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.