Sunday, May 11, 2008

Second thoughts about the conative

So, yeah, thinking about it cross-linguistically, conative really isn't the term for what I'm talking about for the meaning of lu -- I think I'll have to go back to volitive. The conative would be focusing on the idea of the attempt, the effort, the trying; a useful semantic, but not what I'm going for here.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A new modal particle

Ladies and gentlemen, meet lu, our new volitive/desiderative particle. Since halu = "want," I think the sound works rather well.

Lu will be helping us by translating some of the English future tense semantics, specifically when the notion of futurity involves intention or desire. According to current plans, there will be another particle (form TBD) used in making predictions and the like. Par example:

ni lu polo o ka talo la ka noni
1SG=VOL=run ABL=DEF=house ALL=DEF=mountain
"I'll run from the house to the mountain"
"I think I'll run from the house to the mountain"
"I'm planning to run from the house to the mountain"

There is a certain amount of semantic overlap with halu and a full complement clause, as in

ni halu ko polo o ka talo la ka noni
1SG=want COMP=run ABL=DEF=house ALL=DEF=mountain
"I want to run from the house to the mountain"

I guess the question is whether the focus is on the action and the futurity thereof, or on the wanting itself. Note that English blurs the lines as well sometimes -- the sentence "today I wanna run from the house to the mountain" could encode an expression of desire, but I feel like more often it would be showing intent for the future.

By the way, note that the following sentence would not mean "everyone will learn Koa" in the way we'd usually expect to interpret that phrase, but something more like "everyone's planning to learn Koa," "everyone's thinking about learning Koa," etc.:

poka i lu opi le Koa
everyone 3=VOL=learn NAME=Koa

A question for you linguists: is there a better term than volitive or desiderative for this mode? I want to highlight the intentionality more than the desire, but intentative...AHA! Conative, that's it, from cōnārī "to try". The ol' Latin's getting a bit rusty. The above interlinear, then, should read

everyone 3=CON=learn NAME=Koa

And now, how about all those other modes I need particles for?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Koa script

Here's a sort of pixellicious graphic of the Koa syllabary, as worked out at some point in the early 2000s:

I still feel like this has all kinds of potential, though now I have to dump the C column and invent characters for Y and W. Hm.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Frog and Turtle finally get their due representation

As of this moment, the Koa lexicon has 117 roots, up from 38 two days ago. Hopefully this means that the day is fast approaching when my example sentences will not contain any of the words man, dog, house, go, see, or eat.

For instance:

Ti loi yoki i na ma ese ni yuhu!
THIS=worm=river 3=NEG=IMPF=respect 1SG=bottom
"These leeches are not respecting my bottom!"

...or something.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Neither lambda nor nu

For the causative, I like mu.

O kea ta se si mu loha ni se?
"Why did you make me love you?"

or, periphrastically,

O kea ta se si mei ko ni loha se?
ABL=what TOPIC 2SG=PERF=cause COMP=1SG=love 2SG
"Why did you make me love you?"

(Not sure if o kea is going to be "why" -- just calquing from Polish for a sec for example sentence fodder.)

There could also be various other options for the periphrastic type of operation, along the lines of English make, let, help, force, compel, ask, &c.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Choosing a causative particle

Here are the remaining CV options:

he, hi, ho, ki, ku, lo, lu, mi, mu, no, pu, sa, so, su, te, to, tu

I find the distribution of vowels above extremely interesting, though not necessarily surprising. Just for the sake of interest and some dubiously necessary math, here's how they stack up in this list of remainders:

A = 1 (6%)
E = 2 (12%)
I = 3 (18%)
O = 5 (29%)
U = 6 (35%)

Apparently I like a and e much more than o and u, at least for particles. Perhaps its because they feel the most neutral to me; it's good for me to be aware of this bias.

In any event, to try to help myself decide on a causative marker, I'm going to try each of the above options in random order with three causative sentences from my previous post, "I put Ella to bed," "Mia fed Cocoa a cat" (neko is still provisional), and a new one, "Is it you who's forcing the dog to live in a hole?" Hopefully something will jump out at me...

ni si ku nuku le Ela
le Mia i si ku suo le Koko a neko
Ei se ta ku asu ka keli ne a kosi?

ni si mu nuku le Ela
le Mia i si mu suo le Koko a neko
Ei se ta mu asu ka keli ne a kosi?

ni si to nuku le Ela
le Mia i si to suo le Koko a neko
Ei se ta to asu ka keli ne a kosi?

ni si te nuku le Ela
le Mia i si te suo le Koko a neko
Ei se ta te asu ka keli ne a kosi?

ni si pu nuku le Ela
le Mia i si pu suo le Koko a neko
Ei se ta pu asu ka keli ne a kosi?

ni si sa nuku le Ela
le Mia i si sa suo le Koko a neko
Ei se ta sa asu ka keli ne a kosi?

ni si lo nuku le Ela
le Mia i si lo suo le Koko a neko
Ei se ta lo asu ka keli ne a kosi?

ni si lu nuku le Ela
le Mia i si lu suo le Koko a neko
Ei se ta lu asu ka keli ne a kosi?

ni si hi nuku le Ela
le Mia i si hi suo le Koko a neko
Ei se ta hi asu ka keli ne a kosi?

ni si mi nuku le Ela
le Mia i si mi suo le Koko a neko
Ei se ta mi asu ka keli ne a kosi?

ni si so nuku le Ela
le Mia i si so suo le Koko a neko
Ei se ta so asu ka keli ne a kosi?

ni si ki nuku le Ela
le Mia i si ki suo le Koko a neko
Ei se ta ki asu ka keli ne a kosi?

ni si he nuku le Ela
le Mia i si he suo le Koko a neko
Ei se ta he asu ka keli ne a kosi?

ni si tu nuku le Ela
le Mia i si tu suo le Koko a neko
Ei se ta tu asu ka keli ne a kosi?

ni si su nuku le Ela
le Mia i si su suo le Koko a neko
Ei se ta su asu ka keli ne a kosi?

ni si no nuku le Ela
le Mia i si no suo le Koko a neko
Ei se ta no asu ka keli ne a kosi?

ni si ho nuku le Ela
le Mia i si ho suo le Koko a neko
Ei se ta ho asu ka keli ne a kosi?

Any thoughts? Let's let it brew for a bit.

Ditransitive verbs and causativity

So what, definitively, do we do with multiple objects? The last time (here, section 9) we discussed this, it was either INDIR DIR or DIR la INDIR. The latter always seemed a bit more unwieldy to me, and I'm realizing I really haven't thought of the structure as working that way at all since then. So with our serial objects, a clause would look something like this:

ni si ana ka mama ka sihi

1SG=PERF=give DEF=mom DEF=vegetable
"I gave my mom the veggies" or "I gave the mother of the veggies (to someone)"

...where this could either be two objects, one direct and one indirect, or a single object consisting of a genitive phrase. The question is, is this ambiguity acceptable? I'm inclined to say "yes," as I have a hard time imagining a situation where this distinction would actually be pragmatically relevant. I think usually the alterate interpretation would be so semantically or pragmatically anomalous as to warrant no concern. Still, supposing we decided to overtly mark the indirect object:

ni si ana la ka mama ka sihi
1SG=PERF=give DAT=DEF=mom DEF=vegetable
"I gave my mom the veggies"


ni si ana ka sihi la ka mama
1SG=PERF=give DEF=vegetable DAT=DEF=mom
"I gave my mom the veggies"

In longer phrases like these I actually don't at all mind the presence of la. I think it's with pronominal objects that la messes up the rhythm:

li si ana la ni ka hiu
3SG=PERF=give DAT=1SG DEF=knife
"she gave me the knife"


li si ana ka hiu la ni
3SG=PERF=give DEF=knife DAT=1SG
"she gave me the knife"

This used to bother me with Esperanto al as well, but I've completely gotten used to it now; I'm afraid this decision is going to have to be made on typological and/or aesthetic grounds. Somehow, though, I do need to come to a decision, because I want to look into valence-increasing devices, like causatives. Taking ho* as a causative marker, then, we get into this kind of trouble:

le Ela i ma nuku
NAME=Ela 3=IMPF=sleep
"Ella is sleeping"

ni si ho nuku le Ela
"I put Ella to bed"

So far so good: an intransitive verb becomes transitive, and what was the subject gets demoted to object position. What if we start with a transitive verb?

le Koko i ma suo a neko*
NAME=Koko 3=IMPF=eat INDEF=cat
"Cocoa is eating a cat"

le Mia i si ho suo le Koko a neko*
"Mia fed Cocoa a cat"

I notice my example sentences are finally starting to get more interesting, albeit perhaps slightly macabre. Where's my cookie?

Anyway, what generally happens when a transitive verb gets causative morphology added is that the existing direct object stays a direct object, but the former subject gets demoted to an oblique position as the coerced agent. In the case of Koa, it seems natural that this would be the position of the indirect object, whence the syntax up there. But we do have two other possibilities: le Mia i si ho suo la le Koko a neko* or le Mia i si ho suo a neko* la le Koko.

I HATE the second of these two alternates -- I feel like the constituents are in COMPLETELY the wrong order for the emphasis of the clause. Maybe this will help me figure out how to make the ditransitive decision -- apparently I want the indirect object to precede the direct, however it's marked.

Okay, so what if we make an already ditransitive verb causative?

le Keosi i si ana le Mia a kita*

NAME=Keosi 3=PERF=give NAME=Mia INDEF=guitar
"Josh gave Mia a guitar"

Fine...but yikes, what am I going to do with three objects?

le Salatúsita i si ho ana le Keosi a kita* la le Mia
NAME=Salatúsita 3=PERF=CAUS=give NAME=Keosi INDEF=guitar DAT=NAME=Mia
"Zarathustra made Josh give Mia a guitar"

Huh. Interesting. No, no, I think this could actually make sense -- a verb can have two objects, but any additionals have to be oblique. The only question is which object gets demoted to prepositional status. I don't think it can be the coerced agent, because that's still very central to the semantics of the clause. And there's currently no particle that marks a definite object, though I suppose we could press one into use, maybe ablative:

le Salatúsita i si ho ana le Keosi le Mia o a kita*
NAME=Salatúsita 3=PERF=CAUS=give NAME=Keosi NAME=Mia ABL=INDEF=guitar
"Zarathustra made Josh give Mia a guitar"

That seems really weird to me -- let's forget about that option. I guess the one other possibility would be to make causatives analytical as in English: le Salatúsita i si mei* ko le Keosi i ana le Mia a kita, or something. Or we could make that option available with increased distance between cause and effect, in the way that iconicity generally works cross-linguistically.

Okay, so what have I figured out here? I think it's that we're sticking with INDIR DIR syntax for ditransitive verbs for the moment, and we'll figure out whether and where la can be used with the INDIR element later on. And that (I think) we're going to have two causative strategies, one analytical and one synthetic, to the extent that clitics constitute synthesis.

And also that I really don't like ho as the causative marker. I seem to be having trouble with the h-initial particles lately.

ABLATION, your country needs you

We've had the locative ne "in/at" and allative la "to" for years, but for some reason the ablative has always proved elusive. I think it's time to resolve this once and for all.

I would sort of like no for this function, a shout out to both Japanese and Latvian, but I think given the importance of this particle that for phonetic salience it should not contain any of the consonants or vowels of the other two spatial/directional markers. This leaves us the following options:

hi, ho, ki, ku, mi, mu, o, pu, so, su, to, tu

Well, now, what about o? It has a nice Gaelic feel, and would have the pleasing quality of occupying the same syntactic position as it did back in 2001 when I had it meaning something completely different. Note: this would be the end of our V morphemes.

Le Keoni i ma mene la ka talo.
NAME=John 3P=IMPF=go ALL=DEF=house
"John is going (in)to the house."

Le Keoni i ma nuku ne ka talo.
NAME=John 3P=IMPF=sleep LOC=DEF=house
"John is sleeping in the house."

Le Keoni i ma tule o ka talo.
NAME=John 3P=IMPF=come ABL=DEF=house
"John is coming from/out of the house."

It's unanimous (and I am apparently schizophrenic): I love it. I haven't been this happy with a particle choice in ages. Hooray!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Koa verbs and thematic roles

Worth mentioning before I forget to mention it again: in designing Koa I do not want to make Indo-European-style decisions about verb valence and thematic roles. The subject position, therefore, will always be used for agent and experiencer, and the object position for patient and recipient.

This removes all the guesswork that usually happens when learning a language around things like "I think," "I dreamt," "I like," "it seemed," etc. -- all of these have an experiencer subject, including "seem" which would then need to be glossed as something like "perceive."

Naturally, we don't know yet how we're going to do predicate nominatives in sentences like "the house looks big," which is apparently yet another thing to think about. Ka talo i pa nae FOO iso, or something.

And no more of this "is 'boil' transitive or intransitive?" business for us like in Esperanto -- the agent is subject and patient is object, always, so if we're trying to translate "the water boiled," and there's only a patient, we know we'll need a passive structure. Same with "the door opened," etc.

I'm sure that trying to be this firm is going to get me into trouble sooner or later, but it is at least a good principle to go by, I think.

Aha, here's problem #1: if mua means "die," wouldn't the subject be the patient, the participant undergoing change of state? But the only possible agent of that verb would make it mean "kill," and "be killed" has, obviously, extremely different semantics from "die." Okay, Einstein, figure that one out.

Plural pronouns

After years and years of deliberation, we've finally got the singular pronoun system in the bag:

I = ni
you = se
he/she/it = li

Well, okay, there is the fact that "I" and "he" would be homophonous for many Cantonese speakers, and just that teeny glimmer of uncertainty about se, and whether it might be better if it were te so that sentences like the following wouldn't be such tongue-twisters:

Ei se sa si sano li tia?
Q 2SG TOPIC PERF=say 3SG that
"Was it you who told him that?"

I think this would be slightly less ridiculous as Ei te sa si sano li tia? But the thing is that I really like "you" as se, damn it all! I've been struggling with this sodding issue for years and years, and it always comes back to the same thing.

Say, what if the topicalizer were something like ta instead of sa? So Ei se ta si sano li tia? That's actually even better. I might have less allegiance to sa as TOPIC than to se as "you," though my heart weeps at the thought nonetheless. Something to think about.

ANYWAY, this isn't what I was intending to talk about. The thing is, aside from nu as "we" that I've always felt ambivalent about, we have no plural pronouns. I see five possible approaches here:

1) No plural pronouns. Nouns don't have plurals in Koa, so why should pronouns?
2) Completely different forms for singular and plural pronouns (like ni and nu -- I could also have li and lu in parallel).
3) Plurals formed by reduplicating the singular: nini, sese, lili. Note that we could not then use reduplication pragmatically as we had previously been throwing around.
4) Plurals formed by adding a morpheme, like Mandarin , nǐ, tā "I, you, he" and wǒmen, nǐmen, tāmen "we, y'all, they." This morpheme could either never show up elsewhere in the grammar, or be used for certain other specified purposes as in Mandarin.
5) Some kind of hodgepodge of systems: combinations of the above, or maybe a separate morpheme for "we," since that's semantically different from the plural of "I," but then "y'all" could be either seni (typologically consistent with creoles) or just se as in English, and I suppose we don't absolutely need a 3PL pronoun. Or hey, how about pose = "all of you," poli = "all of them?" (po)nu, seni/pose, poli? Hm.

As always, I just don't know where to go with this. Aside from #1 which I don't think I'll really be considering, all of these seem possible and none of them strike me any more overwhelmingly positively than any others. Mimblewimble.

What about those semivowels, anyway?

Should we finally make the decision to add /w/ and /y/ to the phonology? There would need to be certain distribution restrictions, in short:

• /y/ cannot occur before /i/ or after /i/ or /e/ due to the serious danger of confusion between e.g. ia/iya, ea/eya, and the fact that [ji] is difficult to pronounce and tends to be unstable cross-linguistically.

• In parallel fashion, /w/ cannot occur before /u/ or after /u/ or /o/ due to the danger of confusion between e.g. ua/uwa, oa/owa, and the fact that [wu] is difficult to pronounce and tends to be unstable.

For these reasons, /w/ and /y/ probably can't be used in the derivational system: we'd ideally like to be able to apply every suffix to every root, but -wa, for example, could not be added to any root ending in -o or -u -- the distinction between pokoa/pokowa or pukua/pukuwa really can't bear functional load.

Come to think of it, what about the muya/moya or tiwa/tewa kind of distinction? This seems harder, at least for English speakers, than anything else in the phonology. And, and, and, can we have both ona and wona, ena and yena? See, this is exactly why this thought process stalled out last time.

Okay, putting the above panic attack out of our thoughts for a moment, what would these putative roots look like, anyway? Here are 50 from Randword:


Hm. I like some of these very much, others not at all. This is a really hard decision to make. I have a conservative streak with Koa that's probably at least partially responsible for my continuing to like this language after all these years, and it's sort of urging me not to do any rash phoneme-adding at this point.

The bottom line is that the above words don't feel like Koa to me, they feel more like Yorùbá or something. There's nothing wrong with this in itself, of course, but I don't think it's the direction I want to go in right now with this language. So there it is.

Huge changes this morning

It's time to take the plunge. Ever since September 13th, 1999 my phonology has been completely unchanged, and the whole time I've been a bit uncomfortable with /c/: whether it's pronounced [S], [tS], [ts], [dZ], or whatever, its presence really isn't appropriate in the phonology of an IAL. I've held onto it because I didn't want to affect my math, and I couldn't think of anything better to replace it with: [f], for instance, might be a possibility, but it's so easy to confuse with [s] especially on the phone, and lots of languages (e.g. Finnish, Japanese) don't really have it. I toyed around with [j] and [w] for a while, but I wasn't ever sure I liked those even with massive distribution restrictions -- and they didn't buy me back my particles, which is one of the big issues.

Because with my current 10 consonants and 5 vowels, I have 50 CVs (particles) and 2500 CVCVs (roots). If I drop this down to 9 consonants, that leaves me only 45 CVs and 2025 CVCVs.

I was realizing this morning, though, that only one of my particles currently uses /c/ (co "all") and I could be pretty okay with changing this to po. I'm sad to lose cumo "squash" and colo "run," but it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if they were sumo and polo instead. In short, since this is clearly the right thing to do if I want to hold onto my self-righteousness about the viability of Koa as an IAL, /c/ needs to go. So god speed your way, /c/, jedź z bogiem. It's been an honor working with you these nine years.

The second big change is not quite so traumatic, but it's sort of a big deal because things have been the way they are since about 2001 and I'm pretty used to it. So: I recognized last year that hi wasn't really working for me as the 3rd person pronoun, for reasons of euphony in sentences like the following:

Ei se si sano hi ko se loha hi?
Q 2SG=PERF=say 3SG COMP=2SG=love 3SG
"Did you tell her that you love her?"

Sano hi is marginally acceptable to me, but loha hi is just too hard to say -- the problem is that hi is phonetically extremely weak. I had talked about replacing hi with ti, and ti with to, but the latter in particular I really wasn't prepared to do. So here's the solution: the 3rd-person singular pronoun is now li. This gives us Ei se sano li ko se loha li? for the above sentence, a huge improvement.

I swear Esperanto had nothing to do with this one.

...and now to change my dictionaries and welcome this (hopefully) bright new day in the world of Koa. Next question: should I reconsider [j] and [w] to swell my root numbers a bit? It would be typologically consistent. Back after these important messages.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Numbers: Some Options

I see five options for our numeric system, each with advantages and disadvantages:

1) A separate basic root for each number at each decimal place, i.e. toru = "four," pima = "forty," etc.; pima toru = "forty four."

Pros: It's very clear, no possibility of misunderstanding.
Cons: It uses up far, far too many roots and requires an unreasonable feat of memorization on the part of the learner. Unacceptably ridiculous, in short.

2) Each numeral has a monosyllabic root, and these are simply stacked to build complex numbers. So if sa = "1," he = "2," pu = "5," then hesapu = "215."

Pros: Numbers are very short and simple.
Cons: This works unlike any other derivational process in Koa; it's kind of weird how "100" and "10" aren't overtly mentioned. Despite the fact that this was my initial idea back in 2001 or whenever it was, I don't think it feels right at this point.

3) Each numeral and decimal place has its own bisyllabic root, e.g. sulu = "four," kumi = "ten," súlukumi sulu = "forty-four."

Pros: Very clear; both numeral and decimal place are phonetically salient.
Cons: Resultant forms are the longest of any of our options, especially as we keep going -- súlupima súlukumi sulu = "444," etc. Perhaps more seriously, all numbers above ten have four syllables, the only four-syllable words (I believe) in Koa.

4) Each number is composed of two CV roots, one for number and the other for decimal place; these are arranged in sequence for building. Thus if su = "four," to = "x10^0" lu = "x10^1," then sulu suto or maybe sulu su = "forty four."

Pros: Number roots are nice and short, easy to remember and work with.
Cons: We have to choose between eliminating the vast number of resultant bisyllabic forms from our root array on the one hand (unacceptable), or having a large number of roots that mean one thing in numerical context and something else elsewhere. Sulu, for instance, could mean "forty" when followed by the counting word pi as in sulu pi cumo "forty squashes," but "helmsman" elsewhere: Ka sulu i si suo sulu pi cumo = "The helmsman ate forty squashes." Languages typically do just fine even with huge numbers of homophones (cf. Mandarin), so this might be okay.

5) Each base number has a bisyllabic root, which is then modified by a monosyllabic suffix to indicate decimal place. Thus, if sulu = "4," -ma = "x10^0" and -ho = "x10^1," then súluho súluma or súluho sulu = "44."

Pros: We're using a minimum number of roots, retain monosignificance, and have highly distinct, easily understandable and memorable forms. We retain the basic Koa derivational system, although the suffixes are being used in a different way than they would with nominal roots.
Cons: Numbers are kind of long -- súlune súluho sulu = "444" as opposed to e.g. sune sulu su -- though not ridiculous. Are they distinct enough from each other?

I suppose length isn't something to which we should attach prime importance given, for example, seitsemänsataa kahdeksankymmentäyhdeksän which seems to work just fine as "789" in Finnish.

I think we can throw options 1 and 2 away outright, which leaves us 3, 4, and 5 to choose between -- we'll think it over. In the mean time, note that either way words of quantity need to be separated from the noun by pi, with a slew of unanswered questions, chief among them being whether pi counts as an article. Is "four squashes"...

sulu pi cumo
sulu pi a cumo
a sulu pi cumo
a sulu pi a cumo

In parting, I'm pleased to see that, no matter how we end up doing this, we should have no trouble constructing phrases along the lines of E-o du instruistoj da studentoj, e.g. sulu mehe pi sahi = "four men's worth of beer."