Archive for March, 2021

Possession versus ownership

Thursday, March 18th, 2021

All that discussion about possessive pronouns and oma versus keme -- and particularly the Malay structure in which the possessive predicate construction involves what is technically the verb of belonging -- got me to thinking: what actually is the logical relationship between these concepts of "one's own," "owning" and "belonging?"

It turns out there's a very straightforward one, and was basically already fully wired and ready to be discovered! Oma doesn't just mean "one's own," it's a verb meaning "to belong to!" The flexibility of lexical class in Koa had obscured this before. So for example:

ka talo oma ni
DEF house belong 1SG
"my own house"

...but technically oma ni is here actually an adjectival clause rephrasable as "the house that belongs to me," exactly analogous to

ka tupo ma polo
DEF horse IMPF run
"the running horse" or "the horse that is running"

We also have a lovely economical phrase for a Valentine's heart:

vi oma ni
IMP belong 1SG
"be mine"

All this is why oma didn't feel right when I was trying to say "this is my house": there's too much of a semantic of belonging or owning in there.

ti talo i oma ni
this house FIN belong 1SG
"this house is my own" or "this house belongs to me"

What we were really looking for was a purely conceptual relationship of possession, blanched of as much additional meaning as possible: that's exactly what keme is. After all, this is in origin a derivative of withti talo i keme ni just means "this house is mine," in the sense of "this house is associated with me." We're not trying to talk about owning or belonging in this imaginary conversation. It seems to be a distinction I'd never really considered before between possession and ownership.

There's this really fascinating-looking Oxford University Press cross-linguistic typological survey of possession and ownership across the world's languages, and one thing I was reading in the summary is that languages from cultures where ownership is 100% the same as possession tend to have very different corresponding linguistic structures than what we're used to. Clearly (A) I need to find a copy of this book and read it as soon as humanly possible, and (B) there's going to have to end up being a fuzzy limit to Koa's pretensions of universality where structure intersects with radically different underlying cultural needs. Still, I'll keep trying my best...

Detail #406: Another spot for limited ergativity

Wednesday, March 17th, 2021

In some languages, certain particles can be pretty adposition-like, yet stand by subject-like nouns:

no-one but he/him knew ...*

One could easily imagine that a language for this particular type of particle had an ergative-like pattern going on, thus

no-one but him slept
no-one but he saw it
they saw no-one but him

* This is apparently a construction where English grammars differ on recommendation, yet some standardized tests require one to take a stance, thus forcing the pupil to know which fucking grammar the author of the test holds to be correct. If you make standardized tests, you should fucking well be knowledgeable enough not to do that shit to people.

Return of the Pronominal Predicate

Tuesday, March 16th, 2021

Over the years there's been a lot of hemming and hawing about predicate-length (i.e. bisyllabic) versions of the personal pronouns, which I've tended to refer to as "emphatic." I'm not sure where the idea came from originally; maybe the full versus clitic forms of the pronouns in Polish planted the seed? It occurs to me to wonder how well-represented a strategy this is cross-linguistically. The other clear examples I can think of come from Welsh (i vs innau), Ancient Greek (με vs ἐμέ) and Nahuatl (nê vs nèhuātl): not much ground for generalizations.

Since the idea first occurred to me some version of it has never left at least the theoretical lexicon, despite occasional deep skepticism. Most recently, in this post -- since which more than two years inexplicably seem to have passed -- I think I pretty firmly established that there does need to be a form of the personal pronouns that makes it possible to use them as predicates. It's important to note that as such they may have nothing whatsoever to do with emphasis, though, except for the fact that these predicates have a tendency to show up in pragmatically marked syntactic structures. For this reason I'm thinking we should ditch the "emphatic" nomenclature that probably has its origins in IE languages anyway, and choose a better-motivated term like "extended" or "predicative."

As to form, we've seen three options:

A. Reduplicating the pronoun (the longest standing): nini, sese, etc.
B. Lengthening the pronoun to produce a bisyllable of analogous form: nii, sei, etc.
C. Adding -a on the analogy of ke > kea, to > toa, and so on.: nia, sea, etc.

I've thought of a couple others recently:

D. Adding -imi "self," currently used also as a true emphatic: niimi, seimi, etc.
E. Adding some other formative, like -pe: nipe, sepe, etc.

Option A was the original idea long ago and I'm still a big fan, other than the fact that this would necessitate giving up tata "dad" in favor of papa which I just do not like. Aside: this has been a bigger problem than you might think, because I really truly actually seriously detest papa and this has held up the whole thought process for probably almost 15 years. I honestly don't know what to do about this, because I apparently can't let go of either and I obviously can't have both. Could there be some completely different "dad" word? I feel like I might die on this hill while the whole of civilization grinds to a halt around me.

ANYWAY, back to the subject: I've never much cared for the aesthetics of option B, or the fact that the pronouns with mid vowels end up looking less like their simplex forms than the others, so I think we might as well just toss that one. Option C is totally reasonable and logical, though let's discuss the semantic implications below, and I'd just like to take a moment to bemoan the loss of taa for "surpass," as I've increasingly been thinking of it. Option D I apparently brought up just to instantly dismiss, because using a form with this literal semantic meaning in this pragmatic way feels very ad hoc and un-Koa. Option E is possible if we really need it, so maybe let's leave it in the back pocket for the moment.

As to option C: the idea here is that we already use -a to make pronouns out of specifiers, which initially makes this seem like a pretty solid plan. An important thing to notice, though, is that the Koa "personal particles" actually live a double life -- they do act as pronouns, but in other contexts they're specifiers! And as specifiers their value is possessive. If, then, -a makes a specifier into a pronoun -- or to look at it another way, into a predicate -- then nia should mean not "I" but "mine!"

I actually don't have a ready argument for why this shouldn't immediately be declared canon. A structure like this gives us possibilities like:

ti talo i nia
this house FIN mine
"this house is mine"

ka nia i pavasu
DEF mine FIN PASS-wear.out
"mine is worn out"

Currently, without these forms, we're forced to co-opt other words in what is unavoidably an arbitrary way, or repeat the coindexed referents redundantly:

ti talo i keme ni
this house FIN attribute/possession 1SG
"this house is my possession"

ka keme ni i pavasu
DEF possession 1SG FIN PASS-wear.out
"[this possession of] mine is worn out"

ti talo i ni talo
this house FIN 1SG house
"this house is my house"

Okay, so honestly, to my surprise I don't hate the structures with keme ni. I actually don't think they're arbitrary at all: this seems like a completely logical, consistent extension, and maybe even the most consistent way of expressing this concept. The real question, then, I guess, ends up coming down to aesthetics and word-worthiness. Before digging in here, though, note what happens when we use predicates like nia in an adjectival position:

ka lina nia
DEF city mine
"my city"

This gives us a genuinely emphatic meaning, as against the unmarked ka lina ni "my city." Important! And without these forms we'd be limited to

ka lina keme ni
DEF city possession 1SG
"the city of my possession" = "my city"

There's no question that the form with nia is more elegant. What I'm not sure of is (A) whether giving up 6 predicates to this cause is being unnecessarily improvident, and (B) what's the cross-linguistic word on possessive pronouns? Would these predicates be typologically motivated?

Indo-European has a variety of strategies, often the genitive of the personal pronoun or a separate possessive form. Modern Greek uses an adjective meaning "own," e.g. δικός μου "my own," "mine," which is kind of cool and a little like keme ni (and as to that, does Koa have a way of expressing that meaning of "own?" Oh yes of course, oma). Finnish and Turkish both use the genitive of the pronoun: tämä talo on minun, bu ev benim. Hungarian interestingly has distinct possessive pronouns, which I'd forgotten about: ez a ház az enyém, etc. Basque -- if I'm interpreting this forms correctly -- seems to put a definite ending on a genitive pronoun, so ni > nire > nirea...fascinating, a bit like el mío in Spanish, I guess? That about wraps it up for Europe, I think.

For a minute I got excited about Hebrew because the modern vernacular language seemed to use a structure 100% analogous to ka talo keme ni with its ×”בית שלי ha bait sheli but then I learned from Marisa that sheli is just the 1SG form of the preposition "of" and I was disappointed. But then I discovered that shel comes originally from something like "...which is to me," "to me" being the way Arabic still expresses "mine": Ù‡Ø°Ø§ البيت لي hadha al-beyt li "this is my house," lit. "this the house to me." So a prepositional phrase -- that's a cool different strategy. (Thanks, Liorr, for these translations!)

Mandarin just uses the genitive of the pronoun again: 这房子是我 çš„ zhè fángzi shì wÇ’ de "this house COP 1SG GEN." Japanese says "my thing": ã“の家は私のものです kono ka wa watashi no mono desu "this house TOPIC 1SG GEN thing COP." Interesting. Malay has "my possession"!!! rumah ini milik saya, "house this possession me"; apparently milik can also be a verb "belong."

Most of the rest of human languagedom is still untouched, but maybe this is enough. Clearly lots of very unrelated languages are happy with "my X," and I don't think I want discrete lexemes for possessive pronouns anyway: it just doesn't feel right. I'm intrigued by the semantics at the perhaps unlikely intersection of Greek and Malay, though, and I wonder whether we might use oma in this context:

ka talo ni oma
DEF house 1SG own
"my own house"

...wait, or is it

ka talo oma ni
DEF house own 1SG
"my own house"

Oh yikes. Let's not even get into the fact that the official lexicon gives oma for "self," when I thought it was imi! Okay, okay, no, actually we'd better. Deep breath: oma could be "one's own," whereas imi could be "the self" in, like, consciousness terms. So ni imi oma "my own self." Apparently reflexive pronouns do tend to come from the word for the self, so it's also not arbitrary to potentially say things like ni nae ni imi "I see myself."

That now being settled, which version above is correct? If we accept ni imi oma that would suggest that oma is applied to an existing possessive phrase, in which case it should be the first. Then:

ka ni oma
DEF 1SG own
"my own"

...and potentially

ti talo i ni oma
this house FIN 1SG own
"this house is mine"

Ugh, though, why is an alienable object ("house") being described with inalienable possession, then? Either we say that that's just how oma rolls, which would be realistic to natural languages but not exactly in line with Koa's goals of being reducible to first principles, or maybe the noun modified by oma "groups" together before possession happens? So ni [imi oma] "myself," obviously inalienable, but then [ka talo oma] ni "my own house," alienable. And since utterances like "this mother is mine" are pretty pragmatically anomalous and therefore unlikely outside of bad reference grammars, oma ni is a better form to be the default predicate.

WHICH MEANS that either of the following could mean "this house is mine":

ti talo i oma ni
this house FIN own 1SG
"this house is my own" = "this house is mine"

ti talo i keme ni
this house FIN possession 1SG
"this house is my possession" = "this house is mine"

However, there's a distinct semantic in the oma sentence worth pointing out: it's essentially saying "this is my very own house." In other words, there's no way besides ti talo i oma ni to say "this house is my very own." That's worth being able to say, but not really what we were trying to get at with this now absurdly long odyssey into the subject. Ti talo i keme ni seems much more neutral: this is just the house that I have.

This was extremely productive -- although it left me with the very same conclusions I'd previously reached here, albeit with much less exhaustive motivation -- but not even slightly the matter I actually meant to spend the apparently last 24 hours exploring! Will try again tomorrow...

Detail #405: Doubly Redundant Numerals

Saturday, March 13th, 2021

A redundant numeral system is one where numbers have multiple ways of being expressed. This can easily be constructed by, for instance, having digits for larger numbers than the base, e.g. base 10, but digits up to twelve. Let's call them J, K, L (10, 11, 12).

This provides two ways of writing 11: <11>, <B>. 22, likewise, can be written as <22> or <1C>.

A different type of redundancy could be one where some information in the number is given in a redundant fashion. We in fact have some of that already - digit grouping is a redundant feature.

I will use the roman numeral D (500) as an illustration. Imagine we used D for 500, and it permitted the following uses:

D00 = 500
D = 500
D4 = 504
1D = 1500
1D00 = 1500
1500 = 1500

Using the D here would introduce some redundancy: we now know how far away the unit is, even if it is omitted. Imagine further using M as an alternative for 1000. We could also go a slight additive route here, and if we have the letters J K L M N O P Q R S following the previously given pattern, 

DSS would signify 500 + 190 +  19 = 709, which also could be written 709 or 69S or 5SS. The double redundancy, of course, comes from the fact that we can know the D is 500, and that its order of magnitude is not the result of a digit having been lost to the right. 

However, dedicated symbols like these could maybe also permit for things like this:

D250 = 500 + 250 = 750

I will not get into that kind of thing any deeper right now. I am inclined to think I might include something like this in the Bryatesle-Dairwueh number system.

Ćwarmin: How to distinguish a clitic postposition from a case

Friday, March 12th, 2021

Ćwarmin has a rich system of cases, which to some extent form fusional forms with number and the definiteness system. Ćwarmin also has a rather rich system of postpositions which are not considered cases. What makes one set considered cases and the other set not?

The Ćwarmin cases can be found here. However, nearly all Ćwarmin postpositions also are suffixed (and the prepositions are prefixed) to words. There are, however, certain traits that distinguish them. Some suffixes are sometimes cases, sometimes not.

1. Possible carriers

Postpositions are less picky than cases. They go on the final word of a noun phrase, regardless of what that is. Cases can only go on nouns, adjectives, pronouns and numbers. However, some postpositions also have case suffixes on them, often showing their origin as nouns, adjectives or pronouns.
(Make up etymologies for "apart (from)", "together with", "between" and some others).

apart from: -źəd-ir (egəd 'roads' + plural general ablative)
"roads away (from each other)"
together with: -xədəŋ-ic
between: -xədəŋ-ijn (xədəŋ is related to the adaŋ-morpheme in numerals)

Similarly, only cases distinguish the paucal from the plural, or the specific from the definite. Postpositions tend to go on the accusative stem, but one also find examples of general ablative, the dative or the instrumental or negative, with the occasional comitative-to thrown in. Sometimes, a postposition will take a different case in the plural than in the singular. Postposition-case pairings are not entirely regular: there seems to be both a lexical component which is basically a parameter to a probabilistic parameter. In addition, many of the postpositions cause some morphological wear at the end of the suffix, sometimes making it unclear which case is involved. Factors which affect the postposition-case pairing are:

* the more individuated the noun, the more likely to be dative it is
* the more involved despite lack of volition, the more likely to be instrumental
* negations, absence, etc tend to favour the negative case
* the comitative-to sometimes is used to emphasize a noun as being central to the events or important
* the general ablative tends to be lexically determined by some nouns to appear in the plural
* the dative tends to be lexically determined by some verbs to appear with the postposition

Only in the case where a postposition goes on the accusative or general ablative stem is there any suspicion that they're actually cases.

2. Morphological position

Postpositions go after all the other suffixes of a word. Postpositions can, however, take their own suffixes. Cases go after derivational suffixes, and after case-number-definiteness*.

* Ćwarmin grammatical tradition is to consider the whole case-number-definiteness-complex a single marker, despite clear agglutination.

3. Behavior over gaps and ellipses

This, in particular, is the behavior where some cases in some constructions behave like cases, and in other constructions do not. Adpositions in Ćwarmin can mark a whole coordinated phrase, case can only mark one noun phrase each:

milt-əneś (ul) mar-ummona
[milti-əneś (ul) maruw-ummona]
"for liver (and) kidneys"
*milti ul mar-ummona

*wekre (ul) pokr-oku
wekr-iki (ul) pokr-oku
with garlic and onion

Two cases that have different behaviors in different contexts are the negative and the general ablative. The singular dative can also showcase both in a few particular constructions, e.g. with verbs for 'resemble x.dat', and other verbs of perception where something the stimulus is compared to is in the dative, it seems both case-like and case-unlike use is permissible for many speakers.

3.1 The negative

The negative, when communicating an abessive/caritive meaning, does not seem to be a proper case, but rather a postposition. Thus, you could get

wekre dar pokr-usta
garlic nor onion-without
without garlic and onion

but as subjects or objects,
*wekre dar pokr-usta ogm(o)-ur-ka źub-u
garlic nor onion stone-from-in grow-3sg

wekr-istə (dar) pokr-usta ogm-ur-ka źub-u
neither garlic nor onion grow from stone

4. Interactions with the reflexive accusative

Most postpositions can interact with the reflexive(ly possessed) accusative. Thus

wicxÉ™-sin (my/your/his/her/... (own) house)
wicxÉ™-sin-rede (behind my/your/his/her/... (own) house)
*wicxÉ™-sin-itite (of ... (own) house)
Thus we can see that -rede, "behind" is a postposition, whereas -itite is not. The negative can combine with the reflexive possessive accusative whenever it is of a postpositional construction as well.

5. Congruence with numerals

The congruence with numerals is limited already, and is sometimes blocked by other case-marking constructions. However, the case suffixes do not participate in it at all, and only the case of the noun itself prior to case suffixing can affect case marking of numerals.

6. Fusionality

Fusionality with number and definiteness is generally not required to be a case, but if it is present, it is a case. All numbers that have such fusion have all the other hallmarks.

7. Coordination of postpositions

Postpositions can be coordinated, cases cannot:

bećəś-xədəŋ-ic ej-źəd-ir
you-together_with or_apart_from

*xarsab-ac-ak:a ej-enek:e
*the roof-on or-onto
*on or onto the roof

Dairwueh: The Recipient

Monday, March 1st, 2021

There are restrictions in Dairwueh on when recipients or benefactives can be marked by the dative - whereas perceivers and experiencers can be marked by the dative nearly anytime.

The requirements for a recipient to be in the dative, rather than marked by the əre preposition, are as follows:

  • The verb either has a nominative subject or a pro-dropped subject.
  • If the subject is in the genitive (due to being the definite subject of a transitive verb), the verb must describe a concrete exchange of possession or control of the object. If it is in the nominative, no such restriction exists.

This restriction seems to come out of a conflict for control of the verb phrase by genitive subjects and dative recipients (see the first table here for reference), but this notion of control seems to be 'transferable' if there is a clear enough vector of transfer of the control of a third actant. In some speakers estimation, a dative is also acceptable if an instrumental is present.

With a few verbal constructions - causatives, for instance - the dative cannot mark recipients or benefactives for similar reasons: there is a subject that has too much control, and this subject does not cede the control to the recipient. Nominative subjects in such constructions belong in the +control +subject cell of the subjecthood-control scheme.

Another such restriction seems to be whenever a dropped, implicitly nominative subject is coordinated with a genitive subject - even if the verb is not transitive:

*man.gen lit a candle and sang her.dat
the man lit a candle and sang for her

It seems a coordinated genitive subject is enough to force the genitive-like requirements onto non-transitive verbs as well.

Lortho Reference Grammar

Monday, March 1st, 2021

Brian Bourque received an Associate of Arts degree with focus in Persian from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, CA. Brian lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two daughters and works as an information systems security officer. He is the creator of the language Lortho, a conlang he created for purely aesthetic and artistic reasons. The second language he is currently working on is the naming language Dhakhsh, which is starting to gain some roots and mature into an official conlang. During his free time he enjoys practicing calligraphy (especially for his conlangs), working on computers—from troubleshooting to scripting—and spending time with his family.


Lortho (IPA: [ˈloɾ.tʰo]) is an a priori constructed language conceived by Brian Bourque in the beginning of 2003. It originally started as a prop for a strategy board game where only the script was created for aesthetics in the game. In 2016, Brian decided to revisit this script and flesh out a language. It is now an agglutinating, VSO language with just over 800 words in its lexicon. Lortho takes inspiration from Indo-Iranian languages and its script is inspired by Brahmi-based scripts such as Devanagari and Tibetan, and the constructed script Tengwar.

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