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A sketch of Old Albic 4/4: Syntax

From:Jörg Rhiemeier <joerg_rhiemeier@...>
Date:Monday, June 21, 2004, 19:13
Hallo, for the fourth time!

Now for the last part, the syntax.

Share and enjoy!



The syntax of Old Albic is characterized by great freedom of word
order, due to the rich inflectional morphology of the language,
especially its extensive case marking. Nevertheless, there is a basic,
unmarked order that is generally adhered to in normal speech as well
as prose writing; the full freedom of word order is only exploited in
poetry. In the basic order, the heads generally precede their
dependents. Thus, adjectives follow nouns, and adverbs and arguments
(unless topicalized) follow the verb.

Clause structure

Phrase order

The normal phrase order is Verb-Subject-Object (VSO); however, this
order is often overridden by topicalization, which moves the topic
noun phrase (NP) into sentence-initial position. The topic NP can be
any of the core arguments or an oblique argument. Hence, most main
clauses practically have the verb in the second position after the
topic, but subclauses are usually VSO. In poetry, any word order can
be encountered.

Zero-agent and zero-object constructions

In Old Albic, there is neither a passive nor an antipassive voice.
Instead, the grammar allows to leave away any (even both) of the core
arguments. This also means that the verb takes no conjugation affix
corresponding with the deleted NP. Such a construction can still take
oblique complements.

Thus, the Old Albic equivalent to a zero-agent passive (such as
English `The ball is thrown') is the zero-agent construction: the
transitive verb is treated like a stative verb with the direct object
as the sole core argument. Similarly, a transitive verb an be
detransitivized by the zero-object construction. Both constructions
can even be combined in order to express notions such as `There was

Degrees of volition

The subject of an active verb can appear in different cases depending
on the degree of volition. The normal case marking for a subject of an
active verb (except for verbs of perception or emotion) is the
agentive; in order to express that the subject is acting accidentally
rather than volitionally, it can be put in the dative case.

To negated verbs, this applies such that the agentive indicates that
the subject purportedly fails to act, while the dative indicates that
it fails to act out of error, e.g. attempts the action but fails, or
forgot about it. Clearly, the dative case is the more neutral and more
polite form to use with a negated verb.

Verbs of perception and emotion normally take a dative subject. The
subject, however, can also be put in agentive case to express an act
of deliberate observation rather than cursory perception. For example,
_Ena nderona terara im chvanam_, with dative subject, means `The man
sees the dog', while _O ndero terara am chvanam_, with agentive subject,
means `The man watches the dog'.

In a sense, there is a third degree of volition expressed by the
instrumental case. This expresses that the subject acts under external
force, possibly against its will. If the subject is in instrumental
case, the verb takes no agentive conjugation suffix. This is really
nothing else than a zero-agent construction with an instrumental
complement. The instrumental-case `subject', unlike an agentive or
dative subject, can be inanimate.

Stative verbs naturally do not distinguish any degrees of volition,
and their subjects are always marked with the objective case. Fluid
verbs such as verbs of motion, however, distinguish degrees of
volition normally when used as active verbs. Thus, they allow four
different case markings on subjects. Examples:

O ndero acvamsa. (agentive) `The man has come (volitionally).'
Ona nderona acvamsa. (dative) `The man has come (accidentally).'
Ømi nderømi acvam. (instrumental) `The man has come (under force).'
Om nderom acvama. (objective) `The man has come (being carried).'

These examples also demonstrate the different use of conjugation

Nominal predicates

Nouns and adjectives can be used as predicates. There is no explicit
copula; instead, the predicate noun (or adjective) is inflected like a
verb. Such predicate nouns are derived stative verbs. The verb stem is
the objective stem, agreeing with gender (if animate) and number with
the subject.

The Noun Phrase

In the noun phrase (NP), the article (if present) goes first; next
come numerals. These elements precede the noun.  Adjectives and
attribute NPs (genitive or locative) follow the noun; so do relative
clauses.  Demonstratives are always placed at the end of the NP;
only relative clauses, if present, are placed after the
demonstrative. All elements are inflected to agree with the noun in
gender (except the article and numerals), number and case. Adnominal
genitives and locatives are treated like adjectives
(suffixaufnahme); however, a possessed noun counts as definite and
needs no article - it is in the construct state. Because of this
extensive case marking, the elements of the NP can be rearranged quite
freely in poetry, even placed at different locations in the clause
with the verb or elements of other NPs in between!


Relative clauses

Relative clauses usually follow the NP they modify. The relative
clause is linked to the head noun by the particle, which is identical
to the definite article and agrees with the gender, case and
number of the head noun. In the clause itself, the verb occupies the
first position. If the head noun occupies an oblique role in the
relative clause, the relative clause contains a resumptive pronoun
that refers back to the head noun. This resumptive pronoun is an
anaphoric pronoun that agrees with the head noun in gender. If the
head noun occupies a core (agentive or objective) role in the relative
clause, the resumptive pronoun is not necessary.


o ndero o matara am mbas `the man who eats the bread'
am mbas am matara o ndero `the bread which the man eats'
am mbar am matara o ndero am mbas tathas
`the house which the man eats the bread in'

Because the relative particle is inflected for the gender, case and
number of the head noun, the relative clause can be moved to another
position (e.g., to the end of the sentence to avoid center-embedding
with nested relative clauses) without causing ambiguity: in the

O ndero melara im hinim o matara am mbas.

the relative clause _o matara am mbas_ can only belong to _o ndero_
because _o_, like _o ndero_, is masculine agentive singular (and the
in the relative clause has a singular agent). If it belonged to the
object _im hinim_, the sentence would be

O ndero melara im hinim im materi am mbas.

(Note also that the verb in the relative clause has a plural agent

Complement clauses

A complement clause is a clause that serves as the object of a verb
(the matrix verb). These follow a similar syntax as relative clauses.
The clause is introduced by the particle am; within the clause, the
verb precedes its arguments. The matrix verb takes a singular
objective conjugation suffix.


Terama am matara o ndero am mbas.
`I see that the mean eats the bread.'

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