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A conlang is being born (long)

From:Harald Stoiber <hstoiber@...>
Date:Sunday, April 27, 2003, 3:26
My happiness may extend unto you, dear friends!  :-)))

After half a dozen far-too-exotic attempts with almost meta-physical
approaches I have finally come to a structure for my first workable
(hopefully!!!) conlang project. Perhaps everyone has to traverse this
initial period of wild experimentation before something meaningful can
evolve... *g*

Even if my conlang has a very straight derivational morphology and
even if it may seem too precise in some respect, it is an artlang
nevertheless. There is not a single IAL consideration in my baby but
there is a lot of personal taste and artistic arbitration.

This now forthcoming language (which lacks a name so far) still looks
unusual enough to me. With ideas and comments being open-heartedly
welcome I will add more postings to go into the depths of syntax and
grammar etc. but for now I would like to offer you a first brief sketch
of what it is: (the cases may be known under different names - if so, then
simply let me know your names for them :-)

My creation has fairly free word order enabled by massive inflection.
Syntax allows for serial verbs. Roots are formed of three consonantic
parts which are linked by a vowel pattern according to the syntactical
function of the word and its derivational disposition. Every lexical root
is of verbal kind and can be inflected to become a noun, an attribute
(adjective or adverb), a verb or a secondary verb (which is needed for
serial verb constructions). To create nouns out of the verbal base
concepts, every noun has an additional internal case which selects a
case role of the verbal root. My example below will make this more
understandable. :-)

Just for the statistics department...
With its current consonant inventory and phonotactics the language
can have some 3500 triple-consonanctic root concepts. For the
purpose of inflection there are 241 distinct vowel patterns which
convey the various aspects of semantic derivation and syntactical
disposition. 241 - that sounds like an avalanche of morphology!
But for those who count Latin has a host of inflections, too. ;-)

The language has eight cases but for this brief introduction I will only
cover a few.

Patientive case marks the passive part of a verb's action - the patient.
Either the patient is in a steady state or he/she/it experiences a change
of state. This can also be applied to a window that changes state from
"intact" to "smashed". Whether a steady state or a change is expressed
is defined by the verbal concept of the root and also by aspectual
particles. In the example of the smashed window there is usually some
cause for the destruction, i.e. the window does not break on its own.

The causative case marks the controlling origin of a verb's action. So,
in the sentecne "He smashes the window" the window would be in the
patientive case whereas "he" would be in the causative case.

Each verbal concept can be either be used in transitively or intransitively.
Intransitive verbs assert a steady state or a change of state without the
notion of any cause. Transitive verbs _always_ imply a cause even if
the sentence does not mention it. Transitive verbs without a causative
case role represent a construction which is commonly called "passive

A third mode exists for verbs: reflexive. With a reflexive verb one
part of speech serves as both causative and patientive. In an actual
sentence, such a part of speech is given the case the meaning of
which is to be slightly emphasized.

There is one more case that can be considered a basic case in so far
that each lexical root defines it according to its own verbal semantics.
There is no common rule for what is marked by this case which I call
"completive case". This is because it somehow completes the basic
argument structure of the verb. In the window-smashing example the
tool of smashing would be in the completive case. There are some
faint notions of Rick Morneau's focus case role in my completive case.

Prepositions are formed using a kind of "anti-genitive" case together with
the prepositional case. Whereas the genitive specifies the possessor, the
anti-genitive denotes the possession. All prepositions are anti-genitive -
be they particles or lexical roots with anti-genitive inflection. I should
just give you an example how the various things are supposed to work:

My example is "The cat sits under the table" and for the sake of
demonstration I will arbitrarily make up some roots, namely:

m-h-l=to be a cat
j-nt-k=to be in a sitting position
p-s-n=to be above
n-t-m=to be a table

Pronounciation is another topic which I will not cover in this mail. I
already know how to pronounce the words, though. :-)
Ok, now for the example translation:

"The cat sits under the table"
"mahol jantik epason enitom"

The words one by one:

1) "mahol"
The three consonants denote the concept of being a cat. The inflectional
vowel pattern "-e-o-" (dashes symbolize consonants) can be analyzed
as "Noun, patientive case, singular, intransitive patientive internal case".

"Internal case" means the respective case role within the verbal concept
which should become the noun's meaning. For "to be a cat", intransitive,
patientive case role: "the one who experiences the state of being a cat"...
a cat. ;-)

2) "jantik"
Note, that the root concept "to be in a sitting position" applies to a
variety of things: a doll put in a sitting position, our sitting cat, and so
on. But the cat is not only the passive experiencer. It is sitting by its
own influence over the situation - not because some other person has
put the cat into its sitting position. It is "actively" sitting. Thus, the cat
is the cause and the patientive at the same time, so we need a reflexive
verb. The root concept "j-nt-k" is inflected by the vowel pattern "-a-i-"
which gives us a reflexive verb.

Note that this says nothing about tense and aspect. I am currently working
on the aspectual system which will be realised by putting particles before
nouns, attributes or verbs.

3) "epason"
Although I will create a short particle for this common preposition, I
have chosen to derivate it by inflection for now - to let you see how it
works. The root concept "p-s-n" means "to be above". But we wanted
to say that the cat sits _below_ the table, right? Let us first analyze the
inflectional pattern "e-a-o-" which means "Noun, anti-genitive, singular,
intransitive patientive internal case". Aside from its syntactical function
the word means "something which is above".

Anti-genitive marks the possession. Since modifiers strictly precede the
head, "something which is above" modifies the verb as its possession.
Thus, we can re-phrase: "the being-in-a-sitting-position that has
something which is above". Yes, there is something above, namely the
table! Note that we have implied that "being in a sitting position" takes
place at a certain location because we have stated that something is
above this verbal activity.

4) "enitom"
Being inflected by "e-i-o-" as "Noun, prepositional, singular, intransitive
patientive internal case" this word means "something which is a table",
thus, "table". The prepositional case immediately associates it with the
preceding anti-genitive. The anti-genitive denotes which property or
part of possession is addressed. The prepositional case says what this
part actually is. We can express it like this:
"being in a sitting position" has something above and that is a table.

I could have put it another way:
"epason enitom mahol jantik"

This time the prepositional phrase "epason enitom" modifies the cat,
not the verb. In theory this opens semantical opportunities from the
other dimension: The cat is under the table but it may exhibit the
attribute "being in a sitting position" elsewhere. Out-of-body experience
by grammar? Hm.... *gggg*

Sometimes such funky prepositional freedom can make sense.
Consider myself sitting here in Vienna, being logged on to a UNIX
machine in London where I have started an FTP client which I use to
delete a file in Paris. To express this I would say something like
"In Vienna-PRÄP I-CAUSATIVE in London-PRÄP delete-TRANS in
Paris-PRÄP a file-PATIENTIVE". For sure, the everyday application
will not require such fine-grain destinctions.

Ok, I will stop here for now and wait for your comments. Later on I
will post more of my language. :-)

A weird language you may say - with perversely many inflections,
bizarre cases, quasi-semitic morphology and wacky prepositions...

Take care,


Tim May <butsuri@...>
Christophe Grandsire <christophe.grandsire@...>