Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Entr'acte: The vanity of logic and typological neutrality

Continuing to think about pronominal predicates (about which more is forthcoming) and embedded clauses has led me to some difficult realizations over the past couple weeks. Here's the setup: how should clauses used as predicates really work? We've gone to considerable length to motivate this theoretically final decision that the i marking finiteness should simply be deleted, e.g.

le Iuli i loha ti mehe
NAME Julie FIN love this person
"Julie loves this person"

ka mehe [ (ko) le Iuli loha ]
DEF person [ (ABS) NAME Julie love ]
"the person Julie loves"

The core argument here is that, from the first principles underlying Koa grammar and syntax, there should be no difference between a clause used as a predicate and any other simplex predicate; and the structure of dependent clauses themselves should follow logically from those same first principles. I tried to show how in a clause like the above, the verb phrase (loha) could be said to be modifying the head (le Iuli), producing a Turkish-style nominalization meaning something like "the person of loving-Julie-ness."

Here's the thing: the structure of the Koa clause does not proceed from logic. Within predicates we have this very solid, logical, well-described system of modification, and likewise between predicates and particles...but with clauses we began with what turns out to be an essentially arbitrary formula:


It's a sensible system, a typologically neutral system, but there's nothing at all logical about it. The division between the subject NP and the VP simply had to be made somehow, so we made it. But in the argument above, we tried to create an alternative history where we could reconstruct logical, derived-from-first-principles meaning across a whole dependent clause, when in fact that kind of logic was never present in the simplest of main clauses to start with!

I've realized that we've been holding two competing foundational philosophies simultaneously all this time: typological intuitiveness represented by creoles in one hand, and logic inspired by something like Loglan in the other. We've let each of them grow and flourish and tried to avoid situations where the streams might cross, but with embedded clauses this strategy has just run out of road.

The truth is that at some level of complexity -- such as where we now find ourselves -- this becomes a zero-sum contest. The more genuinely cross-linguistically intuitive these structures are, the less formally logical they will be; the more logical they are, the less intuitive. It's been vanity to imagine that I could indefinitely maximize both simultaneously; self-deception to deny the centrality of the muse of my own aesthetics.

Let's level: Koa isn't really going to become an international auxiliary language, regardless of whether I deem I've met my goal of besting Esperanto or not. This seems to be the moment where I have to decide what kind of language I want this to be, and that choice will underlie the structures that enable Koa to rise up from the banality of example sentences and become a vibrant, truly usable human language.

So what do I do about relative clauses? Do I make them unreduced and internally-headed like Navajo, by far the most elegant, internally consistent choice, despite the fact that that would feel alien to 99% of the Earth's population? Or follow the example of Yoruba (and most other languages, honestly), accept a relative pronoun, and decide that there's something that makes these kinds of clauses different from others? Or go back to the drawing board on what really makes a clause in Koa in the first place, trying to build something up from first principles that will survive this particular wave of complexity...knowing that the result also will likely be elegant and logical at the cost of typological neutrality?

I'm not sure, but what's becoming clear is that the choice is mine to make, and that no amount of rigorous exploration of semantics will decide it for me. In a way it's freeing: maybe after more than 20 years of devotion to principles, I've earned the right to let my personal aesthetics unabashedly lead me for a while. It would be a relief to choose a structure or a system that I like, and feel justified in doing so because there is no alternative to choice so I might as well make it one that pleases me.

More to come, clearly.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Possession versus ownership

All that discussion about possessive pronouns and oma versus keme -- and particularly the Malay structure in which the possessive predicate construction involves what is technically the verb of belonging -- got me to thinking: what actually is the logical relationship between these concepts of "one's own," "owning" and "belonging?"

It turns out there's a very straightforward one, and was basically already fully wired and ready to be discovered! Oma doesn't just mean "one's own," it's a verb meaning "to belong to!" The flexibility of lexical class in Koa had obscured this before. So for example:

ka talo oma ni
DEF house belong 1SG
"my own house"

...but technically oma ni is here actually an adjectival clause rephrasable as "the house that belongs to me," exactly analogous to

ka tupo ma polo
DEF horse IMPF run
"the running horse" or "the horse that is running"

We also have a lovely economical phrase for a Valentine's heart:

vi oma ni
IMP belong 1SG
"be mine"

All this is why oma didn't feel right when I was trying to say "this is my house": there's too much of a semantic of belonging or owning in there.

ti talo i oma ni
this house FIN belong 1SG
"this house is my own" or "this house belongs to me"

What we were really looking for was a purely conceptual relationship of possession, blanched of as much additional meaning as possible: that's exactly what keme is. After all, this is in origin a derivative of with; ti talo i keme ni just means "this house is mine," in the sense of "this house is associated with me." We're not trying to talk about owning or belonging in this imaginary conversation. It seems to be a distinction I'd never really considered before between possession and ownership.

There's this really fascinating-looking Oxford University Press cross-linguistic typological survey of possession and ownership across the world's languages, and one thing I was reading in the summary is that languages from cultures where ownership is 100% the same as possession tend to have very different corresponding linguistic structures than what we're used to. Clearly (A) I need to find a copy of this book and read it as soon as humanly possible, and (B) there's going to have to end up being a fuzzy limit to Koa's pretensions of universality where structure intersects with radically different underlying cultural needs. Still, I'll keep trying my best...

Monday, March 15, 2021

Return of the Pronominal Predicate

Over the years there's been a lot of hemming and hawing about predicate-length (i.e. bisyllabic) versions of the personal pronouns, which I've tended to refer to as "emphatic." I'm not sure where the idea came from originally; maybe the full versus clitic forms of the pronouns in Polish planted the seed? It occurs to me to wonder how well-represented a strategy this is cross-linguistically. The other clear examples I can think of come from Welsh (i vs innau), Ancient Greek (με vs ἐμέ) and Nahuatl ( vs nèhuātl): not much ground for generalizations.

Since the idea first occurred to me some version of it has never left at least the theoretical lexicon, despite occasional deep skepticism. Most recently, in this post -- since which more than two years inexplicably seem to have passed -- I think I pretty firmly established that there does need to be a form of the personal pronouns that makes it possible to use them as predicates. It's important to note that as such they may have nothing whatsoever to do with emphasis, though, except for the fact that these predicates have a tendency to show up in pragmatically marked syntactic structures. For this reason I'm thinking we should ditch the "emphatic" nomenclature that probably has its origins in IE languages anyway, and choose a better-motivated term like "extended" or "predicative."

As to form, we've seen three options:

A. Reduplicating the pronoun (the longest standing): nini, sese, etc.
B. Lengthening the pronoun to produce a bisyllable of analogous form: nii, sei, etc.
C. Adding -a on the analogy of ke > kea, to > toa, and so on.: nia, sea, etc.

I've thought of a couple others recently:

D. Adding -imi "self," currently used also as a true emphatic: niimi, seimi, etc.
E. Adding some other formative, like -pe: nipe, sepe, etc.

Option A was the original idea long ago and I'm still a big fan, other than the fact that this would necessitate giving up tata "dad" in favor of papa which I just do not like. Aside: this has been a bigger problem than you might think, because I really truly actually seriously detest papa and this has held up the whole thought process for probably almost 15 years. I honestly don't know what to do about this, because I apparently can't let go of either and I obviously can't have both. Could there be some completely different "dad" word? I feel like I might die on this hill while the whole of civilization grinds to a halt around me.

ANYWAY, back to the subject: I've never much cared for the aesthetics of option B, or the fact that the pronouns with mid vowels end up looking less like their simplex forms than the others, so I think we might as well just toss that one. Option C is totally reasonable and logical, though let's discuss the semantic implications below, and I'd just like to take a moment to bemoan the loss of taa for "surpass," as I've increasingly been thinking of it. Option D I apparently brought up just to instantly dismiss, because using a form with this literal semantic meaning in this pragmatic way feels very ad hoc and un-Koa. Option E is possible if we really need it, so maybe let's leave it in the back pocket for the moment.

As to option C: the idea here is that we already use -a to make pronouns out of specifiers, which initially makes this seem like a pretty solid plan. An important thing to notice, though, is that the Koa "personal particles" actually live a double life -- they do act as pronouns, but in other contexts they're specifiers! And as specifiers their value is possessive. If, then, -a makes a specifier into a pronoun -- or to look at it another way, into a predicate -- then nia should mean not "I" but "mine!"

I actually don't have a ready argument for why this shouldn't immediately be declared canon. A structure like this gives us possibilities like:

ti talo i nia
this house FIN mine
"this house is mine"

ka nia i pavasu
DEF mine FIN PASS-wear.out
"mine is worn out"

Currently, without these forms, we're forced to co-opt other words in what is unavoidably an arbitrary way, or repeat the coindexed referents redundantly:

ti talo i keme ni
this house FIN attribute/possession 1SG
"this house is my possession"

ka keme ni i pavasu
DEF possession 1SG FIN PASS-wear.out
"[this possession of] mine is worn out"

ti talo i ni talo
this house FIN 1SG house
"this house is my house"

Okay, so honestly, to my surprise I don't hate the structures with keme ni. I actually don't think they're arbitrary at all: this seems like a completely logical, consistent extension, and maybe even the most consistent way of expressing this concept. The real question, then, I guess, ends up coming down to aesthetics and word-worthiness. Before digging in here, though, note what happens when we use predicates like nia in an adjectival position:

ka lina nia
DEF city mine
"my city"

This gives us a genuinely emphatic meaning, as against the unmarked ka lina ni "my city." Important! And without these forms we'd be limited to

ka lina keme ni
DEF city possession 1SG
"the city of my possession" = "my city"

There's no question that the form with nia is more elegant. What I'm not sure of is (A) whether giving up 6 predicates to this cause is being unnecessarily improvident, and (B) what's the cross-linguistic word on possessive pronouns? Would these predicates be typologically motivated?

Indo-European has a variety of strategies, often the genitive of the personal pronoun or a separate possessive form. Modern Greek uses an adjective meaning "own," e.g. δικός μου "my own," "mine," which is kind of cool and a little like keme ni (and as to that, does Koa have a way of expressing that meaning of "own?" Oh yes of course, oma). Finnish and Turkish both use the genitive of the pronoun: tämä talo on minun, bu ev benim. Hungarian interestingly has distinct possessive pronouns, which I'd forgotten about: ez a ház az enyém, etc. Basque -- if I'm interpreting this forms correctly -- seems to put a definite ending on a genitive pronoun, so ni > nire > nirea...fascinating, a bit like el mío in Spanish, I guess? That about wraps it up for Europe, I think.

For a minute I got excited about Hebrew because the modern vernacular language seemed to use a structure 100% analogous to ka talo keme ni with its הבית שלי ha bait sheli but then I learned from Marisa that sheli is just the 1SG form of the preposition "of" and I was disappointed. But then I discovered that shel comes originally from something like "...which is to me," "to me" being the way Arabic still expresses "mine": هذا البيت لي hadha al-beyt li "this is my house," lit. "this the house to me." So a prepositional phrase -- that's a cool different strategy. (Thanks, Liorr, for these translations!)

Mandarin just uses the genitive of the pronoun again: 这房子是我 的 zhè fángzi shì wǒ de "this house COP 1SG GEN." Japanese says "my thing": この家は私のものです kono ka wa watashi no mono desu "this house TOPIC 1SG GEN thing COP." Interesting. Malay has "my possession"!!! rumah ini milik saya, "house this possession me"; apparently milik can also be a verb "belong."

Most of the rest of human languagedom is still untouched, but maybe this is enough. Clearly lots of very unrelated languages are happy with "my X," and I don't think I want discrete lexemes for possessive pronouns anyway: it just doesn't feel right. I'm intrigued by the semantics at the perhaps unlikely intersection of Greek and Malay, though, and I wonder whether we might use oma in this context:

ka talo ni oma
DEF house 1SG own
"my own house"

...wait, or is it

ka talo oma ni
DEF house own 1SG
"my own house"

Oh yikes. Let's not even get into the fact that the official lexicon gives oma for "self," when I thought it was imi! Okay, okay, no, actually we'd better. Deep breath: oma could be "one's own," whereas imi could be "the self" in, like, consciousness terms. So ni imi oma "my own self." Apparently reflexive pronouns do tend to come from the word for the self, so it's also not arbitrary to potentially say things like ni nae ni imi "I see myself."

That now being settled, which version above is correct? If we accept ni imi oma that would suggest that oma is applied to an existing possessive phrase, in which case it should be the first. Then:

ka ni oma
DEF 1SG own
"my own"

...and potentially

ti talo i ni oma
this house FIN 1SG own
"this house is mine"

Ugh, though, why is an alienable object ("house") being described with inalienable possession, then? Either we say that that's just how oma rolls, which would be realistic to natural languages but not exactly in line with Koa's goals of being reducible to first principles, or maybe the noun modified by oma "groups" together before possession happens? So ni [imi oma] "myself," obviously inalienable, but then [ka talo oma] ni "my own house," alienable. And since utterances like "this mother is mine" are pretty pragmatically anomalous and therefore unlikely outside of bad reference grammars, oma ni is a better form to be the default predicate.

WHICH MEANS that either of the following could mean "this house is mine":

ti talo i oma ni
this house FIN own 1SG
"this house is my own" = "this house is mine"

ti talo i keme ni
this house FIN possession 1SG
"this house is my possession" = "this house is mine"

However, there's a distinct semantic in the oma sentence worth pointing out: it's essentially saying "this is my very own house." In other words, there's no way besides ti talo i oma ni to say "this house is my very own." That's worth being able to say, but not really what we were trying to get at with this now absurdly long odyssey into the subject. Ti talo i keme ni seems much more neutral: this is just the house that I have.

This was extremely productive -- although it left me with the very same conclusions I'd previously reached here, albeit with much less exhaustive motivation -- but not even slightly the matter I actually meant to spend the apparently last 24 hours exploring! Will try again tomorrow...

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The deal with predicate fronting

Returning to the final concern of the previous post, let’s take a careful look at fronted predicates. Since some afternoon in the early 20-teens at the Bayfair BART station I've been saying things like

Koa ko... "It’s good that..."
Tota ko... "It’s true that..."
Te tai ko... "It’s possible that..."
Io ika ko... "Okay, let’s accept that..."

So what is actually happening here? Are we fronting the predicate because it’s focused? Or some other pragmatic reason? Is there something presentative about this, like as if we were saying

Vo te tai ko tia lu te tota! "Hey look, guys, it's possible this could be true!"

Hm. I feel like there’s something else going on. Can any of these expressions be followed by a simple predicate? Uh...I’m not sure. Maybe we first need to start out with the principle that any predicate can appear on its own, as if preceded by i. [i] koa “it’s/that’s good,” [i] mesúa “it’s sunny,” etc. So how would we append further information to that predicate?

Immediately I think of ve, in the sense “it’s good ‘how’ X”:

Koa ve ta si lai! “It’s good that she’s come back!” all other circumstances explored so far, ve is interchangeable with ko if we make the referenced clause intransitive. Is that the case here?

TIME OUT: I think I might have grasped it. The clause is actually modifying the initial predicate! If we start with “it’s good,” we could then ask “what kind of good?” And the answer here is a “her having come back” kind of good. If this is so, then there’s no problem switching to ko as I suggested above, because it ends up having just the same meaning:

Koa ko ta si lai! “It’s good that she’s come back!”

But what, semantically or pragmatically, is the difference between that and

Ko ta si lai i koa / Koa sa ko ta si lai?

The latter in particular is so straightforward: it’s a focused predicate. And it feels equivalent...but maybe that’s because I’m not thinking clearly about the pragmatics, and/or because I’ve been using sa wrong in some contexts in the past. Is “it’s good” necessarily new information?

“So Mary came back yesterday. Is that going to be a problem?”
“Actually, I think it’s good that she’s come back!

In that dialog, koa sa feels like the right translation because in context we are genuinely focusing on new information that the speaker is contributing. So what are other possible contexts?

“But she only just came back yesterday...I’m afraid if I tell her how I feel she’ll just leave again.”
“Well, it’s good that she came back, but your feelings are still real and valid and she needs to have accountability for her impact on them.”

“Well you’re certainly cheerful this morning! What’s got you smiling so wide?”
It’s good to have her back!

Actually, I feel like in most contexts phrases like this are kind of neutral in focus, like the contribution of the whole proposition to the discourse is more important than the relationship of any particular constituent to the discourse stage. Maybe more relevant to the question of structure is just balance, style, flow — an aesthetic consideration? Regardless of focus, (A) the critical piece of information being communicated is the predicate and as such it’s weird to bury it under a whole clause, and (B) if the subject is the dependent clause, an issue of parsing arises where we have to figure out where we’ve rejoined the matrix clause again, potentially pretty far down the line if the dependent clause is complex. It’s just a lot easier to understand with that bit of information out in front.

Two main points:

1. Te tai ko-type clauses are motivated by existing Koa principles and clearly grammatical
2. Their use is reasonable both for pragmatics and style and not just an IE calque.

However note: it’s also become apparent in the course of writing this that in the past I’ve unintentionally used sa as a kind of presentative particle which I think is not motivated by pragmatics. I need to be careful and remember that bare-stem predicates carry meaning on their own!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Grand Unified Theory of dependent clauses

In honor of Koa's impending 20th anniversary, I hereby announce a concerted effort to figure out, once and for all, what is going on with dependent clauses: or in Koa-specific terms, as I now realize, clauses used as predicates. This includes nominal (or content) clauses, adverbial clauses, relative clauses, any situation in which a clause is being integrated into syntax in other than a free-standing way.

Further: my instinct going into this is that it's going to turn out that all these various "types" as our traditional grammars consider them actually break down to pretty much identical Koa structures, in the same way that Koa collapses the difference between nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. as IE languages conceive them.

I think the current state of dependent clauses in Koa is represented here, and with much greater sophistication than I had realized before I reread it. This gets us pretty close to a model that can be expanded and adapted to serve all needs coherently and transparently, but there are one or two apparent possible IE holdovers that need to be reconsidered. A summary:

  • Clauses can be made non-finite by deleting the 3rd-person finiteness marker i.
  • Nominal clauses can be preceded by ko (non-finite), or by ve (finite).
  • Adjectival clauses can be internally-headed with the head marked by ke (finite), or optionally preceded by u and gapped (non-finite).
  • Adverbial clauses can be preceded by ko (non-finite), or by ve (finite), following whatever other marking indicates the role of the clause.
  • Verbal clauses — which is to say basically clauses used as stative verbs — are simply non-finite.

Here's the thing: what we're talking about here at base is clauses being used as predicates. In all other cases in Koa, there is an extremely solid system for the use of a predicate as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc., and this differs from the approach discussed above! For example, most particularly, why are adjectival clauses marked differently than nominal clauses?

Clearly, in Indo-European languages, adjectival (i.e. "relative") clauses are treated entirely differently than nominal ones, and that has equally clearly affected my thinking about this topic from the very beginning. Is there in actuality any meaningful way, however, that a relative clause can be said to be "different" from a nominal clause beyond any other predicate when used as an adjective versus a noun?

After some serious brain-twisting thought, and some delightfully old-school conversation with Allison, I have to conclude that the answer is actually no. Despite the way that this screamingly defies my IE intuition, I can't muster a single argument for treating them differently in Koa. Turkish, incidentally, agrees:

Aygül-Ø ekmeğ-i ye-diğ-imiz-i söyle-di-Ø
Aygül-NOM bread-ACC eat-PART-1PL-ACC say-PAST-3P
"Aygül said that we ate the bread"

ye-diğ-imiz ekmek
eat-PART-1PL bread
"the bread we ate"

Translating literally into English, the dependent clause here — yediğimiz ekmek or ekmeği yediğimiz — has a feel sort of like "the our-eating bread": "Aygül said the our-eating bread," etc. Traditionally, and as described by the principles above, these would be translated into Koa in distinct ways:

Áikulu i sano ko/ve [ nu suo ka lepa ]
Aygül FIN say SPEC/COMP [ 1PL eat DEF bread ]
"Aygül said that we ate the bread"

ka lepa (u) [ nu suo ]
DEF bread (REL) [ 1PL eat ]
"the bread we ate"

For the life of me, though, I just cannot rationally motivate the presence of u above. Why not instead:

ka lepa (ko/ve) [ nu suo ]
DEF bread (SPEC/COMP) [ 1PL eat ]
"the bread we ate"

Depending on whether we're calling the dependent clause finite or not, the literal translation comes out sounding something like "the bread of our eating" or "the bread such that we ate it." Either way it looks like very solid Koa of the usual variety in which there is no difference between traditional lexical classes! And as such we can apply this equally well to simple predicates:

ka sivu vihe
DEF leaf green
"the green leaves"

ka sivu ko/ve vihe
DEF leaf SPEC/COMP green
"the leaves that are green"

It appears that u is out of a job.

If this is so, we can rearticulate the principles of dependent clauses as follows:

  • Clauses used as predicates have an optional marker ko when non-finite, a mandatory marker ve when finite.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the way we like it in Koa. Here are some examples of complex predicates being used in different roles...

ADJECTIVAL: "a mommy-not-feeling-well night"

ivo (ko) [ ka mama na mai koa ]
night (SPEC) [ DEF mom NEG feel good ]

ivo ve [ ka mama i na mai koa ]
night COMP [ DEF mom FIN NEG feel good ]

NOMINAL: "she said that mommy's not feeling well"

ta sano (ko) [ ka mama na mai koa ]
3SG say (SPEC) [ DEF mom NEG feel good ]

ta sano ve [ ka mama i na mai koa ]
3SG say COMP [ DEF mom FIN NEG feel good ]

VERBAL: "this night is mommy-not-feeling-well-ish"

ti ivo i [ ka mama na mai koa ]
DEM night FIN [ DEF mom NEG feel good ]

ti ivo i ve [ ka mama i na mai koa ]
DEM night FIN COMP [ DEF mom FIN NEG feel good ]

ADVERBIAL: "while mommy's not feeling well"

he (ko) [ ka mama na mai koa ]
TIME (SPEC) [ DEF mom NEG feel good ]

he ve [ ka mama i na mai koa ]
TIME COMP [ DEF mom FIN NEG feel good ]

Adjectival clauses do still have a third, internally-headed option that I don't think is extensible to the other types:

ka talo (ko) [ le Iako si ete ]
DEF house (SPEC) [ QUOT Jack ANT make ]
"the house that Jack built"

ka talo ve [ le Iako i si ete ]
DEF house COMP [ QUOT Jack FIN ANT make ]
"the house that Jack built"

le Iako i si ete ke talo / ke talo sa le Iako i si ete
QUOT Jack FIN ANT make QU house / QU house FOC QUOT Jack FIN ANT make
"the house that Jack built"

Wait. Why does this exist, again? Just for fun? Greater trans-typological intuitiveness? Now that I'm looking at that, it doesn't seem to make any sense at all. I keep wanting to reduce it to ke talo le Iako si ete, as in ke talo le Iako si ete i sulu "the house that Jack built fell down." That agrees with my IE intuitions. But what in God's name is the difference between that and ka talo le Iako si ete i sulu as described earlier? And again, why should relative clauses be treated differently than other dependent clause types?

Okay, I reserve the right to bring this back should circumstances seem to require it at some point in the future, but for the moment I see absolutely no motivation for its continued existence.

A few final points:

1) For the type of clause that in English winds up headless, like "I want to know who said that," Koa syntax using the above principles gets a little muddy. It could be non-finite:

ni halu ilo (ko) keka sa sano toa
1SG want know (SPEC) who FOC say that

...which raises the heretofore never considered question of whether a clause with a focused constituent can be nominalized: an issue for another day. Sa could be left out of the above clause anyway without changing the semantics. In any event, that seems vaguely acceptable if perhaps a little IE-calquish; on the other hand the theoretically equally allowable finite version feels fairly bizarre:

ni halu ilo ve keka sa sano toa
1SG want know COMP who FOC say that

Something seems frankly wrong with this but I can't puzzle it out at the moment. Should ve be le? I don't know. HOWEVER, the point I want to make is that I think the most natively Koa way of expressing this actually avoids all of these structures entirely:

ni halu ilo ka sano toa
1SG want know DEF say that

Literally this is something like "I want to know the sayer of that," and it's a lesson that we really have to remember that Koa can do this and explore the scope and power of it more fully (or at all, really).

2) What's the pragmatic difference between finite and non-finite dependent clauses? Why choose one over the other? I think it's good to have both options, but at this point I don't have any sense of comparative uses.

3) I've said that the marker for non-finite dependent clauses is optional, but under what circumstances would/should it be omitted and retained? It's clearly going to have an impact on clarity and style. Part of me is wondering whether it should actually be optional at all. More later.

4) In the earlier post I referenced above, I was fretting a bit about te tai ko... types of clauses. Just to reassure my past self, I don't think there's any issue here, and we can phrase them either finitely or non-finitely:

te tai ko/ve ta lu lai he leo
ABL be SPEC/COMP 3SG IRR return TIME today
"maybe she'll come back today"

On the other hand, the way this is structured makes it look like a verbal structure like te tai is transitive, in that it accepts a complement! What's actually happening here syntactically? Apparently we can also say things like

koa ko/ve ta lu lai he leo
good SPEC/COMP 3SG IRR return TIME today
"it's good that she's coming back today"

Is this something other than fronting the predicate (as in, is the pre-transformation form really ko ta lu lai he leo i te tai)? Can we do that? When?

?iso to kunu
big DEM dog
"it's big, that dog"

?ma polo la koto ni
DUR run 1SG to home
"here I am running home..."

Should this be focus instead, like te tai sa (ko)/ve ta lu lai he leo? Or is something completely different going on? Um. Let me get back to you.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

What a day!

As I was walking down the street this week on an unseasonably warm morning, I found myself trying to say "What a warm day!" in Koa. This turned out to be a much more complicated proposition than I had initially expected. My first instinct was a calque on broadly Indo-European and particularly Romance structures, something like

pai lami kea sa!
day warm what FOC
"what kind of warm day is it!"


ke pai lami sa!
INT day warm FOC
"which warm day is it!"

Clearly these structures are entirely arbitrary, though, and as such feel pretty un-Koa-like; or more to the point, they're assuming that we can use question words for affective value (NB apparent questions with explanation points at the end), which I'm not at all sure is true. I really want something solidly, natively Koa to express a concept like this. So what is a statement like "What a warm day!" really saying?

I'm pretty sure that there are two things going on here from a Koa standpoint: we're pointing something out (presentative - vo), and we're expressing that that thing is unexpected (mirative - ho). How exactly to combine these into a sentence, though? If it were a complete clause, somehow it would feel simpler:

vo ta ho lalu kali!
PRES 3SG MIR sing beautiful
"how beautifully she sings!"

Literally this is something like "Whoa, look, she sings beautifully!" ...which sounds pretty much perfect for my warm day: "Whoa, look, it's a warm day!" So I'm happy with that. But again, how exactly to say it? There's a parallel structure to the preceding example:

vo ti pai i ho lami!
"my, but this day is warm!"

...and that's fine, but it's so much wordier, so much more...syntaxful...than the English expression and, I think, than the emotional situation requires or suggests. And after all we can say things like

vo ka ávale se
"here's your keys"

with no verb in sight. So what if we combine the relevant particles into a compound that's tailor-made for this specific affective situation: voho?

voho pai lami!
PRES-MIR day warm
"what a warm day!"

We could potentially even use this for clauses with a finite verb, I think, maybe?

voho ta lalu kali!
PRES-MIR 3SG sing beautiful
"how beautifully she sings!"

and even

voho ti pai i lami!
"my, but this day is warm!"

This also gives us a lovely new exclamatory word which is satisfyingly deeply rooted in the particle system, voho! "whoa!" I wonder if this could even be a predicate, meaning...what, exactly? Unexpected? Noteworthy? Noteworthily unexpected? Unexpectedly noteworthy? I think I may like it!

to pai i lami mo voho
DEM day FIN warm SIM noteworthy
"it was an unexpectedly warm day"

I mean, if we don't do that then voho ends up having to mean something else, and we potentially encounter sentences like

voho voho púano
PRES-MIR fashion-sense bad.AUG
"what dreadful taste"

which would clearly be much too silly...beyond which I'm all for accidentally creating predicates that end up being both useful and internally motivated. So there it is!

(Okay, no, I know, "taste" wouldn't be expressed monomorphemically like that, it was just a joke. It would be somethingíta, if pita meant "like" or "appreciate": "quality of that which is habitually liked!")

Friday, February 2, 2018

Pronouns into predicates

I was just reading my Nahuatl grammar and serendipitously reached the chapter in which they introduce the emphatic pronouns and describe them as basically a slightly anomalous kind of predicate. Nahuatl being one of only a handful of languages I'm aware of that handle lexical classes like Koa, I feel like it's worth taking note of how it uses these kinds of forms.

From what I just skimmed and what I recall from previous readings, the main uses to which Nahuatl puts its emphatic pronouns are topic/focus constructions and, sort of formally overlappingly, when the pronoun needs to be used as a predicate. For example:

ca nèhuātl
"It's me" (pronoun as predicate)

(ca) nèhuātl in ni.qu.i in ātl
(DECL) 1SG DEF 1SG.3SG.drink DEF water
"I'm the one drinking the water" (focus...hopefully I got this right)

I'm wondering whether these could be directly calqued to Koa and what that would look like! Remaining agnostic on the form of Koa emphatic pronouns but using the reduplicated ones just for the moment, the first could be put as i nini or more likely nini sa and the second as nini sa ka ma ipo ka anu.

This isn't why I started writing just now, but I can't resist comparing the syntax of that last form (1A) with the usual way we handle focus (2A):

1A. nini sa ka ma ipo ka anu
1SG FOC DEF IMPF drink DEF water
"I'm the one drinking the water"

2A. ni sa ma ipo ka anu
1SG FOC IMPF drink DEF water
"It's me who's drinking the water"

I glossed these differently but I think they're semantically equivalent. I also think there's no reason type 1 above could logically be disallowed, which means we need to figure out (as usual) the kinds of conditions that would determine its use. Most worthy of note here, though, I think, is that what's going on between these seemingly extremely similar sentences is in fact surprisingly different formally.

In type 1, nini is actually the predicate: without focalization, the clause could be rearranged as

1B. ka ma ipo ka anu i nini
DEF IMPF drink DEF water FIN 1SG
"The one drinking the water is me."

Therefore, if we were to say that in Koa, as in Nahuatl, an emphatic pronoun is required in order for it to play a predicative role, then type 1 clauses would have to appear as above and not, for example, as *ni sa ka ma ipo ka anu.

In type 2, what's going on is simple movement of the focus into initial position followed by sa, without structural change from the theoretical matrix clause: that is to say, the pragmatically neutral clause would be

2B. ni ma ipo ka anu
1SG IMPF drink DEF water
"I'm drinking the water"

Um...wait just a second, though. I previously said that ni sa ka ma ipo ka anu would be incorrect, but check out these three sentences:

1B. ka ma ipo ka anu i nini
DEF IMPF drink DEF water FIN 1SG
"The one drinking the water is me."

1C. nini i ka ma ipo ka anu
1SG FIN DEF IMPF drink DEF water
"I am the one drinking the water."

1D. ni ka ma ipo ka anu
1SG DEF IMPF drink DEF water
"I am the one drinking the water."

If focalizing nini, 1B and 1C would both yield the identically same clause, nini sa ka ma ipo ka anu! And focalizing ni in 1D would give us ni sa ka ma ipo ka anu...which means it's not incorrect after all. However, though, what on earth is the pragmatic difference between 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D and 2A, five different ways of expressing (seemingly) the exact same thing? Just for clarity, with apologies for what I've just realized is the total lameness of the example sentence I'm using here, here's that lineup all together, all saying something like "I'm the one who's drinking the water":

1A. nini sa ka ma ipo ka anu
1B. ka ma ipo ka anu i nini
1C. nini i ka ma ipo ka anu
1D. ni ka ma ipo ka anu
2A. ni sa ma ipo ka anu

First of all, I have no clue how to differentiate pragmatically between 2A and 1ACD. 1B is, I think, slightly different from the others in a way that might make its use a little clearer. Okay, like...maybe the choice between all the 1's and 2A is whether "the one drinking the water" is already an identifiable entity on the discourse stage. In Nahuatl, of course, this kind of structural strategy is the only way they can pull off focus, but Koa can introduce this kind of subtlety because it also has fronting à la Yoruba. This can be filed in that general folder of Advanced Koa to which, whatever happened to that document where I was trying to list every possible way of expressing the same transitive clause so we could try to determine how they were different? I think I might have burned out after the 25th permutation.

ANYWAY, none of the above is what I intended to write about here! What I wanted to point out is that, if a primary purpose for emphatic pronouns is providing a form to use as a predicate where required, we do actually already have an entirely different and extremely well-established way of doing this with a different set of pronouns: ti/to/ke. Here we have

na ipo to sahi!
NEG drink that wine
"don't drink that wine!"

but, I now realize

na ipo to.a!
NEG drink that.PRON
"don't drink that!"

This raises two questions for me: (1) could/should emphatic personal pronouns be done like this as well, i.e. nia, sea, taa, nua, soa, tua? and (2) going the other direction, could/should ti/to/ke be used as pronouns independently, e.g.:

ke sa se halu?
what FOC 2SG want
"what do you want?"

na ipo to!
NEG drink that
"don't drink that!"

...alongside the traditional

ke.a sa se halu?
what.PRON FOC 2SG want
"what do you want?"

na ipo to.a!
NEG drink that.PRON
"don't drink that!"

I'm not sure. This is a pretty big potential change, so we need to take the time to make sure we're clear on what this really means. Both of these sets of particles can be used directly with a predicate without an article -- i.e. they essentially replace the article -- as in

ti tako
this octopus
"this octopus"

ke tako?
what octopus
"which octopus?"

ni tako
1SG octopus
"my [inalienable] octopus" (incidentally also "I am an octopus")

I'm really into this strange little conversation I've just accidentally created. But the point is that the two sets have different meanings when used in this way: the demonstratives have deictic force, whereas the pronouns are possessive. As such I'm not whether what the predicates in -a when applied to pronouns should actually mean: should nia be emphatic "I," or just "mine?"

Maybe a way to think about this is that the personal pronouns actually -- at least superficially -- have two entirely different meanings when prefixed to a predicate, as in ni tako above, so there needs to be a way to create a predicative form for each of those meanings. This is getting kind of crazy, but what if we had nia "mine" AND nini "I"?

Although...this makes me think that titi and toto (uh-oh) should also exist,, exactly?

In summary, I've settled absolutely nothing, but these are some interesting questions...