Monday, October 25, 2021

Individual incidences

Warning: this is a long one.

In Maltese, there's a systematic distinction between the abstract action of a verb and a single discrete occasion of it. From Teach Yourself Maltese by J. Aquilina (Hodder & Stoughton 1965), 149:

There are two kinds of verbal nouns. One which (i) denotes the action or state indicated by the meaning of the verb, (ii) is of masculine gender singular in number, and, (iii) like any other noun, can be preceded by the definite article, but has no plural (Exx. dfin 'burial' from difen/jidfen 'he buried/buries', id-dfin 'the burial'), and another which (i) expresses a single occurrence of action or state indicated by the verb (ii) is of feminine gender singular in number; (iii) forms its plural by suffix iet and (iv) can be preceded by the definite article (Exx. difna 'a burial'; id-difna 'the burial'; difniet or id-difniet 'burials, the burials').

More examples of these kinds of pairs:

daħk "laughter" vs daħka "a laugh"
taħwid "confusion" vs taħwida "a mess"
ġbir "gathering" vs ġabra "a collection"
żfin "dancing" vs żifna "a dance"
bligħ "swallowing" vs belgħa "a gulp"
xorb "drinking" vs xarba "a drink"
ferħ "joy" vs ferħa "a joy"

I think if it hadn't been for studying Maltese in around 2005 I might not have thought that hard about this, since the languages I know best make the distinction haphazardly (if at all): Polish śmiech "laughter, laughing, a laugh"; radość "joy, a joy"; pochowanie "burial, burying," pochówek "a burial"; picie "drinking," łyk "a drink."

In Koa, the abstract action or state is very straightforward, since there's a specific article (ko) set aside just for this: iolo "happy," ko iolo "happiness"; ipo "(to) drink," ko ipo "drinking. The question is how to get at the single occasion/occurrence/incidence/action/etc.

Well, up to this point, we've been doing something that's possibly a little weird: we've been using a double article. I don't know that I ever thought this through thoroughly in the past, but I believe what I was trying to get at was that, despite its appearance as an article, the use of ko is really more of a derivational operation. This would certainly be true in English: good -> goodness, drink -> drinking, etc. If we look at it this way, the change in meaning is something like this:

koa "a good one, good, be good"
ko koa "goodness, of goodness, be goodness"

In other words, ko changes the meaning from that of the root itself, into that of the state, condition, or action of doing or being the root. What I'm realizing, though, is that that doesn't say anything about specification or referentiality. I had been thinking that in a phrase like ko koa the ko would count as a specifier because "goodness" is a kind of universal and as such is always on the discourse stage (or, let's say, on the shelf immediately adjacent to it). But in all other cases, that kind of concept would require the particle po! If ko is derivational, we'd expect something more like this:

a kokoa "an example/occasion of goodness not yet present on the discourse stage"
ka kokoa "the example/occasion of goodness we're already aware of in this discourse"
hu kokoa "there is an example/occasion of goodness out there such that..."
po kokoa "goodness in general"

What we've been doing so far is allowing simply ko koa, rather than po kokoa, for the final example. I guess the rule we'd have to make explicit -- if that's really how it is -- would be something like "ko behaves as a specifier when used alone, and as derivational morphology when preceded by another specifier." After almost 20 years, I'm not at all sure that this makes any sense at all!

In fact, looking over our particles, ko is the only one that could be said to be derivational in nature. There are pronominals (ni se ta nu so tu), locators/adverbials/adjuncts (he la lo me mo ne no o pe), specifiers (a u hu ka ke le pi po ti to), tense/aspect markers (cu, io, ma, mi, si, su, va, vu), modals, evidentials/viridicals/miratives (ho ki ku li lu pu te vi ia), valence operators (hi mu pa), clause-level operators/conjunctions (e ha na ve), syntactic markers (i, sa, vo), and qualifiers (ce, ie, iu). I think that ko, incredibly enough, may have been mis-assigned!

What this ought to be is a suffix, almost all of which are derivational at this point (in fact I think all except for the pronouns indicating possession). Some options: -ko (just moving it to the back instead of the front), -te, -ti, -mi, -i, -pe, -vi. To be fully transparent, the one I was going to suggest at the start of all this was -te, but I'm curious to see how the others feel as well.

With -ko:
húlako "dance"
púhuko "talk"
súoko "meal"
súsoko "kiss"
élako "life"
cíniko "kindness"
lóeko "coldness"

This is pretty okay, though the diminutive suffix gets repetitive with /k/: húlakoki "a little dance," púhukoki "a little talk." Assuming ko is going to maintain the other half of its dual role as a complementizer, this also potentially risks confusion...although Polish seems to have no problem with że as complementizer and -że as an emphatic suffix (the latter not particularly common, to be fair). Ta sano ko ta no móeko "she said she had no dreams" -> Ka sánoko ko ta no móeko... "the statement that she had no dreams..." A little awkward.

With -te, -ti:
húlate, húlati "dance"
púhute, púhuti "talk"
súote, súoti "meal"
súsote, súsoti "kiss"
élate, élati "life"
cínite, cíniti "kindness"
lóete, lóeti "coldness"

These seem pretty solid, and here the diminutive works better: húlateki "a little dance," púhuteki "a little talk." Ka sánote ko ta no móete also has improved flow...though I'm sort of surprised to say I like the aesthetics of forms with -te less than those with -ko! I like how neutral these feel, though. I think I prefer -te to -ti? Or do I?

With -mi, me:
húlami, húlame "dance"
púhumi, púhume "talk"
súomi, súome "meal"
súsomi, súsome "kiss"
élami, élame "life"
cínimi, cínime "kindness"
lóemi, lóeme "coldness"

I think I could be okay with -me, though it's awfully close to -ma in a way that could actually be confusing: élame "life" vs élama "a being," for example. So probably no on this. Incidentally, I'm finding it surprisingly difficult to be okay with with the word for "kiss." Really the only one I've liked so far is súsoko, with súsoti in second place. Ana súsokoki la ni "give me a little kiss" -- ugh, -koki just is not very good. And I just realized that "height" would be kókeko, yikes. Ana súsoteki la ni? Ana súsotiki la ni? I think -te might feel the most Koa.

With -i:
húlai "dance"
púhui "talk"
súoi "meal"
súsoi "kiss"
élai "life"
cínii "kindness"
lóei "coldness"

Oof, I think this is just weird. Possible confusion with the VP marker i as well.

With -pe, vi:
húlape, húlavi "dance"
púhupe, púhuvi "talk"
súope, súovi "meal"
súsope, súsovi "kiss"
élape, élavi "life"
cínipe, cínivi "kindness"
lóepe, lóevi "coldness"

Hm. -pe doesn't feel neutral enough. I like the -vi forms but I'm not sure they should actually mean what these will mean. Ana súsoviki la ni...Ka sánove ko ta no móevi...No, I don't think so.

Okay, Olga likes -te, so I think that's what we'll call it for now. That said, I want to revisit our previous conclusion that ko's assignment had been a complete mistake. I had said that po kóate would mean the same thing as ko koa, and I'm not actually sure that's true. Let's go back over the determiners.

a X = a referential instantiation of X not yet raised to the discourse stage
ka X = a referential instantiation of X already on the discourse stage
hu X = a non-referential instantiation of X
po X = the non-referential set of all instantiations of X
ko X = X itself, uninstantiated

It looks like we need to be clear on the difference between an instantiation and an occasion/occurrence/incidence:

Instantiations: a kind person, a dog, a runner
Incidence: an act of kindness, a moment of caninity, a run

Clearly the semantics of an incidence of a strongly nominal root are a little...weird. You can imagine fantasy stories, maybe, featuring interludes of being a dog? But it's very clear and useful in roots that are more stative or verbal. Anyway, here's what the determiners would look like with the -te suffix:

a Xte = a referential incidence of X not yet raised to the discourse stage
ka Xte = a referential incidence of X already on the discourse stage
hu Xte = a non-referential incidence of X
po Xte = the non-referential set of all incidences of X
ko Xte = the concept of incidence X itself, uninstantiated

Clearly ko X and po Xte are not the same thing, even if the semantic load between them is slight to nonexistent. For example in actual usage,

po súsote i mu iolo ni "kisses make me happy"
ko suso i mu iolo ni "kissing makes me happy"

These are similar but not identical. There are different sentences that could better clarify the distinction; the first seems to be saying that the act of kissing, or fact of kissing, is what makes them happy, whereas the second refers to the kisses themselves. Here's another shot:

po súsote se i mu iolo ni "your kisses make me happy"
ko suso se i mu iolo ni "kissing you makes me happy"

Here we also see the fact that ko can introduce a clause with a clear pronominal object. I think, then, that ko in its original meaning isn't going away: we're just adding -te for a separate meaning that previously wasn't being ideally encoded. Whew! That was a lot.

On another topic, here's an interesting bit of emergent subtlety with our new suffix:

súsote "a kiss, a single instance of kissing"
pasúsote "a kiss, a single instance of being kissed"

So a súsote potentially means "a kiss X gave (someone)," and a pasúsote is "a kiss someone gave X" -- a shift of perspective from the giver to the receiver. We don't have a "massage" root yet, but if we did, would the default way of talking about one you received be the pa- form? I don't know if this should be a prescriptive distinction, but certainly a nicety of expression available to a skillful speaker.

Summing all of this up, before I finally post this behemoth and catch my breath: for those who don't speak Maltese, there's an important systematic difference to learn to make between e.g. ko cini "kindness, being kind" on the one hand, and cínite "a kindness, act of kindness" on the other. And I think élateni for "vida mía," while not quite as evocative as koélani, is still quite nice.


de cuup said...

hulako* etc.?

Julie said...

Ack yes, how embarrassing! Thank you so much for noticing and letting me know! on Earth did you know this?