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Some thoughts on T4 grammar (inspired by HT & HST)

From:Jonathan Knibb <j_knibb@...>
Date:Friday, March 25, 2005, 17:05
Thanks to Henrik for a nice, simple set of translation exercises -
exactly what I needed at this stage. The T4 translations proceed
along an interestingly parallel path to the S11 ones. (I wonder if
there’s any significance in the similarity of names between these
two similar but independent conlangs...? :) )

A bit of background: T4 is allnoun, having only one open word
class, a small closed class of number/aspect/definiteness markers,
and three possible relations between phrases (identity, verb-object
(+) and object-verb (-)). A phrase is either a single word or a
linked pair of phrases, thus enforcing a strict binary-branching
tree structure. Phonology is also relatively simple, and morphology
is non-existent, being almost completely isolating and without
derivation. The rest is detail. :)

S11> John-HEARSAY butcher-be. 'John is a butcher.'

I don't have a word for "butcher", so I'll coin "yethi" /jETi/ for
now. Similarly "zilte" /Zilte/ = "book" and "alou" /alou/ = "to
own" for later. Incidentally, the /Z/ here is a voiced apico-
alveolar fricative rather like Czech r-hacek, and /ou/ is intended
to represent a diphthong - /o_u/? /ou)/?

T4 would say:

Ë  ca  Jónë yethi.
Tg R1k John butcher

The R and T markers express number, definiteness and aspect in a
slightly complicated way which I'll explain another time. R1k
basically means "the", and Tg "all the time". R normally precedes
T, but they're reversed here for euphony.

The acute accent on the word Jonë (and it is on the *word*, not on
the vowel!) marks the final word of the first half of the sentence.
T4 sentences' tree structure is right-branching by default, left-
branching being marked by accents. For this sentence the structure
is ((Ë (ca Jónë)) yethi).

S11> John-HEARSAY butcher-be REL 'John the butcher' (apposition)

The R and T markers for this phrase would depend on context, but

        Jonë yethi
(R) (T) John butcher’s as simple as that. You could have "yethi Jonë" as well; the
former means "the John who is a butcher", the latter "the
particular butcher who's called John". It's head-first all the way
in T4 :)

S11> to have: John-HEARSAY book-have. 'John has a book.'
S11> book-HEARSAY-have John. 'A book is what John has.'

There are various ways of tweaking the word order in T4 too, with
similar results. The basic sentence structure is given after each

(1) Ca  le  alou Jónë   cü     zilte.
    R1k T4t own  John + R1c T= book       : ((own Jóhn) + book)
    John owns a *book* (not just a leaflet).

(2) Ca  le  alou   ce  zílte Jonë.
    R1k T4t own  + R1t book  John         : ((own + bóok) John)
    *John* owns the book (not Steve).

(3) Ca  le  Jonë yë   ce     zílte alou.
    R1k T4t John he + R1t T= book  own    : (John (he + bóok)) own)
    John *owns* the book (he's not just borrowed it).

(3) is being careful. You could miss out the placeholder "yë"
without any problem here, as there is no obvious relationship
between "Jonë" and its object. If there had been a word like "eat"
instead of "John" here, meaning "the person who is eating", then
"yë" would be (pragmatically, not strictly speaking grammatically)

OTOH, (1) feels a little colloquial - I've always felt (though I
don't know why!) that the two halves of a sentence ought to be
linked by the identity relation, not by "+" (which can be thought
of as the verb-object relation, not that there are any verbs in
T4). The sentence could be expressed more formally using a suitable
generic word as a cataphor (do I have the right term here?):

((own Jóhn) + book)  ->  ((thing - (own John)) book)
The thing that John owns is a book.

S11> book-HEARSAY-have John REL 'John's book'

Again, the R and T markers for this phrase depend on context:

        zilte a ca     alou Jónë
(R) (T) book  - R1k T= own  John

S11> This may be used without an argument (like in many langs):
S11> book-HEARSAY-have. 'There's a book.'

This could be expressed simply as "Book." ("Zilte.") - which would
not violate any syntactic rules and so is in principle a
grammatically legal sentence. It would be *so* non-specific,
though, as to be almost uninterpretable except in a very
constraining context (perhaps a direct question). More likely,
there would be some non-specific first half, such as "here", "this"
or something similar. Perhaps the R and T markers themselves would

Ce  té  zilte.
R1t T4t book.

Hope this is of interest.  Comments welcome!  I won't be around
over the weekend, but I'll do my best to answer any posts during
the week.

á a-acute; é e-acute
ë e-diaeresis; ü u-diaeresis
personal replies to jonathan underscore knibb at hotmail dot com


Henrik Theiling <theiling@...>