Monday, March 26, 2012

Directional markers

As the baby will be here at any moment, I figure I'd better take some time to document anything still floating around in my brain. Today's topic is directional markers, as inspired by Nahuatl usage. I'm not positive I'm going to go forward with this, but I'll throw it out there.

I've been realizing over the last month that many other particles beyond na, ia, ai and the pronouns could reasonably appear independently: te, li, pu and the like as other ways of responding to questions, for example. Why not locative particles -- ne, la, o -- as well?

In this context, they would presumably modify the semantics of the verb phrase to indicate the directionality of the action. I'm thinking of contexts like these for ne, for instance, suggesting durative presence in a state or activity:

ota ne!
wait LOC
"wait/stay there!"

ta ma asu ne
3SG IMP dwell LOC
"she was living there"

ni tai ne, ni pea ne
1SG be LOC, 1SG stay LOC
"j'y suis, j'y reste"

With la and o, the meaning would theoretically indicate motion towards or away from a given deictic center, thus something like

ta mene la he leo
3SG go ALL TIME today
"he's going there today" (somewhere we're talking about)

ta lahe o he amu
3SG leave ABL TIME morning
"he left there in the morning" (some place we're talking about)

In addition to this, though, the Nahuatl usage I mentioned above extends this metaphorically: la becomes tied to the known, safe, self, group, land, etc., where o indicates other, unknown, unsafe. For example, in addition to ta pahu "she fell," we could have the following two translations with additional meaning:

ta pahu la
3SG fall ALL
"she fell [to safety]"

ta pahu o
3SG fall ABL
"she fell [into the water/fire/canyon etc.]

In the same way, tu ma moho kivi i pea "they kept throwing stones" could be given some additional context:

tu ma moho kivi la i pea
3PL IMP throw stone ALL FIN continue
"they [other people/the enemy] kept throwing stones [at us]"

tu ma moho kivi o i pea
3PL IMP throw stone ABL FIN continue
"they [our people] kept throwing stones [at them]"

Or with even simpler concepts,

tule la
come ALL
"come here"

mene/lahe o
go/leave ABL
"go away"

Maybe things like

ta ipo ka sahi o
3SG drink DEF wine ABL
"he drank the wine all up" [with negative connotation]

sano ta o
say 3SG ABL
"just go ahead and say it"

sano ta la
say 3SG ALL
"come on, just tell me"

Anyway, you get the idea. It seems like a pretty useful thing to be able to do, as long as it doesn't cause any problems; I'll keep thinking about that. Next up: what adjectival structures, and therefore also object incorporation, actually mean...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Time for a spring TAM overhaul?

I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that, despite the fact that Koa is supposed to be an IAL and was structurally inspired partly by Tok Pisin example sentences, I didn't actually read a reference grammar of a creole until about 10 years into the design process.

My obsession with Bislama over the past few years started me on the road to rectifying this, and I've started poring over actual linguistic surveys of pidgins and creoles to try to really understand what's likely to make a language easy to learn.

Of course, at this point Koa has its own identity/structure/momentum and it's likely that there are going to end up being some irreconcilable areas. I've worked to smooth out or reduce some of them, but the fact is that the basic idea behind Koa is quite philosophical, and as such unlikely to be reflected in, for example, real-world Creoles.

Nonetheless, it may occasionally be necessary to sacrifice particular parts of the Koa identity in favor of clear optima that would otherwise be unreachable. One of these possible situations has very recently become apparent in the area of tense/aspect/mood.

To bring us up to speed, as of this moment Koa officially has the following categories:

Ø  =  aorist/timeless/stative
ma  =  imperfective
si  =  perfective
lu  =  future/volitive
io  =  "translative"
va  =  habitual
mi  =  inchoative
su  =  cessative
ha  =  irrealis
vi  =  imperative/jussive

There's been a certain amount of wiggling here in the irrealis department (principally with lu and ha), but on the whole I've been very happy with this system, the core of which has been intact since the early 2000's at latest. The thing is that, for better or for worse, creoles are fairly unified in the TAM categories they mark, and this is not how they do it.

This article gives a sense of what you would expect to see, at least based on the body of creoles we have at our disposal to examine. Of course, with very few exceptions these creoles are based on Indo-European languages, and it's hard to know how many of these similarities are due to this rather than some kind of cognitive universal. For the moment, let's assume for the sake of argument that the TAM system of the existing creoles does represent an ideal of some kind, especially since they did end up with this regardless of substrate.

To sum up the article, and incorporating one category from my own research, a typical TAM spread would look something like this:

• unmarked (aorist for statives, often past tense for actives)
• imperfect/nonpunctual/habitual
• anterior
• completive
• irrealis (future/conditional)

...plus combinations. It happens that we could potentially map these right onto our existing Koa particles:

Ø  =  aorist (statives), past etc. (actives)
ma  =  imperfect/nonpunctual
si  =  anterior
io  =  completive
lu  =  irrealis (future/conditional)

I would like to reserve the right to maintain the distinction between imperfect and habitual, and there's no reason to abandon the other telic aspect markers or jussive, so we'd also throw in:

mi  =  inchoative
su  =  cessative
vi  =  imperative/jussive

Note that the unmarked form for active (non-stative) verbs tends most neutrally to indicate completed past tense, but could also be present/future/etc. given the right context. The point is that, unlike traditional Koa, this form refers to a real event that happened (or is happening), and where that occurs temporally depends on what's most likely for a narrative involving that verb, and/or context.

So what would this mean for Koa? Mainly just a different distribution of TAM particles:

ni na ipo sahi
1SG NEG drink wine
trad "I don't drink wine"
new "I didn't drink wine" or "I'm not drinking wine," depending

ni na si ipo sahi
1SG NEG PERF/ANT drink wine
trad "I didn't drink wine"
new "I hadn't drunk wine"

ni na va ipo sahi
1SG NEG HAB drink wine
trad "I don't usually drink wine"
new "I don't drink wine" or "I don't usually drink wine"

ni na ma ipo sahi
1SG NEG IMP drink wine
trad "I'm not / I wasn't drinking wine"
new "I'm not / I wasn't drinking wine" or possibly "I don't go around drinking wine"

With stative verbs, in other words verbs for which there's no change of state in any participants, things lay out a bit differently:

ni nae ka kohúla
1SG see DEF dance
trad "I'm a person who goes to see the dance" or "I see the dance"
new "I see the dance"

ni si nae ka kohúla
1SG PERF/ANT see DEF dance
trad "I saw the dance"
new "I saw/had seen the dance"

ni va nae ka kohúla
1SG HAB see DEF dance
trad "I make a habit of seeing the dance"
new "I see the dance sometimes" or "I make a habit of seeing the dance"

ni ma nae ka kohúla
1SG IMP see DEF dance
trad "I'm looking at the dance"
new "I'm looking at the dance" or "I always see the dance"

It makes sense: why not make the formally unmarked form the one whose meaning is also least marked? This becomes particularly, even indispensably useful, with verbs involving a process. These posed a major dilemma for traditional Koa in an effort to avoid Esperanto-style arbitrariness.

Take the concept of waking up. Should the root morpheme be an adjective describing the state of awakeness? Or should it be verbal, describing the process of waking up? In other words, should ta vene mean "she's awake" or "she wakes up?" I tried to come up with a decision-making flow chart along the lines of cultural importance of the process versus the completed state, but in the end it was going to be a largely arbitrary choice.

If we take change-of-state verbs as basically past-tense by default -- in other words, the unmarked form denotes a completed process -- this problem completely goes away: for example, we have ta vene "he is awake" or "he woke up," which are after all approximately the same thing, ta io vene "he already woke up / is already awake" to emphasize the completedness of the process, and ta ma vene "he's waking up" to emphasize the imperfectiveness of the process.

This works with the whole conceptual family, and obviates the need to make any decrees from on high.  Check out how nicely these verbs lay out when used adjectivally, without needing aspect particles:

vene "awake"
nuku "asleep"
ela "alive"

mua "dead"
lopu "finished, over"
eki "seated"
maka "prone"

Furthermore, we could also say that this kind of verb is hermaphroditic with respect to transitivity: in other words, we could allow ta vene ni "he woke me up" and avoid a whole other hornet's nest of deciding which valence should be neutral. Suddenly the language is much, much easier to learn, not to mention design...

It also helps tidy up the difference between e.g. "see" and "look." Context will still play an important role, but rather than the meaning being inferred completely from context, there will also be a different relationship of particle structure to aspect which will help resolve the intent:

ni nae ka hapi
1SG see DEF ant
"I see the ants" OR "I looked at the ants"

ni ma nae ka hapi
1SG IMP see DEF ant
"I'm looking at the ants" OR "I'm always seeing ants"

ni si nae ka hapi
1SG ANT see DEF ant
"I saw the ants" OR "I had looked at the ants"

In sum, it seems like this is a really good idea: it both helps me out of all kinds of aspectual binds, and makes the system more creole-like in keeping with the aims of the design. The question, though, is whether this will integrate with the foundational modular systems of the language: however great it seems, I can't keep it if it would wreak havoc with everything else.

The main area of concern is with the unmarked forms. A lalu would now no longer refer to one who can/might/will sing, but rather one who really did or does sing. I don't think this is a problem, though:

ta lalu
3SG sing
"he sang" OR "he is a singer"

...in the sense that he can be called that because of some singing which he has done, is doing, or will do. So VP's are okay; how about adjectives?

a mola lalu
INDEF bear sing
"a singing bear, a bear singer, a bear who sings/sang"

Seems totally fine. And the nominal form is unproblematic as well.

Well, then, there we have it: looks like there's no reason not to make this change. The biggest thing to get used to will be using si a whole lot less (and actually, I'll need to devote a post to the question of when to use it -- my current creole research will help with this). I'm not completely sure what all the repercussions may be, so stay tuned for future agonizing...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Follow-up thoughts about pronominal objects

Okay, I might have gotten a bit overzealous in the previous post. This ka talo ne instead of ne ka talo business isn't winning any aesthetic awards in my neck of the woods, and I'm not sure it even really makes sense. Let's hold off on that while we think things through.

Vis-à-vis preposed objects, Nahuatl has me thinking that another reading might be desirable:

le Motekusoma ni puhu
NAME Moteuczoma 1SG greet 2SG
"It is I, Montezuma, who spoke"

Here ni is taking the pronoun position that i would usually fill in a clause like this. I suppose there isn't any reason why I can't do both, other than the risk of ambiguity; but actually, thinking it over, genuine ambiguity seems to be hard to come by. For one thing, the subject and object pronouns are in different places, thus

le Motekusoma ni na se kanu
NAME Moteuczoma 1SG NEG 2SG injure
"It was not I, Montezuma, who injured you"

le Motekusoma i se nae
NAME Moteuczoma FIN 2SG see
"Montezuma sees you"

le Motekusoma se nae
NAME Moteuczoma 2SG see
"You, Montezuma, do see"

In fact, I'm having trouble coming up with a single ambiguous example. I really wasn't expecting that.

So what's the difference between these?

le Keoni i si tule
NAME John FIN PERF come
"John has come"

le Keoni ta si tule
NAME John 3SG PERF come
"It is he, John, who has come"
"He, John, has come"

I'm pretty sure the answer is clear, but I'm getting sleepy and having trouble articulating it. Hopefully I'll remember to address this again later...

One further remark before I go to bed. I still haven't solved exactly what the "pronoun" pa ought to mean, if it really does function just like hi, but I think the difference between these two clauses:

hi si hou ka sumo ni
INDEF PERF squash DEF squash 1SG
"someone squished my squash"

pa si hou ka sumo ni
PASS PERF squash DEF squash 1SG
"my squash got squished"

...is one of overtly implied agency. In the first example, I'm intimating that a volitional agent, and probably a human, did the squashing. In the second, it's not impossible that a volitional agent was involved, but the speaker does not wish to assert this, for whatever reason. It might have been an act of nature, or an animal; or the speaker might not want to draw attention to agency.

On the other hand, the difference between

pa si hou ka sumo ni
PASS PERF squash DEF squash 1SG
"my squash got squished"

and

ka sumo ni i si pa hou
DEF squash 1SG FIN PERF PASS squash
"my squash got squished"

...is something that we're going to have to flesh out the pragmatics of. New/given information, communicative intent and all that.

Okay, bedtime.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Preverbal object pronouns and the ramifications thereof

I've long understood Koa direct objects to be formally equivalent to possessors. This is clear from parallelisms like

ka veli ni
DEF sibling 1SG
"my brother"

ka mata i veli ni
DEF short FIN sibling 1SG
"the short one is my brother"

vs

ka mata i loha ni
DEF short FIN love 1SG
"the short one loves me"

ka loha ni
DEF love 1SG
"the one who loves me"

As such, since nouns admit an alternative possessive ordering (theoretically primarily for inalienable possession according to A PREVIOUS POST): ka mama ni or ni mama for "my mom," there's no particular reason why pronominal objects couldn't be placed preverbally as well.

I first noticed this (at the very bottom) back when I was making the final decisions on genitive phrase structure, and it worried me a bit. I later announced that "pronoun objects will certainly not be acceptable preverbally." I didn't ever make an effort to motivate this decision, or really explore it in any way, and that's how it's stood for a couple years.

When trying to solve the problem of indefinite agency that came up at the bottom of the previous post, though, I realized that (A) there's no logical reason to forbid this structure, and (B) there are actually a number of very good reasons to allow it, not least the basic internal consistency of the language.

The problem that prompted this consideration was this:

OLD
hi si iune ka kala ni
INDEF PERF steal DEF fish 1SG
"someone has stolen my fish"

NEW
si hi iune ka kala ni
PERF REFL steal DEF fish 1SG
"someone has stolen my fish"

This new version, necessitated by the decision that hi would be a reflexive marker and not a pronoun, was so completely offensive to me that I had to give it some serious thought. There seemed to be complete overlap with parallel forms with pa, which made it seem like the two might actually potentially be collapsed; except that I knew that the reason I had made them separate in the first place was that they are supposed to have different meanings. Furthermore, hi "worked" in the old version precisely because it was a pronoun.

What I realized, then, was that there's no need to make a decision: I can have it both ways, as long as preverbal pronoun objects are allowed, as they should be anyway. Voilà:

ni nae hi
1SG see REFL
"I see myself" (hi = "pronoun")

ni hi nae
1SG REFL see
"I see myself" (hi = "verb marker")

This being so, there's no reason why the "old" way of doing things would need to change, and we would have two possible orderings with hi and TAM markers: in one situation, hi would precede, being a bona fide pronoun:

hi si iune ka kala ni
REFL PERF steal DEF fish 1SG
"someone has stolen my fish"

In the other, hi would follow TAM markers, looking like a verbal valence particle, but formally actually being a preposed object pronoun:

ka kala i si hi nae e mi-páto
DEF fish FIN PERF REFL see FIN INCH-fear
"the fish saw themselves and got scared"

This discovery, though, actually goes quite a bit deeper. We've been using the word "particle" in Koa to refer, basically, to monosyllables, without any attempt at a taxonomy. What this interchangeability shows is that there is at least a chunk of these particles that fall into natural classes, and which can be used more flexibly than previously understood.

That is to say, keeping the above two examples in mind: given that we have this...

ka vatu i si pa luta
DEF money FIN PERF PASS find
"the money was found"

...one begins to wonder what pa "means" if we take it out of its preverbal position, as we apparently might be able to. Is it a pronoun of some kind?

?pa si luta ka vatu
PASS PERF find DEF money
"???"

If it's a pronoun, structures should be possible like

ni si nae pa

but what would they mean? This actually gets weirder when we consider the oblique particles: ne, la, o, me, mo, pe, etc. I've been thinking of these as somewhere between case markers and prepositions, but what we see here is that they should be more accurately thought of as locative (or relational) pronouns. Or something. In other words,

la koto
ALL home
"homewards"

should theoretically have the same meaning as

ka koto la
DEF home ALL

...and furthermore, la should be usable on its own to mean something like "to it," thus

ni si mene la he leo
1SG PERF go ALL TIME today
"I went there today"

BUT THEN, if this works, then so should

ni si la mene he leo
1SG PERF ALL go TIME today
"I went there today"

and hey presto, we have a new verb laméne meaning "go to(wards)." Out of the blue, we appear to be able to do quasi-preposition-verb compounding à la Esperanto: pepúhu "talk about," otálu "push out," etc.

So the palace of Koa will have to add another wing or two after today. On the one hand we've discovered that the particles can be almost as flexible as the predicates, and we'll need to do some serious thinking about the meaning and boundaries of this; and on the other, we have a whole new species of constructions to flesh out and integrate.

Two final thoughts:

1) I really need to talk about la, o and ne as free-standing post-verbal particles as inspired by Nahuatl. I think this is compatible with all the above, but we'll want to be sure.

2) Regarding ka koto la for "to the home," I just realized something. In the same way that we can say ni talo or ka talo ni "my house," but not *ni ka talo, if we're going to go down this road then apparently we will be able to say ne masa or ka masa ne "on the table" but NOT ne ka masa. This would be a pretty big change, and we'd better be sure about it before going any further.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Co-indexed arguments

This week I finally decided to tackle reflexive verbs for some reason. It ended up being much less of a hassle than I had feared, and a surprise discovery made the whole thing much more elegant.

There are two ways of doing this, one analytical and one synthetic. For the former, we just use the same pronoun corresponding to the subject:

ni nae ni
1SG see 1SG
"I see myself"

If desired, the modifier oma "self, one's own, etc." can be added to make the co-indexing clearer:

le Kéoni i si kusu ta (oma)
NAME John FIN PERF ask 3SG (self)
"John asked himself"

A reciprocal relationship, on the other hand, can optionally be clarified by mutu "other":

nu suso nu mutu
1PL kiss 1PL other
"we kiss each other"

So far so good for the analytical strategy. I was going to be satisfied with this, but because reflexivity basically amounts to a valence-decreasing structure, I was irked by not having a particle for it like all my other valence operations. At this point I realized that hi, previously defined as "indefinite pronoun," could be admirably pressed into use here without changing its original meaning -- it's the same widespread extension that letst the Spanish (and Polish, Turkish, etc.) reflexive marker/structure also code unspecified agents (e.g. se habla español aquí), even with intransitive verbs.

As such, then, those three clauses above could also be phrased as:

ni hi nae
1SG REFL see
"I see myself"

le Kéoni i si hi kusu
NAME John FIN PERF REFL ask
"John asked himself"

nu hi suso
1PL REFL kiss
"we kiss each other/ourselves"

There's a lot more that could be said here, but I'm a little short on time so will limit myself to a brief excursion into the Koa translation of "I washed my hands." At this point I've found somewhere between six and eight ways to do it, all theoretically equally valid. For clarity in the examples below, I'll put brackets around the major phrases.

The first three all use object incorporation ("hand-wash"):

[ ni ] [ si mie molo ]
1SG PERF wash hand
"I handwashed" = "I washed my hands"

[ ni ] [ si mie molo ] [ ni ]
1SG PERF wash hand 1SG
"I handwashed myself" = "I washed my hands"

[ ni ] [ si hi mie molo ]
1SG PERF REFL wash hand
"I handwashed myself" = "I washed my hands"

Next, we could make the hands a referential object:

[ ni ] [ si mie ] [ ka molo ]
1SG PERF wash DEF hand
"I washed the hands" = "I washed my hands"

[ ni ] [ si mie ] [ ka molo ni ]
1SG PERF wash DEF hand 1SG
"I washed my hands"

or


[ ni ] [ si mie ] [ ni molo ]
1 SG PERF wash 1SG hand
"I washed my hands" (inalienable possession: controversial)

We could also make the verb bitransitive, or applicative, or whatever: in other words, express the hands' owner as an additional object:

[ ni ] [ si mie ] [ ni ] [ ka molo ]
1SG PERF wash 1SG DEF hand
"~I washed myself some hands" = "I washed my hands"

Or, if we decide to allow this sort of thing, about which the jury is definitely still out, we could reduce the indirect object to hi:

[ ni ] [ si hi mie ] [ ka molo ]
1SG PERF REFL wash DEF hand
"~I washed myself some hands"
or "~I washed myself with respect to the hands" =
"I washed my hands"

I'm not sure about this last one, but I'm rather happy about the fact that there are so many ways of theoretically accomplishing this. I suppose in a use context some of these would end up being preferred for one reason or another.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Previously, I was considering hi to be a pronoun. What's clearly happening here is that it's switching to a verbal particle like pa or mu. This does have consequences in terms of where e.g. aspectual particles fall:

OLD
hi si iune ka kala ni
INDEF PERF steal DEF fish 1SG
"someone has stolen my fish"

NEW
si hi iune ka kala ni
PERF REFL steal DEF fish 1SG
"someone has stolen my fish"

I'm actually not a huge fan of this, because it was the pronoun-ness of hi that made it work so well for me in this kind of structure. I notice, furthermore, that what this really means is that this kind of clause is an inverted form of the unmarked

ka kala ni i si hi iune
DEF fish 1SG FIN PERF REFL steal
lit. "my fish has stolen itself"

If we're going to be okay with this, it will be important to define the difference in sense between this sentence and a straight passive:

ka kala ni i si pa iune
DEF fish 1SG FIN PERF PASS steal
"my fish has been stolen"

I think I know what it is, and it's probably okay, but there is still an important question of whether this is actually want we want. More thought required.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Varying degrees

I believe I now have a complete suite of degree markers for Koa. I'll sketch them out below with both a noun and an adjective for reference:

vaha pi anu "a small amount of water, very little water"
neso pi anu "a little water, some water"
nai pi anu "some (unspecified amount of) water"
aiva pi anu "quite a bit of water"
poli pi anu "a lot of water"

kuma vaha "not very hot, a little hot"
kuma neso "slightly hot, sort of hot"
kuma nai "somewhat (neutrally) hot"
kuma aiva "quite hot"
kuma poli "very hot"

English doesn't do a very good job of distinguishing between 1 and 2, or 2 and 3, but I think the semantics are pretty straightforward:

vaha - near the lowest end of the expected spectrum of degree/quantity
neso - indefinite between low and middle
nai - completely indefinite/neutral
aiva - indefinite on the higher side
poli - near the highest end of the expected spectrum

So there you have it. I notice this set of examples owes a particularly large debt to Finnish...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Marking indefinite NPs

I've been aware for a month or so that the specifier flowchart I had been using for a couple years is getting increasingly out of date with respect to indefinite nouns. I'm not sure whether I'm quite ready to rigorously define areas of usage along pragmatic lines, which I will need to do soon, but I would at least like to discuss some of the basic facts.

A note: for non-referential NPs, that is, NPs that do not refer to a real, identifiable entity in the world, the flowchart is basically still correct. Ko is used for abstractions, po for general classes, and po may optionally be deleted in object position as a form of object incorporation. It's the difference between a and hu that requires a revision.

For easy reference, I had defined this difference primarily in terms of discourse stage importance:

[If] the amount/quantity of the referent [is] indefinite, unknown, or irrelevant to the discourse [or it is] a mass noun that is not specifically bounded in some way [or it is] being mentioned without the intention of raising it to the discourse stage, [then use hu. Otherwise, use a for indefinite NP's].

Though some of the above might yield correct results by accident, I don't believe this is the best possible characterization of the difference between these particles. The partitive analogues in particular aren't particularly accurate or useful. We need to start, instead, from the understanding that hu is the closest natural-language equivalent of the existential quantifier () used in logic. As such, clauses containing hu can be glossed like this:

hu hili i ne ka talo
EXIST mouse FIN LOC DEF house
"there is a mouse such that is the case that this mouse is in the house"
...in other words,
"there's a mouse in the house"

Or as an object,

ni si nae hu mina ia kali he amu leo
1SG PERF see EXIST woman AFF beautiful TIME morning today
"there is a very beautiful woman such that it is the case that I saw her this morning"
...or more naturally,
"there's a really beautiful woman I saw this morning"

Sentences that often need to be expressed with a cleft construction in English, as above, show up in Koa with just hu:

ni halu ko sano se hua
1SG want ABSTR say 2SG EXIST-INDEF
"there is something such that I want to say this thing to you"
...that is,
"there's something I want to say to you"

Or with a negated verb,

ni na halu ko sano se hua
1SG NEG want ABSTR say 2SG EXIST-INDEF
"there is not anything such that I want to say this thing to you"
...or,
"there's nothing I want to say to you"

So what's the difference between this and the same sentences with a? It's subtle, and I'm pretty sure it's pragmatic rather than semantic. What's the difference in English between "there's a mouse in the house" and "a mouse is in the house?" Not to say that Koa usage will exactly mirror that of English, but the comparison might be instructive.

I need Robin Lakoff's brain to help me through this. My initial feeling about it is that it comes down to a question of existence versus discourse relevance. A clause with hu at base answers the question of whether the specified referent exists in the capacity indicated. A clause with a is asserting the same information, but simultaneously saying that there's some reason to care: perhaps, among other possible, reasons, because the NP is going to figure in the discourse later.

For example, returning to a frequently used sample sentence, suppose one is at a party and returns to one's glass of wine to find it empty. How do we express "Someone drank my wine!"?

Well, actually, I would probably cheat from the standpoint of this discussion and say

hi si ipo ka sahi ni
3P.INDEF PERF drink DEF wine 1SG
"someone/they drank my wine!"

But if I really want to use a structure parallel to that of English, I have two choices:

huka i si ipo ka sahi ni
EXIST.one FIN PERF drink DEF wine 1SG
"there's someone/one of them who drank my wine"

and

aka i si ipo ka sahi ni
INDEF.one FIN PERF drink DEF wine 1SG
"someone/one of them drank my wine"

The two involve rather different mental states. With hu, what we're primarily pointing out is that there, among the sea of party-goers, is some nefarious character who would stoop to drinking someone else's wine. One would expect the next step to be some kind of campaign of detection and/or persecution of the offender(s). With a, on the other hand, though the statement still identifies the existence of a culprit among those present, the sentence has a different purpose: perhaps to account for the utterer's emotional state of surprise, disappointment and/or disillusionment, or to comment on the nature of the world. One would expect his next step to be to go in search of replacement victuals.

(I would like to mention that it had never occurred to me before this morning that a word like aka should exist: I only ever had huka before. I'll have to figure out what the a counterpart of hua is: aa? Maybe aha?)

In terms of deciding which to choose on the fly in real usage situations, I think I'm going to need more specific examples in order to start distilling the guidelines. In the mean time, let's hang onto the previous definition in terms of discourse permanence, but throw out all the references to quantity and distinction between count/non-count nouns.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ka Tuli

A first-draft Koa translation of the first verse of The Wind by Cat Stevens, courtesy of the shower this morning. The original lyrics:

I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul
Where I'll end up, well, I think only God really knows
I sat upon the setting sun
But never never never never
I never wanted water once
No, never never never

And the Koa:

Ni kulu ka tuli, ka tuli ni aso
La kea sa ni lu tule, li ilo ka vala mono
Si eki ne nomu ka sua ma pahu
He nahua, he nahua
Ni na si ohi anu he hua
Na, he nahua, he nahua

With interlinear:

Ni kulu ka tuli, ka kuli ni aso
1SG listen DEF wind, DEF wind 1SG mind
"I listen to the wind, to the wind of my mind"

La kea sa ni lu tule, li ilo ka vala mono
ALL what FOC 1SG VOL come, INF know DEF god only
"Where it is that I will come to, I imagine only God knows"

Si eki ne nomu ka sua ma pahu
PERF sit LOC head DEF sun IMPF fall
"Having sat on top of the falling sun"

He nahua, he nahua
TIME none, TIME none
"Never, never"

Ni na si ohi anu he hua
1SG NEG PERF lack water TIME once
"I never lacked water"

Na, he nahua, he nahua
no, TIME none, TIME none
"No, never, never"

There are a couple areas where things could be better: the meter gets kind of overburdened with syllables in places, not unexpectedly; I used aso as my best possible translation of "soul," but that's not really what it means; and the first instance of "never, never" would be most easily interpreted as applying to the previous line, which is not what we want. Working on it. The boundaries of Koa poetics have yet to be explored...

Monday, January 23, 2012

New embedded clause options

In the previous post, I discussed the current state of embedded clause thought in Koa, and was about to go on to other theoretical possibilities that might do a better job of maintaining the spirit of the rest of the language's design.

I have a contender, actually. It occurred to me spontaneously while walking the dog, and I'm not sure just how crazy it actually is: I know there are languages that do it this way, but none of the ones I speak. It goes like this.

What if i doesn't just mark a verb with a third-person nominal subject like I've always said? What if it marks the clause itself as being independent, finite, verbal? And what if it can be replaced with other particles to switch the clause into one of the other two main Koa roles, nominals and adjectivals? We could end up with something like:

i - verbal
u - adjectival
ko - nominal

ka toto i paólo mo pili
DEF child FIN smell SIM lizard
"the kid smells like a lizard"

ka toto u paólo mo pili
DEF child REL smell SIM lizard
"the kid that smells like a lizard"

ka toko ko paólo mo pili
DEF child NOM smell SIM lizard
"the kid smelling like a lizard"

I was astonished: I had never ever before considered the possibility that i might alternate with anything else, but suddenly I seemed to be looking at a system that completely paralleled the rest of Koa syntax. And there's no question about scope, because the clause type of every verb is clearly identified.

Well, sort of. There's no i in clauses with a pronominal subject, of course, since we've always assumed that the pronoun was taking its place; should there be an u or ko, then? My best answer to this question so far amounts to a complete reenvisioning of Koa clause structure, from this

(SUBJECT) PRONOUN (TAM) VERB (OBJECT)

to this

(SUBJECT) STATUS (PRONOUN) (TAM) VERB (OBJECT)

In other words, i is no longer a kind of pronoun: it marks the status of the clause, and the pronoun falls between it and the verb. All we need to say is that the i is generally deleted before pronouns, and all of our existing material still conforms. U and ko, then, would seemingly need to be present even with pronouns, though I'm open to further thought on this.

(i) ni loha le Susi
(FIN) 1SG love NAME Susie
"I love Susie"

ka mina [ u ni loha ] i le Susi
DEF woman [ REL 1SG love ] FIN NAME Susie
"Susie is the woman I love"

poka i ilo [ ko ni loha le Susi ]
everyone FIN know [ NOM 1SG love NAME Susie ]
"everyone knows I love Susie"

My thought is that generally a clause would either have a pronominal or a nominal subject, but not both -- in other words, not le Keoni i ta paólo mo pili "John [he] smells like a lizard" -- but this will also require more thought. It has occurred to me that using "they" in this way might be an option for overt number marking on the subject, something we currently have no way of doing:

a susi i tu si iune ka nene ni
INDEF wolf FIN 3PL PERF steal DEF baby 1SG
"some wolves stole my baby"

But we'll leave that aside for the moment. Just to establish exactly what we're talking about here, I'm going to recast all of the preceding example sentences (and one or two new ones) using this strategy.

ka talo [ u nu ma asu (ne ta) ] i piku lia
DEF house [ REL 1PL IMPF dwell (LOC 3SG) ] FIN small too
"the house we live in is too small"

ka kane [ u ma ipo ka sahi ni ] i ia paha
DEF man [ REL IMPF drink DEF wine 1SG ] FIN AFF evil
"the man who is drinking my wine is certainly evil"

ka sahi [ le Keoni u si ipo ] i si miláho
DEF wine [ NAME John REL PERF drink ] FIN PERF INCEP-rot
"the wine John drank had gone bad"

ka [ le Keoni u si ipo ] i koa nai
DEF [ NAME John REL PERF drink ] FIN good some
"the one John drank was pretty good"

le Keoni i halu [ ko ipo a sahi koa ]
NAME John FIN want [ NOM drink INDEF wine good ]
"John wants to drink some good wine"

le Keoni i halu [ le Malía ko ipo a sahi koa ]
NAME John FIN want [ NAME Mary NOM drink INDEF wine good ]
"John wants Mary to drink some good wine"

le Keoni i na ma mai koa lo [ ko si ipo a sahi pua ]
NAME John FIN NEG IMPF feel good REASON [ NOM PERF drink INDEF wine bad ]
"John doesn't feel well because he drank some bad wine"

ni si kulu [ le Keoni ko na ma mai koa ]
1SG PERF hear [ NAME John NOM NEG IMPF feel good ]
"I heard that John isn't feeling well"

pai [ le Keoni na ma mai koa ]
day [ NAME John NEG IMPF feel good ]
"A John-not-feeling-well day"

ti pai i [ le Keoni na ma mai koa ]
this day FIN [ NAME John NOM NEG IMPF feel good ]
"this day is John-not-feeling-well-y"

vo ka sene [ u si tapa ka hili [ u si suo ka lepa [ u ne ka talo  [ le Iako u si tei ] ] ] ]
here's DEF cat [ REL PERF kill DEF mouse [ REL PERF eat DEF bread [ REL LOC DEF house [ NAME Jack REL PERF make ] ] ] ]
"this is the cat that killed the mouse that ate the bread that was in the house that Jack built"

In theory, this all works beautifully. Unfortunately, though, much though it pains me given the gorgeous symmetry of this system, I'm concerned that in many cases this might just be too weird, too typologically marked, for an IAL. For what it's worth, though, I do note that the use of ko above mimics Latin complement clause structure surprisingly closely, imagining ko + verb as equivalent to an infinitive.

Leaving this idea for further deliberation, there's something in the last series of examples that I'd like to point out. Take a look at these two sentences:

pai [ le Keoni na ma mai koa ]
day [ NAME John NEG IMPF feel good ]
"A John-not-feeling-well day"

ti pai i [ le Keoni na ma mai koa ]
this day FIN [ NAME John NOM NEG IMPF feel good ]
"this day is John-not-feeling-well-y"

These both lack either a ko or an u, since any other adjectival phrase wouldn't have one either: pai mehísi "foggy day," ti pai i mehísi "this day is foggy," etc. It occurrs to me that, now that there's no i in there, if we were going to put the ko or u back in, it might just make as much sense to slap it on the beginning of the clause rather than in front of the verb. In other words:

ni si kulu ko [ le Keoni na ma mai koa ]
1SG PERF NOM [ NAME John NEG IMPF feel good ]
"I heard that John isn't feeling well"

or really, we ought to think of it like this:

ni si kulu ko [ le Keoni Ø na ma mai koa ]
1SG PERF hear NOM [ NAME John NONFIN NEG IMPF feel good ]
"I heard that John isn't feeling well"

In other words, the function of i would, among other things, be to mark the clause as finite; removing it would allow the clause to behave like any other predicate. Let's see how this would affect the rest of our example set.

ka talo (u) [ nu ma asu (ne ta) ] i piku lia
DEF house (REL) [ 1PL IMPF dwell (LOC 3SG) ] FIN small too
"the house we live in is too small"

ka kane (u) [ ma ipo ka sahi ni ] i ia paha
DEF man (REL) [ IMPF drink DEF wine 1SG ] FIN AFF evil
"the man who is drinking my wine is certainly evil"

ka sahi (u) [ le Keoni Ø si ipo ] i si miláho
DEF wine (REL) [ NAME John NONFIN PERF drink ] FIN PERF INCEP-rot
"the wine John drank had gone bad"

ka [ le Keoni Ø si ipo ] i koa nai
DEF [ NAME John NONFIN PERF drink ] FIN good some
"the one John drank was pretty good"

le Keoni i halu ko [ ipo a sahi koa ]
NAME John FIN want NOM [ drink INDEF wine good ]
"John wants to drink some good wine"

le Keoni i halu ko [ le Malía Ø ipo a sahi koa ]
NAME John FIN want NOM [ NAME Mary NONFIN drink INDEF wine good ]
"John wants Mary to drink some good wine"

le Keoni i na ma mai koa lo ko [ si ipo a sahi pua ]
NAME John FIN NEG IMPF feel good REASON NOM [ PERF drink INDEF wine bad ]
"John doesn't feel well because he drank some bad wine"

vo ka sene (u) [ si tapa ka hili (u) [ si suo ka lepa (u) [ ne ka talo (u) [ le Iako Ø si tei ] ] ] ]
here's DEF cat (REL) [ PERF kill DEF mouse (REL) [ PERF eat DEF bread (REL) [ LOC DEF house  REL [ NAME Jack NONFIN PERF make ] ] ] ]
"this is the cat that killed the mouse that ate the bread that was in the house that Jack built"

My first reaction is that this instinctively feels like the best so far. I see two objections we'll need to investigate:

1) Why do all these embedded clauses have to be non-finite? I'm asking both in terms of Koa structure and in terms of what is typologically reasonable.

I'm thinking, with undisguised relief, that the finiteness question might actually be a bit tautological. If I say kunu kona "black dog," why does the adjective "have to be non-finite" here? Well, it has to be non-finite because it's in a position in which all Koa predicates are non-finite. The same is true of phrases like ka kona "the black one." Koa predicates are finite only when preceded by i or a pronoun. Looking at it this way, I don't see that there's any other way to do it.

2) What happens when I interpret a phrase like ko le Malía ipo a sahi koa, translated above effectively as "Mary('s) drinking some good wine," according to the usual rules of Koa predicate relationships? Does it make any sense?

Well, let's see. As we know, when two Koa predicates stand in the order XY, Y modifies or describes X. If Y is specified, the relationship is seen as genitive. Ipo a sahi koa, then, will mean "drinker of good wine."

Since this phrase has no specifier, it modifies rather than possesses the head; how to translate this into English? "Drinker-of-good-wine Mary," perhaps; or "Mary, drinker of good wine." Okay.

Lastly, ko turns the whole predicate into an abstract idea: "drinker-of-good-wine-Mary-ness." My parser just broke. Let's try again.

If puna means "red one," then ko puna means "the quality/concept of being a red one," thus "redness." Can we apply this back onto our longer predicate? "The idea of Mary, (being a) drinker of good wine." "The idea of drinker-of-good-wine Mary." Great Scott, this may just work -- I really wasn't daring to hope for the literal translation to make any sense at all.

Okay. Wow. The suddenness of this discovery has kind of left me reeling.

For relative clauses, then — that is, clauses that serve to further describe or delimit their head — there are two options. One is the internally-headed relative clause, which is fully finite and marked with ke preceding the head; and the other is a standard gapping strategy for which the clause is in its non-finite form (i.e. no i occurs before the verb phrase) and may, like any other "adjectival" predicate, be preceded by u.

Complement and adverbial clauses, at this point, now seem to have one solid strategy: the clause appears in its non-finite form (sans i). If the clause is in a nominal environment, the usual specifier would be ko. One note: predicates frequently appear without a specifier when preceded by a "preposition": la koto "home(wards)," etc. If clauses are to have the same rules as other predicates, we might be able to say not only

lo ko [ si ipo a sahi pua ]
REASON NOM [ PERF drink INDEF wine bad ]
"because of having drunk some bad wine"

but also

lo [ si ipo a sahi pua ]
REASON [ PERF drink INDEF wine bad ]
"because of having drunk some bad wine"

Or with a clause with an overt subject:

lo (ko) [ le Keoni si lahe ]
REASON (NOM) [ NAME John PERF leave ]
"because John left"

Although in the past, now that I think about it, the deleted specifier has always been ka or a in the past, so maybe deleting it here would mess with the intelligibility of the phrase. So yes, all seems fine...I think. I'll need to let this sit for a while and try it out in all kinds of different contexts to make sure there are no...er...side effects.

So here's a thought. Since modifier clauses have two strategies (non-finite and finite), what if the same were true of nominal clauses? We have our non-finite strategy worked out above; I think my favorite of the finite options was with ve used as a complementizer.

Now, deciding to do this would mean using up one of only four remaining particles (we've currently got hi, ve, ie and iu). We're going to have to evaluate whether that really makes sense. I do think, though, that requiring all complement and adverbial clauses to be non-finite would be typologically unusual in its restrictiveness. What we're looking at, then, are the following kinds of alternatives:

le Mia i si sano [ ve ka moa i ma lalu poli ]
NAME Mia FIN PERF say [ COMP DEF chicken FIN IMPF sing much ]
"Mia said that the chickens were singing a lot"

le Mia i si sano ko [ ka moa ma lalu poli ]
NAME Mia FIN PERF say NOM [ DEF chicken IMPF sing much ]
"idem"

and

he [ ve ta ma tuvo hiki ]
TIME [ COMP 3SG IMPF cut grass ]
"while he was mowing the lawn"

he ko [ ta ma tuvo hiki ]
TIME NOM [ 3SG IMPF cut grass ]

I imagine that one or another of the strategies would make more sense, and be likely to be used more, in specific contexts. I suppose these trends will emerge with lots more use, and like all similar situations in Koa, it'll never actually be incorrect either way.

So hey! That ended up being quite a bit easier than I expected, actually. The next task is to go back through all of my existing multiple-clause structures and see how they fare under these new models. In particular, I'm concerned about frames like te tai ko... "it's possible that...," "maybe..." I'll report soon.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Embedded clauses: the show so far

This is a big one.

I've been deliberately staying agnostic for the last 12 to 13 years, biding my time until I felt I had the wisdom or clarity to make a decision. Meanwhile, though, my interim strategies have been seeing so much use that they've actually been influencing other important choices that will not be easy to disentangle. It's clearly time to make up my mind.

The matter under consideration is that of embedded clauses. These fall into the two broad categories of modifiers (relative clauses) and nominals (complement and adverbial clauses), though as ever these categories are fluid in Koa.

Before diving into this discussion, I should first mention that one of Koa's relativization strategies, the internally-headed relative clause, is actually fairly uncontroversial. In this structure the particle ke marks the head while it remains in situ:

ke kane i si ipo ka sahi ni
QU man 3P PERF drink DEF wine 1SG
"the man who drank my wine"

le Keoni i si ipo ke sahi
NAME John 3P PERF drink QU wine
"the wine John drank"

nu ma asu ne ke talo
1PL IMPF dwell LOC QU house
"the house we live in"

If the head is focalized, note that this changes the sense from one of modification to identification:

ke kane sa si ipo ka sahi ni
QU man FOC PERF drink DEF wine 1SG
"which man drank my wine," as in "I don't know..."

ke sahi sa le Keoni si ipo
QU wine FOC NAME John PERF drink
"which wine John drank"

ke talo sa nu ma asu (ne ta)
QU house FOC 1PL IMPF dwell (LOC 3SG)
"which house we live in"

So far so good. This is easy to form, pretty unproblematic to parse, and works well much of the time. It feels a little odd to speakers of IE and neighboring languages, though, which is enough of a reason to have another option even without the fact that long chains of relative clauses can end up pretty unparseable using this strategy:

vo ke sene i si tapa ke hili i si suo ke lepa i tai ne le Iako i si tei ke talo
~ "this is which cat killed which mouse ate which bread was in Jack built which house"

What we need is a way for a clause to modify a nominal head that stays in its usual position within the matrix clause: that is, something more along the lines of a traditional Indo-European relative clause. This is easy when the head is the subject of the relative clause, because in that syntactic context the verb phrase can just as easily be considered adjectival anyway:

ka kane [ ma ipo ka sahi ni ] i ia paha
DEF man [ IMPF drink DEF wine 1SG ] 3P AFF evil
"the man drinking my wine is certainly evil"

We have the "relativizer" particle u at our disposal as well, which heretofore we've described as marking a phrase as both adjectival and pragmatically important, as in

ka sahi u puna
DEF wine REL red
"the red wine, the wine which is red, etc."

Our sample relative clause, then, could optionally also incorporate u:

ka kane [ u ma ipo ka sahi ni ] i ia paha
DEF man [ REL IMPF drink DEF wine 1SG ] 3P AFF evil
"the man who is drinking my wine is certainly evil"

I suspect that the difference between these would be about the same as the difference between "the man drinking my wine" and "the man who's drinking my wine" in English: in other words, pretty ethereal. One can envision contexts in which one or the other sounds better, but in general they're equivalent. The above is unproblematic, and indeed follows automatically from the basic principles of Koa structure.

Once the head occupies a position other than subject within the relative clause, though, we immediately run into apparently insoluble problems -- or at least, problems whose solutions have not seemed obvious to me for 12 to 13 years. Suppose, for example, that we want to say "The wine John drank had gone bad." Calquing the English structure would lead us to do something like this:

ka sahi [ u le Keoni i si ipo ] i si miláho
DEF wine [ REL NAME John 3P PERF drink ] 3P PERF INCEP-rot
"the wine John drank had gone bad"

It seems so normal that I might not even object, but then I remember the optionality of u in my previous examples. It was optional because the relative clause was "adjectival" on its own, with the same meaning. The same cannot be said here: there is no precedent anywhere in the language for a phrase like le Keoni i si ipo being able to directly modify anything.

Likewise, this clause doesn't seem to be modular, able to be slipped into any syntactic position, like all other parts of Koa are. For example, it should be possible to say this:

?ka [ le Keoni i si ipo ] i koa nai
DEF [ NAME John 3P PERF drink ] 3P good some
"the one John drank was pretty good"

...but I have no confidence in this at all. I don't see why I should expect that the bolded phrase should have the given English translation considering the remainder of Koa grammar, other than my English language intuition.

What we want is some way of forming a clause in Koa that would sound something like "the John-having-drunk(-it) wine" when translated literally into English. How would this be done?

Let's leave this for a moment and turn to the other embedded clause type. Complement and adverbial clauses occur in environments in which they are formally nominal -- that is to say, ordinarily one would see "nouns" in those contexts -- so a reasonable starting assumption might be that clauses of this type would have some kind of specifier. In fact, ko works very well for this purpose when, as with relative clauses, there isn't a subject expressed within the embedded phrase:

le Keoni i halu ko [ ipo a sahi koa ]
NAME John 3P want ABSTR [ drink INDEF wine good ]
"John wants to drink some good wine"

le Keoni i na ma mai koa lo ko [ si ipo a sahi pua ]
NAME John 3P NEG IMPF feel good REASON ABSTR [ PERF drink INDEF wine bad ]
"John doesn't feel well because he drank some bad wine"

The second example, which in English is an adverbial clause, might just as well be translated "John doesn't feel well because of having drunk some bad wine," and as such demonstrates why ko is the appropriate particle: ko si ipo a sahi pua really does mean "[the idea/state of] having drunk some bad wine." It's a little more of a stretch as a complement clause: I'm not sure it's as obvious that the literal "John wants [ drinking some good wine ]" ought to have the given meaning. Nonetheless, it's the only remotely reasonable way of doing this that I've ever come up with.

Having used this kind of structure for some time now, I found it easy enough to start regarding ko as a kind of complementizer, having in its scope an entire following clause. It seemed like this was a reasonable extension of its usual role of marking abstract concepts. Using it this way, we might see phrases like this:

ni si kulu ko [ le Keoni i na ma mai koa ]
1SG PERF hear ABSTR [ NAME John 3P NEG IMPF feel good ]
"I heard that John isn't feeling well"

You may be noticing a similarity developing with what happens with relative clauses. The problem is that ko marks the abstraction of a root. That's its one function. Every particle in Koa has one function. In using it this way I've done a very natural, linguistically neutral thing, but a fundamentally very un-Koa thing. Given the meaning of ko everywhere else, does it make any sense to express "John not feeling well" as ko le Keoni i na ma mai koa, in the same way that ko puna means "redness?" I'm not convinced that it does.

Scope is definitely part of this feeling. Even though the languages I know best don't have any problem parsing the appropriate scope of a complementizer, I feel uncomfortable assuming that everyone should just understand where this ko-phrase ends.

Another spot of discomfort is in the fact that, by preposing ko, I'm making this clause into a nominal. The clause, especially with that i in there, feels awfully finite for a nominalization.

This also fails the modularity test. If ko mevúa means "raininess," and pai mevúa means "rainy day," we should be able to say:

pai [ le Keoni i na ma mai koa ]
day [ NAME John 3P NEG IMPF feel good ]
"A John-not-feeling-well day"

Similarly, since I can say ti pai i mevúa "this day is rainy," why not:

ti pai i [ le Keoni i na ma mai koa ]
this day 3P [ NAME John 3P NEG IMPF feel good ]
"this day is John-not-feeling-well-y"

I don't think either of these is very well motivated. Although I wish I could clearly articulate why, my instinct is strong enough that I don't think I can use this kind of structure moving forward...unless I decide that it's okay for ko to lead a double life as a complementizer, in which its structures are not modular in the same way as other sort-of nominals.

If I'm opening up that line of inquiry, there's also the option of using one of my few remaining particles as a bona fide complementizer: perhaps ve, in homage to Bislama:

ni si kulu ve [ le Keoni i na ma mai koa ]
1SG PERF hear COMP [ NAME John 3P NEG IMPF feel good ]
"I heard that John isn't feeling well"

and even

pai ve [ le Keoni i na ma mai koa ]
day COMP [ NAME John 3P NEG IMPF feel good ]
"A John-not-feeling-well day"

It doesn't seem to work as well without an overt subject on the embedded clause, I suppose because what follows ve here is supposed to be a fully formed finite expression. We'd need to use structures like

...lo ve [ ta si ipo a sahi pua ]
REASON COMP [ PERF drink INDEF wine bad ]
"...because he drank some bad wine"

which seems to work reasonably well. What about this, though?

?le Keoni i halu ve [ ta ipo a sahi koa ]
NAME John 3P want COMP [ 3SG drink INDEF wine good ]
"John wants to drink some good wine"

Not so much. Whether we read this as "John wants himself to drink..." or "John wants him to drink," it's not inspiring any applause. I guess its structure is parallel to the same kind of clause in Greek/Romanian/Bulgarian/etc., though:

ο Γιάννης θέλει να πιει καλό κρασί
DEF John want-3SG COMP drink-3SG good wine
"John wants to drink good wine"

Anyway, before looking much more closely at that kind of strategy, or giving up on my principles, I would like to see if it might be possible to come up with a way of doing all this that really does work the way I had been envisioning. This is already a ridiculously long post, so we'll go on to that in the next one.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Backing up: the illusion of null derivation in Koa

The following is a slightly modified transcript of a correspondence with Adam regarding the previous post.

I think I should clarify something that I've clearly been too lax about explaining in the past: this "singer" issue that I know people have had problems with intuitively.

The thing about Koa is that it doesn't actually have parts of speech that correspond to European languages at all. I keep cavalierly using terms like "nominalization" as if it were entirely clear to everyone else exactly what I mean, but in fact you don't really have nominalization in Koa. In the same way, there's no verbalization, or "adjectivalization": just words used as predicates or modifiers.

My suggesting that ka lalu is the nominalized form of the verb lalu, then, is actually almost completely unhelpful. I'm realizing that it goes beyond that to the point of being positively deceptive.

The idea behind "words" in Koa is that they take their apparent lexical class -- their sense -- from the place they're used in a clause, but that none of this is inherent. If we take a simple clause like ka kane mata i ma luke "the short man is/was reading," we could equally visualize the "nominal" here as

a noun: the man
an adjective: the male one
a verb: the one-who-is-male, the one being male

likewise, the "adjective" mata could be seen as

an adjective: short
a verb: who-is-short, being short, "shorting"
a noun: a short one (appositive)

and the "predicate" could be framed as

a verb: is reading
a noun: is being a reader
an adjective: is a reading one, is one who is reading

The above is true for Koa not just in theory but in practice. There is unavoidably a question of arbitrariness in terms of what arrangement of semantic roles to foist onto each lexeme in order to make these interpretations what they are, and this is something I want to talk about more in a minute. There is not, however, anything arbitrary about the way the words resolve into each apparent lexical class once you know their basic meaning.

This is all building to an attempt to get at the feeling that it doesn't make intuitive sense for the "nominalized" form of "sing" to mean "singer." I think it's important to note that it actually doesn't mean "singer" with any of the semantic or aspectual/modal sense of the English word. It might be helpful to look at what the verb lalu actually means in a sentence like le Keoni i lalu. I've translated it as "John sings," but that statement is aspectually ambiguous in English.

The best example I can come up with is in the context of, say, a party, at which a certain portion of the contingent has decided it's time to start singing some songs. The folks who want to sing start asking less-well-known attendees whether they'd like to participate by saying "Do you sing?" to which they might respond, "Yeah, I sing" or "No, I don't sing." In Koa, these would get translated as Ai se lalu? Ia, ni lalu and Na, ni na lalu. In a sense, then, le Keoni i lalu might be more helpfully translated as "John is willing to sing," or "John can sing." The assertion is that John has the general potential to sing, whatever the specific realization of that fact in context might be.

I tend to translate ka into English as "the." It's more accurate to say that ka placed before a Koa predicate ("predicate" just meaning "content word" in the Koa grammatical tradition) gives it the sense "a definite instantiation of the meaning of the root," in other words "the one which..." From i puna "is red," then, we get ka puna "the one which is red," "the red one." In the same way, i lalu "sings" gives us ka lalu "the one which can/will sing, the one which sings, the 'singer'." Looking at it another way, i lalu could be equally correctly translated as "is one who can/will sing, is one who sings, is a 'singer'."

Given the semantics of a particular predicate, then, there is only one possible meaning that it could have in its nominal, adjectival or verbal role. There's no question of what semantic role to "promote" during the apparent process of nominalization: it's the same semantic role that it has everywhere else as well. What I've been calling null derivation should really be called "apparent null derivation," because there isn't actually any derivation going on here. Traditional concepts of lexical class just don't apply.

At least, that's the way it's always been; what I brought up in my previous post was the possibility of adding another layer of arbitrariness that would firmly reintroduce traditional lexical classes into the language for the theoretical benefit of greater intuitiveness, and/or greater word-worthiness of basic roots in each lexical class guise. Or reducing the average number of morphemes per word to give the language more of the feel of a creole. The disadvantage, beyond the increase in arbitrariness itself, would be that it would break the carefully constructed elegant system above.

When it comes to which thematic roles to map onto arguments for a given word, of course it's unavoidably true that it's philosophically an arbitrary choice. My guiding strategy, though, is based in the assumption that pragmatically most of that theoretical arbitrariness disappears. Once in a while one sees a language make some bizarre encoding choices -- Maltese where "thief" means literally "one who is considered a thief," for example, being my favorite -- but by and large this isn't what I've seen languages do. Dogs are nominal. Killing is verbal, and the agent will be the subject. Inasmuch as a language has a class anything like adjectives, "big" will be an adjective. I would suggest that, statistically, there are good and bad choices where these assignments are concerned.

Where there is genuine disagreement across large chunks of the language spectrum, I've tried to make my decisions at least consistent and predictable. Experiencers are encoded as subjects in Koa, for example. Bodily substances are their own nominal subjects (i.e. i taku means "is blood" not "bleeds"). I do actually intend to present the dictionary in a somewhat Loglanny way, demonstrating a clause frame for each word to illustrate the semantic structure; ideally my choices would feel intuitive or at least reasonable to the greatest percentage of humans, and where there is guesswork for a learner, there is at least a system on which to lean. This kind of arbitrariness is, I feel, pretty distinct from Esperanto's where kombo is the verbal noun "combing" but broŝo is the instrument "brush."

I've been relying on my intuition based on a very large number of studied languages in making these choices, but I really ought to be more scientific about it. In general I'm being pretty agnostic about the thematic role/argument deployment of potentially problematic words, with the understanding that I'll firm that up (or not -- some ambiguity is probably okay) later on through philological investigation.

I wouldn't want anyone to think I'm getting caught up in my own idea or anything. I'm firmly grounded in the fact that IAL design is always fundamentally going to be a variety of intellectual navel-gazing. The process is fascinating to me, though, and I really do have the conceit of thinking, or at least hoping, that this particular language, when it's "finished," would be easier to learn for a much greater number of people than Esperanto -- the founding goal back in 1999.

The question I was posing in the previous post, then, was that of whether this goal would be best served by coherence to an established and predictable, though more complex, system, or by the addition of ambiguity in order that more forms might be morphologically simpler and more typologically neutral. I'm leaning strongly towards the former at this point, if only for the reason that Koa was designed from the bottom up with the existing system informing every choice, and this change would destroy all internal consistency. It would be better, in terms of optimality, to start over from scratch if this were going to be a primary design goal.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Back to null derivation

A core principle of Koa design from the very, very beginning has been avoiding the kinds of problems caused by inherent lexical class in Esperanto. By this I refer to the fact that, for example, the root komb- is inherently verbal, which gives us kombi "to comb" and, counterintuitively for me, kombo "combing." In order to designate a nominal comb, one needs an instrumental affix: kombilo. Martel- "hammer," on the other hand, is nominal, so we have martelo "hammer," marteli "to hammer," and construct the verbal noun with an affix: martelado "hammering."

I've always felt that this was a terribly sloppy state of affairs for an IAL, and would be confusing enough for learners without the fact that it's barely touched upon by the textbooks. Koa, I thought, would conquer this territory, by making the business of part-of-speech conversion completely logical and, therefore, predictable. Some examples of the way this kind of thing works follow:

ka kane "the man"
le Keoni i kane "John is a man"
ka moa kane "the male chicken"

ka puna "the red one"
ka ame i puna "the bird is red"
ka moa puna "the red bird"

ka lalu "the one who is willing/able to sing, the singing one, the singer"
le Keoni i lalu "John sings"
ka kane lalu "the singing man, the man who sings"

ka pa lalu > ka palálu "the thing sung, i.e. the song"
le Amazing Grace i palálu "Amazing Grace is a song"
ka iune palálu "the one who steals songs, the song thief"

ka ne ka talo "the one in the house"
le Keoni i ne ka talo "John is in the house"
ka moa ne ka talo "the bird in the house, the bird that is in the house"

All of these structures are 100% parallel, in a manner entirely different from the way e.g. Esperanto does it. The idea is that every part of the language should follow this framework. The problem is that I'm worrying that by doing so, I'm diverging seriously from cross-linguistic neutrality and, in some cases, basic common sense.

I've written about this before, but I think the time has come to do some more rigorous investigation of the consequences of these assumptions, and evaluation of their reasonableness.

One of the most obvious effects of this system is that a lot of basic roots in English get encoded in Koa via the passive marker pa. "Song" above is an example of this: whereas in Esperanto kanti means "to sing" and the noun form kanto means "song," Koa lalu when used nominally means something like "one who sings in an aorist kind of way." This is not an obviously useful concept to be able to express, but it's necessary to maintain the parallelism of structures.

I should note that ka lalu doesn't really quite mean "the singer," in the sense of someone who sings a lot and constructs their identity partially around this fact. For this kind of meaning, that is, something characterized by the meaning of the root, we have an affix -ma, so láluma "singer." One could also employ the usitative particle va to form ka va lalu or ka valálu "the one who frequently sings," "the singer." It's easier to visualize its meaning in the negative: a na lalu "a person who doesn't/won't sing."

If ka lalu doesn't have a particularly useful existence with its current semantics, I have to ask this question: what if ka lalu meant "the song" instead? Not because it's logical, but because it's highly intuitive and useful. Some other examples of this general quandary:

suo "eat" > pasúo "food" (see below also)
lule "think, believe" > palúle "opinion"
haku "braid, weave" > paháku "braid (in hair)"
siva "tie" > pasíva "knot"
komo "wear" > pakómo "clothing"
kaka "go poop" > pakáka "feces" (the most egregious: surely "poop" should be monomorphemic in any language?)

In addition to this kind of concrete passive nominalization, we have a lot of abstract active forms:

nuku "sleep" > konúku "sleep (n.)"
mua "die" > komúa "death"
moe "dream" > komóe "dream (n.)" (or should this be pamóe?)
ela "live" > koéla "life"
suo "eat" > kosúo "meal"

In all these cases, we theoretically have the option of equipping the nominalized base root morpheme with the same meaning that currently needs derivational morphology to attain. What would be the advantages and disadvantages of such a system?

Before getting into syntactical ambiguities, we can state right off the bat that this would give Koa that same frustrating arbitrariness of intrinsic root meanings as Esperanto. Suo above is the perfect example: should this root used as a noun mean "food" or "meal?" Esperanto chooses the latter with manĝo, but it could really go either way. I don't like the thought of having to look up and memorize the meanings of various derived forms of every word: the whole point with Koa is that it's all there, free to interpret, in the morphology and syntax.

Leaving aside that qualm, I'd like to see if there are any really conspicuous structural problems with this idea. One issue that comes up repeatedly is that of what happens when the root is used as a predicate: as things stand, there is no formal difference between a predicate nominal, a stative verb, or any other kind of verb. Thus, le Keoni i lalu means "John sings" and is identical in structure with le Keoni i moa "John is a chicken."

If lalu, for example, means "sing" as a verb and "song" as a noun, clauses like le Keoni i lalu suddenly become ambiguous. It could either continue to mean "John sings," or more fancifully, "John is a song."

There are three possible responses to this that I see. First, we could decide that this potential ambiguity is unacceptable, and can the idea right now. Second, we could point out that the second interpretation is entirely semantically anomalous and therefore the ambiguity is artificial: in actual context, the meaning would be clear. Third, we could eliminate the ambiguity by requiring verb phrases to bear a tense/aspect/mood marker: thus the verbal meaning would have to be expressed as le Keoni i va lalu, currently meaning "John sings regularly/habitually." This is not quite the same as the aorist sense of le Keoni i lalu, but we could theoretically add this to the arsenal of va.

Well, I have no truck with monosignificance -- all languages are full of ambiguity -- so I can throw out the first response. I'm not a fan of the third either, because (A) I don't want to have to mark every verb phrase this way, and (B) it doesn't actually eliminate the ambiguity anyway, because le Keoni i va lalu could equally be interpreted as "John is often a song." This means that deciding to make this change to Koa null derivation semantics would entail accepting a healthy dose of intrinsic ambiguity into the language, for better or for worse.

One good thing about this that I'd like to throw in before I forget is that it would also obviate the need for a helper verb. Thus instead of tei kaka "go poop" (if kaka is nominal, that is), kaka could have both verbal and nominal force.

Returning to ambiguity, I would like to point one thing out. In more poetic contexts, where potential meanings range more freely, I find I can easily come up with examples where this ambiguity would no longer be trivial. Take the theoretical Koa sentence ka ela ni i lalu, for instance. I don't think there's a problem with ka ela ni "my life" (this would be ka koéla ni in standard Koa) despite the fact that it could also be saying "my living one," whatever that means. The predicate, though, could mean either "sings" (i lalu) or "is a song" (i palálu), and given the poetic nature of the utterance, there's really no reason to prefer one reading over the other. Some ambiguity is, of course, acceptable in poetry, but this seems to seriously encumber the expressiveness of the language. I think this may be the strongest argument yet in favor of not making this change.

In terms of typological appropriateness, I really need more data. I can say that, from the perspective of the inflectional IE languages I speak, I have nothing to worry about either way. "Food" in English is unrelated to "eat," but transparently connected to "feed." In Polish we have jedzenie, literally the verbal noun "eating." Spanish has comida, literally "(female) eaten thing": an exact parallel of Koa pasúo. What do more isolating languages do, though? I have absolutely no idea. Inexcusably, I don't have a grammar of Mandarin, Vietnamese, Burmese, Thai or any other related language, but Bislama, Malay and Yoruba ought to give me something to work with. I'll come back with part II soon; in the mean time, I think I'm seeing some reasons to leave things as they are.