Monday, December 12, 2011

Object incorporation

This may deserve more discussion than I'm about to give it, but I really just want to get it down in print. Throughout Koa's development, there's been a lot of flip-flopping about the proper specifier to use with general objects. Back in 2007 I have clauses like

ka mehe i suo ko sihi
DEF man 3P eat ABSTR vegetable
"the man eats vegetables"

These days ko sihi means "vegetableness" (or should that be "vegetability?"), and I would be more likely to phrase this as

ka kane i suo hu sihi
DEF man 3P eat PART vegetable
"the man eats [some] vegetables"

Here hu is indicating that the vegetables in question are entirely non-specific and are not being raised onto the discourse stage. The problem, though, is that hu is, by definition, referential, and these vegetables are not: they're not real vegetables that exist somewhere, they're abstract vegetables, vegetables in general. As such, I've sometimes wondered whether I should use po, the only remaining non-referential specifier:

ka kane i suo po sihi
DEF man 3P eat GNRL vegetable
"the man eats vegetables"

This makes me nervous too, though, because po literally means "all" (the universal quantifier), and I'm imperatively not trying to say that this man eats all vegetables. For reference, the primary use of unaccompanied po is in phrases like

po sihi i ki-pa-lóha
GNRL vegetable 3P REQ-PASS-love
"[all] vegetables are for loving, to be loved"

So of all of these, semantically I think po comes closest to the intended meaning, but still feels instinctively wrong to me. My new Nahuatl grammar tipped me off to why this is. Unfortunately I don't have it to hand at the moment, but basically its unmarked word order for transitive clauses with definite objects is V-S-SPEC-O, whereas with indefinite objects we get V-O-S. In other words, object incorporation.

I realized, then, that the reason I'm having trouble finding the right specifier is that there shouldn't really be a specifier at all: the object should be thought of as forming part of the meaning of (i.e. modifying) the verb, and as such should follow it directly. I never wanted to do this because I was afraid I was letting my English intuition influence me, and I wasn't comfortable with this notion of modification of the verb, but I'm pretty sure this is very well motivated cross-linguistically. This gives us clauses like

le Keoni i [ua] suo sihi he pai poa
NAME John 3P [HAB] eat vegetable TIME day all
"John eats veggies every day"

ni na ipo sahi
1SG NEG drink wine
"I don't drink wine"

ka tata ni i loha ko huvo kala
DEF dad 1SG 3P love COMP catch fish
"my dad loves catching fish"

I'm pretty happy with this. Note that it's not just any indefinite objects, but general objects that get put into this construction. If the object is a real thing that exists in the world, but indefinite, it's marked with a:

le Keoni i si suo a sumo íso-no
NAME John 3P PERF eat INDEF squash big-AUG
"John ate an enormous squash"

HOWEVER, there are some unanswered questions here that will require thought. What happens if the general object is qualified?

ni ipo sahi koa mono
1SG drink wine good only
"I only drink good wine"

Hoboy, that's a big pile of unparticled predicates. I mean, maybe that's fine, but it's exactly the kind of thing we've striven against in general. And what if it keeps going?

ni ipo sahi puna koa o le Kalipónia mono
1SG drink wine red good ABL NAME California only
"I only drink good red wine from California"

ni ipo anu, kava, e sahi puna koa o le Kalipónia mono
1SG drink water, coffee, and wine red good ABL NAME California only
"I only drink, water, coffee, and good red wine from California"

Okay, okay, I guess that's fine, really. It's an adjustment, but I think it's entirely sensible and likely to be intuitive to a lot of people. One final thought: maybe I could use po optionally in this context for clarity? Thus

ni ipo po anu, po kava, e po sahi puna koa o le Kalipónia mono
1SG drink GNRL water, GNRL coffee, and GNRL wine red good ABL NAME California only
"I only drink, water, coffee, and good red wine from California"

Excellent -- having that option makes me feel much more comfortable.

An unrelated question: how do we say "all/every" in an adjectival context? Poka and poa are pronouns, so...what does that mean? Would "I opened all the doors" be Ni si ava poka ovi? Ni si ava ka ovi poa? Ni si ava ka ovi poka? Wouldn't this last one mean "I opened everyone's doors?" And wouldn't the first one be ungrammatical, since you certainly couldn't say tika ovi, for instance? I don't know, but we'd better figure it out.

P. S. Just realized I completely forgot about u! U owes at least half of its existence to the need to disambiguate in situations like the above:

ni ipo sahi [u] puna, [u] koa, [u] o le Kalipónia mono
1SG drink wine [REL] red, [REL] good, [REL] ABL NAME California only
"I only drink good red wine from California"
literally "I drink only wine which is red, good, and from California"

Amelia points out rightly that there must also be less syntactically complex ways of expressing these kinds of concepts, and I really need to spend some time articulating some of these possibilities. For the moment, though, I'm glad to see that one can, at least, resolve the syntax of clauses like this even without an overt specifier on the objects.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I love you very much

This evening Amelia was trying to get a handle on the basics of Koa syntax by throwing some example sentences back and forth with me, and she innocently brought up "I love you very much." I was shocked and dismayed to discover that there didn't appear to be any good way to do it.

I realized that heretofore all my adverbial thought experiments had, embarrassingly, involved only intransitive verbs. As such, there was no problem with clauses like ta ipo poli "she drinks a lot." What on Earth happens when there's a direct object, though?


Ni loha poli se? Clearly not. This strategy would reach absurdity with a sentence of the slightest complexity.


Ni loha se poli? Feels natural to me as an English speaker, but poli is stranded out there with no particle pointing out its function, something that Koa generally doesn't allow.


Ni loha se mo poli? Well, there's no doubt we're dealing with an adverb this way, but the semantics seem weird: if we don't allow a standard IE interpretation, wouldn't this be something like "I love you in the manner of one that is much?" Or...something anomalous, anyway.

Ni lóhano se? Okay, sort of, but this really means "I adore you." Maybe that's the same as "I love you very much," but maybe it's not. Really lóhano is a different word than loha; I wouldn't want to positively require derivation just to express this simple concept.

Ni *ve loha se, where *ve is an intensifier along the lines of ce in early Koa? Amelia was enthusiastic about this possibility, but it has the same problems now as it did way back when: why should this be the use to which one of my precious few remaining particles is put? And shouldn't such a stressable word be, well, a word rather than a particle, which is in principle unstressable?

At this point I ran out of ideas, and was feeling pretty glum about this major gap I had somehow managed to leave in Koa syntax. While walking the dog, though, a couple things occurred to me:

First of all, there's no need for a ve intensifier even if I wanted to go that route, because I already have ia. They would end up being basically the same thing: a ia/ve kane "a real man," for instance. Thus Ni ia loha se is one good way of rendering this, depending on the desired meaning -- it matches well with English "I really love you," which is pretty semantically similar.

Secondly, I discovered when I started trying to think of other verbs in English that could enter into this kind of construction besides "love," which turned out to be rather harder than I expected, that the particular wording of the English clause is deceptive. I was predisposed to thinking of it as relating to quantity because we use the word "much," but semantically the effect on the verb is actually the same as in the sentence "I tried really hard" which has no notion of quantity at all.

In reality, then, what we're looking at is intensification, pure and simple, and we have a well-established way of handling that: reduplication. Thus the closest translation of the English phrase would have to be Ni loha loha se. I think that's something we can live with.

Incidentally, about mo poli, I think the problem with the sample sentence above becomes clear when we use this in a place that really calls for it: ni ipo sahi mo poli "I drink wine a lot," for instance. Ni loha se mo poli would end up having more of the sense of "I love you frequently," which is nowhere close to the intended meaning.

One last unrelated note: I quite like Amelia's coinage ka palóha ka koéla ni "the love of my life."