Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Re: Existential voice

From:Herman Miller <hmiller@...>
Date:Tuesday, May 3, 2005, 5:00
Gregory Gadow wrote:
> What has my attention at the moment is the "existential voice." The > construct in English of "it is raining" has always bothered me: what is > "it", and why should "it" be raining and not me or the dog or Aunt > Matilda's Studebaker? My solution was to create a distinct voice for when > a verb has no specific do-er or done-to, the existential voice. It is > expressed by putting the verb in a special form (the "indefinite" > inflection); the verb can take modifiers (definitiveness, tense, "nowness" > and duration) and qualitatives (a generic grammar class that includes > adjectives and adverbs) but has no nouns associated with it. Thus: > > plüva'n [pluvA'n] - to sprinkle (water) > plüvawne [pluva'h\nE] - it is raining > > Rather than creating something just for weather, I want to extend this > voice to include political and social climate. That would give expressions > that are succinct in Glörsa but a bit awkward to translate in to English: > > dhëghösan [DeGo'sAn] - to make war on > dhëghösawne [DeGo'sAh\nE] - "it is warring" (the countryside is at war)
Interesting idea. Minza verbs are classified by the number of required arguments; most are v1 (intransitive) or v2 (transitive), but there are a handful of v3 like "give" and "assign", and a small number of v0, currently only represented by weather vocabulary (e.g. jönzhi "to rain"). Like much of the early Minza vocabulary, this idea comes from Lindiga; most of my other languages have a noun for "rain", and you have to say something like "rain is falling". Minza also has prefixes for valence-decreasing operations (antipassive and middle voice), but I've only applied them to transitive (v2) verbs. It'd be interesting to try using them as a general valence-decreasing prefix, which could also convert v3's to v2 or v1's to v0.
> yövïnan [jovi'nAn] - to harvest > yövïnawne [jovi'nAh\nE] - "it is harvesting" (the crops are ripe and > everyone is busy harvesting them)
If Descartes had had this verb form, he could have started with "it is thinking" (which seems to avoid the circular reasoning, but then I'm not sure if you can really get anywhere from there without some extra assumptions about the way that thinking works....)
> I know what I'm trying to say, but the use looks very strange. Even > stranger was when I put the verb "to hope" in this voice and adding the > modifiers for strong definitiveness (föle) and habitual action (zëthe): > > hütawne föle zëthe [hutA'h\nE fo'lE ze'TE] > > This sentence could be translated as, "it has a habit of repeatedly > hoping, most definitely" or more loosely, "hope springs eternal." > > What I would like to ask is, > > * Am I using the term "voice" correctly? > * Given my description, does it look like I'm using this voice correctly? > * Are there any natlangs with something similar that I could use as a model? > * Any suggestions on how I can extend to other uses I haven't thought of?
It's probably better to define it as a valence decreasing operation. I don't know if any language that does this ... Thomas E. Payne gives examples of "impersonal passives" which can make the subject of an intransitive verb unspecified, but this wouldn't work with transitive verbs like your two examples. (He also writes "We know of no languages that employ specific morphology just for impersonal passives". Is it possible that this verb form has other uses besides the "existential voice"?) Then again, I don't know of any really good reason not to call it a voice.


Gregory Gadow <techbear@...>
Ray Brown <ray.brown@...>