Friday, November 5, 2021

Representing verbal focus and lexical class

Based on the conclusions of the previous post, for about five minutes I thought we might be seeing the end of sa as a focus particle in favor of constructions with i ka. It was a little scary but also bold and exciting...I wrote:

"Kea sa se ma sano? is exactly equivalent to
     Ka se ma sano i kea?
     Kea i ka se ma sano?

If we do this, movement rules are completely eliminated. You can superficially 'front' things, as above, but it's then following the same grammatical/syntactic rules, not inventing a new one. We've never fully explored the implications of our ability to add specifiers to clauses, and this is potentially one of them."

Before that line of thought had really gotten going, though, I realized that it ran into irreconcilable difficulties if the focused constituent is a verb rather than its subject or object. For example, if we start with ka tálate i neni "the attempt was in vain," how do we focus "in vain?"

Neni sa ka tálate =
     Neni i ka ka tálate...............?

We end up with "Vain is what the attempt..." and then nothing. What should go in that space? A similar problem comes up in other circumstances when using a specifier with a verb, for example:

Kea sa ta? "What's he like?" -> Ni na ilo ka ta...........? "I don't know what he's like"

What completes these sentences? Is there a dummy verb? If there is one, then there must be a way to use it in non-nominalized clauses too, like

ta ila koke "he be's tall" (ila borrowed from Lithuanian yra incidentally)
ni na ilo ka ta ila "I don't know what he's like"

The only thing about this is that if ta ila koke means the same as ta koke, then technically shouldn't ta lalu be equivalent to ta ila "he's a singer," "he's a singing one," rather than just "he sings"? I suppose ila could have an underlying meaning something like "X is a member of set Y."

This is getting a little sidetracked from the original topic, but speaking of dummy verbs, if I ask Kea sa se ete? "What are you doing?", why can't the answer be an adjective? In other words, why should we assume that the predicate ete is replacing must be verbal rather than adjectival? Why does Kea sa se ete not just mean "what predicate defines the set you are a part of?", just the same as ila above?

BECAUSE, I realize, ete doesn't exactly mean "do." It means "verb"!!!! Without intending to, I created words that allow specificity with respect to the semantic of lexical class, since Koa entirely lacks this concept formally. Check this out:

ete "do the action of predicate X" = "verb"
ila "be a member of set X" = "adjective"
mea "an instantiation of predicate X" = "noun"

This is really pretty exciting. Suddenly we can say things like

na vi ila hulu
NEG IMP 'adjective' crazy
"don't be crazy," as in "don't act crazy"

na vi hulu
NEG IMP crazy
"don't (actually) be crazy"

na vi ila toa
NEG IMP 'adjective' that
"don't be like that"

And there's a fine distinction that can be made between things like

ta ete lalu
3SG 'verb' sing
"he does singing," "he does that singing thing," "the action he engages in is singing," "he sings"


ta ila lalu
3SG 'adjective' sing
"he's one of those singers," "the set he belongs to is the singing one," "he's a singer"

In other words, we can clarify between what he is and what he does. Furthermore, these words also give us Koa-native meta-terminology for these kinds of usages of predicates:

étema "verb"
ílama "adjective"
méama "noun"
nóama "name"

I had never thought before about the need to be able to talk about Koa in Koa, but clearly yes, we should have our own words for the concepts most relevant to Koa grammar. Now I really want words for "predicate" and "particle."

SO THEN, getting back to what we were talking about here, it turns out that we actually can potentially focus verbs using that same i ka structure:

neni i ka ka tálate i ila
vain VP DEF DEF try.instance VP 'adjective'
"vain is what the attempt was," "the attempt was in vain"

ka ka tálate i ila i neni
DEF DEF try.instance VP 'adjective' VP vain

Do we want to, though? That's a different question. Honestly...not really. Partly because I like the brevity and flow of neni sa ka tálate over the necessarily syntactically complete versions above, partly because I dread the proliferation of /k/s that this structure would ensure, e.g. keka i ka ka lúlema i kusu? "whom did the judge ask?", partly because I honestly have some loyalty to sa as one of my very first particles. But also, allowing multiple ways of more or less saying the same things also gives us more nuance of sense in a super useful way for a living language:

kea sa se ma sano?
what FOC 2SG IMPF say
"what are you saying?"

ka se ma sano i kea?
DEF 2SG IMPF say VP what
"what you're saying is...what, exactly?"

kea i ka se ma sano?
what VP DEF 2SG IMPF say
"what is it that you're saying?"

We do still need to talk in detail about what verbal focus looks like in practice. Is "I kissed it, I didn't eat it!" suso sa ni ete ta, na suo sa? Whoa...I was expecting that to be weird, but actually I think that's exactly right. Anyway, more to come on that front. But meanwhile, I think we finally have just about everything we need to lay down some principles of focus/relativization/nominalization, hopefully the next time I find some spare time to write.

Unrelated note: tai should stop meaning "stand." I'm not sure why I decided it should have this double life, but it's kind of weird and I don't like it. It just means "be/exist."

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