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
"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"


[ 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:

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

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" 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
"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
"there is not anything such that I want to say this thing to you"
"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 FIN PERF drink DEF wine 1SG
"there's someone/one of them who drank my wine"


aka i si ipo ka sahi ni 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...