) In the earlier post I referenced above, I was fretting a bit about te tai ko... types of clauses. Just to reassure my past self, I don't think there's any issue here, and we can phrase them either finitely or non-finitely:

te tai ko/ve ta lu lai he leo
ABL be SPEC/COMP 3SG IRR return TIME today
"maybe she'll come back today"

On the other hand, the way this is structured makes it look like a verbal structure like te tai is transitive, in that it accepts a complement! What's actually happening here syntactically? Apparently we can also say things like

koa ko/ve ta lu lai he leo
good SPEC/COMP 3SG IRR return TIME today
"it's good that she's coming back today"

Is this something other than fronting the predicate (as in, is the pre-transformation form really ko ta lu lai he leo i te tai)? Can we do that? When?

?iso to kunu
big DEM dog
"it's big, that dog"

?ma polo la koto ni
DUR run 1SG to home
"here I am running home..."

Should this be focus instead, like te tai sa (ko)/ve ta lu lai he leo? Or is something completely different going on? Um. Let me get back to you.