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) 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" 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
"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" 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"


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


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:

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"

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
"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" 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

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.