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Re: New Project

From:Tim Smith <timsmith@...>
Date:Friday, February 12, 1999, 0:44
I'm already thinking about a major change in the new project that I've
posted about a few times in the last few weeks.  To recap very briefly, this
conlang (still unnamed) uses proximate/obviative marking on third-person
noun phrases and direct/inverse marking on verbs to distinguish the agents
and patients of transitive verbs (as in the Algonquian languages), and also
to mark topic and focus.  (The topic is proximate; the focus is obviative
and occupies the immediate pre-verbal position which would otherwise be
occupied by the topic.)  An extensive system of applicatives allows NPs
other than subjects and direct objects to be topicalized by promoting other
NPs to direct-object status.

This works fine for intransitive and monotransitive verbs, but I'm finding
that it get really complicated and messy when dealing with ditransitive
verbs.  I've figured out ways to make it work, but they strike me as rather
ugly and not really in keeping with my original vision of this grammar.
(Among other things, they require a fixed word order for certain clause
types, something that I wanted to avoid.)  Therefore I'm thinking about
introducing a rule that there are NO ditransitive verbs: that on the
syntactic level every verb has at most two arguments (a subject and a direct
object), and that with verbs that semantically require three arguments
(e.g., "give"), one of them must always be expressed as an oblique object
(the object of a preposition).  All such verbs would have applicative forms
that allow the patient/theme and recipient/goal NPs to freely exchange
syntactic roles.

To illustrate using analogous constructions in English (which conveniently
happens to allow all of the relevant construction types): under my old
system, one would way "I gave the woman the book" (recipient = primary
object, patient = secondary object).  Under my new system, this
double-object construction is not allowed; instead one has a choice of
saying either "I gave the book to the woman" (patient = direct object,
recipient = oblique) or "I presented the woman with the book" (recipient =
direct object, patient = oblique) (except that the verb forms corresponding
to "gave" and "presented" would be different forms of the same lexical verb
rather than separate lexemes).

Applicatives would be just as necessary as before, but they would work
somewhat differently.  I had envisioned them as being much like Bantu
applicatives, which, when they promote an oblique object to direct object,
leave the original direct object (if any) unaffected, resulting in a clause
with two direct objects (or rather, a primary and a secondary object).
Under the new system, an applicative would demote any pre-existing direct
object to an oblique object (with the choice of preposition being lexically
determined by the verb).  I don't know if there are any natlangs that have
applicatives that work this way.

Tim Smith

The human mind is inherently fallible.  It sees patterns where there is only
random clustering, overestimates and underestimates odds depending on
emotional need, ignores obvious facts that contradict already established
conclusions.  Hopes and fears become detailed memories.  And absolutely
correct conclusions are drawn from completely inadequate evidence.
        - Alexander Jablokov, _Deepdrive_ (Avon Books, 1998, p. 269)