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A sketch of Old Albic 2/4: Nominal morphology

From:Jörg Rhiemeier <joerg_rhiemeier@...>
Date:Monday, June 21, 2004, 19:08
Hallo again!

Here is part 2 of the sketch.  This is about how nouns, adjectives
and pronouns are inflected.

Share and enjoy!



Old Albic has a wealth of derivational and inflectional morphology.
The noun distinguishes four genders, three numbers and eight cases;
adjectives agree with the nouns in all these categories and have four
degrees of comparison; verbs distinguish eight tense/aspect/mood forms
and are conjugated for the person and number of their core arguments.
Most of the Old Albic morphology is regular and agglutinating, though
umlaut and other morpho-phonemic alternations cause several apparent
irregularities in the paradigms.


Animate and inanimate nouns; gender

Nouns in OA fall into one of two major classes: animate and inanimate.
Animate nouns denote living beings, spirits, collective entities of
such, and a small number of other things which were for some reason
(mostly mythological) considered animate, such as heaven, the earth,
celestial bodies and certain forces of nature. Most nouns referring to
non-living objects (both natural and man-made) are inanimate. Most
abstract nouns are also inanimate, but there are exceptions.

The importance of the animate-inanimate distinction for grammar is
paramount. The animate noun has a greater number of cases; these extra
cases are missing from the inanimate paradigm because certain
arguments, such as agents, are required to be animate.

Within the animate noun class, three genders are distinguished:
masculine, feminine and common/neuter. These are marked by final

Masculine     -o
Feminine      -e
Common/Neuter -a

The masculine and feminine genders are used only for entities of the
corresponding natural gender, i.e. male or female, respectively.
Whenever the gender is unknown to the speaker, irrelevant to the
discourse, or not applicable (e.g. in case of collective entities),
the common form is used. There are a few mythologically motivated
exceptions: _Nabo_ `heaven' and _Sino_ `moon' are masculine,
_Dage_ `earth' and _Are_ `sun' are feminine.

Many nouns exist in different gender forms, such as words for animal
species, ethnic groups, professions etc. For example, the word for
`Elf' is _alba_, `male Elf' _albo_, and `female Elf' _albe_. A few nouns
have fixed gender because the gender is part of the semantics of the
word: _atto_ `father', _amme_ `mother'. Entities to which no gender can
ascribed are always common/neuter.

Inanimate nouns do not distinguish gender.


The Old Albic noun has three numbers: singular, dual and plural. The
dual is used only for matched pairs, e.g. of eyes, shoes, husband and
wife, etc. It is no longer productive, and verbs agreeing with animate
dual nouns take plural forms.

Animate nouns take the number suffixes -u for dual and -i for plural.
In the common/neuter gender, these suffixes replace the gender vowel
-a. In the masculine and feminine genders, the suffix is affixed to
the gender vowel, e.g. chvanei `bitches'. In words with fixed gender,
the number marker replaces the gender vowel: nderi `men'. The number
suffixes of the inanimate noun are -um for dual and -im for plural.


In Old Albic, the noun is inflected for eight cases: agentive,
genitive, dative; objective, instrumental, locative, allative,
ablative. Only animate nouns have forms for all these cases; inanimate
nouns have a defective paradigm without agentive, genitive and dative

The cases are formed from two case stems, the agentive stem (AS) and the
objective stem (OS). Animate nouns have an AS and an OS, while
inanimate nouns have only an OS. The animate agentive stem is the noun
root with the gender/number vowel as discussed above. There are two
ways to form the objective stem of an animate noun. Long objective
stems are used in the non-singular numbers and with masculine and
feminine forms of nouns with variable genders; they are formed by
adding -m to the agentive stem. Examples: _chvanem_ `bitch', _elbim_
`Elves'. Pronouns also have long objective stems. Short objective
stems are the usual way of forming an OS in all other occurences. The
short OS is obtained by removing the gender vowel, e.g. cath (AS
catha) `cat'. Adjectives also have short objective stems.

The agentive, genitive and dative cases are formed from the agentive
stem, the other cases from the objective stem using the following

Agentive     AS-Ø
Genitive     AS-s
Dative       AS-na
Objective    OS-Ø
Instrumental OS-i
Locative     OS-as
Allative     OS-ana
Ablative     OS-ada

This means that inanimate nouns have no agentive, genitive or dative
case as said above.

The agentive is used to mark the animate, autonomous agent of the
action denoted by the verb. Typically, the agent acts volitionally.

The genitive marks the (animate) alienable possessor of an object.

The dative has several functions: it marks the (animate) experiencer,
the mentally affected object and the agent acting involuntarily out of
accident (see Degrees of volition, below); it is also used with some
prepositions that require an animate object.

The objective marks the (animate or inanimate) undergoer of an action
or event, or the entity that is in a particular state.

The instrumental marks the (typically inanimate) instrument, way or
means of an action, event or state, and is used to derive adverbs from
adjectives. It also expresses an animate agent acting involuntarily
under external force (see Degrees of volition, below).

The locative marks the place of an action or event, also the whole
something is part of, and the inalienable possessor. It is also used
with many prepositions.

The allative marks the direction or goal of an action or event.

The ablative marks the origin or source of an action or event.


Whenever a noun modifies another noun, it acts like an adjective. It
does not only carry its own case marker, but is also marked for the
number and case of the head noun .For example, the locative plural of
father's houses is _mberimas attosemas_, wherein the analysis of the
_attosemas_ is as follows: _atto_ `father' + -s genitive + -im plural
OS + -as locative. This phenomenon is known as suffixaufnahme.
Suffixaufnahme is only mandatory if the dependent noun is moved away
from the head noun; in ordinary speech, the secondary endings are
usually omitted.

The construct state

A noun modified by a possessor (genitive or locative) is in the
state: it is definite without taking a definite article. Often, the
case and number marking on the noun is left out and only the bare short
appears, as these categories are expressed on the possessor


The inflection of adjectives follows that of nouns; they agree with the
head noun in animacy, gender, number and case. The singular objective
of the adjective is the simplest form, consisting of the base of the
adjective, i.e. the root or the root with derivational morphemes
to it. The dual and plural OSs are formed by adding the suffixes -um
or -im (plural) to the singular OS. Each adjective has three animate
singular agentive stems, one for each gender, formed by adding the
respective gender vowel (-o, -e, -a) to the singular OS. The dual and
plural ASs are formed with the vowels -u and -i suffixed to the singular

Sample paradigm (ban `beautiful'):

                        AS   OS

Inanimate singular      --   ban
Masculine singular      bano ban
Feminine singular       bane ban
Common animate singular bana ban
Dual (*)                bonu bonum
Plural                  beni benim

(*) The dual number of the adjective already was a dying category in
classical times. There are numerous examples of dual nouns accompanied
by plural adjectives, and in Late Old Albic the dual number of the
adjective had faded away completely.


Comparison is a morphological category particular to the adjective.
The positive degree is unmarked. The comparative degree is marked with
the suffix -@r, the superlative degree is marked with the suffix -@th.
There is also an equative degree (`as ... as'), which is marked with
the suffix -@ch. These forms are the singular OSs; non-singular number
forms and agentive stems are formed from them as shown above. The
standard of comparison (i.e., the entity to which is compared) is in
the instrumental case. Examples: banach elbi `as beautiful as an Elf';
banar chveni `more beautiful than a dog'; banath `most beautiful'.

Adverbs from adjectives

The instrumental case of the adjective also serves as adverb: beni

The definite article

Old Albic has a definite article, but no indefinite article. The
definite article agrees with the noun in gender, number and case. It
precedes the noun and has the following forms:

                        AS OS

Masculine singular      o  om
Feminine singular       e  em
Common animate singular a  am
Inanimate singular      -- am
Dual                    u  um
Plural                  i  im

The cases are formed normally from the agentive and objective stems.


Compared to a language like English, Old Albic makes rather little use
of prepositions, as many of the relations expressed by prepositions in
English are expressed by noun cases. Nevertheless, there are several
prepositions in Old Albic; most govern the locative.

Local prepositions

An important subclass of prepositions are those expressing specific
local relations such as `above', `below', `inside', etc. These
prepositions are actually inanimate nouns that are in turn inflected
for case. Example:

tharas amas(as) mbaras(as)    (locative) `behind the house'
tharana amas(ana) mbaras(ana) (allative) `to behind the house'
tharada amas(ada) mbaras(ada) (ablative) `from behind the house'

(The suffixes in parantheses are secondary case suffixes (see
suffixaufnahme, above) that are not mandatory, and usually omitted.)


The animate/inanimate opposition is a characteristic feature of the OA
pronoun system. With the exception of 1st and 2nd person pronouns (for
obvious reasons), each pronoun has different, often suppletive,
animate and inanimate forms. Prounouns are generally inflected like

Personal prounouns

The 1st and 2nd person pronouns are always animate. In the dual and
there is a distinction between inclusive and exclusive 1st person
The difference is that the inclusive pronouns are used if the addressee
a member of the `we'-group. The pronouns have the following agentive

                          Singular Dual Plural

1st person (exclusive)    ma       mu   mi
1st person (inclusive)             vu   vi
2nd person (familiar)     tha      thu  thi
2nd person (deferential)  la       lu   li

The objective stems are formed by adding -m to the agentive stems. The
cases are formed in the same way as for nouns. Pronominal core
arguments are redundant and usually omitted, but the pronouns are used

Anaphoric pronouns

The anaphoric (`3rd person') pronouns have different animate and
inanimate forms. The animate pronouns have masculine, feminine and
common gender forms. The agentive stems of the animate forms are
_so_ `he', _se_ `she', _sa_ `he/she/it'. The dual and plural ASs
are _su_ `they both' and _si_ `they', respectively. The OS of the
inanimate anaphoric pronoun is _tath_ `it' (dual _tothum_,
plural _tethim_).


There are three demonstratives: _san_ `this (near me)',
_than_ `that (near you)', _an_ `that (over there)'.
They are inflected like adjectives and are placed at the end of the NP
which also has a definite article, e.g. _am mbar san_ `this house'
(lit. `the house this'; inanimate objective singular),
_ena chvanena machena thanena_ `those large dogs'
(lit. `the dogs large those'; animate dative plural).

Interrogative pronouns

The animate interrogative (`who?') has the agentive stem _chva_ (OS
_chvam_); the inanimate interrogative (`what?') is _man_.

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