Archive for February, 2022

Real Language Examples: Incongruent Expressions in Finnish

Sunday, February 27th, 2022

I recently read a PhD dissertation from the late 80s about the development of incongruent expressions in Finnish and other Baltic-Finnic languages, as well as Sami. This may well be an interesting topic for my readers, and since the dissertation is not available for sale anywhere, I figure I may as well present a summary of it.

Baltic-Finnic has adjective congruence, with the same morphemes on both adjectives and nouns. Here are some examples from Finnish:

uude-ssa talo-ssa
vanha-lla tori-lla
punaise-t auto-t
vanho-i-sta kirjo-i-sta

The other languages are similar, with some exceptions for really recent cases, e.g. in Estonian. In Estonian, recent cases derive rather naturally from postpositions, and the postposition has not (yet?) spread to the adjective. AFAICT, the adjective is in the case that the postposition previously ~governed, but I may be wrong on this.

In at least some Sami languages, demonstratives and interrogative pronouns also have some amount of case congruence, but the adjectives in Sami in general behave a bit differently, with attributive and non-attributive forms.

The incongruent expressions are a semi-productive set of expressions in Baltic-Finnic where the case congruence is mismatched. Not only that, sometimes the number congruence is off. For the number congruence, it is relevant to know that the instructive is often a case with some amount of defectiveness: most nouns lack a singular instructive, and arguably it's borderline an adverb derivation rather than a case. It is also historically probably the same case as the genitive, with some intriguing complications along that line.

Nearly all of these have either the instructive or partitive as the case of the head noun. The adjective or the determiner is usually in some local case, such as the abessive, allative, elative, ... 


pitkä-ksi aika-a
mui-na aiko-i-n
näi-ssä ma-in
tuo-lla pä-i-n
näi-ssä määr-i-n
tuo-lla tapa-a
tuo-lla tavo-i-n

The question that the dissertation attempts to answer is how such a situation has come about. It does this by also investigating the situation and statistical situation of the expressions in several closely related languages.

It turns out that the expressions probably can be split up into several subtypes based on their semantics. Time, location, amount, manner, [[state or position] of [body-parts, clothing or mind]].

A closely related question that intertwines with this is how did congruence emerge?

Most authorities on the topic seem to agree that Indo-European has been an important influence in its emergence, but also that apposition has been a factor. Imagine that sometimes, for emphasis "catch a big fish" has been expressed "catch a big (one), a fish".

Adjectives being used as nouns by utilizing case suffixes is well established in congruence-less branches of Uralic, and in other families of agglutinating languages that utilize cases and have adjectives.

This apposition for emphasis - "in a small one, in a cave" may well, as time has passed on and indo-europeans in the vicinity have had a similar phenomenon going, have gained ground as the way to express in a small cave.

 This explains some similar expressions.

tuo-lla tapa-a
tuo-lla tavo-in

may both have appeared as a result of apposition, where there has been some level of synonymity between the two parts, but together, they have resolved some ambiguity:

tuolla signifies "with that, utilizing that, over there, on that"
tapaa, tavoin signifies "by a/the method"

This "utilizing that, by the method" > "utilizing that method".

These account for a fairly small number of expressions.

A separate type of construction that may be relevant also is called nominativus absolutus.

minä juoksin kädet ilmassa

I ran hands in-air

odotin sateessa, takki märässä
I waited in-rain, jacket in-wet
I waited in the rain, with my jacket in wet
I waited in the rain with my jacket wet

In English, this would come out as "I ran with (my) hands in the air". Apparently, earlier in Baltic Finnic, this was often more similar to English - with an oblique case instead of a pure nominative. Both instructive and partitive seems to have occurred, but unlike English and the Finnish nominativus absolutus the status or position was positioned before the noun:

ilmassa käsin/käsiä
märässä takkia/takkia
lumessa päin

Now, many of the nouns that stand on the left side in these constructions are indistinguishable from adjective forms. Märkä both means 'wetness' (noun) and 'wet' (adjective). Thus, these were sometimes reinterpreted as adjectives before nouns with a case discongruence, rather than a noun in a case acting as an attribute of another noun in another case.

This does not catch all the interesting stuff I came across in the book, and there will probably be a second post based off of it.

Source: Juha Leskinen, "Suomen kielen inkongruentit rakenteet ja niiden tausta (incongruent adjective constructions in Finnish)", 1990. Available in Finland from Varastokirjasto, and thus probably can be ordered from any library. Some university libraries undoubtedly have a copy. Availability elsewhere probably somewhat correlated with departments of Uralic linguistics. If you're really lucky maybe someone sells it on ebay or amazon or somewhere.

Unknown Riches, Episode 3

Sunday, February 6th, 2022

I recently created a word for trout, mirëlcha /miˈɾəltʃa/ (no etymology). I probably don't need very many example sentences for food-related words — their usage is generally pretty clear — but examples for every new word is a habit now. I knew almost instantly that the phrasing of the obvious sentence was going to encode a distinction English doesn't make easily.

Ton në mirëlcha si chuvët akkalo tul?
2SG TOP trout ACC hunt-CVB.PFV capture-PFV Q
Did you catch any trout?

The center of the matter is the converb form of the verb chuvo pursue, hunt. In my part of the world, at least, people don't usually catch trout by accident, but have gone out specifically for trout. So, this sentence is able to encode that the speaker thinks the person they're talking to was out for trout, not just fishing in general. If I left out chuvo, the sense of the question would suggest that the trout was caught by chance, not the specific goal of the fishing.

By making Kílta primarily a V-language (according to the typology of Talmy), I set myself up for a pattern where events can regularly be decomposed a bit, with co-events or "activating events" encoded as converbs. Sometimes this leads to nuances that aren't simple to express in my native language, which is always fun.

Kala Grammar

Tuesday, February 1st, 2022

Carl Buck is the creator of Kala, a personal constructed language. He works in the national security field and has worked in the US government most of his life. He enjoys cooking, spending time with his children, camping, and generally relaxing next to his fire pit in his yard. He has been a conlanger since long before he knew there was even a name for it. He created his first cypherlang around age 9 and has been creating and learning various types of languages from that time on. He lives in rural Pennsylvania.


This grammar is Carl’s attempt to create a fully fleshed-out and functional conlang. The author claims it has become bulky, unwieldy, and far too convoluted to continue. He has plans to start with the same basic concepts and refine the grammar so that, while functional, it is easy to follow yet creatively distinct. Kala was initially influenced by Nahuatl, Japanese, and various languages that Carl has studied over the decades. The grammatical goals were initially to clone Japanese grammar with Nahuatl sounding words. This proved overly simplistic and evolved to encompass grammatical features from languages such as Quechua, Swahili, Romance, and Semitic languages. There has been a concerted effort to provide copious examples so that the reader is able to fully comprehend the rule or aspect of Kala and therefore be able to use it as quickly as possible.

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