Monday, December 12, 2011

Object incorporation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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