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Re: New Project

From:Tim Smith <timsmith@...>
Date:Wednesday, January 20, 1999, 1:40
At 04:02 PM 1/4/99 +0100, Kristian Jensen wrote:
>Tim Smith wrote: >>I'll tell you about this in more detail sometime soon (I hope). >> >Overall, an interesting project. I'm looking forward to more >details. I'm especially looking forward to how you're applying >applicatives to the relative-clause formation. >
Thanks for your interest, and I'm sorry to take so long in responding. What follows isn't an attempt to give a general overview of the language (I'm still working on that), but rather an attempt to specifically answer your implied question about applicatives and relative clauses, while putting it in enough context to make some kind of sense. Therefore it risks being, paradoxically, both overly verbose and hopelessly vague. (Warning: this is a very long post!) In order to be topicalized, a third-person noun phrase must be marked as proximate, and in order to be marked as proximate, it must be either a subject or a primary object. This follows from the requirements that: (1) either the subject or the primary object _must_ be proximate (otherwise there would be no way to distinguish between them); and (2) there can only be one proximate NP per clause. Thus, the underlying function of applicatives, which promote non-primary objects to primary-object status, is to allow non-primary objects to be topicalized. As I see it, there is a strong relationship, at some level of abstraction, between topicalization and relativization, because the relativized NP (the head of the relative clause) is in some sense the "topic" of the relative clause. It therefore makes intuitive sense to me that the same restrictions that apply to topics should also apply to heads of relative clauses, and that the same means should be used to circumvent these restrictions (namely applicatives). One of the things that's esthetically pleasing to me about this grammar is that this underlying, abstract similarity between topicalization and relativization is overtly manifested in the surface structure. [Note: This grammar distinguishes between primary and secondary objects rather than between direct and indirect objects. A primary object can loosely be defined as the direct object of a monotransitive verb or the indirect object of a ditransitive verb, and a secondary object as the direct object of a ditransitive verb. In the English sentence "the man gave the woman the book", "the woman" is the primary object and "the book" is the secondary object, whereas in "the man read the book", "the book" is the primary object and there is no secondary object.] To illustrate this, let's take a simple sentence from my new and still nameless conlang: en t'ai kharash et sei zat tuval ("the man met the woman at the house") In this and the subsequent examples, I'm using the following lexical and grammatical morphemes: Determiners: en (definite 3rd-person singular proximate) et (definite 3rd-person singular obviative) Nouns: t'ai (man) sei (woman) Verb stem: kharash (meet) Verbal prefixes: Subordination: a- (relative clause) Person/number agreement: 0- (both arguments are 3rd person singular) Modality: 0- (realis) Tense: 0- (non-anterior) Aspect: 0- (perfective) Orientation: 0- (direct) sa- (inverse) Applicative: ze- (location -> primary object) Preposition: za (at) The phonology and orthography, and hence the lexicon, are very tentative, so I'm not going to say anything about them here. So the sample sentence above can be glossed as follows (ignoring categories that aren't relevant to the issue at hand): en t'ai kharash et sei za-et tuval PROX man met OBV woman at-OBV house Here the topic is _en t'ai_ ("the man") and there is no focus. It's the proximate determiner _en_, not the sentence-initial position, that marks this noun phrase as the topic. We could instead put a non-topic before the verb: et sei kharash en t'ai zat tuval et sei kharash en t'ai za-et tuval OBV woman met PROX man at-OBV house This sentence has the same truth-value "meaning" as the previous one, and "the man" is still the topic, but now _et sei_ ("the woman") is the focus, so a better translation would be "the man met the WOMAN at the house" or "it was the WOMAN that the man met at the house". Putting an obviative NP before the verb marks it as the focus, whereas a proximate NP is the topic regardless of its position. We could also focus an oblique (prepositional) object in the same way: zat tuval kharash en t'ai et sei za-et tuval kharash en t'ai et sei at-OBV house met PROX mai OBV woman ("The man met the woman at the HOUSE" or "It was at the HOUSE that the man met the woman.") It's also possible for both the topic and the focus to be fronted, in which case the topic goes first: en t'ai et sei kharash zat tuval en t'ai et sei kharash za-et tuval PROX man OBV woman met at-OBV house But this doesn't happen very often. The normal constituent order in main clauses is verb-second, and there are constraints on when it's possible to deviate from this order, although I haven't figured out exactly what those constraints are. My intuitive sense is that there are "strong topics" and "weak topics", and that a strong topic is always fronted, but a weak topic is fronted only if there's no focus. But I haven't determined exactly what makes a topic strong (that is, what makes its topicality salient enough to override the tendency to put only one constituent before the verb). A contrastive topic is definitely strong, but there may be other kinds of strong topics as well. At any rate, this sentence means something like, "As for the man, it was the WOMAN that he met at the house." In all the examples so far, the proximate NP is the subject. We know this because the verb is marked as direct rather than inverse. Direct orientation means that the subject is higher than the primary object on the "topic-worthiness" hierarchy (2nd person -> 1st person -> 3rd person proximate -> 3rd person obviative); inverse orientation means the opposite. If we want the primary object to be the topic, we mark it as proximate and the subject as obviative, and we mark the verb as inverse: en sei sakharash et t'ai zat tuval en sei sa- kharash et t'ai za-et tuval PROX woman INV-met OBV man at-OBV house This is probably best translated by the English passive voice, one of whose functions is to topicalize the patient: "The woman was met by the man at the house." But (here's where it gets complicated) what if we want "the house" to be the topic? As an oblique object, it can't be made proximate. There can only be one proximate NP per clause, and it has to be either the subject or the primary object; otherwise there would be no way to distinguish the subject from the primary object. The answer is to use an applicative: in this case, one that promotes the location from oblique object to primary object and (since there can only be one primary object) demotes the original primary object to secondary object. Thus, as an intermediate step, we get: en t'ai zekharash et tuval et sei en t'ai ze- kharash et tuval et sei PROX man APPL-met OBV house OBV woman There isn't really a good way to translate this into English, but it's something like "The man met-at the house the woman." From here, we can mark the primary object as proximate, the subject as obviative, and the verb as inverse, giving: en tuval sazekharash et t'ai et sei en tuval sa- ze- kharash et t'ai et sei PROX house INV-APPL-met OBV man OBV woman ("At the house the man met the woman.") In these last two sentences, unlike any of the previous examples, we have to rely partly on word order to disambiguate syntactic roles. The rule is that when two obviative NPs are immediate constituents of a clause (that is, arguments of the verb rather than objects of prepositions, possessors of other NPs, or whatever), they go in the order: subject -> primary object -> secondary object. (One point that I perhaps haven't made clear is that there are many applicative affixes, one for promoting each of a wide range of non-primary objects to primary-object status: one for locations, one for beneficiaries, one for instruments, etc. They're sort of like the trigger-role-marking affixes in languages like Tagalog, in that they specify the semantic role of the affected NP.) Now, finally, we come to relative clauses, which is what this was originally supposed to be about. A relative clause is basically a sentence with the relativizing prefix _a-_ attached to its verb and with its topic (its proximate NP) deleted. Thus, "the man who met the woman at the house" is: en/et t'ai akharash et sei zat tuval en/et t'ai a- kharash et sei za-et tuval PROX/OBV man REL-met OBV woman at-OBV house Here, "the man" is the NP that would have been the topic of the relative clause if the relative clause had been a full sentence. We don't know whether it's proximate or obviative because that depends entirely on its role in the matrix clause, which has nothing to do with its role in the relative clause. A primary object can be relativized in the same way: en/et sei asakharash et t'ai zat tuval ("the woman that the man met at the house") en/et sei a- sa- kharash et t'ai za-et tuval PROX/OBV woman REL-INV-met OBV man at-OBV house But you can't relativize an NP that's neither a subject nor a direct object. In order to say "the house where the man met the woman", we have to use an applicative form of the verb to make "the house" the primary object, so that it can take the proximate (topical) role within the relative clause: en/et tuval asazekharash et t'ai et sei en/et tuval a- sa- ze- kharash et t'ai et sei PROX/OBV house REL-INV-APPL-met OBV man OBV woman ------------------------------------------------- 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)