Archive for April, 2022

Detail #428: A Case

Friday, April 29th, 2022

Consider a language where the nominative and the vocative are identical. However, what if a clause may only have one nominative-vocative constituent, and the subject therefore is a marked nominative in the presence of vocatives?

What would be a reasonable name for such a case?

I find it rather likely for this to be restricted to pronouns - or in case nouns also get it, that it is at the very least not distinguished in adjective congruence.

Detail #427: Articles and articlelessness with plurals

Wednesday, April 27th, 2022

In English (and similarly Swedish), plurals normally take no indefinite articles. (There is actually an indefinite plural article in Swedish, which is used in some very specific circumstances, e.g. expressing astonishment*.)

Now, we can imagine a language where indefinite articles also appear for plurals more regularly.

It seems common for languages with indefinite articles to permit omission of these articles in some contexts, e.g. "I like coffee". In English, the context is nearly exclusively mass nouns, whereas in Swedish it is more 'open', with e.g. nouns after some prepositions preferring to be without articles, complements of the copula often being without articles, and a variety of other contexts which are a bit difficult to catch in a simple description. (I intend to write a description of this at some point.)

So, here's the idea for a detail in a language:

  • Plural articles, both definite and indefinite.
  • Contexts where the articles are not used.
  • For each noun, there is a lexical preference for which number to use when articleless.
  • Maybe, just maybe, there is also a preference based on verb and syntactic position, but these preferences interact in some way.

* The plural indefinite article is simply "one" with a plural marker: 'ena'. Examples of expressing astonishment:

det var allt ena dyra mackor

that was all-(neut) a-s expensive-s sandwiches

"ena" is never mandatory, afaict.

'Det var allt []' is a set expression also introducing a mildly astonished statement about something.



Ŋžädär Religion: The Ŋʒädär pantheon and its complications

Tuesday, April 26th, 2022

The Ŋʒädär are polytheists, but their polytheism is of a limited nature - there is only a fixed number of gods. However, as it happens, the fixed number is contradictory.

There are four gods.
There are seven gods.

These two mutually inconsistent dogmas seem to have emerged from two rather similar traditions, each of which had gotten into shedding gods from the pantheon. Both traditions seem to have found a single number by parsing traditions somewhat out of context.

Naturally, different ways of explaining this has emerged, and these different views affect each other, interact with each other, oppose each other, etc. There is also the pantheon itself, which will be described after the rather abstract analysis of the pantheon's structure.

1. Noncommensuralism

The four and the seven exist in very orthogonal ways, and it is thus impossible to claim that the four or the seven would ever interact with any of the other group in any way a person could interact with another. One group is abstract, the other is concrete; one group are like the winds, the other are like thoughts; one group are cosmic, the other group are earthly, one group human-like, the other animals, one group are virtues, the other are powers, etc.

There is one rather concrete interpretation - which basically is partially seorsism (from latin 'seorsum', separate), partially noncommensuralism - which holds the four to be an older generation, and that the titles 'god' signify different things for the two generations of god: the four are non-corporeal beings, the seven are corporeal, the four are distant "four first causes", the seven are spiritual entities constantly involved in earthly affairs, the four drew the fixed stars - the seven pull the planets around.

The favourite symbol of noncommensuralist theology consists of four dots and a seven-pointed star, here represented by an asterisk.

.    *
The concrete part-seorsism part-noncommensuralism version tends to use a symbol consisting of a four-fingered hand and seven stars.

2. Prismatism

The four or the seven are different ways of differentiating the gods into constituent parts. Different approaches exist. Some hold that either the sevenfold or the fourfold division holds sway at any one time, and in times of transition, the natural order weakens. Others hold that there may be regional differences as to which division holds sway, or even that it can be influenced. Finally, some hold that both systems constantly obtain. There are schools that have affinities both to noncommensuralism and to descriptivism.

One common symbol consists of four parallel lines followed by a slightly wider set of seven parallel lines, with a bunch of lines at different angles connecting the two sets, a bit like the rays coming from a prism.

The prismatic symbol

The section where the lines cross - and thus express their relationships - sometimes is used and manipulated in mystical contexts, drawing and redrawing them in sand, for instance, to connect the gods in various ways.
A different popular symbol is a "net" of lines, 7x4 lines, but that's basically just a big hashtag, so I won't use my MSPaint skills for that.

3. Descriptivism

Either one or the other of the two numbers is true, but the other number is used to express some significant truth about the gods.  I.e. there are seven gods, but the seven gods act as if there were four of them, or have four temperaments distributed among them, or vice versa. This sometimes is symbolized by a cross encircled by a heptagon.

The number of corners in the various quadrants of the cross (and which corner touches which beam) sometimes is used to symbolize different flavours of this belief, but manipulating it for mystical use is not popular - although not unattested.

4. Constellationism

Constellationism is a fairly concrete form of descriptivism.

The four gods form "aggregate gods" in seven overlapping ways. All their actions are through such alliances, and therefore, in practice, the gods' essentially act through seven offices. Sacrifices that are directed to the relevant "aggregate" are more likely to be correctly acted on. Oftentimes, sacrifices will be sacrificed both to the primary gods themselves and their offices. An inverse constellationism, where seven gods act in four groups, seems to have existed as a minority opinion in areas where prismatism mainly held sway.

Constellationists do disagree on which gods ally in which ways. The common symbol is a square. Sometimes, specific symbols for the seven gods are put in the corners. Sometimes, coloured lines connect the gods in ways corresponding to the seven offices, which gives constellationists a way of communicating their view of how the gods arrange their affairs. Some constellationist mystics manipulate these as parts of elaborate mystical practices where they thus 'interact with' the gods.

This theology gave rise, in Ŋʒädär philosophy, to their version of the Venn diagram.

5. Seorsism

(from Latin seorsus, 'apart')

"There are four gods" and "there are seven gods" are held to be uttered in different classifying contexts, and so, these different numbers are held to be four gods with some specific description, and seven gods with some other specific description.

The seorsic schools tend to be rather conservative as they sometimes have an unbounded pantheon, or at the very least one with more than seven gods. Seorsists also tend to hold a rather concrete view of the nature of the gods, often having a corporeal idea of their nature.

The proof texts used by more mainstream schools for 'four' and 'seven' (and lesser known texts with numbers anywhere from one to seven in "regular circulation", and even higher numbers in more marginal circulation) do support such readings, and for this reason, variations of seorsism emerge rather naturally out of the religious landscape. Many varieties of seorsism therefore have emerged, with anything from exactly seven gods (out of which four are different in some ways), to sects with partial overlaps between the seven and the four (such that some of the two groups are shared members but not all) to full distinction, and further - sects with even greater pantheons out of which the four and seven are subsets - sometimes even insignificant ones. Many of these preserve ancient beliefs or import gods from nearby cultures.

6. Inclusivism / Heptadism

The four are a subset of the seven. In some ways related to Seorsism, but less controversial and less heretical. Also tends to be less corporealist.

7. Diveritasism

The view that holds most earthly authority is "diveritasism", viz. both numbers are the true number, and we cannot understand how this can be. Any understanding is wrong, and any attempt at understanding it is prone to mistakes. Don't waste your life thinking about it, just accept it and let the scholars think about it instead.

A philosophical extreme form of diveritasism is monistic diveritasism, which holds that the nature of the divine beings is such that speaking of any subset of the two full sets, or any combination thereof is wrong. Gods can only be addressed and described as four and seven, and speaking of two of one group and three of another in any context is really just ... bogus.

Why have these ideas evolved? Why have theological conflicts emerged?

It seems conceivable that the shedding of gods was a result of a temporary "proto-empirical" approach to ritual. Different groupings seem to have decided that gods that have not helped are not worth keeping, and by testing them in a variety of ways determined that certain gods were worth keeping. This is closely aligned with the ruling chieftains desires. Worshipping un-sanctioned gods could be seen as illoyalty, as could refusal to worship sanctioned ones.

The rejection seems not to have been one of denial of existence, but rather only a refusal of worship. Following this, subsets of a greater pantheon seem to have persisted in different tribes for a while. At some point, it seems refusal of worship actually turned into denial of existence in large segments of the population. It also seems that some level of syncretism occurred, where tribes emulated more successful tribes' pantheons, and alliances also could contain demands on abolishing the worship of unsanctioned gods, or sometimes reintroduced previously rejected gods. Another consequence was that the pantheons became rather weird, sometimes with obvious gaps, such as a divine sister with no siblings or a divine husband with no wife. Two resolution strategies seem to have emerged: interpolating gods that fill the gaps and changing the roles of gods in ways that fill up the system.

Thus, few gods retain their ancient functions.

When almost all Ŋʒädär were unified under an alliance of two "suballiances" of tribes - the Vinʒer (of four gods) and the Gupajar (of seven gods), the two pantheons of these major groups seem to have never fully merged, but been set up in a way that respects both groups. Smaller groups' pantheons were rejected, and most worshippers seem to have accepted the new gods, at least begrudgingly. For this reason, seorsism of the various polytheist forms emerged among less powerful tribes. 

Even non-conquered Ŋʒädär seem to have taken note of this development and seen it as spiritually significant. Now, the old Ŋʒädär pantheon's forgotten gods partially can be found as cognate gods among tribes speaking languages of the Dagurib branch and among some distant tribes speaking languages of the Ćwarmin branch. The Ćwarmin, however, have largely been influenced by the Bryatesle and the Dairwueh in religious matters.

Many seorsists hold, and most of the old Ŋʒädär probably held, that the gods' fortunes in the godly realm are reflected in their fortunes in the earthly realm, and so a god whose cult has been demoted has probably lost heavenly authority (as a cause, not an effect, of losing the earthly adoration - or maybe even fully parallel, neither being the cause or the effect of the other). However, there are (probably accurate) rumours of radical seorsists - a not insignificant bunch - performing secret rituals in the hope of reestablishing the pantheon to its rightful place. Few "proper" polytheist of any branch seem to remember very many of the old gods' names, indicating that some pretty harsh campaigns of eradication have been carried out. (However, if one were to research place names, proverbs, etc, it is likely one could reconstruct a large part of the pantheon.)

Constellationism and inclusivism seem to have emerged as ways of keeping smaller pantheons than 4+7 alive. Constellationism keep the four gods as the 'really' godlike ones, and basically demote the seven to a more angel-like status. Descriptivism, constellationism and descriptivism emerged both among the Gupajar and the Vinʒer as a method of not really submitting to the other group's gods, though syncretism eventually won out. Conservative voices could not oppose the critical mass of mystics, laity, and politics: mystics seeing the influence of the other groups as a divinely sanctioned source of information about the gods' natures - as well as a rich well of theological speculation, laity being in contact with the other pantheon and respecting it as well as their own, and politics demanding acquiescing in many ways to the other pantheon.

Prismatism seems to conserve some old polytheism in a clever spin on "undecimaltheism". Basically, there's 4! * 7!, i.e. 120 960 different possible setups, giving a crazy large amount of potential gods. Some old polytheist ideas do seem to shine through at times, but since they have lost the names of the old gods, the connection is a bit tenuous. It is also not very popular among tribes outside of the central tribal alliance. It seems likely that prismatism is a re-emergence of polytheism in the form of crypto-polytheism with some conservative traits. Some of the setups, when represented in a symbolic language invented by the prismatists, clearly "spell out" the names of old gods, and peculiarly enough, these combinations are often the focus of devotion.

Diveritasism, again, seems to have been concocted as a theology taught when the teacher just doesn't think the student has the intellectual ability to understand the finer points of theology, or when trying to forcibly teach a region to abide by "officially sanctioned" teachings. It is thus unusual among the educated elite, but common in some rural regions and among the lower classes.

The original relevance and significance among the first adopters of the dual pantheon is hard to trace. In diveritasism, it simply has become a doctrinal shibboleth, and a way of showing intellectual deference - a way of teaching the adherents to believe and accept what they are told. To some extent, the origin of the belief system does seem to be a political alliance, and with that comes its use as a tool of power, a yardstick of loyalty. In several branches, it is a tool for mystical speculation, devotional practices and also pure numerology.

The 4-to-7 proportion is common in many contexts: poetry, music, architecture, pictures, proverbs, folk medicine, magic, scholarly magic, alchemy, scholarly medicine, various superstitious practices in nearly every activity - even, say, cutting stripes into dough for baked goods or dividing up dough for bread loaves, the shape and symbols on amulets, ... but the way in which it is present in culture may signal stances held by the practitioner, and this may at times function as a shibboleth.

Violence between different groups is not unknown. At times, religious leaders have exhorted to violence, and adherents have heeded the call. At times, leaders have tried to stop the violence, and adherents have ignored these calls. At times, calls to violence have been ignored by the population - and at times, calls to peace have been heard. The violence sometimes has actually been tribal violence dressed up as religious violence - but at times, the violence has been purely religious, cutting across tribal lines in unexpected ways.

The Pantheon

The four

The four tend to be based on a subsection of the family, but with each representing several roles. Mother, grandmother and aunt, father and paternal uncle, son-and-daughter. Most narratives involving these have them appearing as a voice that guides someone. They seem not to have an origin nor any clear desires. Their guidance is reliable in stories that mention them - so heeding them is assumed to be reasonable. However, they often have unexpected long-term positive outcomes that may involve temporary setbacks.

The seven

The prototypical roles of the seven normally correspond to roles in a small tribe:

chieftain, hunter, shaman, "constructive task-person", dog driver, ...

The stories involving these often anthropomorphize them, and sometimes have them corporeally interacting with humans. The actual roles vary significantly from story to story. These gods do seem to have desires:

  • to strengthen the community, both through defense and offense
  • to provide nutrition
  • to heal
  • to lead
  • to build
  • to subdue
  • to teach
  • to be content

In the stories, the different gods' ways of attaining these may come in conflict, and sometimes, they do not even find a resolution. In different stories, different gods seem to prioritize them differently.

Detail #426: Discontinuous colours

Monday, April 25th, 2022

 A language where some colour terms do not form continuous areas on the spectrum would be interesting.

Detail 425: Mixed groups vs. Gendered Plurals

Sunday, April 24th, 2022

In some languages, gender is distinguished in the plural. This naturally brings along the problem of what to do about mixed groups. It is fairly usual for mixed groups to default to a gender (all instances I know of default to masculine). What if a language behaved differently? What options are there? Here are a few with some hints at avenues of making the situation even more complex.

1) Free selection

The decision to use a feminine or masculine plural pronoun for mixed groups is left completely to the speaker.

2) Controlled semantic selection

Which pronoun is determined by some semantic fact about the utterance: maybe the gender indicates attitudes to the group, or maybe it correlates to TAM. Maybe actual, definite, pre-defined groups get feminine, whereas yet-undefined, hypothetical, future, potential groups get masculine.

3) Syntactic selection


  1. Subjects - feminine, other constituents: masculine.
  2. Main clauses: feminine, subclauses: masculine.
  3. Erg-abs part of grammar: feminine, nom-acc part of grammar: masculine.
  4. Certain verbs' or adjectives have congruence that is, for morphophonological reasons, defective: singular masculine and singular plural is conflated in the verb. In such cases, the feminine is used. In some other verbs, the opposite problem applies, and so the masculine is used.

4) Registral selection

The strategy may vary by register, but it may also be as easy as in formal registers, mixed groups are masculine, in other registers, they're feminine (or maybe free or whatever).

5) Speaker- or listener-based selection

Maybe mixed gender groups always get the opposite gender to the speaker (or the same), or maybe it's the listener's gender that determines. In case of mixed listeners, ...

6) Lexically controlled selection

Maybe some verbs prefer feminine pronouns for mixed groups, some verbs prefer masculine pronouns. The deficiency in congruence in 3.4 could easily be lexicalized and stop being specific to forms of the verb where the congruence fails.

7) Referent-affected selection

The group or some individual of the group, and some property of said person(s) affects the choice: majority female gets feminine, majority masculine gets masculine, or most socially prominent member determines gender of the group.

8) Feminine- and masculine mixed groups as separate referents

I am not sure this even could evolve, but imagine a system whereby e.g. masculine plural for a mixed group essentially is proximative, and feminine essentially is an obviative pronoun.

9) No mixing

Instead of a single pronoun, two are used: "they(fem) and he", "they(fem) and they(masc)".

A Question Regarding Tone

Friday, April 22nd, 2022

Tone is normally suprasegmental. Is there any language where tone distinguishes only a few segments?

In other words, is there any language, where the vowel system has one or two vowel qualities where vowel phonemes are distinguished by tone? Something like this:

Covert Grue

Friday, April 22nd, 2022

There is extensive literature on basic color terms. Since Kílta is a personal language for speaking in the modern world, it has a fairly wide color vocabulary, and does distinguish blue and green (pikwautin, ralin), unlike a grue (green-blue) language which unifies those colors under one term.

One thing I've done in Kílta, inspired in part by the articles in The Aesthetics of Grammar: Sound and Meaning in the Languages of Mainland Southeast Asia (Jeffrey P. Williams, editor), is to pay a lot of attention to how words are intensified. English of course has plenty of intensifying collocations — hopping mad, deeply concerned, etc. — but in Kílta there are quite a few intensifiers which only intensify. They have no independent meaning, and are often (apparently) root words.

A new intensifier I recently added is . It is only used with hichínin black, pikwautin blue, and ralin green. So, even though Kílta is not a grue language, I've hidden a grue tendency in the use of this intensifier.

Ummul në mó ralin no.
forest TOP deep green be.PFV
The forest is a deep green.

Mó hichínin mika në ël si alincho.
deep black stone TOP 3SG ACC shun
The jet black stone slipped from her grasp.

I extended in one other direction. Even though it is rather adverb-like, I permit it with kinta night to mean something like in the dark of night, for in a temporal adverb sense.

Ha në mó kinta otta si cholat oto vukai.
1SG TOP deep night sound ACC hear.INF fall.PFV DISAPPR
I happened to hear a sound at darkest part of the night.

Covert boundaries can be a useful way to think new things through.

A few Terms of Time in Ćwarmin, Ŋʒädär and cognate languages

Thursday, April 21st, 2022
This is a bit preliminary.

Ćwarmin and Rasmjinj have borrowed the system of times of day, as well as higher-order calendarical structures from Bryatesle, whereas Ətimin and Astami conserve the Ćwarmin-Ŋʒädär system intact. However, the lexemes in Ćwarmin and Rasmjinj are often cognate to those of the other Ćwarminoid languages, and have simply been repurposed to Bryatesle cultural standards.

Historical Background
The Ćwarmin-Ŋʒädär ur-tribes divided the day into a system somewhat familiar to us: morning, day, evening and night. The 'cycle' is considered to begin at sunrise. Every ĆŊD language has cognates to at least some of these terms. The divisions correspond to watches in camps (which, however, normally overlap.)

Subdivisions of the day
An important pair of adverbs that have surviving cognates in every branch, and also 'functional' equivalents in many languages that lack cognates, are
which signify 'in the previous quarter of the day' or 'in the next quarter of the day'. The proto-language formed words meaning "a day and a quarter from now" or "three quarters of a day from now" by reduplicating these. Sound-changes have hit these particular words in some special ways - sometimes, the morphemes have been treated as separate words until at some point in each language's history, they've become full-fledged single morpheme words.
Cw: birmir, uarjur ( b > v / r_V or #_u,  v > j /r_V,  > u #_V)
Ast: birbir, uoruor (v > u /_o and also v > u /r_)
Rs: birnə, vorbʊ (v > b /_uC, _oC, _ʊC)
Ŋʒ: vırmız, varoz ( b > v /#_V, -z is a suffix)
Dg: (m)ʊmber, (m)ʊrbel (#b > #m, randomly. rv > rb, murber > murbel due to dissimilation)

In the Ćwarmin branch, a similar time yesterday can be specified by suffixing *-zi or *-zu. This -zi suffix is probably cognate to Ŋʒ -z. in Ćwarmin and Rasmjinj these terms exist, but now refer to the next span of Bryatesle day subdivisions.

A verb 'birdən' signifying 'to wait for one's turn, to be preparing for a task, to expect, to soon be busy' derives from *birn, whereas 

In Ćwarmin and Rasmjinj these words rather signify the next/previous Bryatesle unit of time, of which there are eight per day, determined by the inner moon and the sun.

Morning, Day, Evening, Night

Ćw Ast Rs Ŋʒ Dg
arad arro arot äzä adʒı
jit int injtjin uk'u imii ımı/(f)ındı-)

The proto-ĆŊD word for morning was *azda, potentially either cognate to *asu (to wake up) or *anzor (sunrise), probably related through some earlier word, maybe pre-proto-CND *egnso- 'rise up, raise, open (of eyes, bottles, jars), burst'
Ćw:  arad (azda > azad, z > r /V_V)
Ast: orro (azda > aza > a'ra > awr:a)
Rs: arot (azad > azod > azot > arot)
Ŋʒ: äzä (azda > aza > random vowel harmony realigment)
Dg: adʒı (azda > adza,  a > ı / _#, dz > dʒ / _ı, _i) (change in meaning: 'early')
Proto-ĆŊD for 'day' was '*gnumn', giving
Ćw: now (um > om, m > w /V_n#, where V = back vowel)
Ast: navvol
Rs: naon
Ŋʒ: ŋumor ('tomorrow')
Dg: ŋö(-n-)

*gnumn may be cognate to pre-proto-CND *gunu- sky and thus be related to Dg ŋost ('cloud'), Ŋʒ ŋuzro ('arctic lights'), Ast narrob ('rain'), Cwarmin owno (sky), Ast owno

Some derived terms:

Astimin and Rasjminj also derive recent words for the sun from this:

ast: navvark, rs: naoroh

A similar word can be found in some poetic Ćwarmin: noworak

Proto-ĆŊD for evening was *tyrs, giving
Ćw: tic (y > i / _r, rs > c /_#, )Ast: ter (i > e /#(C)_r#)
Rs: tils (rs > ls, random, y > i, random (~0.4 prob) in monosyllables)
Ŋʒ: tydźy   (rs > rź, rź > dź, -y is a nominalizing suffix)
Dg: jyrem (t > j / #_Vr, V = front rounded vowel, probs by proxy of t_j_w > d_j_w > d_j > dʒ, -em = time affix)

The proto-ĆŊD word for night was *imid. In parts of the Ŋʒädär branch this has been replaced by reflexes of *uk'ot, 'dark'. Thus, 'night', sometimes with varieties such as 'this (incoming) night' or 'last night':
Ćw: jit (but jint- before suffixes that begin with vowels)
Ast: int ('inni' for 'this (incoming night', 'inits' for 'last night')
Rs: injtjen
Ŋʒ: uk'u (no ending in absolutive, -s-/-t- in other cases).
"imi-" now signifies sunset instead.

Süw: imii
Dg: ımə, dat. fındın or ındın. (The case prefix has acquired some meaning differentiation in expressions of time and been generalized to all cases except the absolutive, and distinguishes "night (in general)" from any particular night.

Today, Yesterday, Tomorrow and Beyond
In all branches there are languages that preserve cognates of a variety of old words.

day before yesterday: *qaluwuna
yesterday: *qalur
today: *mest
tomorrow: *tetri
day after tomorrow: *tetrijinä

Astami: N/A, kalu-nu, mih-ni, ćeič-ni, ćeiči-ni
Dagurib: qaluwu, qalu, mesit, tetir, tetirjin
Ŋʒädär: qoruŋa, qorur, mär* (mäsä*- for inflected forms), täryr, tärynjä
Süw: qurquur (reduplicated), quur, met, teir, tädeir (through intermediate forms *terteer > *terdeer > *terdeir)

*mär, mäsä have been lost in modern Ŋʒädär, being replaced with ŋumrum, from ŋumor (to-day). Almost all speakers tend to dissimilate either the last -m to n, giving ŋumrun, or m to b, giving ŋubrum or even ŋ to g, giving gumrum. This serves to distinguish "to (a/the) day (indefinite)" from "today" - "to a day" being regularly formed and "today" having those sound changes.

However, in early Ŋʒädär, *mär, mäsä still were present. Tärynjä no longer is specifically the day after tomorrow, but any day in the near future (including, possibly, tomorrow).

Süw's tädeir likewise does not signify 'the day after tomorrow', but is an adjective signifying 'the next [timespan]'.
 In Ćwarmin, 'today' is formed form the demonstrative arna- in the general ablative: arnaraś. Sometimes this is hit by some kind of dissimilation-transposition and comes out as aranaś, anaraś or even arnaś but there's also attestations of both araraś and ananaś. A period of a few days including today can be arnuroś / arunoś. Oftentimes, this signifies 'this week' (by Bryatesle standards of week). In Bryatesle-influenced areas, you also often get olbaraś (from olba, "that") for 'yesterday'. This is somewhat odd, though, as it can also signify 'that day' or even 'that time', and so is a bit sensitive to context.

Despite being marked for case, aranaś and arunoś have partially been reinterpreted as nominatives, and can take further case suffixes.

'In a few days' in Ćwarmin is generally formed by cularaś (sg) or culuroś (pl), depending on whether the thing that happens is expected to last at most a day, or longer. Similar constructions exist in the other Ćwarminoid languages.

Verum focus

Saturday, April 9th, 2022
With the ordinary kind of focus that we've been talking about all these years, we're identifying a constituent that's new or important to the discourse. It's also important, though, to be able to focalize the truth value of an utterance. I have notes in my Koa journal (mainly vaguely worried questions) about this concept going back several years, but only recently started thinking about it an organized way.

Though Describing Morphosyntax termed this "truth value focus," quite a lot of research last month informed me that the best technical term these days is "verum focus," or just "verum" as some people are very passionately willing to argue. I was gearing up for some major construction when I realized that Koa actually already has a built-in way to do this! Let's first look at a pragmatically neutral clause in AFF/NEG/INT forms:

ni te puhu le níkili
1SG ABIL speak NAME English
"I speak English"

ni na te puhu le níkili
1SG NEG ABIL speak NAME English
"I don't speak English"

ai se te puhu le níkili?
QU 2SG ABIL speak NAME English
"Do you speak English?"

The simplest way of focusing on verum is via the particle ia, initially conceived as a firsthand experience or vouched-for evidential but now clearly functioning as as a viridical marker. It shifts the primary purpose of the utterance from the semantics of the constituents to a confirmation by the speaker of the utterance's truth value. As such one would expect that the clause to which it's attached would not contain any new information, since the focus, so to speak, is on verum in the context of a discourse stage with existing players; it would be anomalous if used without that existing context, or would at least cause the listener to infer that there was some existing context of which they were unaware. With our sample clauses from above, then:

ni ia te puhu le níkili
1SG VIR ABIL speak NAME English
"I DO speak English"

ni ia na te puhu le níkili
1SG VIR NEG ABIL speak NAME English
"I DON'T speak English"

ai se ia te puhu le níkili?
QU 2SG VIR ABIL speak NAME English
"DO you speak English?"

A note on accentuation: in AFF and INT contexts the main stress is on the ia above: ni iá te puhu... In NEG contexts, though, the stress in ia na is on na, and in fact they may be written together and accented to make this plain: ni ianá te puhu...

We can also get at this concept periphrastically with eso "real, actual, so" and a dependent clause:

eso ko ni te puhu le níkili
real COMP 1SG ABIL speak NAME English
"it is the case that I speak English"

na eso ko ni te puhu le níkili
NEG real COMP 1SG ABIL speak NAME English
"it is not the case that I speak English"

ai eso ko se te puhu le níkili?
QU real COMP 2SG ABIL speak NAME English
"is it the case that you speak English?"

These are pragmatically neutral again, though, without any particular focus. We can ratchet things up or add focus in a few different ways depending on how heavy-handed we want to get (translations here are kind of stilted -- real idiomatic English would of course use a variety of words and also intonation to get at the meaning: "no, look, I told you, I DO speak English," etc.):

eso sa ko ni te puhu le níkili
real FOC COMP 1SG ABIL speak NAME English
"the thing that's the case is that I speak English"

ia eso ko ni te puhu le níkili
VIR real COMP 1SG ABIL speak NAME English
"it IS the case that I speak English"

ia eso sa ko ni te puhu le níkili
VIR real FOC COMP 1SG ABIL speak NAME English
"the thing that IS the case is that I speak English"

Eso can also be used serially to mean "really/actually X," which introduces an interesting distinction we can make here.

ai se ia loha ni?
QU SG VIR love 1SG
"DO you love me?"

ai se loha ni i eso?
QU 2SG love 1SG VP real
"do you really love me?"

The translations might communicate what's going on to a native English speaker, but context is really critical in explaining the difference. In the first question with ai, the speaker has significant doubt as to whether the proposition is true, probably even predicting a negative answer. There's a sense of "tell me the truth, I need to know, I can take it." In the second sentence with eso, the speaker either thinks or hopes that the proposition is or may be true, and is seeking confirmation or reassurance.

It's interesting that the syntactic structure for verum focus is entirely different from that of constituent focus, but I think that's okay given that Gutzmann et al. claim that verum focus isn't really focus anyway; it seems like many languages have different structures for these kinds of emphasis.

Detail #424: Gratuitous Use of Reduplication

Friday, April 8th, 2022

One morphological device that I keep wanting to use, but never find a sufficiently interesting use for, is reduplication. Let's try and find a really gratuitous use of it, and overviewing some of the strange things languages do with it.

Some of the trivial stuff reduplication does is:

  • form plurals
  • form habituals, form perfectives
  • form intensives, diminutives, etc

The strangest use I have come across is Chukchi: the absolutive singular for some nouns is formed by reduplication. This violates two proposed universals, so that's a lot of bang for a buck!

So, what other weird thing could we use reduplication for? It feels like this is a question where the usual suspects don't quite cut it.

Let's assume, unless otherwise specified, that I am talking about full reduplication of a lexeme.

1) Things with numerals (numeral symbols express the actual value, letters express the way it's said in the language, base ten is assumed but this is a trivial thing to reapply to some other base.)

one = 1
oneone = 11
two = 2
twotwo = 12
three = 3
threethree = 13


oneoneone = 21
twotwotwo = 22
threethreethree = 23

With reasonably short numerals, this isn't even particularly clumsy. Heck, you can have some pretty big numbers before running into finnish-style numeral length (kaksikymmentäkaksi = twotwotwo).

With just a few extra tricks - say, having a dedicated short form for some particular milestones, this wouldn't be unworkable. 

2) Indefiniteness

Have reduplicated nouns signify "any old ...".

(Somehow, it seems this would be rather natural with some type of intonation pattern).

3) Reflexivity by reduplication of the verb

I see see in a mirror = I see myself in a mirror

4) Reflexivity of possession by reduplicating the object:

I met wife wife when I was twenty three
I met my wife when I was twenty three

he called brother brother
he called his brother

5) Comparatives

Double the comparand which is characterized by more of the quality that is compared, use some special conjunction or just apposition for the comparands or maybe object marking or something:

I I he are strong: I am stronger than he

I I am strong him: I am stronger than he

For "oblique comparisons", try this on for size:

I I am smart smart him strong: I am smarter than he is strong.

6) Extend the reference of the subject (or maybe some other constituent) by doubling the verb:
I eat eat: me and my associates are eating

I approach approach house: I and my associates are approaching a house / I am approaching a village

7) Ordinals

man man = the first man
man man man = the second man

I imagine this could actually exist for a few lexemes in some actual language!

8) Copula! E.g.

it red red: it is red

This also leads to an interesting thing w.r.t. verbs - maybe 

it eat eat = it is edible

9) Non-referentiality!

So, one example of a non-referential pronoun is "it" in "it is raining". Imagine a language where this has to be "it it is raining".

10) Adjectives denoting being in possession of something, e.g.

peg-leg peg-leg man: peg-legged man
or maybe just
peg-leg-leg man

In a language where it's done by just reduplicating a syllable, this does not seem particularly out of the ordinary.

11) Mandatory reduplication of initial and final elements of parenthetical statements as a form of bracketing.

12) Particles of phrase verbs (either the verb or the particle needs doubling)

13) Vocatives

This seems a case that reasonably could have developed a reduplicated form in some language in the world.

14) Wherever the syntax has a null element that is actually syntactically present (e.g. omitted subordinating conjunction), a floating reduplication emerges that needs to find a host:

I didn't know that she's famous -> I didn't know __ she's famous ->
"I didn't know know she's famous" or "I didn't know she's she's famous".

Under some circumstances, other syntactic phenomena could shuffle where this turns up in unexpected ways.

15) Congruence with a certain noun class by reduplicating verbs or adjectives or pronouns.

Undoubtedly, stranger ideas are possible.