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Analyzing Ayeri's syntactic and voice alignment (long)

From:Carsten Becker <carbeck@...>
Date:Tuesday, March 18, 2008, 20:51

I have started to rewrite the grammar of my conlang from
scratch some time ago, this time sticking to the table of
contents that Describing Morphosyntax suggests. So far it
has been going nice, but now that I have come to the point
of describing the language's syntactic alignment I have run
into problems. I want to be sure that what I have thought
about makes sense.

So far I have been assuming that Ayeri was a "trigger" lang
with some things misunderstood. Scrap that idea for the

Ayeri has three core cases: agent, patient and benefactive
(dative). It also frequently uses the genitive and the
locative. Marginally there are the instrumentative (by
means/help of X, can be both a person or a thing) and even
more marginally, the causative (due to/because of X, I'm not
sure whether the term "causative" is right here). I am
reluctant to call the active and patient nominative and
accusative or ergative and absolutive respectively, because
both systems don't seem to fit particularly well:

   (1a) Maliyāng.
        'He sings.'

   (1b) i.  Haruyās.
            'He is beaten.'

   (1b) ii. Haruyāng.
            'He beats.'

The examples (1a) and (1b) work all just fine. So my
assumption is that it might be actually split-S in
intransitive clauses depending on whether S is acting
themselves or acted upon, rather than depending on
volitionality because of the following:

   (2a) Rua məhasuvāng.
        rua mə-hasu-vāng
        must PST-sneeze-2s.AGT
        'You had to sneeze.'

   (2b) Tenyayong.
        'It dies.'

   (2c) Məvantayāng.
        'He stumbled.'

All of (2a) to (2c) are more or less accidental happenings,
not caused by the experiencer, so the split is probably not
dependant on volition, as E is still marked as the agent.

Let's now move on to transitive sentences; note that the
distinction between a definite and an indefinite noun is not
mandatory, so I have been writing 'a' in the example

   (3a) Ang maliya malinoas.
        ang mali-(i)ya-Ø malino-as
        AGTFOC sing-3s:m.FOC song-PAT
        'He sings a song'

   (3b) Le maliyāng malino.
        le mali-yāng malino-Ø
        PATFOC sing-3s:m.AGT song-FOC
        'A song he sings', 'A song is sung by him'

   (3c) Maliyo malinoas (yari).
        mali-yo malino-as (yari)
        sing-3s:n song-PAT (3s:m.INS)
        'A song is sung (by him).'

The sentences (3a) and (3b) illustrate what I thought
"triggers" would work like (see the other current thread
about triggerlangs). Sentence (3a) can be analyzed as an
active sentence with S=A, thus '-(i)ya' would be in the
nominative and also it would be the subject, since its is in
focus. On the other hand, (3b) has S=P, which would make
'-(i)ya' be in the ergative, which would be the subject in
this case instead. This is why I said that neither the
definition nom/acc nor erg/abs fits. Sentence (3b) however
could be analyzed as a passive sentence, since the focus
moves on from A to P. However, the role marking stays the
same, unlike in sentence (3c), which would be a *true*
passive in that what has originally been the A now became
demoted to an oblique object which is not necessarily
required anymore. Accordingly, the person agreement on the
verb changes. I may be thinking too strongly along the lines
of Indo-European languages here I fear. In case you wonder,
the case marking on the verb is always overridden by an
according non-clitic NP existing in the sentence. One could
say that person marking is a cliticized pronoun minus the
case marker, or in other words, that a pronoun replaces the
person marking on the verb if no other non-clitic NP exists.
Furthermore, in order to put arguments in focus, the case
marker of the respective NP is drawn in front of the verb,
while the focussed NP itself is left without any case
marking. In so far I assume that the case marker morpheme
may be reinterpreted as an anaphora to the focussed NP which
more or less accidentally shares the case marker's
superficial form and which is fronted instead of the whole
original NP. I guess that this kind of marking might be
unstable in real life, though.

Now let us have a look at ditransitive sentences:

   (4a) Ang ilya migorayas yeyam.
        ang il-(i)ya-Ø migoray-as yeyam
        AGTFOC give-3s:m-FOC 3s:f.BEN
        'He gives her a flower.'

   (4b) Le ilyāng migoray yeyam.
        le il-yāng migoray-Ø yeyam
        PATFOC give-3s:m.AGT flower-FOC 3s:f.BEN
        'A flower he gives to her.'

   (4c) Yam ilyāng migorayas ye.
        yam il-yāng migoray-as ye-Ø
        BENFOC give flower-PAT 3s:f-FOC
        'To her he gives a flower.'

The sentence (4b) could be transformed like (3c) as well,
except that 'yeyam' would still be in the sentence, also in
benefactive, since 'she' does not stop to be the recepient
of the flower of course. I have been told that the promoting
of indirect objects (in this case, of 'yeyam' to 'yam ...
ye') is called 'applicative voice', but again, (3c) is not
strictly a passive or an applicative sentence then -- I
think. Of course the whole focussing can be extended to
non-core roles as well:

   (5)  Ya məradanyang sirutay.
        ya mə-radan-yang sirutay-Ø
        LOCFOC PST-wake_up-1s.AGT night-FOC
        'At night I woke up.'

In sentence (5), as you can see, the location, which
provides additional but not crucial information, is in focus
here. Whether one can call this a locative applicative I do
not know, since again the role marking stays the same and
nothing is demoted or dropped. It would not be sensible even
to drop something here.

If someone could help me make sense out of this mess (well,
at least it's a mess in my head) that would be very kind ...


Tenena, Nonamay 20, 2317 ya 07:16:22 pd
Tuesday, March 18, 2008 at 08:07:35 pm


David J. Peterson <dedalvs@...>