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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?"
Um...you 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.
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.