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An Introduction to C'ali: Morphosyntax

From:Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>
Date:Tuesday, August 6, 2002, 1:08
In my last post, I discussed some of the basic phonology
of C'ali, and compared and contrasted it with Phaleran.
In many respects, we saw how similar the two languages are;
in morphosyntax, however, the contrast could hardly be more
stark. Whereas Phaleran is strongly left-branching, C'ali
is strongly right-branching; whereas Phaleran tends towards
polysynthesis, C'ali tends only to moderate inflection;
whereas in Phaleran, there is no trace of gender agreement,
C'ali gender agreement is quite robust.  But all this in
time.  First, the case system.


C'ali is what is sometimes called a Split-S language, where the
subject of intransitive verbs is assigned a case marking,
agent or patient, generally based on the prototypical semantic
role that subject carries out (but see my earlier post on
the behavior of Split-S languages for more detail).  The case
marking prototypical agents is here called the nominative,
while the case marking prototypical patients is called the
oblique, as it shows up also as the object of prepositions
(unlike Phaleran, C'ali almost exclusively has prepositions).
In addition to these two core cases, there is a genitive
case, which has a variety of functions, including possession
and demoted agents.

The interesting thing about C'ali is that whether case shows up
on any given NP depends on its placement both in the nominal
hierarchy and on its definiteness.  One can imagine two axes.
On the x-axis we find points for first person, second
person, third person, proper names, humans, nonhuman animates
and inanimates, respectively (starting at the far right of
the coordinates and proceding leftwards)  On the y-axis,
we can imagine three coordinates:  definite and referential,
indefinite and referential, and indefinite but nonreferential
(where definites are placed highest).  Then this space is
divided up into four regions defined by parallel lines with
negative slopes by which there is a region A consisting mostly
of definites and nominals high on the hierarchy, a region
B with less definite nominals and lower hierarchically, etc.

The behavior of the regions and the kinds of nominals that
may belong to them is roughly as follows:

Region A:  all cases marked morphologically on both the
head and modifying adjectives. (All pronouns, which
are usually definite, proper names with high definiteness.)

Region B:  all cases marked on the head nominal itself,
while modifying adjectives and modifyers mark only the
core. (Proper names and humans with high definiteness,
and [rarely] pronouns with low definiteness.)

Region C: only core cases marked on head nominal, while
adjectives take no marking. (Proper names with low
definiteness, humans with medium definiteness, and
nonhuman animates with high definiteness, inanimates
and abstractions with high definiteness.)

Region D: no marking of cases on either nominals or
modifiers. (Humans with low definiteness, nonhuman
animates with medium definiteness, inanimates and
abstractions with medium or low definiteness.)

What this means is that case marking is intimately tied
to discourse functions.  There are no articles per se,
since the case marking itself gives you information about
definiteness, referentiality and redundantly about
participants in the discourse. As a result, case marking
is in great deal a matter of the speaker's perception of
events;  different speakers may therefore differ
significantly on the frequency of particular markings.

(Once I've actually come up with a decent lexicon, I can
give examples.)

Anyways, I'd be interested in people's critiques and comments.
I've never seen such a distribution of case except on a much
smaller scale (in Persian, Georgian, e.g.).  I plan to post
later on verbal inflection and gender agreement, but I have
not <ahem> done the fieldwork for this, so to speak.

Thomas Wier
Dept. of Linguistics  "Nihil magis praestandum est quam ne pecorum ritu
University of Chicago sequamur antecedentium gregem, pergentes non qua
1010 E. 59th Street   eundum est, sed qua itur." -- Seneca
Chicago, IL 60637