Thursday, December 16, 2010

Questioning the unquestionable: Koa phonology

A crazy idea hit me out of the blue a couple days ago. Or actually, as it turns out, maybe not so crazy, but it certainly seemed that way at the time. By way of background, let me quickly sketch out the (simplified) consonant phoneme inventories of a bunch of languages with small phonologies...

Pirahã: p t ' m n s h
Hawaiian: p k ' m n l h w
Samoan: p t ' m n ŋ l f s v
Blackfoot: p t k m n s h w y
Plains Cree: p t c k m n s w y
Aita Rotokas: p t k m n ŋ r β ɣ
Maori: p t k m n ŋ r f h w
Kiribati: p pɣ t k mɣ n ŋ r β βɣ
Tongan: p t k ' m n ŋ l f s h v
Arapaho: b t č k ' n θ s x h w y
Ainu: p t č k ' m n r s h w y
Cheyenne: p t k ' m n s š x h v
Comanche: p t k ' m n r s h β w y
Finnish: p t d k ' m n ŋ l r s h v y
Bemba: p t č k m n ŋ l f β s w y
Ojibwe: p t č k m n l r f s š ð y w
Inuktitut: p t k q m n ŋ l r s ł v ɣ y
Cherokee: t d ts tl k g kw m n l s h w y
Bislama: p t č k m n ŋ l r f v s h w y
Cebuano: p b t d k g ' m n ŋ r l s h w y
Tagalog: p b t d k g ' m n ñ ŋ l r s h w y
Japanese: p b t d č j k g m n r s z h (w) y
Hittite: p b t d ts k g kw gw m n r l s x h w y

And now, Koa: p t k ' m n l s h

I was really surprised to realize that Koa is conspicuous in the company of these other languages. Exotic, even: along with Pirahã, it is the only language to lack any kind of highly sonorant voiced labial consonant. (It's also somewhat unusual in lacking /y/, but I'm leaving that aside for the moment because (1) Koa does sort of have it in words like ia, and (2) it's not quite as universal.)

So what to do about this? Obviously /w/ has tried to make it into Koa on numerous occasions in the past, and was finally permanently rejected a couple years ago. The thing is, though, that it was always in the company of /y/, and I always conceptualized it as an invariant [w], both of which doomed it for various reasons.

Picturing a putative incoming phoneme as /v/ is really different. It wouldn't need to have all those distribution restrictions: it could pattern just like any other consonant. It could have acceptable variant pronunciations from [v] to [β] to [w], making it accessible to speakers of nearly every language on Earth.* And because its ideal form is still consonantal rather than vocalic, it preserves the overall "feel" of Koa, rather than making it feel all sloppy and amorphous like it was with /y/ and /w/.

It seems, then, like it wouldn't be at all unrealistic to add /v/ to Koa. I'd finally recoup the loss of forms from the departure of /c/ -- 5 particles and 500 roots. I'm kind of terrified of the idea, as it would be a tremendous change, and with so much being created right now, if I work /v/ into things it might be difficult to extricate it if I change my mind later. On the other hand, looking at all those inventories up there, it seems more like the question should be why on Earth not to add it.

I have two possible reasons. One is that, for speakers that pronounce /v/ as [w], we get into some of the same problems of ambiguity that we were grappling with way back when with the other semivowels: mova and moa both end up as [moa], etc. The thing is that (1) like Amelia points out, languages cope with way more homophones than this with absolutely no trouble, and (2) Adam is totally right that the advantages are likely to massively outweigh the disadvantages.

More seriously, I'm really happy with my usitative particle, ua, and I would have to give that up if I were bringing va on board. The grief might be too great to bear. Of course, I could always be idiosyncratic and just use ua instead of va. Hm.

Anyway, this decision is far from being made at this point, but it's certainly looking increasingly likely.

*There are exceptions. Bengali seems to have nothing in this neighborhood and would probably have to resort to [b]. Some other languages like Basque, Catalan and Japanese are kind of marginal, but have similar enough sounds that they could probably pull it off. In any event, it's no worse than /h/ in terms of cross-linguistic universality.

Clarification of pronominal possession strategies

Reading Describing Morphosyntax on the train this morning, I realized what's been going on in my brain all along with the two possible structures for pronominal possession (talking about ni mama vs ka mama ni for "my mother"): I'm pretty sure it's a question of inalienable vs alienable possession.

I don't think I would necessarily prescribe this usage, but it makes sense typologically (alienable possession typically takes more morphology), and perhaps is even a little intuitive. I might explain it in terms of "pronoun + noun" being more inherent, more basic possession: family, body parts, home, language, etc.

And of course, as always, there's no clear line dividing the alienable and the inalienable. It would never be wrong to use either of them in any situation. But I think it's a useful shading to have, and might make speakers coming from that kind of linguistic background feel more comfortable.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Inchoative and cessative

Okay, that's it. Can we please stop beating around the bush and choose these? I've had them on my to-do list since at least 2002.

Here are the available particles, excluding those with no high vowels on the grounds of this post:

hi ku li mi no pu su tu u
ua ue ui uo ie io iu

Wow -- we're really down to the bottom of the barrel. Note that u is back after 10 years or so; I've decided it's a nice enough particle that it deserves a role more important than inclusive "or," and I've moved that over to au in homage to Esperanto.

Inchoative first. Let's translate the phrase "...and then, he started to speak":

e he toa, ta X puhu

Actually, maybe it won't be that hard. I'm thinking su for cessative (sort of like a special kind of si), and mi for inchoative.

e he toa, ta mi puhu.

Likewise, we can do ni su suo ka lono "I ate up my soup," "I finished eating my soup," etc.

Let's let them stand for the moment and see how we like them.

Question: are these necessarily perfective because of their meaning? I'm thinking probably yes. Can I say ta ma mi puhu [when...] "he was starting to talk when..."? Not sure. There isn't a logical reason why not, but there might be a typological one.

Adieu to the shortest-lived particle

Tonight's walk with Sadie gave me some good Koa processing time, which has resulted in the following decision: I really don't need ki as an indefinite pronoun. I can get exactly the same pragmatic effect by just using the passive in presentation form:

(i) si pa ipo ka sahi ni!
ai (i) pa puhu le Koa ne le Niu Ioliku?

You may notice I'm debating the necessity of the initial i in this construction.

Now that ki is freed up, I can use it for what I discovered on my walk to be its true purpose, at least for today: the suite of obligation, necessity, and desire.

I had trouble visualizing it before, I think, because I was thinking of this having verbal force. If I think of it as adjectival, it becomes much easier: ki suo could be glossed as something like "in need of eating," for example; ki pa suo as "needing to be eaten." In answer to the question "What should we have for dinner?" one could answer: [well,] ka sihi i ki pa suo "the vegetables need eating" (or "want eating" if we're British). In the same way, I can look at my watch and exclaim, ni ma ki lahe! "I've gotta get going!", literally something like "I'm in need of leaving."

Of course, we'll still be able to use full verbs or adjectives to express specific concepts: things like ni ma tau ko lahe or (i) tau ko ni lahe "I need to go." But in many cases the force of these auxiliaries in English is more modal than lexical, and I think having this particle will make a lot of much more elegant translations possible.

By the way, a thought from Whole Foods today: one can translate Latin omnia quae fieri possunt "the gamut of existential possibilities" as Koa po a te tai. I think that's pretty damn awesome.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sweet Jesus, VS syntax?!

Spurred on by the aside about obligation in my previous post, and already bouncing ideas about "subjectless" clauses around in my head, I made a discovery on the BART this morning that could be profoundly important if I decide to stick with it.

To start with, let's look at some problematic sentences, using only syntactic structures we've had up to this point.

1. (ko) ne tia i *kuma "it's hot in here"
2. ko ni lahe i tau "I have to get going"
3. ko ni lu mene i te tai "I might go"
4. a ame i (tai) ne ka talo "there's a bird in the house"
5. ka *uli i ma *uli "it's raining" (cf. Turkish yağmur yağıyor)

There's a problem with all of these, which is that (maybe with the exception of 5) they're all stupid. In theory they could be ways of expressing these concepts, but as the basic unmarked way, they fail. "That I leave is necessary?" I really don't think any natural language is going to structure this kind of statement this way, because it completely ignores pragmatics in striving to retain a syntax identical to that found in unproblematic transitive clauses.

I started to recognize this in an earlier post:

In the main, my concerns [...] pertain to the existential construct in general -- I keep wanting to say something like na tai neko me ni, which is clearly in violation of everything everywhere. I think what's happening is the collision of the logical design of the language with human language intuition; hopefully they won't end up being too difficult to reconcile.

Indeed: so how to resolve this?

One option would be to use the topicalizer to rearrange the sentences into something that feels less silly:

1. *kuma sa ne tia
2. tau sa ko ni lahe
3. te tai sa ko ni lu mene
4. tai sa a ame ne ka talo / a ame sa tai ne ka talo
5. ma *uli sa ka *uli

Some of these feel significantly better at first glance, but only at a rapid first glance, because this doesn't solve anything: these sentences are even more pragmatically anomalous than they were before! Because it's the topicalizer that's allowing me to move the verb up to the front this way, I'm ending up saying things like

1. as for being hot, now, that's what it is in here
2. as for necessary things, now, that's what my leaving is
3. as for possibly being the case, that's the deal with my going
4. existing, now, that's what a bird is doing in the house
5. currently raining, now, that's what the rain is doing

I mean, there may be situations where you'd want to slant things this way. But not for the unmarked sentence frame! Furthermore, this completely fails to address what on Earth we'd do if there were no additional arguments/adjuncts to the clause: "it's hot!", for example. Just kuma? You can imagine a language saying it this way, and I'd like it to be an option for Koa in a very informal sense, but once again not as the basic means of communicating this.

Tok Pisin was, of course, my original inspiration for Koa's basic design, and the way Bislama manages this sort of thing eventually wandered into my mind. They just do away with the subject NP altogether: i gat wan pijin long haos "there's a bird in the house," etc. Is there any reason we can't do this in Koa as well?

1. i *kuma ne tia
2. i tau ko ni lahe
3. i te tai ko ni lu mene
4. i me ame ne ka talo OR i tai hu ame ne ka talo
5. i ma *uli

And wow, does that ever work better than anything we've seen before. I can't see any particular problems it would cause at this point, and it gives us a great way of saying i kuma!

2 and 3, though, raise an interesting question: should there be an intonation break after the VP, since the following NP is actually the subject? I.e., i tau, ko ni lahe? I don't want to say yes, because that's not what I'm trying to say: "it's necessary, you know: me going." Once again, it's easy to think of a situation where that would be appropriate, but not as the basic structure.

This is where it hit me: all of the situations where this comes up are intransitive verbs...and I seem to remember from both typology class and Describing Morphosyntax that there's a tendency for SV languages to switch to VS in intransitive clauses (cf. Polish, szła dzieweczka...). What if this is just another allowable syntactic structure in Koa for intransitive verbs?

I think this is sort of like what's called "presentation form" in English: you can say "there is X," "there sits X," etc. In English it starts to feel marginal the further you move from statives: "there sleeps X" "there lives X" are okay but a little weird, but "there eats X" or "there died X" are definitely unacceptable except with humor.

In Koa, though, my philosophy has always been that what you can do to one predicate, you can do to any other. I don't feel comfortable drawing a prescriptive line between which verbs can do this and which can't; theoretically, then, this opens up clauses like i musa po oto "crows are black."

Maybe this could just be limited automatically by speakers' pragmatic instincts. My analysis skills are not sophisticated enough at this point (or maybe I just don't want to think about it that hard right now) to say exactly why, but I feel like po oto i musa is much more appropriate for this statement. And I really hope it's not just because that's how it's done in English.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

How much Polynesian is too much Polynesian?

There's no denying that Koa has a particularly Polynesian-flavored phonology. In fact, I'm pretty sure that this was one of my original influences when I was first working on the language. As we know, though, the same theoretical phonology can produce very different results depending on frequencies, distributional constraints, etc.

Comparing an average body of Koa text to that of any Eastern Polynesian language, for instance, it's immediately obvious that Koa has fewer vowels, and fewer VV sequences. This has a huge effect on the way the language feels in the mouth and, more importantly, how easy it is for someone from a non-Oceanic part of the world to pronounce it.

In fact, I've striven to avoid an excessive pileup of vowels wherever I've been able. As things have been, the maximum number of sequential vowels has probably been limited structurally to 4, in phrases like nae a olu "see a flounder," and this is not particularly frequent. By far CV reigns, with just enough VV action to make things nice and fluid.

The reason I bring this up now is that, as I discussed earlier, I'm coming near the end of my particles, and finally needing to think seriously about where the VV contenders are going to fit in. For instance, I need a "must" particle; it occurred to me that it might be rather nice to use oe, which I glossed as "should" in the first edition of Ea Opi le Koa. The problem with this is that it immediately produces tokens that look way more Polynesian than anything prior. Let's check out some examples.

ni ma oe mene la talo "I've gotta go home now"
ai ni oe na te pa nae? "do I have to be invisible?"
se na oe ipo hu sahi "you don't have to drink wine"
ta oe luke tika "he's gotta read this"

(Honestly, quite apart from phonological considerations, I'm really wondering whether this is the way I want to do this. I conceived it in order to render the E-o -enda kind of semantic -- sahi oe pa ipo "wine that must be drunk -- but I'm not so sure anymore. Anyway, that's not really the point of this post.)

Adam says, quite rightly, "I think there's only so long you can side-step this kind of problem with the phonology you're working with. Sometimes those vowels are just going to want to have a party together in the middle of your sentence and there won't be a damn thing you can do about it." Nevertheless, there are definitely steps I can take to reduce the partying, and keeping forms like oe out of mid-phrase position is one of them.

So, then, a resolution: we'll just have to deal with the nae a olu kind of vowel clusters, and should try not to worry about them overmuch; but the VV particles need to be used for clause-scope functions where they'll find themselves in the company of other vowels as rarely as possible.

Indefinite pronouns and obscuring the agent

I've tentatively created a new particle, ki, equivalent to "oni" in Esperanto or "me" in Yiddish. The idea is that it stands in for a participant without revealing its identity, either because this is unknown or irrelevant, or because its referent is general.

For example, a sign in an occult shop window might say Ki luke po lisu ne tia "Omens read here." The English translation raises the question, though, of how this putative form differs from a straight passive clause like Po lisu i pa luke ne tia.

I feel like there's a definite pragmatic distinction. Let's look at a different situation: suppose it's our Christmas party and everyone is drinking mulled wine. After playing the guitar for a bit, I go back to my glass and discover with surprise that it's empty, as it had been nearly full when I left it. When Amelia asks what's wrong, I can answer in a number of ways:

1. Ka sahi ni i si pa ipo!
2. Ki si ipo ka sahi ni!
3. Huka i si ipo ka sahi ni!
4. Keka sa si ipo ka sahi ni?

1. Straight passive. The arguments are right, but the focus is wrong: here we're focused on the wine, and the current state in which it finds itself (i.e., drunk).

2. Indefinite pronoun:. I feel like this gets at what I'm trying to say better. I'm focusing on the drinking, and the agency/volition whereby it was accomplished, while allowing the actual agent to remain unnamed (in this case, because I genuinely don't know who it is) and unemphasized.

3. Existential complex. Both this and the previous sentence could be glossed by "someone drank my wine!" in English, but there's a very important semantic/pragmatic difference. Huka can mean "someone" -- literally "some of those currently on the discourse stage" -- so it could mean "some person," but is more likely to have the force of "one of them." As such, it's far too accusatory for the intended meaning, and focuses too much on the agent herself rather than on the action.

4. Identity question. I put this in just for fun as an example of how we could get at a very similar meaning in a totally different way. This suffers from the same problems as 3 above, but with the right intonation and humorous atmosphere could still be an appropriate response.

Based on the above, it seems to me that ki is justified, but we'll leave the matter open for now. I'm making a lot of assumptions in my analysis that are based on English focus, and I'd better be sure that this is what's happening in Koa as well: otherwise, if the straight passive is more neutral than in English, for example, there would really be no need for ki.

"Do they speak Koa in New York?"
Ai ki puhu le Koa ne le Niu Ioliku?
Ai le Koa i pa puhu ne le Niu Ioliku?

And so on.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Specifier flowchart

1. Is the predicate referential? That is to say, does it refer to something real and specific in the universe?

Yes → 2

No → 5

2. Is the referent already on the discourse stage, either because it has already been raised or because it lives there by default? Or, is the predicate specific and identifiable in the given context?

Yes → 3

No → 4

3. Does the referent need to be pointed out to specify it? Answer "no" if the referent is identifiable without pointing.

Yes → 8

No → 7

4. Is the amount/quantity of the referent indefinite, unknown, or irrelevant to the discourse? Or, is the referent a mass noun that is not specifically bounded in some way? Or, is the referent being mentioned without the intention of raising it to the discourse stage?

Yes → 10

No → 9

5. Is the referent an abstraction of the quality described by the predicate, whether theoretical or actual?

Yes → 6

No → 11

6. Is the referent a specific instantiation of the abstraction in question?

Yes → 13

No → 12

7. Use ka.

8. Use ti/to depending on deictic distance.

9. Use a.

10. Use hu.

11. Use po.

12. Use ko.

13. Use ko preceded by a specifier. Go back to question 1 and choose "Yes" to determine the correct specifier.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Future

27) I've decided that lu, instead of being a desiderative particle, should instead mark the future tense. The range of usefulness is just so much greater, and otherwise there are some future semantics I'm not sure how to get at. This means that Koa is now one of these languages that draws a future/nonfuture distinction, which is kind of awesome.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Koa big business in progress

My Koa enthusiasm is starting to run out of gas for this cycle, so I want to make sure I quickly document the ideas still bouncing around in my brain for next time. A lot of these are already mentioned in the lexicon but not developed anywhere yet.

1) In proper Welsh spirit, it occurs to me that "bring" and "take" should be translated as tule me and mene me. For example, ta si tule me ka sahi la nu talo "he brought the wine to our house."

2) Currently we have two motion verb roots: tule, which means motion towards the given deictic center, and mene any other kind of motion: either away, or within, or along, or just unspecified. It happens that this is the same arrangement we have in English, which makes me nervous. Do we need another morpheme for movement away from the center? It seems like, logically, either the answer should be yes, or we should dismiss tule and just make do with the allative and ablative particles.

3) I've chosen he as the temporal particle. This gives us he kea "when," he toto "when I was a child," etc.

4) Now that the 3rd-person pronoun has once again been freed from use as a demonstrative, this reopens the pre-predicate slot for pronominal possession. I propose to continue to allow it for the present: thus "my mother" is either ka mama ni or ni mama, with no difference in sense.

5) Speaking of demonstratives, it seems that I've pretty much decided that one is not going to cut it anymore. The problem is that deictic specification is bound to get pretty wordy if I'm determined to make it periphrastic: like, if "here" is aki and "there" is ila, we'd have to say things like ti kunu ne aki and ti kunu ne ila for "this/that dog." In other words, we end up having to use roots to get at these deictic concepts: here/there, this/that, now/then, etc. Who's to say which are important enough to get their own morpheme? In Hungarian there's ilyen and olyan for "in this way" and "in that way," but English and Polish don't distinguish.

Having ti as the near demonstrative and to as the far demonstrative clears this all up neatly, because now ti kunu can be contrasted with to kunu, and we have he tia "now" versus he toa "then," etc. "Here" is ne tia, "there" is ne toa. I think this is better, in the sense that it's far simpler and easier, than any periphrastic alternative; for this reason, even though it makes me a little nervous, it seems like the way to go.

6) I've made ho available as an optional vocative marker. It doesn't have to be used, but there are definitely times when it helps to clear up ambiguity, or disentangle a predicate from a clause that it's not supposed to be an argument in. The idea is that it means "hey!" minus the potential pejorative associations that this can carry in English. Another option would be to use oi, which has a more "hey"-like feel and is less like Latin/Esperanto.

7) Lo is the new causal particle, giving us lo kea "why?", lo tia "because," ni si mene lo ko ni na loha se "I left because I don't love you," etc. This will be used in a lot of situations that "because" wouldn't immediately spring to the mind/lips of an English speaker: a flag flapping in the wind, for example. We'll need to come up with lots of further ones.

8) I seem to be in a fit of particle assignment this time. I'm slightly uneasy because I haven't spent years agonizing about whether these semantics really warrant a particle of their own, etc., but I guess I'll just lay them out, and then I've got something to do for the next year or two.

The next particle is pe, which I haven't found a good Latin name for yet, but which means "about/concerning/with respect to." This can be used in the English sense of "about" in ta ma puhu pe po kunu "he's talking about dogs," but I think there will be a slew of other uses that will come up when I start trying to translate more complex ideas. Li vetas je ĉevaloj, that sort of thing.

If not, though, o might be able to serve this purpose as in Finnish, so let's keep our eye on it. For that matter, o might also be able to take the place of lo as causal, so let's definitely not etch this into marble yet.

Yes, o definitely makes sense with causal meaning; o ko is great for "because" as a conjunction. It's a little weird that o kea would mean both "why" and "from where," though. Either way, a thought: if pe means nothing more than "concerning," what's wrong with ta ma puhu ne *tema po kunu for "he's talking about dogs?" We're going to need some more motivation for this.

9) Unless I can come up with any reasons why it's not a good idea, I'm planning to use la to mean both "to" and "for." Thus, ni ma ana tia la se "I'm giving this to you," whence tia i la se "this is for you." Also, though, this could join clauses with ko: ni si tule la ko ni ana tia la se "I came (in order) to give this to you."

Note that the above sentence is different from ni si tule lo ko ni ana tia la se in that this would mean "I came because I give you these things," a meaning sort of in the same neighborhood but not at all the same. Is it a problem that lo and la are so similar?

10) I think I'm actually okay without having a distinct privative particle: na me is fine. After all, that's what's going on in English without too, right? Ni me sene ala ni na me kunu "I have a cat but I don't have a dog." Maybe na me could even be spelled name sometimes.

11) Indeed: should particles sometimes be joined in writing, or joined to predicates in set constructions? That is to say, should lako "in order to" be one word? Hetia "now?" Tipai or hetipai "today?"

12) As of now, I judge that mo as an adverbializer (or maybe more accurately: similative particle) is still necessary. Its exact uses still need to be figured out.

13) How do you say "how?" It would be so simple to make it mo kea. We'll have to come back to this.

14) I've got a new comparative particle, so. This can also function as in Latin, so ta so mehe could either mean "he's more masculine/male/etc.," or "he's quite a man." The actual comparative construction uses o as "than," and at present can function with or without the comparative particle: ta so iso o ni or ta iso o ni "he's bigger than me." I may prescribe something eventually, or just leave them both as open options: probably better typologically, especially given the actual meaning of so. In that case, there could be a slight difference between ta iso o ni "he's bigger than me," and ta so iso o ni "he's a bunch bigger than me."

By the way, this also means that so is one of three new ways of saying "very." See below for the others.

15) I realized with happiness in the shower last week that we've got a ready-made affirmative particle to contrast with na in exactly the same syntactic positions: ia! This would function to emphasize/topicalize/whatever the truth value of the proposition, thus ni ia lu tule! "I am coming!"

16) Another new particle, but a "verbal" one this time: abilitative li, terminology borrowed from Turkish. My feeling at present is that this encodes innate ability, possibility and permission, but not knowledge (i.e. not umieć). So then, we can say ai se (ma) li nae? "can you see?" as in a movie theater. This also means that the translation of the English -able suffix becomes li pa in Koa: li pa nae "visible," na li pa suo "inedible," etc. (Or should it be nalipasúo, vis-à-vis #11 above?)

17) I alluded to this possibility in my original post on causativity, but I want to formalize that there are (at least) two strategies for this: the "synthetic" causative using the particle mu, and the "analytical" causative using mei "cause." The former denies more direct, possibly physical causation; the latter implies that the causation is more remote. For example: ni si mu mua ta "I killed him," with my bare hands or whatever, vs. ni si mei ko ta mua "I caused him to die," like, by accidentally knocking his heart attack medicine onto the floor.

Note that we are, of course, going to have a "kill" root other than mu mua. This is not Esperanto.

18) Way #2 of saying "very": poli. I think the translation of this on its own should be something like "great," "intense," etc., but I'll firm that up later. The point is that it can follow an adjective to intensify it: koa poli "very good."

Note that this doesn't mean "a lot, much." I don't have a word for this yet...hey, unless it's poli pi X. I guess that bears thinking about: ta si *toma poli pi sahi "he drank a lot of wine." Well, well, well. (Although: does poli need an article here? We need to map this out through various environments.)

Also, why the hell do we still not have a work for "drink?"

19) Reduplication: we've always known we wanted to use it for something, but never settled on exactly what; I think I've more or less defined the semantics I want at this point. With stative predicates it's intensity: pipo puna puna "very red butterfly"; with process verbs it's perseverative: ta ma talu talu "he keeps pushing, pushes on and on, etc."; with punctual verbs it's iterative, but we don't have any roots yet for this -- coughing, jumping, etc. I think that's a good, useful, typologically sensible semantic for this.

I still don't know, though, what reduplication of the pronouns does, if anything: nini, sese, tata, etc.

20) And speaking of pronouns, I have a provisional decision. For a little while there I was doing singular/plural for all persons (ni/nu, se/so, ta/tu), but I don't think that's the way to go. Instead, I've kept nu for "we," possibly exclusive, on the grounds that it really does mean something different than "I," along with seni/senu for dual/plural inclusive. Also possible are ponu "we, all of us (exclusive)," poseni "y'all and me" and posenu "y'all and us." This then becomes the strategy for the other persons: "y'all" is pose, and "they" is pota.

What's uncertain is whether I really want to maintain an inclusive/exclusive distinction (my gut says probably not in an IAL, though seni is still a useful thing to have), and also what happens when these longer forms are used with verbs: i or no i?

Also, if there's seni, why not tani? A matter for further thought. Maybe I'm not as sure about the above after all.

21) We still need inchoative and cessative particles. I'm just saying this out loud so we don't forget. The possibilities are dwindling, by the way: at the moment what we've got left is au eo hi ie (io) iu ki ku mi no oa oe oi pu su te tu ua ue ui. I don't want to recklessly use them all up since I'm sure a whole bunch of heretofore unexpected needs are going to come up when I start translating, but these two I'm pretty sure we're going to want.

22) We might also want a "must" particle -- what is that, obligatory? Gerundive? Anyway, that lets us have a *mupi *su pa nae "movie you've got to see," etc.

23) I've had this problem forever of what I was going to do once I started wanting to join clauses together. In the old days I had put aside the CVV roots for this purpose, thinking (for example) that noo could be "but," and all that sort of thing. My later wisdom thinks this is nuts, because the last thing an IAL needs is a vowel length distinction, especially with the ridiculously unnatural distribution restraint of occurring only in conjunctions.

Later on I started thinking that maybe I could do this with the normal particles, and I have a couple example sentences using no for "but" (not to mention e for clause-joining pretty much forever). On further reflection, though, it started seeming like I wasn't going to have enough material to work with, and conceived the idea of using roots instead: ala for "but," for example, which could also potentially have a nominal meaning of "objection," for example. This would be the final rejection of monosignificance, since these conjunctions wouldn't have particles around them to clearly identify their role in the sentence.

Now I'm really not sure. The fact is that I've (purposely) given so little thought to this kind of higher-level stuff that I really don't even know the range of functions I'm talking about. Some should be coordinating and some subordinating, probably, but which? I shouldn't just be using IE logic here. For example, e for "and" is clearly coordinating, but theoretically I could do the same thing with me ko, thereby nominalizing the following clause. Is this better? Worse? By what criteria should I even be judging? Otherwise how am I to decide between no and ala for "but," or even a "conjunctive phrase" like me ala ko... or something?

Here are some examples of conjunctions, assisted by my Intermediate Esperanto reader: before, after, while, if, and, but, or, because, whether, so that, in order to, although, as if. That's quite a jumble: we're definitely going to have to tease all these semantics apart before proceeding. This is, of course, begging the perhaps more important question, that of how clauses are going to be combined in general, since we can't assume it'll be as in IE languages. Clearly we'll be returning to this one.

24) There has been a serious omission in my basic structure: that of referential instances of general ideas. For example, a polo is "a runner," and ko polo is "running in general," but what about "a run?" Like, "that was a great run?" Or, "I recommend that run over this one?" How do we distinguish between "theft (i.e. stealing)" and "a theft (a particular event)?" Because they're not the same thing, and this is important!

The best I can come up with is doubled specifiers. Thus, if ko polo is "running," then ka ko polo is "the instance of running up on the stage right now," and I can translate "that was a great run" as something like tika i si ko polo so koa, or ti ko polo i si so koa, etc. I don't really see anything wrong with this, except that I've generally tried to avoid stacking specifiers for aesthetic reasons. Note that this means ko polo is sort of shorthand for ko ko polo which I assume would never appear.

25) I had this idea that ha "if" should operate at the predicate rather than clause level, both to extend its usefulness and reduce Koa's reliance on IE structures. As such, it could be called conditional or irrealis or something (though clearly not marking every irrealis concept). So we'd have se ha teke ta, pota lu tule "if you build it, they will come," etc. All kinds of stuff about TAM marking needs to be worked out for both the protasis and apodosis, and of the latter, whether it needs to be introduced by some kind of conjunction or what. But anyway, this lets us say things like ka ha loha ni "my would-be lover," which I think is neat.

26) This post has grown at least 200% beyond my original intention during the days I've spent composing it, as more and more thoughts crystallized in my brain. This is the point where I cut myself off for the moment, as it's getting kind of ridiculous. This last point, though, is one of potentially the hardest hitting of all of them, and one which will require the most soul searching.

Koa ought, it seems, to use serial verbs. It's consistent with the typology of a language with this kind of morphology, and enables the expression of complex ideas in a straightforward (and totally non-IE) way; and what's more, Koa is totally set up to use it right out of the box (and, to my delight, exactly like Bislama). For example, take the sentence "the frog killed the bad man with magic." Right now, this would go something like ka iki i si mu mua ka mehe pua me eme. Lots of isolating languages, though, use the "use" verb to do this sort of thing, and there's no reason Koa couldn't as well! Thus: ka iki i si mu mua ka mehe pua i *usa (k)a eme. Or, turning the emphasis around, ka iki i si *usa (k)a eme i mu mua ka mehe pua, "the frog used magic to kill the bad man." Without serialization, this would be something like ka iki i si *usa (k)a eme la ko mu mua ka mehe pua.

It's the same thing for lots and lots of concepts. We could use i ana instead of la for benefactive expressions. And beyond fossilized semi-prepositional usages, it would work great for chains of events, rather than assuming we should an IE narrative framework: why not the "he drive car hit buffalo die" kind of structure, rather than "he crashed his car into a buffalo and died?"

I don't think there's anything wrong with any of these. I suspect IE-language speakers would tend to regard serial verb constructions as unsophisticated, and speakers of languages making frequent use of serialization would consider our systems as needlessly and possibly incomprehensibly complex. I'd really like to make all of these ways available, and let people choose what works best; but I have this feeling that serialization is going to end up being the more frequent strategy for a variety of reasons, and I want to make sure I give it its due in my descriptions and in eventual didactic texts.

As such, I really need to do some serious research on serial verbs cross-linguistically. Maybe Johanna Nichols could direct me to some resources; the web is failing me completely at this point.

And that's all for today. This is a big month for Koa! I think this may be the most it's grown at one time since about the year 2002.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Question particle switch

An important decision: the question marker ei has been changed to ai. I decided that ei was likely to be too similar to e for many speakers to bear this kind of load, especially with the realization that this particle probably also means "or [exclusive]" and "whether."

So, then:

Ai se halu a sahi?
Ai se halu a iso ai a *mini? be distinguished from e.g.:

Ai se halu a sai u a kope?

[Ugh: just realized that sahi "wine" and sai "tea" are almost the same word. And also that u a and ua are going to be pronounced identically, so I'd better keep ua confined to different syntactic positions.]

I really owe you a post about adding another demonstrative particle, to; I'll be back ASAP.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Nhanda saves posssession

Today I picked up my Nhanda grammar at random with the intention of trying to find incompatibilities with Koa. The page I opened the book to just happened to describe nominal derivation, specifically the comitative and privative suffixes. A few samples:

nyarlu abarla-waa
woman child-COM
"the woman is pregnant"

ardu-tha apa-waa
spouse-my water-COM
"my husband is drunk"

thudu mindinyu-waa
meat maggot-COM
"the meat has maggots"

yatka-nu nguutu-waa
go-PIMPF horse-COM
"he went away on horseback"

ngayi ardu-nyida
1SG spouse-PRIV
"I haven't got a sweetheart"

wilu-nggu apa-nyida
river-LOC water-PRIV
"there's no water in the river"

I marveled for a bit at the examples and was about to put the book down when it struck me: first of all, Koa me can be used for all sorts of things I wasn't really thinking about, and I should clearly be thinking of it as a comitative case particle (or Turkish -li) rather than simple "with"; but most crucially, I've been having such trouble with semantics in possessive clauses in Koa because I've been doing it backwards.

Using me as my particle of possession, I was constructing phrases like a sene i me ni on a Russian/Finnish/Welsh/etc. model. They drove me crazy with aesthetic dislike: the particle with sene is clearly wrong but there's nothing to replace it with; why is "is with me" the predicate here, when clearly it's the cat that should be in that spotlight? All of this goes away when I do it like Nhanda, whether the clause is affirmative, negative or interrogative:

ni me sene
1SG COM cat
"I have a cat"

ta na me sene
"he doesn't have a cat"

ei se me sene?
QU 2SG COM cat
"do you have a cat?"

It's perfect, and I'm almost embarrassed not to have thought of this before: marking the dependent instead of the head. In this way me sene becomes a flexible compound predicate like any other, giving us ti mehe me sene "that guy with the cat," etc. (lit. "that guy who has a cat" -- clearly if the cat is a specific one that's on the stage already, it would be ti mehe me ka sene)

Having me available for use in this way also reaffirms my thought that it can be used as an instrumental (ta si mene me tupo "he went on horseback") and adds that great Turkish -li functionality: a talo me asa "house full of spiders," "spider-having house." What a coo. I'm almost giddy with excitement.

A question, then: since we've got -li, what about -siz? Do we have a privative particle, or make do with na me? I was playing around with no for this, a kind of inside joke; here's how they would compare:

ti soe i na me kala
SPEC river 3SG NEG COM fish
"that river has no fish"; "there are no fish in that river"

ti soe i no kala
SPEC river 3SG PRIV fish

Or turning to our ever-popular possession of cats, manifestly a crucial matter to be able to discuss:

ni na me sene
"I don't have a cat"

ni no sene
1SG PRIV cat

Used adjectivally:

a talo na me ko loha
"a loveless house"

a talo no ko loha
INDEF house PRIV SPEC love

I'm sort of surprised to be liking the na me sentences more. I wonder if it's because I'm not used to having this kind of privative machinery at work in the primarily IE languages of my deeper acquaintance, or a dislike for the chosen particle (do these improve as, for example, ti soe i lo kala, ni lo sene, a talo lo ko loha?). I should think about this, because I rather think it would be nice to have a separate morpheme for "without" rather than just na me.

Or maybe that's just IE stubbornness.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Conditions of specifier omission

There are certain circumstances, fairly well defined at this point, in which predicates* may or must appear without specifiers. These include the following:

• when used as a modifier of a preceding predicate
talo iso "big house"

• vocatives & imperatives
tule, seneki! "come, kitty!" (is this too ambiguous? e.g. polo! could be either "hey, runner!" or "run!")

• with pronouns as an alternative possession structure
ni mama "my mother"

• with the quantifiers po and hu in a pragmatic rather than logical context
po mehe i pua "men are bad"; ana hu sai la ni! "give me some tea!"

• with the negative operator na in the same way
na sene i ne tia "there are no cats in there"

• with the adverbializer mo when the predicate is non-referential
ta lalu mo sene "she sings like a cat"

It's this last usage in particular that I'd like to explore today, as there are other particles that exert what might be called an "adverbializing" force, in which context it's often the case that none of the specifiers appears to fit the bill completely.

This came up for me recently around locator predicates. Suppose *sala means "inside." Predicates like this let us refine our expression of position: ne ka talo can mean "in, on, at, around the house," but something like ne ka sala ka talo ni can mean only "inside my house."

The question is, what particle should precede sala in the above example? It's true that my house does, indeed, have a real, specific, individual inside space that you can point at. This would seem to necessitate ka as used above. The thing is, though, that it's not really being used that way. We're not saying ka sala ka talo se i *kali "the inside of your house is pretty," or something like that, where the existence and character of that "inside space" are being commented on.

Clearly, none of the other specifiers are more appropriate (a, ko, po, hu, etc.), but my question is whether we can do away with the particle altogether in this kind of construction and just say ne sala ka talo ni. In this way, ne sala becomes something of a derived particle of its own, as well as a set adverbial phrase: Ne kea sa ta? Ne sala. This would be similar to Spanish debajo de, or Polish wewnątrz, etc.

I don't see any particular reason not to do this, though it does raise the question of where to draw the line. Can I say, for instance, Ni si ana ka sahi la mama le Mia? for "I gave Mia's mother the wine?" This is approaching the Welsh rule that the possessed noun in a possessive construction is definite by default, and therefore no article is needed.

The thing is that ne sala as a fossilized adverbial phrase is much more relevant, much less marked than la mama. I think for this reason, it feels okay to me to do this in the former case and not in the latter, but I'm bothered by the fact that there doesn't seem to be an absolute criterion to determine where the division should fall.

If frequency/utility/markedness is the issue at hand, though, why do ne talo and la talo sound so awful to me? They seem like ideal candidates for this kind of construction: Ni halu ko mene la talo "I want to go home." Ne kea sa le Keosi? Ne talo le Lopeto. "Where's Josh? At Robert's." Actually, I have no problem at all with these when used in a possessive construction, but on their own...Nea kea sa le Keosi? Ne talo. Hm. I don't know.

It may end up hinging on the semantics of the specifierless noun: ne talo and ne sala are cultural/spatial concepts that have their own general, abstract existence. La mama isn't really in the same boat, at least here in the United States; plus there's something that feels very unique and definite about a mother that makes this difficult for me as well.

Well then. I was hoping to find a definitive answer to this question here, but I don't think it's going to happen just yet. Let's percolate on it.

*One of two ways of referring to "content words" in Koa as of today, the other being "lexemes." I'm not sure which is preferable at this point. These stand in contrast, of course, to the other main Koa word class, particles. A subset of predicates known as "names" constitute something of a third class in that their behavior differs slightly from ordinary predicates.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Looking over the previous entry, I'm drawn to the inevitable conclusion that Koa has now reached a level of complexity at which we can't continue to function without a cumulative reference grammar. I guess I've got myself a new project.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The sweeping generalization in Koa

As I was giving Amelia a brief crash course in Koa the other night, trying to come up with unproblematic demonstration sentences (not always an easy enterprise in this language), I came up against an unexpected stumbling block in the Koa translation of the sentence "I eat squash."

What specifier do you use with squash here? It's not ka, since we're not talking about any real, specific squash sitting there on the discourse stage, unless of course we introduce a new rule saying that ka is used in a general situation like this on the logic that it's always on the stage because it's all the squash there is. I don't know about that one.

It's not a for the same reasons and even more so: we're not talking about specific squashes, not raising anything to the stage.

In Koa writings of long ago, I once used ko here, as in ...suo ko sihi..., but this also makes me nervous. Obviously no one is actually eating "squashness" or "squashity" or whatever, so the sentence wouldn't be using the particle with its usual meaning. Given that there's no actual possibility of misunderstanding here, though, my "naturalness over logic" approach would tend to say that this might be a possibility.

Could we come up with a context in which this would be a problem? How about "I like cats." Using ko, this would be Ni hopi ko sene. This would also translate as "I like felinity." I don't know if this is going to work.

The particle that I threw in off the top of my head when talking to Amelia was hu. Indeed, this makes total sense when interrogative or negative: ni na suo hu sumo "I don't eat any squash," equivalent to "I don't eat squash, period." The positive gets a bit more Loglanish, though: ni suo hu sumo, "I eat some amount/set of squash." This does, of course, logically mean that the person in question is a squash-eater, since "some" here means any amount greater than 0 ("there is some squash that I eat"), but the unnaturalness kind of chafes.

Plus, does it make any sense with a count noun? Could Ni hopi hu sene mean "I like cats?" Well, using the logical paraphrase, this would mean "there are some cats that I like," which is not what this sentence generally means in English. I think a better translation might be Ni hopi po sene: "I like [all] cats," in the same sense as Po mehe i pua "[all] men are bad."

Then again, is the assertion "I like cats" equivalent to "I like all cats?" I'm not sure that it is. In a way, I feel like "I like felinity" is more on the mark.

A crazy idea that occurred to me in the shower this mornin, centered around the fact that we're not talking about either any real cats or felinity as an abstract concept. As such, none of our particles are 100% appropriate, which leads me to recall that, in some languages, objects in this situation would be incorporated.

Could this be a solution in Koa? Could "I eat squash" become Ni suo sumo ("I squash-eat"), and "I like cats" be Ni hopi sene ("I cat-like")?

Well, what would this mean? In a structure like this, the second word should be modifying the first adjectivally. To figure out if using words in this way would cause a problem, we're going to need a sentence in which the object could also be a description of the agent, something that's proving more difficult than we might have expected.

I think the most fruitful area will be if the object is an adjective. For example, forgiving the subject matter, take ta [murder] [evil]. Using "object incorporation," this could mean either "he is an evil murderer" or "he murders evil ones," obviously a completely unacceptable ambiguity even if we have loosened up in recent years.

So no object incorporation, then. Luckily, as it turns out, we already have a solution to this problem! Exactly one year ago (eerily), I wrote: "the predicate logic design isn't necessarily all that relevant to human linguistic needs; what I've done is to give that meaning to these particles in conjuction with an article, but to give them a more pragmatic/specifier-type when immediately preposed to a noun." Among the following examples are these:

po *neko = cats in general
poa *neko = every cat, period
poka *neko = all of the cats onstage/in the given set

So there we have it. In that case, "I eat squash" becomes ni suo po sumo, and "I like cats" is ni hopi po sene. And let's try not to forget it again a year from now...

Monday, November 1, 2010

How's your day going?

Mo kea sa ka pai se?

Written to Mia via chat on 11/1/10

This is an interesting one. Since ideally the question word is of the same form as what's going to replace it ("koa," "pua," etc. in this case), it looks on the face of it like the question should really be Kea sa ka pai se? I was going to say that this is obviously stupid, but now I start to think about it...

Isn't the "what kind" question necessarily in reference to a definite NP, where as the "what" question refers to an indefinite one? So we could have kea sa a talo be "what is the house," and kea sa ka talo be "what kind of house is it."

The logically possible combinations, then, and their translations would be as follows:

kea sa a talo? < a talo i kea? "what is a house?"

kea sa ka talo? < ka talo i kea? "what is the house like?" "what kind of house is it?"

keka sa a talo? < a talo i keka? "which of them is a house?" or similar

keka sa ka talo? < ka talo i keka? "which one is the house (you were talking about?)"

If this is the case, a question like "how is your day" would be translated as Kea sa ka pai se? Well, at least that part. As to aspect, though...

...should it be aorist as above? Or imperfect because we're talking about the internal structure of a bounded event? Or perfective because we're talking about the show so far? Maybe it's the difference between "how has your day been?" and "how is your day going," which pragmatically is not very important.

Now, if it is some aspect other than aorist, how on earth do we apply topicalization?!

Ka pai se i si kea?

Si kea [sa [ka pai se]]?

Kea [si sa [ka pai se]]?

Kea [sa [ka pai se] si]?

Kea [sa [ka pai se] si DUMMY VERB?

I think the only reasonable possibility would be to front the entire verb complex avec aspectual particle, or the dummy verb strategy that we're going to have to figure out later.

Really the whole topicalization-with-verbs issue is a problematic one. I don't know if we ever really thought about what the hell we would do if, for example, we're topicalizing a transitive verb:

ta si suo a nuhu "[and then] he ate a beetle."

ei si suo sa ta a nuhu? "[wait, what?] he ATE a beetle?"

Obviously that doesn't work. What if we passivize the verb so we can have an oblique argument?

a nuhu si pa suo o ta > ei si pa suo sa a nuhu o ta?

Yeah, I don't know what to say about that, really. Anyway, why use the passive when it's the verb we want to be emphasizing in the first place? A couple options:

• Use a dummy verb: ei suo sa ta si *teke a nuhu? lit. "Is it eating that he did to the beetle?"

• Use some kind of cleft construction, topicalizing the whole sentence instead of just the verb. We don't have a way of doing this preconfigured; how to translate "Is it that X..." into Koa? Ei tia sa, ko ta si suo a nuhu? You don't have to analyse this into an IE cleft construction at all, actually, which is nice -- it just means "is that it, is that right?" In fact, we could even use the "true" root, which doesn't exist yet, to do this!

So yes, actually, I'm potentially happy with either of those.

What about "how" in the genuine adverbial sense? I came up with mo kea on the analogy of Bislama olsem wanem, literally "like what?" Does it make sense for me to use this? We need some examples.

Okay, here we go: "How do I find a frog?" know, even before I get to the "how," this is anything but straightforward. We haven't given any thought to the semantics of questions, but what exactly is being asked here? It's something like "what are the steps by which I might find a frog?" My temptation is to render this with "can" ("how can I...") but that's just Polish thinking, I bet. Let's leave that aside and just use the root verb for now.

HOW sa ni luta a iki?

Well, what are some potential answers to this question?

* "With a froggy divining rod."

* "Look in a pond," or "do the following things..."

* "Very cautiously."

What are these answers, then? One is an adverb of manner, another an instrumental noun, another an imperative verb. Clearly the question can't possibly anticipate all of these syntactically. Well...actually, if the question were more pointedly "what instrument do I use to find a frog," it would be appropriate to begin with me kea. But supposing that we have no knowledge to start with...

1) maybe mo kea makes sense, but

2) maybe the whole structure of the question should be different: essentially "I do what so I find frog?"

Kea sa ni teke la ko ni luta a iki?

I mean, that's really the question here, once we take away conventionalized IE ways of saying it.

Se luta a iki mo ko se teke tika...

Of course, clausal connectors are an area I've almost entirely neglected so far, so I have no idea how this is going to work. I'm sure some morphologically simple languages would say something more like "se lu luta a iki, se teke tika..." etc. Lots of stuff to figure out.

Back to musical chairs with the particles

So after a mere five minutes or so with the letter reproduced in the previous post, Adam pointed out that a phrase like ti kani was ambiguous: it could mean either "she sings" or "that singer."

Damn damn damn damn.

I mean, thank heavens he caught it. But I'm embarrassed that I could have let this happen, particularly with the enormous quantity of thought I gave to the decision to let the demonstrative subsume the role of the 3rd-person pronoun. But it was not to be; and really, I didn't want it to be that much anyway.

This means that ti is back to being a demonstrative and only a demonstrative, and we have a slot open for 3rd singular.

I was tempted at first to let hi return to its own, but really I think my original reasons for jettisoning it are still valid: (e.g. ni loha hi, pretty close to unpronounceable for me).

My solution for the present, that I'm feeling pretty pleased with overall, is this: the 3rd singular pronoun becomes ta, a nice gift for Mandarin speakers (which hopefully compensates for the irritation of ni), and the topicalizer reverts to sa to free up the position.

Now, yes, I know that we got rid of sa in that role to avoid sequences like ei se sa si sano, but I think Koa speakers can figure it out, and that particular particle has always felt so right to me in that position. And I think ta has a very nice pronouny feel to it.

Take note, then: all those ti kani pua, &c., from the letter to Adam should now be reforged as ta kani pua.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Nominal vs adjectival predicates in Koa, OR attribution vs identity

I wrote Adam an e-mail last week asking for his help in clearing up some long-standing confusion/debate in the Koa universe. We haven't solved the big problems yet, but the process of writing and initially talking about the e-mail has provoked some changes already, so I want to document it here.

Hey, Adam,

Pursuant to our eventual conversation (or possibly even instead, depending on how easy this ends up being to resolve), I wanted to give you the scoop on the Koa issue I'm struggling with along with some examples. You may want to print this, as it is several thousand pages long. :)

What causes the issue is that Koa doesn't have IE-style parts of speech at all. There are basically three categories: content words, particles, and names. Particles are a closed class of monosyllabic words with primarily inflectional/syntactic and some derivational functions; names are predictably an open set not required to conform as strictly to Koa phonology; and the bisyllabic base content words which can be combined to render new meanings.

What English POS a Koa content word belongs to is determined entirely by syntactic position: any word can fall into any class depending on how it's used. For example, using koa "good":

eme koa
magic good
"good magic" (adjectival)

ti eme i koa
that magic 3P good
"this magic is good" (verbal/stative)

ka koa ta ni si ana la ka sene
the good TOP 1SG PERF give ALL the cat
"as for the good one(s), I gave it/them to the cat" (nominal)

ei se si suo koa ne tipai?
QU 2SG PERF eat good LOC
"have you eaten well today?" (adverbial)

The logic behind all this goes something like the following. Starting with kani "sing" and pua "bad," we can progress like this:

ka kani
the sing
"the one singing, the one who sings, the singer"

ti kani
3SG sing
"she sings"

ka kani pua
the sing bad
"the one singing badly/who sings badly, the bad singer"

ti kani pua
3SG sing bad
"she sings badly / she is a bad singer"

The problem comes up with the gloss of that last item. Are "she sings badly" and "she is a bad singer" really identical in meaning outside of lojban? I got here because I was trying to translate the sentence "she's a good singer, but she's singing badly today." I was going along these lines:

ti kani koa, no ti ma kani pua ne tipai
3SG sing good but 3SG IMPF sing bad LOC
"she's a good singer, but she's singing badly today"

See, verbs without an aspect particle are automatically aorist, so ti kani koa has a timeless, general, non-referential meaning, whereas ti ma kani pua is referring to a real instantiation of bad singing occurring at some point in time.

Another option would be to use some derivational morphology to help accent the distinction being made. The suffix -ma indicates frequent/serious involvement with the root in question, either professionally or otherwise, so we could make kánima, "singer":

ti kani-ma koa, no ti ma kani pua ne tipai
3SG sing-AG good but 3SG IMPF sing bad LOC
"she's a good singer, but she's singing badly today"

But what if she's not someone who identifies as a "singer?" What if she's actually an accountant who just sings at family gatherings sometimes and is actually pretty insecure about her voice, despite the fact that she sings well (except for tonight). I feel like using -ma here dilutes whatever utility that suffix would ordinarily have.

Or again, we could use the putative particle mo. I've been going back and forth for at least 8 years on whether this should actually exist; it would be an adverbializing particle, meaning "in the manner of" or "as/like," etc. Literally, then, we could do something like

ti ma kani mo pua
3SG IMPF sing as bad
"she is singing in the manner of a bad one = she is singing badly"

I feel like this starts to get at the disconnection I want to see between her current performance and her actual identity. At the same time, though, I wonder whether I'm being picky about having access to exactly the same distinctions I use in English, despite the fact that this is an IAL and there's going to HAVE to be a lot of context informing anything anyone says.

In other words, is the difference between English "she sings badly" and "she is singing badly" (and the Koa analog, the difference between an aorist and imperfect verb) sufficient to be the ONLY structural difference between these two concepts in a language?

English tends to get at this sort of thing with parts of speech, too, which is something that makes me feel uncomfortable about Koa. What if I want to say something totally straightforward, like "Adam is a man?" Note that "masculine" in the glosses below doesn't mean "characterized by some qualities associated with men" like in English, but rather a pure adjectival form of "man" which English has trouble forming.

a mehe
a man
"a man; a male/masculine one"

a keli mehe
a dog man
"a male/masculine/man dog"

le Átami i mehe
NAME Adam 3SG man
"Adam is a man OR Adam is male/masculine"

Is this a problem? Is there a difference between "Adam is male" and "Adam is a man," leaving aside questions of age?

Going back to mo, I originally conceived it with the aim of using it to set off all adverbial phrases. I realized later that it's not actually necessary for that purpose, and abandoned it. Later I started to think it might not be superfluous after all and relegated it to limbo. What about a concept like "she sings like a dog?" Can I do this with that V X structure where X is automatically adverbial?

ti kani keli
3SG sing dog
"she is a canine singer = she dogsings = she sings like a dog?"

I was thinking that maybe "dogsinging" isn't quite the same concept as singing like a dog, in which case it would be preferable to say

ti kani mo keli
3SG sing as dog
"she sings like a dog"

Although once again I'm wondering if I'm just trying to parallel English structure here. A similar example:

ti kani 1642
3SG sing 1642
"she is a 1642 singer = she sings like it's 1642?"


ti kani mo ne 1642
3SG sing as LOC 1642
"she sings in the manner of in 1642 = she sings like she/they did in 1642"

I guess the semantic I'm trying to put my finger on is that of "like" above: resembling something, but not actually being it. She's not really singing back in time, so the sentence shouldn't be saying she is. But, the sentence that started all this off, she really WAS singing badly! So if that's what mo means, I can't use it anyway. But there is this situation, which may really and finally necessitate it:

ti kani ka keli ni
3SG sing the dog 1SG
"she sings my dog. what the hell does that even mean."

ti kani mo ka keli ni
3SG sing as the dog 1SG
"she sings like my dog" which case the adverbial construction V X would be interchangeable with V mo X in carrying implied indefiniteness: essentially V mo a X. Mo could be used, or not, depending on speaker preference and whether it seems to add clarity. It would be required, though, when X is definite, modified, etc. I think.

Anyway, this is the patch of thorns that I've been unable wholly to extricate myself from for the last ten years or so, and I'm hoping you have some amazing crystal-clear thought that forever eliminates all doubt. Or something. What do you say?


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The line between demonstratives and personal pronouns

Vis-à-vis the previous post, if ti can be both "he" and "that," what does this mean for the other personal pronouns?

This is to say: what, actually, should ni talo and se talo mean?

One option is that we've created a three-way deictic system along Romance lines. I have to say, though, that using the personal pronouns in this way feels intensely counterintuitive to me. I need some feedback here from other humans.

Another option would be to treat these structures as appositive. In this way, we'd have

ti neko = him, the cat = "that cat"
se neko = you, the cat = "you cat," as in "you cat, you!" or "you, cat that you are..."
ni neko = me, the cat = "me, being the cat that I am..." etc.

Maybe that's the most sensible thing. Note that this means ni neko does NOT mean "my cat" anymore.

I find myself wishing that the 3rd-person pronoun could be to instead of ti. On the other hand, I like the kea/tia opposition several thousand times more than this putative kea/toa idea, so I'm stymied again.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The pronoun waffle

No, no, it definitely is a real and serious problem that speakers of Cantonese can't distinguish between the current 1st- and 3rd-person singular pronouns in this putative IAL. I think we've got a built-in solution, though, happily: now that pronominal possession is accomplished via postposed pronouns, there's nothing stopping our using ti both as a pronoun and a demonstrative. This means we can express the following range of meaning with ti:

ti talo i puna
"this house is red"
(demonstrative specifier)

tika i puna
"this is red"
(demonstrative pronoun)

ti si mene la le Elopa
"he went to Europe"
(personal pronoun)

ka neko ti i na si mene
"his cat did not go"
(possessive pronoun)

Now the only problem is that ti sure does sound like a second-person pronoun to my Indo-European ears. *sigh* You can't please all the people all the time.