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.

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