Trigger languages Re: Fur ther language development Q's
|From:||Dan Saunders <obeythehamster@...>|
|Date:||Tuesday, September 21, 2004, 20:55|
In a message dated 9/21/2004 16:42:53 Eastern Daylight Time,
<<what is a trigger language? are there language groups/families in
> > triggers are not found? what purpose do triggers serve?>>
There's no simple way to explain this, because there's no simple
answer. Triggers are things found in languages like Tagalog, and
other languages like Tagalog, and they don't work in a cut-and-dry
way. (In fact, Matt Pearson doesn't seem to think that there are
any triggers at all, if I understood that paper correctly [which I
probably didn't].) So, in order to explain what people *mean* when
they say "trigger language", I'm going to pretend that they're simple
to explain and work in one and only one way. This will give you an
idea for howt he real ones work, *but* it will not approximate how
any one language *actually* works (except for a visual conlang of
In English, the term "focus" doesn't play a big role (or not as big as in,
say, Japanese), because it's not overtly marked all the time. So in the
sentence, "I went to the store", I don't even know what the focus is
(is it the store?). Anyway, though, you can take a sentence and make
a focus with emphasis. Here's an example:
"Yesterday, my friend and I went to eat at Quizno's."
Now, imagine someone asked the following question:
"*Who* did you eat with?"
One might respond with:
"Yesterday, my *friend* and I went to eat at Quizno's."
With special emphasis on "friend". Thus, "friend" has
been focused. It has special emphasis. And, in fact, I
can think of a way to focus every single word in that
The point is, focusing makes one part of the sentence
the most important--what the listener should focus on.
In trigger language, a morpheme (we'll call it a suffix)
marks what the most important part of the sentence is
in every single sentence. That suffix is called the trigger.
So here's a made-up example:
kane-ro-ta mane-lo tasa-ke felu-mi
/give-past-AGT. man-TRIG. book-ACC. woman-DAT./
"The *man* gave the book to the woman.
In theory (not in practice, as it turns out), you can mix
these words up in any order you like, and you'll still get
the same meaning.
Now, two things about this sentence. First, /-lo/ is the
trigger, and marks "man", so "man" is focused. But if it's
marked with the trigger, you don't know what the man's
doing. That's why there's an "agent" suffix on the verb.
You look for the suffix on the verb to know what the
word with the trigger suffix is doing in the sentence. So
here's that same sentence with a new focus:
kane-ro-ke mane-ta tasa-lo felu-mi
/give-past-ACC. man-AGT. book-TRIG. woman-DAT./
"The man gave *the book* to the woman.
And you can imagine what the other permutation would
Another (supposed) feature of trigger languages is that the
argument with the trigger suffix is the *only* necessary
argument. Here's an example:
"The woman was given (something by someone)."
So if you're already talking about giving, and someone wants
to know who was the one that was given something, the above
is all you'd need to say, whereas in English you'd need to say
something like, "It was the woman that someone gave something
That, in a very small nutshell, is what a pristine trigger language
might look like. Again, no real trigger language works exactly
like that. A conlang trigger language just might work like this,
Do you know of anyway I could get that put into a larger nutshell? a book
or a webpage or something? You have only whetted my thirst for knowledge and
my searches on the internet prove futile.