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Caseless free word order [was: Re: THEORY Ideal system of writing]

From:Dirk Elzinga <dirk_elzinga@...>
Date:Saturday, August 21, 2004, 15:38

Catching up on some old emails.

On Aug 12, 2004, at 12:47 PM, Keith Gaughan wrote:

> Roger Mills wrote: > >> (1) Well, almost every.... I believe reference has been made to a >> S.American >> language with free word-order and no case marking, so that { John + >> love + >> Mary } out of context means J loves M or M loves J. (I could be >> wrong.) > > I heard myself that such an Iranian language exists. It has cases, but > uses one in transitive sentences, and another in intransitive.
Tohono O'odham (Uto-Aztecan; spoken in Southern Arizona and adjacent Mexico) has free word order and no case marking; the only requirement on word order in simple sentences is that the auxiliary, containing subject person and number, be in the second position. This does create potential ambiguity when both subject and object are third persons, though. As an example, the sentence Huhu'id 'o g ban g cu:wi. chase AUX DET coyote DET jackrabbit can mean either "the coyote is chasing the jackrabbit" or (less likely) "the jackrabbit is chasing the coyote". The other five word orders are all possible with the same meaning(s); context is usually sufficient to determine the intended reading if real world experience doesn't do it (when was the last time *you* saw a jackrabbit chase a coyote?). Huhu'id 'o g cu:wi g ban. Ban 'o g cu:wi huhu'id. Ban 'o huhu'id g cu:wi. Cu:wi 'o g ban huhu'id. Cu:wi 'o huhu'id g ban. This ambiguity disappears when one of the third persons is plural, or when one or both of the arguments are non-third person. In the first case, the verb will agree in number with a plural object: Ha-huhu'id 'o g ban g totobi. PL-chase AUX DET coyote DET cottontails Ha-huhu'id 'o g totobi g ban. Ban 'o ha-huhu'id g totobi. Ban 'o g totobi ha-huhu'id. Totobi 'o ha-huhu'id g ban. Totobi 'o g ban ha-huhu'id. For non-third person objects, the verb shows agreement: Ceoj 'o ('a:ñi) ñ-ceggia. boy AUX (me) 1s-fight 'The boy is fighting me.' Kli:stina 'o ('a:pi) m-cendad. Christina AUX (you) 2s-kiss 'Christina is kissing you.' For non-third person subjects, the form of the auxiliary changes (and the verb will show number agreement): S-babigi 'añ ñeok. STAT-slowly AUX.1s speak 'I am speaking slowly.' S-babigi 'ap ñeok. STAT-slowly AUX.2s speak 'You are speaking slowly.' S-babigi 'ac ñeñok. STAT-slowly AUX.1p speak.PL 'We are speaking slowly.' S-babigi 'am ñeñok. STAT-slowly AUX.2p speak-PL 'You all are speaking slowly.' This eliminates much potential ambiguity. Another fun fact: the determiner _g_ is omitted when the noun phrase is sentence-initial. This is probably a prosodic thing--don't begin a sentence with a stressless element. Dirk -- Dirk Elzinga "Speech is human, silence is divine, yet also brutish and dead; therefore we must learn both arts." - Thomas Carlyle