Archive for August, 2020

Detail #399: Some notes on pro-verbs

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020

One of the things conlangers come up with every now and then - and which really do exist, even - are the verbal equivalents of pronouns.

I am not sure whether there is any "formal" definition of such a pro-verb that is very specific - I figure linguists recognize them when they see them, and I doubt there's much actual formal need, usually at least - to study these as a category of verbs.

I imagine it might be common in languages to have different types of "do" - maybe distinguished by a variety of factors: aspect, transitivity, expected type of result. Like pronouns, I find it likely that pro-verbs would not be "entirely normal" verbs - but rather of the kind that can be auxiliaries (much like pronouns can be determiners) and may be defective (like pronouns may) or have richer systems of inflection (like pronouns may). However, "do" altered along those dimensions is not the only possible pro-verb.

An obvious type of pronoun to look into is the demonstrative pronoun. "What you this.verb" - what is this that you are doing?, "you this.verb any result" - 'does doing this have any result'. Demonstrative adverbs ('thus', 'like this') could of course also reasonably be verbal: thus.verb.imperative: do thus!, [like this].verb.interrog: like this?, 'you thus.verb.interrog? I always this.verb!" - "do you do like that? I do it this way."

Another obvious one is the interrogative verb - essentially "what are you doing", though one could also imagine that "how" could  be an auxiliary - in which case a nice system with the demonstratives of manner emerges.

One could of course go further and go for the indefinite pronouns: nothing, something, anything. Here, I recommend reading the post on the typology of indefinite pronouns! "What.verb.2sg?" "Nothing.verb.1sg". "Just anything.verb.imp!", "They something.verb.past.3sg".

Other indefinite pronouns and determiners - like 'other', 'whatever', 'this, that and the other', 'either', 'none', 'neither', could easily lend themselves to verbs.

For a further twist, how about relative verbs? One could of course use them as markers of subclauses in general - an auxiliary that always occurs in a relative subclause - but one could also imagine them as a way of introducing relative subclause-like information about a verb.

bats fly which.verb.3pl birds also
I tired am which.verb.1sg always in the evenings
And finally - possessive pronouns. I imagine these would be a bit like the "yours"/"mine"/... variety of English possessive pronouns, and signify "the action you/I/ doing. In this case "stop.imperative mine.verb.infinitive" would mean "stop imitating me/doing what I am doing". "Mine.verb.imperative" would mean "imitate me".

There's of course tons of ways in which these could be extended with normal verbal affixes, imagine
"she always knew pre-mine.verb.participle"
she always knew what I was about to do

"he always re-theirs.verb.participle"
he always redoes what they do
These are but some ideas related to this topic. I am not sure including all of them in a conlang would be a good idea, but a nice subset with some nice extensions and quirks could be pretty cool.


Friday, August 14th, 2020

It seems I haven’t updated since November 2019. My excuse: 2020. Yeah.

Two things, both having to do with KÄ“len.

I found this video in April, thanks to Vestboy Myst.

And then a few days ago John Quijada sent me a link to this:

And I figured I better put them somewhere where I could find them again, like this blog!

In other conlanging news, I am playing around with the beginnings of what might maybe become a new language eventually.

Stay safe!

Detail #398: Evidentials in Reasonable, but Unusual Places

Wednesday, August 12th, 2020

Evidentials appear in many languages of the world. Many languages have them as an integral part of the verb morphology, but a slightly more limited distribution is not entirely inconceivable. I have been thinking a bit about what particular types of words and constructions may be likely to attract evidential marking. I make no claim as to completeness.

 Such, thus.

Such and thus are interesting - they're partially adjectives/adverbs, partially demonstratives. Basically shorthand for "like that" or "like this". Some languages have the same levels of deixis for their correlate, such as Swedish "så(da)n där/så(da)n här" which perfectly maps onto den här/den här. "Så här", "så där" basically provides two forms of 'thus' with a deictic distinction.
So, with these, some types of statements may actually invite evidentiality.


Particularly conjunctions that introduce subclauses.

The copula.

Certain adjectives and nouns relating to status in the eye of the law

criminal, murderer, etc, but also possibly statuses that aren't directly connected to culpability: heir-to-be, engaged, bastard


Detail #397: Discourse Particles as … Auxiliaries, Subjects, Objects, and other Decidedly Non-Particly Words

Friday, August 7th, 2020
So, discourse particles are a thing that have decidedly been given a stepmotherly treatment in English. A similar disdainful view does exist in Swedish, even though it'd seem Swedish does have more dedicated discourse markers than English does. By 'dedicated discourse marker' I mean a word that cannot also be used in other ways.

As an example of the disdain I am talking of, when the Swedish pop-sci linguistics magazine Språket ('Language') published an article about discourse particles, the discussion in a variety of online language groups was decidedly hostile, people saying this was the final drop re: that magazine, people thinking it dumb that someone defend such frivolous words, etc.

I believe this disdain for them, this view of them as something to be avoided and even scorned, as a sign of low intelligence or lack of education is something that may affect the willingness conlangers have to use them in interesting ways.

I am not saying we share the prejudice, I am saying the prejudice just subtly steers us away from thinking about them, in part because there's less material about them.

So, how about changing their word classes to something more respectable?

1. Auxiliaries
Pretty much what it says on the tin. However, one can imagine some further twists: maybe they also entirely replace some verbs, such as copulas. They might "cut across" verbs depending on a variety of factors.

Imagine, for instance, a verb "hæm" that replaces "have" in the case of first person subjects with an NP after, but 'are, is' in the case of other persons:
I hæm a solution -> oh, I have a solution
you hæm a teacher -> oh, you are a teacher
I hæm eaten already -> oh, I have already eaten
you hæm eaten already -> oh, you have already eaten
These could also be secondary-rank auxiliaries or primary-rank ones - depending on how they act in combination with other auxiliaries.

2. Anti-auxiliaries and second-rate auxiliaries
An anti-auxiliary would force any other verb to behave like its auxiliary, and then trigger word order such as that of aux + subordinated verb.

3. Subjects
A discourse particle acting as a subject will of course push every other argument down, possibly such that subjects become indirect objects, objects maybe stay as such (or can be demoted to obliques), and indirect objects either are demoted to direct objects or obliques.

4. Object, indirect objects
Similar to the previous one. In the case of (di)transitive verbs, you get some kind of demotion of the actual (indirect) object.

6. Some kind of sliding NP
These would pick the first free slot - subject, object, indirect object,  (or maybe io and o switch places in the hierarchy), or some kind of olbique. These could have some kind of "stopping point" which they won't be demoted past, and from that point on they cause the effects described above.

7. Adjectives
An adjectival discourse particle would mark congruence with nouns, or at the very least have the syntactical properties of an adjective. Maybe they could even be used as complements of verbs, i.e. an adjective that means 'yeah, sure' and behaves adjectivally:
The yeah-sure.neut car.neut was on fire
yeah, sure, the car was on fire

the car.neut that burned down was
yeah, sure, it was the car that burned down!
8. Clitics
I am just mentioning clitics to exhaust the low-hanging fruit.

Designing an Artificial Language: Transitivity

Saturday, August 1st, 2020

Rick Morneau is a long-time language creator who lives in rural Idaho. In the early 1990s, he wrote a series of essays on language design that proved to be quite influential in the early language creation community. Their quality has endured since their original publication, and continue to be read and enjoyed by language creators the world over.


This essay discusses how changes in transitivity are accomplished among natural languages, and how the apparent flexibility of a system like that of English is not only uncommon, but also not really flexible. For a much more thorough treatment of transitivity, read the monograph Lexical Semantics.

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