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Telona grammar, part 1

From:Jonathan Knibb <jonathan_knibb@...>
Date:Saturday, February 2, 2002, 22:32
Dear all,

As promised, some more info about Telona.  I was going to talk about the
phonology, but I think it will have to wait until I've explained some of the
grammar.  Some of the principles on which Telona works are quite different
most natlangs, and indeed conlangs, so forgive me if I spend some time on

Two caveats (??caveant): firstly, the most rapidly developing aspect of
at the moment is the lexicosemantics (is this the word I want?  I mean the
meanings of the individual words, or conversely the way subjects are divided
into words), and because of this I've deliberately postponed assigning
to the currently extant words, as they're liable to change from one week to
next.  If I use actual words in examples later, bear in mind that the values
may change without notice. :)

Secondly, the loglang issue...  My personal feeling is that Telona is not a
loglang, but I appreciate that by concentrating on its basic principles I
be laying it open to that charge.  I'd be interested to hear your views :)
hope it will look less and less loglangy as it develops.

So, to start with, the Telona word.  Most importantly, there are no
distinctions between parts of speech - no nouns, no verbs, no nothing.
are a number of ways of looking at this; one could see all Telona words as
nouns (this is, BTW, the only similarity between Telona and Tom Breton's
AllNoun), but there are other interpretations (watch my glosses!).  I
think of them as simply words, which interact with each other according to
Telona's own rules, which of course don't involve part-of-speech issues.  A
corollary of this equivalence is that any word in a sentence can be swapped
any other without affecting the syntactic well-formedness of the sentence -
semantics might look a bit weird, of course, if for example one swapped
'parliament' for 'the', but nonetheless the sentence would still have a
defined meaning.

One very important and noun-like quality about Telona words, however, is
they all *refer to* something.  That is to say: in the English sentence 'he
a large apple', only the words 'he' and 'apple' actually refer to anything,
while 'ate', 'a' and 'large' merely describe the referents of the other
In the Telona translation, each and every word would actually refer to some
entity, as well as describing that entity in some way.  Some of the words
co-refer with others, some might refer to some nebulous abstract concept,
for each word there would be something about which it was talking, not
merely a
description of another word's referent.  In the apple sentence, for example,
'large' would co-refer with 'apple' - i.e. the word 'large' would be best
translated by 'large thing'.  'Ate', or rather 'eat',  would co-refer with
'he', and would mean 'person eating'; the past tense and the indefinite
would refer to their own abstract concepts.  Determining which words in a
Telona sentence co-refer with each other is a crucial step in parsing the

There is another important fact about the way Telona words express meaning.
This is that each word, by virtue of its identity as that word, corresponds
with a set of entities to which it is capable of referring, and that any
particular instance of the word will refer to some subset of that set of
entities, or occasionally to the whole set.  Precisely which subset is
may be understood from context, or may be made more or less explicit by
words in the sentence.  It is important to realise that, for example, the
Telona word for 'apple' is capable of referring to this apple here as we
or to this apple here as it existed yesterday, or to the apple as it exists
precisely nine o'clock each morning, or to the apple in its entire lifespan;
to a hypothetical apple that I may eat tomorrow.  However, it may only refer
entities which are correctly described as 'apple', so it cannot refer to
apple when it was a seed, nor to a group of entities that includes some
but also includes other fruits.  In these cases, the word 'apple' may well
used in the phrases describing them, but if it does it will not co-refer
the head of the phrase.

So much for words as individuals...

Telona syntax is remarkably simple - almost (and I stress 'almost'!)
mathematically so.  To define terms first: a 'word' means much the same in
Telona as in other languages, apart from the points just noted.  A 'phrase'
any grammatically well-formed string of words, and it refers in much the
way as was described for single words.  A 'sentence' differs from a phrase
in its use as a complete utterance, and in that it is marked as such by
orthographic and phonological alterations.  In fact, any phrase (other than
single word, which is technically also a phrase) may be used as a sentence
without further syntactic or lexical modification.  In fact, it is probable
that single-word utterances will occur in practice, but these are not
(academically speaking) sentences.

Phrases are built up by one syntactic rule alone: that a phrase consists
of a single word, or of two phrases linked by an operator.  The structure of
the Telona phrase is therefore well modelled by a tree with strictly binary
branch points.  There are three 'operators', the most basic of which (called
'O') expresses identity (or rather intersection of sets), and is normally
omitted in glosses, as well as being expressed by the zero morpheme.  The
simplest non-trivial phrase, therefore, consists of two words linked by the
operator; for example:

Telona:  tyha dene
Tel-interlinear:  tyha dene
Eng-interlinear:  man tall
English:  (a / the) tall man (or men)

[The reason for the Telona interlinear will become clear later, when we get
onto phonology..... :) ]

The exact meaning of this phrase will depend on the context etc., just as an
individual word's meaning would, but basically it can mean anything that is
the same time (literally, simultaneously) a man and tall.  More precisely,
phrase refers to some set of individual people, and describes them as tall
Now, exactly the same could be said of the phrase:

T:   dene tyha
Ti:  dene tyha
Ei:  tall man
E:   (a / the) tall man (or men)

This phrase and the last are capable of referring to precisely the same set
entities, and describe them in precisely the same way - in other words, they
are to all intents and purposes synonymous.  The difference between them is
purely one of pragmatic usage, and relates to the role of the phrase in the
discourse context.  This is a major issue in Telona, and will be explained
more detail when I get on to sentences.

Did I manage to make any of that comprehensible?  It's all pretty dry at
stage, but I promise more examples in my next post about sentence and
discourse structure. :)


'O dear white children casual as birds,
Playing among the ruined languages...'
W. H. Auden, 'Hymn to St. Cecilia'


Bob Greenwade <bob.greenwade@...>