Archive for July, 2017

Detail #353: A Name Thing

Saturday, July 29th, 2017
In some languages, you sometimes have proper nouns coming from verbs, e.g.
Forget-Me-Not, Vergissmeinnicht, Förgätmigej (a kind of flower in some European languages), some Biblical names also are clearly verb forms.

We can imagine then names that are not indicative - consider, for instance, the only example given above - it is an imperative in the three languages given. If we consider situations in which names are given, Forget-me-not might maybe change depending on context! It could be Forget-her-not, it could be Forget.PLUR-her-not, it could be Forget.Dual-him-not, it could be Forget.Reflexive-Not (i.e., the vocative would be reflexive!). Of course, this depends on the role the referent has in the VP, but also on what other things the verb marks - does it mark anything about the listener, as it can do in Basque, etc

Such a thing could lead to interesting names.

Detail #352: A Different Auditory System

Friday, July 28th, 2017
What consequences would it have for language if the auditory system had musculature that made the ear 'focus' on only one band of the audible spectrum at a time?


Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Create a conlang for your hyperloop-using society, in which there’s a verbal marker for governmental approval. 


Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

Your conculture has a specific dialect for each season, but they don’t have established boundaries on when each season starts on their calendar.

Ćwarmin, Bryatesle: Proper Nouns and Definiteness

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017
In this post, "definite" refers, with regards to noun-phrases, to the quality of being a referent whose identity is known to the listener of an utterance. "Specific" refers to the quality of being a referent known to the speaker.

Ćwarmin and Bryatesle seem to have evolved definiteness marking in their case systems during times of contact. Ćwarmin's indefinite/specific/definite-distinction seems to go back fairly early, though, but we find dialects in contact with Bryatesle sometimes missing the specific/definite or the specific/indefinite distinction. The stage at which definiteness started becoming a thing in the Ćwarmin branch and Bryatesle-Dairwueh must be around the time of proto-BD, but later than Astami began diverging from the rest of the Ćwarmin languages.

Different languages in these groups have, however, dealt somewhat differently with definiteness marking on proper nouns. Proper nouns are most often definite by nature. In Ətimin, proper nouns are not marked for definiteness at all, with a few toponyms as exceptions. Rasm'in' and Ćwarmin, however, tend to use definite case marking for proper nouns in cases other than the core cases nominative, accusative, genitive and dative. The genitive and dative are flip-flopping in both, though. In these languages too, some toponyms have names where even the core cases are definite. However, exceptionally, Rasm'in' has a toponym that is always specific rather than definite, viz., mworanyus ädʒiniis', '(these/some) property markers of the belly', a historical border marker between the Kəlkəj and Moduwt tribes. The 'belly' refers to this being the most 'central' of the border markers between the tribes.

In Ćwarmin, personal names sometimes may appear in the specific. This, oddly enough, tends to indicate that the person referred to is a very recent acquaintance of the speaker, and that the speaker therefore is not sure whether the listener knows the referent.

With non-nominatives in Bryatesle, the definite case is almost always used with definite proper nouns except toponyms (and even there, many toponyms are definite - e.g. Zgakintën, 'the hilltop', a very definite hilltop near the capital. Omission of the definite marker, if no other secondary case takes its place, indicates specificity in non-nominatives. For nominatives, the partitive secondary case serves to indicate specificness.

One final language to consider is Dairwueh. It too has a very limited definiteness marking in the differential object marking of transitive subjects - genitive for definite, transitive subjects. It turns out a similar pattern holds there - nominative indicates specific, genitive indicates definite.

Detail #351: Generalizing Number to Mass Nouns

Friday, July 14th, 2017
In many languages, we find two distinct sets of nouns, viz. count nouns and mass nouns, that behave in slightly different ways: count nouns permit singular and plural forms (and so on), whereas mass nouns do not. Sometimes, the lines between the two can be crossed, and a mass noun can be turned into a count noun or vice versa. However, let's consider a different way of giving mass nouns something number-like.

A very simple, but subtle and tricky thing one could do is just to introduce mandatory marking of volume or size for mass nouns. Simply put, sometimes, water takes a marker that indicates lots of water, but this marker is mandatory under some circumstances.

Now, the interesting - and probably unformalizable - bit is when that marker is supposed to be used. Whoever authors such a conlang would need to provide some kind of guidelines, probably with individual guidelines for different types of mass nouns, that also are somewhat vague - i.e. there's probably a set of contexts or amounts for which both forms would be permissible.

One could imaginably also permit for ways of making count nouns out of both of the forms, and vice versa, turn count nouns into mass nouns of either form. (And maybe even cross-pollination: {plur, sing} * {small, large} and {small, large} * {plur, sing}. Duly note that these cartesian products are ordered pairs, so the operations are not commutative - [plur, small] may not be the same thing as [small, plur].

Naming Language Wanted for Science-Fiction Novel

Friday, July 14th, 2017


Anthony Taylor is looking for a language expert to create a naming language for a science-fiction novel. The language itself is spoken by a group of human aliens (the universe in that book follows the Hominid Panspermia Theory) living on a desert planet with unique flora and fauna. They are biologically very close to humankind, but their culture and language are unique and unlike anything found on Earth. The employer will share more information with applicants as needed during the solicitation process.
The job itself consists of one basic conlang sketch with romanisation, about 50 words of vocabulary, and rules to create character and location names. No expansion of the original work is being considered at this time.


Anthony Taylor

Application Period

Open until job filled


The deadline of the project is two months after agreement.


$150 for the project as described above (payment in two $75 instalments at start and conclusion of the project by MoneyGram transfer).
Besides compensation, the language creator will be fully credited for their work.

To Apply

Email Anthony Taylor at taylor “dot” anth21 “at” gmail “dot” com to express your interest in the project. Please include qualifications and samples of previous work.

Note: Please assume that comments left on this post will not be read by the employer.

Detail #350: Some Ruminations on the Comparative Case

Monday, July 10th, 2017
I have never been a fan of any conlang with a comparative case. In retrospect, I think this is a result of conlangers never thinking such a case through. There are many questions such a case raises, and any description of a comparative or equative case needs to answer.

Comparisons can relate to many things. Comparison can relate to subjects' activity:
John carries more illegal merchandize than Frank
It can relate to objects' affectedness:
Erin studies more hard science than humanities
It can be more complex than that and relate to both subject and object:
John carries, by weight, more potatoes than Frank carries carrots
generalizes to "John carries more than Frank"
We can also have things like
Evelyn gave Tim more help than (she gave to) Phil

Evelyn gave Tim more help than Phil (did)
Now, let's consider how this works out with a case corresponding to "than". We note that such a case would normally not be assumed to be doing any Affixaufnahme. Such a possibility obviously exists, but needs to be explicitly stated in a grammar. However, let us assume that the comparative case does not explicitly state any information that relates to syntactical function of the noun, except that it somehow fits in a parallel slot to something in a nearby VP.

So, essentially, the comparative case locally is also a nominative, accusative, dative or whatever? Now, in some languages, undoubtedly, there are restrictions on what even can be compared, and I think I've previously mused that I bet this follows a very similar set of restrictions as that of relative subclauses, i.e. if a language permits comparing obliques, it permits comparing indirect objects; if it permits indirect objects, it permits direct objects, etc - but I also imagine it might follow very different restrictions? However, we could introduce some quirks here: maybe the comparative case is underlyingly an absolutive case in your conlang rather than a nominative. (Or, as might be even more likely, underlyingly nominative if the language is ergative in alignment.)

 Thus, for the underlying absolutive:
Bob.nom is smarter Adam.comp := Bob is smarter than Adam (is)
Charlie.nom likes Deborah.acc more than Emma.comp := Charlie likes Deborah more than (he likes) Emma
The underlying nominative situation in an ergative language will be rather boring to describe, so I will skip that.

Now, how will we construct the situation where two persons' likes for a third one are compared? Maybe a voice? Maybe just a voice marker existing somewhere in an odd isolation?

This really isn't even an attempt to answer any of the questions it could raise, it's rather meant to ponder as to the questions it could raise - really, I want to know what questions it could raise.

Conlangery #130: Interview with Kaye Boesme

Monday, July 3rd, 2017
Kaye Boesme joins George to talk about her far-future audiodrama Epiphany. Top of Show Greeting: Narahji (Note, I am working on a transcript for this episode. It has been delayed by irregular baby napping.)

The Finnish Partitive Case

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017
The Finnish partitive case is a good example of just how versatile a case can be in a language. I'll start out with a bunch of terminology, but I'll break down what the terms mean down the line - this article isn't just meant for hobbyists, it's also meant for Finnish learners or even somewhat proficient non-native speakers for whom the partitive still is a bit of a mystery. Among its uses we find:
  • most direct objects (something like 80%)
    direct objects are nouns that are acted on, e.g.
    I bought a cup of coffeeshe saw a movie
  • a bunch of complements
    complements in this context are adjectives or nouns that are analogous to objects, but with verbs of being or becoming, e.g.
    she is strong
    he is a scout
    Russia is the largest country by area
    here, it is worthwhile inserting "FUCK BLOGGER" for randomly ignoring EXPLICITLY GIVEN NEWLINE CHARACTERS. FFFFFFFFFFUUUUUU. Google, don't you even care about the shit you own anymore?!? MAINTENANCE, dammit. I hope the corrected code here continues being in the correct form. I have no confidence whatsoever in that, though. People, avoid using blogger, it's crap.
  • with numbers and certain quantifiers ('monta', 'paljon', etc)
  • existential subjects, especially for mass nouns
  • closely related to the existential subjects: subjects of statements of amounts
  • lots of times "mikä" ('what'), which is nominative, is replaced for no clear reason at all by "mitä" ('what'), which is partitive. In the region of Finland Proper (Varsinaissuomi) this extends to "kuka" ('who'), which is regularly replaced by "ketä" ('who(m)').
  • for the standard of comparison in comparative constructions
  • some frozen expressions where it basically sort of is a catch-all case
  • sometimes exceptional forms of nouns look a lot like a partitive, and may have some odd uses (e.g. the word home has "kotoa", dialectally "kotoota", which differ from the regular partitive "kotia"; for the record, "koti" has a slightly odd locative series going. However, koti is an odd noun in itself, with several pairs of different forms where one refers to one's home, the other to some housing situation of some sort)
  • 'among' or 'one of' in the plural partitive.  This is especially common with the superlative, in construction such as 'hän on maan parhaita lastenlääkäreitä' - '(s)he is one of the best pediatricians in the land'.'
  • as an adverbializer (kauheeta vauhtia, etc)
  • in a bunch of weird fixed expressions, where the adjective is in some other case and the noun is partitive. Similar expressions also exist with adjectives in various cases and the noun in the instructive case.
  • with a bunch of adpositions ("adposition" is a term that covers both pre- and postpositions, words akin to English 'to, with' etc. In Finnish, some of these are prepositions, some postpositions, and some can be both.) Apparently, for some adpositions, the partitive is exceptional, but signifies 'unboundedness', e.g. pihan ympäri (yard-gen around) vs. ympäri pihaa (around yard-part) (surrounding the yard vs. around the yard)
The direct object case system is maybe the most important part of this case's usage. So, on to the above headings one at a time. First, a little convention: in some sense, the partitive corresponds to some. I will sometimes use (some) to get smoother "bad" translations that reflect the underlying structure.

For the record, I am not a native speaker of Finnish. I have been in contact with the Finnish language ever since I was a child, but due to a variety of reasons, I am only seminative. I am a native speaker of Swedish, instead. However, this has made me think about Finnish in a more analytical fashion than most native speakers. I do lack some occasional native intuitions there.

Historically, the partitive originates with a case that marked location.

Direct Objects
Finnish direct objects encode an aspectual distinction called telicity. Telicity refers to whether we consider the action to be successful and complete or not. Compare
mies ampui karhun
man shot bear-GENITIVE

mies ampui karhua
man shot bear-PARTITIVE
In the first instance, the desired result was obtained – a dead bear (or whatever intention there was). In the latter example, the bear was merely shot at.
Some verbs have quirks with regards to this, but generally this will hold. Whenever the verb is negative, the object is always partitive, so in effect telicity is not marked on negative verb phrases. A friend of mine once pointed out that for 'naughty' verbs, the object is almost always partitive. Since the negative removes the distinction, you can't distinguish, e.g. when ei panna means 'not put' and 'not fuck' based on the form of the object. Here, typologically, we can find a similar development of a location marker in English!
I shot the bear
I shot at the bear
The former implies a hit, the latter a miss or a failure to subdue the bear by the shot. In weirdly colloquial English, using 'some' operates entirely differently from the partitive, e.g.
I shot me some bear
this phrase would imply telicity, so "some" sometimes gives the wrong idea here.

The complement is whatever something is said to be. (Also whatever something is said to become, but Finnish deals with that in a special manner.) There are certain circumstances where the complement will be in the partitive in Finnish.

It is quite common for the complement to be partitive if there is no subject at all or if the subject is a subclause or an infinitival phrase, but a few adjectives such as 'hyvä' seem to resist this. 'Ikävä', 'paha', 'hauska' seem to appear rather frequently in the nominative there.

Materials out of which something is made can be in the partitive:
tämä kolikko on kultaa
this coin is gold-part
this coin is (made of) gold
Whenever the subject is abstract or 'general', e.g. "drugs are bad", the complement will be partitive:
kulta on kallista
gold is expensive

huumeet ovat haitallisia
drugs are harmful
With plurals, the partitive is probably more common for the complement than the nominative, but both occur. The difference has to do with whether the subjects are seen as being a 'unit' of some kind (e.g. a pair of shoes vs. just a bunch of shoes or shoes generally) or not. A unit gets a nominative plural complement. With complements that are nouns, the nominative plural might also appear in some situations where the complement is thought of as definite, but this often requires some additional attributes, e.g.
miehet tuossa ovat just ne konsultit jotka vei firman konkurssiin
men there are exactly those consults who brought the company to bankruptcy
Even in that case, the subject probably are seen as a group, and as such as some form of unit.
Some "google corpus linguistics" gave this example:
Raha ja nälkä ovat ne konsultit, jotka ohjaavat maailmaa ja se joka hallitsee rahan hallinnoi nälän ja siten tanssittaa koko orkesterin
In this case it's of course possible that consult is the subject and 'raha and nälkä' are the complements, but I find it more likely to parse this as a statement about the identity of raha and nälkä rather than a statement about ne konsultit, jotka ...

Generally, the case of the complement is the hardest part of this to express in any formalized manner.

Existential Subjects
In English, it's often possible to add a 'there' before certain verbs to express the existence of something:
there are pixies in the garden
there are stars in the sky
there sat gnomes on the lawn
In Finnish, a similar effect can be achieved by having the subject in the partitive. Fun thing: plural marking on the verb is generally omitted then, so not
*koir-ia juokse-vat piha-lladog-plur.part run-3plural yard-on
(some) dogs run on the yard
koir-ia juoksee piha-lla
dog-plur.part run(-s) yard-on
(some) dogs run(s) on the yard
there is (some) dogs running on the yard
The wrongly formed English there is intentional in order to illustrate how it is constructed in Finnish.
Negative existential statements always take the partitive:
maito-a ei ole
milk no-3sg be*
there's no milk
* this verb form, "ole", is called the conegative form. It is usually identical to the singular imperative, for almost all verbs.

Statements of Amounts
Subjects whenever the number of things is the important piece of information will be in the partitive:
meitä oli kolme
we-part was three
there were three of us

autoja on kaksitoista
is twelve
Notice, again, how the verb ignores the grammatical number of the subject - it's not ovat (are)/olivat (were), it's on (is)/oli (was) . Unlike with nominal phrases, e.g.
viisitoista auto-a
fifteen car-part
the noun is now in the plural partitive, not the singular
auto-ja on viisitoista
car-plur.part is fifteen
With numbers before nouns, e.g. 'fifteen cars', for the most basic cases the number requires the partitive. This happens for subjects and objects:
neljä miestä lähti retkelle
four man-part went trip-onto
four men went on a trip

ostin kolme kirjaa
buy-past-1sg three book-part
I bought three books

en ostanut kolmea kirjaa
no-1sg bought three-part book-part
I didn't buy three books
Subjects and objects with numbers also take the partitive, and the number is in the nominative for (most) subjects and for telic objects (ones that otherwise are in the nominative or genitive). For the other cases, though, the number and the noun will be in the same case (and for most nouns, they'll be in singular forms). NB: an exception exists - nouns without singular forms will have the singular and the noun in the plural, for all numbers. Yes, even for one - so you get 'yhdet häät', 'yksiä häitä', etc.

Paljon (much) takes the partitive singular with uncountable nouns, but the partitive plural with countables.

Standard of Comparisons
With the comparative of adjectives, the partitive is often used a bit like the English 'than':
kynä on miekkaa mahtavampi
pen is sword-part mighty-er
the pen is mightier than the sword

Not really much to say about this, but a bit of a side note can be sort of relevant here . Mikä is the nominative of 'what', mitä the partitive, and it seems it's gaining on the nominative, especially in the southwest, but also elsewhere. In the southwest, even kuka/ke- is having the nominative 'kuka' randomly replaced by 'ketä' in many positions. In many languages with cases - even English, to the extent that it has cases (in the personal pronouns), usually one case will take on a role as a 'default' case. When a native or proficient speaker is unsure of what case a certain situation calls for, he'll default to that case. 

We find this in how native English speakers use the accusative forms (me, him, her, whom, us, them) in places where other native speakers frown on it. ('you and me', which of course is 'classically' valid in some places such as 'they saw you and me'. Teachers who are incompetent then teach students to say 'you and I', and you get things like 'they saw you and I', which of course is wrong by standard English rules as well.) 

To some extent, it seems like the partitive might be partially taking this role in Finnish, but since the Finnish case system is pretty rich, I actually think one could posit the existence of a hierarchical tree of default cases – however, I don't think this is established enough among speakers, and you'll find different structures, so some person might prefer -ltA over -stA if he's unsure which of those two to use, some speaker might prefer the other way around, and if the question of which is preferrable include even more options, the partitive wins out.

Discongruent Expressions
Ok, so there's a few different things under this heading. We have the discongruent expressions, where the adjective is in some case, and the noun is partitive. A similar thing exists with the instructive (which is basically an almost extinct case with regards to nouns), and for some of these examples you can substitute the partitive and the instructive for one another. This is a pretty 'advanced' topic in Finnish, and mastery of it really gives off a slightly refined image.  

This includes examples like
pitkä-ksi aika-a
long-translative time-partitive
for a long time

tä-llä tapa-a
this-on manner-part
in this way
With the instructive instead:
palja-i-lla jalo-i-n
bare-PLUR-on foot-plur-with
with bare feet

nä-i-llä keino-i-n
these-plur-on trick-plur-with
by these tricks
These are "almost" a closed set - there's about two dozen expressions (which I don't recall at the moment!) - with the partitive or the instructive on the noun and some other case on the adjective. However, this is not an entirely closed set - it's semiproductive. It's possible to come up with new ones that sound acceptable to many speakers of Finnish. In part, using the same nouns with some similar adjectives helps to produce somewhat acceptable phrases, e.g.
noilla keinoin
those-... methods...
method is maybe not quite the right translation here, something between method and trick in style would be the best option.

tuolla tapaa
that... manner...
However,  sometimes one can go a bit further and get other adjectives to work:
uudella tapaa
in a new manner

Adverb-like Usages
Sometimes, and this is a bit analogous to the main nouns in the previous point, nouns in  the partitive may signify some sort of adverbial meaning:
hän juoksi kauheeta vauhtia
(s)he ran terrible.part speed.part
(s)he ran with terrible speed
In trying to come up with examples of this, I find that oftentimes, this requires the noun to be preceded by some adjective, and often it will be a slightly dramatical one. However, one could possibly interpret this as some kind of direct object, maybe analogous to some weirdo construction in English such as
he ran (up) great speed
This is basically not good English, but conveys the sort of sense that one could imagine goes through the head of some speakers when using the above construction, i.e. somehow, the speed is the grammatical object of the verb, c.f. to sleep a deep sleep or something like that. provides a few examples of other partitive forms that have become adverbs: lujaa (fast, hard), hiljaa (silent, slow), kovaa (hard).

Often when greeting someone something, the case of the thing wished for will be in the partitive, e.g.
hyvää iltaa - good evening
hyvää joulua - good christmas
hyvää juhannusta - good midsummer
hyvää päivää - good day
However, sometimes the plural nominative appears instead:
hyvät viikonloput - good(s) weekend(s)
hyvät pikkujoulut - good christmas party
hyvät juhannukset - good midsummer(s)
With nouns that lack singular forms - synttärit, häät, etc, the nominative plural is the usual form, but the nominative plural seems to be creeping onto nouns that do have singulars, esp. named holidays such as christmas, easter, etc.

 A Note about the Direct Case System and the Existential Subject System
Since existential subjects almost always are intransitive and often are partitive, and direct objects significantly more often than not are partitive, we get a system that is somewhere close to the edges of what could be called an 'ergative' system if you squint a bit. Despite not being a proper ergative system, it is tempting to consider Finnish as falling into some kind of split-ergative-like thing.