Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Polysynthesis (was To Doug Ball... and Thanks Ferko...)

From:Doug Ball <db001i@...>
Date:Sunday, October 14, 2001, 5:34
Matt33 wrote:
> Grateful for the Navajo example you gave, but my > terminal will not allow me to view some of the > characters so it was hard to follow.
In the Navajo examples, I sent the characters you didn't see were {a}'s with acute accents on them (á), which in Navajo orthography represent a vowel with high tone. It wasn't terribly important to the example, so I'll re-post the example without the accents: Nshiit'aazh ni-s-iid-'aazh TERMINATIVE-PREFECTIVE-1.DUAL.Subj-two.walk.PERFECTIVE 'We two went'
>> However, Vya:a:h might be agglutinative, which is >> close to polysynthetic, but not quite the same. > > You're right that Vya:a:h is agglutinative - like > Finnish or Estonian. I'm not sure now about > polysynthetic.
In looking over your data I agree with that Vya:a:h is agglutinative; however, I would say that Vya:a:h is not polysynthetic, for reasons which I hope will become more clear from the discussion below.
> --- Frank George Valoczy <valoczy@...> wrote: >> On Sat, 13 Oct 2001, SuomenkieliMaa wrote: >>> Grateful for the Navajo example you gave, but my >>> terminal will not allow me to view some of the >>> characters so it was hard to follow. I'm guessing >>> that something like the following example would >>> exemplify this? >>> (Finnish "street") katu >>> (Finnish "of the street") kadun >>> (Finnish "in the street") kadulla >>> where the t becomes d for pronunciation. Isn't >> this >>> also the case of "muddy morpheme boundaries," or >> am I >>> way off? > >> That's just consonant gradation... > > Ok, now I understand consonant gradation, but I'm > still not clear about the "muddy morpheme boundary" > that Doug described. Is that, in fact, polysynthesis?
"Muddy morpheme boundaries" is a part of polysynthesis, but not the only part as I hope to explain below. In thinking about it more, I think that there are several factors involved in classifying a language as polysynthesis: -Lots of morphemes in a word -Words that are whole sentences -Complex words (the model for structure of words has lots of slots or positions) -Complex interaction of morphology and phonology -The presence of incorporation Not all these things are found in all languages labeled as polysynthetic, but it is my feeling that most of them would apply. Some of the above list would also apply to most agglutinative languages: lots of morphemes in a word (although I would say, based on an unscientific survey, that polysynthetic languages have more morphemes per word) words that are whole sentences (although usually fewer than a polysynthetic language), and complex words. However, it is the presence of at least one of the last two items on my list that tends to push the classification to polysynthetic. By complex interaction of morphology and phonology, I mean to include my idea of "muddy morpheme boundaries." Let me try to explain the above Navajo example a little better. The morpheme boundaries are "muddy" in that the morphemes (ni-s-iid-'aazh) given in the analysis generally don't surface as themselves, but have undergone changes to get to the surface form: ni->n, s-> sh, iid->iit', (although its hard to tell where this morpheme might begin and end in the surface form), and 'aazh-> aazh (assuming that iid changed to iit'). As you can see, the morphemes in the morphological analysis (ni-s-iid-'aazh) are lot more abstract if we could just neatly analyze the surface form (nshiit'aazh) (and have it fit with other data from the language), like one can in an agglutinative language (recall my Turkish example). Although you'll just have to take my word on it (since I should try to keep this short), this reason for abstractness derives from morphology interacting with the phonology. Most languages have some interaction between morphology and phonology, but it is generally not as complex as in Navajo. But in my experience, most polysynthetic languages do have interaction roughly on par with Navajo, hence why I think it is a marker of polysynthesis. The other marker is the presence of incorporation. First, about incorporation. Usually incorporation is where the object "incorporates" into a verb. An example of this in a language that just happens to have the same words as English: I car-drive (meaning 'I drive cars'). In the verb 'car-drive', the direct object ('cars') has become morphologically part of the verb, thus it is said to have been "incorporated" into the verb. Although this is usually found just with objects into verbs, apparently some languages go nuts with it. Chukchi, one of my favorite languages (spoken in Siberia), apparently can incorporate adjectives into nouns and adverbs into verbs, in addition to the more "usual" object-incorporation. As you might well guess, incorporation creates complex words, with lots of morphemes in them, and makes words that are equivalent to full sentences--many of the things on my list of what makes a language polysynthetic. It's not the only way to get these list entries, but since it gets some many, I also feel that incorporation's presence in language tends to lend itself to a polysynthetic label. So, hopefully this helps you better see what my idea of polysynthesis is--it certainly caused me to think more closely about it. ObConlang (for those who have braved it this far): Skerre is not polysynthetic--it is more isolating, although it's on the path that it could become polysynthetic in a couple hundred years of internal development. It was, however, agglutinative in earlier incarnations (i.e. external history versions). I have the dream of creating the Great Polysynthetic Conlang (not to be confused with the Great American Novel), and even have some sketches, but Skerre's prominent place in my heart has made further development difficult. --Doug


SuomenkieliMaa <suomenkieli@...>