Sunday, September 26, 2021

Resolving the probability waveform of dependent clauses

This is not the post I thought it was going to be. Early last week I had a moment of epiphany in the shower in which I thought I'd solved everything in just the kind of elegant, first-principles way that I had previously announced was vain and impossible. In deference to my ecstatic past self I'll briefly explain my discovery:

First, it occurred to me that finiteness itself is a category which I should not have assumed to be meaningful in Koa, but had sort of calquingly smuggled in accidentally from the language families of my closest acquaintance. It then hung around trying to circularly justify its existence. If eliminated, there could instead be a distinction of dependent versus nondependent clauses, marked by the particles u and i respectively. This would then yield the following clausal phrase structure, at last common to all clauses:


...with of course the refinements that if you have a nominal subject then you would omit the pronoun and vice versa, and also the dependent marker is optional and typically omitted with pronominal subjects. This gave example sentences like

ni kulu [le Óleka u loha le Iuli]
"I heard that Olga loves Julie"

le Iuli sa ka mina [le Óleka u loha]*
"Julie is the woman Olga loves"

le Óleka sa [ka mina u loha le Iuli]
"Olga is the woman who loves Julie"

It also gave me the rigorously motivated ability to optionally omit the equivalent of a complementizer or relative pronoun for dependent clauses with pronominal subjects:

ka mina (u) ni loha*
"the woman I love"

ai se ilo (u) ni loha se?
"do you know that I love you?"

This was so beautiful that I was willing to overlook the potential unintuitiveness, but alas, it was not to be. For one thing, I started to wonder why speakers really truly had to keep track of whether a clauses was dependent or not to know how to form it -- that is, why they couldn't just be modular -- in this theoretical IAL. That was a design philosophy that hadn't been articulated before but maybe should have been? But also, there were errors. In the asterisked sentences above, heads had been fronted out of their clauses, breaking the lovely pattern I had been so excited about. If we were really going to grit our teeth and do this thing, they ought to be

le Iuli sa [le Óleka u loha ka mina]
"Julie is the woman Olga loves"

(u) ni loha ka mina
"the woman I love"

That just clearly will not work. I mean, thinking about it now, I guess one could say that the shared argument could remain in situ in the matrix clause, but then how is that better than traditional relatives? What really killed it, though, was that serial verbs make the clarity of the structures very murky very fast:

ta si sano [le Malia u halu tai me se i(?) pea]
"she said Maria still wanted to be with you"

The serial verbs are halu/pea but they have different dependence marking! But if the above had u pea, wouldn't that be taking that clause down an additional level? But if it's i pea, how do you know which verb it's making a complex with? ta si sano i pea or halu i pea? I don't know the answer, and in a way that makes me feel like I shouldn't be asking the question in the first place. This is just a mess

To make matters worse, I would also lose that te tai ko... structure that for some reason had become a hill I was willing to die on. For a minute I thought that maybe ko could be an optional specifier for clauses used in nominal positions, but the battle was already lost. It was just needlessly complicated.

So what would be so bad about holding onto one potentially important realization -- that finiteness can probably be eliminated as a meaningful category in Koa, inasmuch as it's basically synonymous with verbal usage of a predicate -- while optimizing for simplicity and modularity?

Here, then, is my answer to Koa dependent clauses, hopefully the really truly final answer this time:

  • Clauses used as predicates are syntactically and morphologically identical to independent clauses
  • Clauses used as adjectives are preceded by ve when the head is not the subject of the dependent clause, optionally otherwise
  • Clauses used as nouns are preceded by either ko or ve
...and the example sentences now look like this:

ni kulu ko/ve le Óleka i loha le Iuli
"I heard that Olga loves Julie"

le Iuli sa ka mina ve le Óleka i loha
"Julie is the woman Olga loves"

le Óleka sa ka mina (ve) loha le Iuli
"Olga is the woman who loves Julie"

And borrowing one from past years,

pai ve ka mama i na ma mai koa
"a mommy-not-feeling-well day"

ti pai i ve ka mama i na ma mai koa
"this day is mommy-not-feeling-well-ish"

Maybe it's not quite as elegant as the whole business with u, but (1) as Marisa said, in mathematics elegance (i.e. concision) is the opposite of clarity, (2) this is much, much, much, much easier to learn and use than any previously conceived system, (3) this lets me use u as a plural definite article if I still want to, and (4) it saves te tai ko, surely a flag of victory.

One further related note, which I found forgotten in my dictionary but nicely articulates the difference between sivu vihe "green leaves" and sivu ve vihe "leaves that are green": "ve shifts pragmatic relevance ('emphasis') to the modifier rather than the head." I'm grateful to past Julie for leaving me those breadcrumbs back to a clear understanding of this one...

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