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?

...to 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?"

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.

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.