Animacy in active languages (was Re: Non-static verbs?)
|From:||Jörg Rhiemeier <joerg.rhiemeier@...>|
|Date:||Friday, August 18, 2000, 9:22|
Yoon Ha Lee wrote:
> On Thu, 17 Aug 2000, =?iso-8859-1?Q?J=F6rg?= Rhiemeier wrote:
> > [names of cases]
> <sigh of relief> Oh, whew.
Yes, this terminological mess is the drawback of active languages. They
are so elegant and beautiful (it really bugs me that Tolkien's wonderful
languages seem to be not of this type, but perhaps they are??? As long
as I know of active languages, I knew this is exactly the thing to
expect from Elves, and that's why Nur-ellen is one), but no-one knows
for sure how to name the cases! It would make things much easier if
there were widely accepted terms.
> I revised the case system in Chevraqis (and
> it's subject to further change, and I put the k back in to stand for k,
> so now I have to figure out what q sounds like,
Most people use it either for a voiceless uvular stop (as in Iraq) or
for a voiceless labiovelar stop (as Tolkien did in the old spelling
for his High-Elven language), but I have seen it used for anything from
/x/ (velar frivative) to /tS/ (postalveolar affricate; it is used for
this or something similar in some transliteration systems of Chinese,
cf. _Tai Chi Chuan_ /_Taijiquan_). One conlanger even used it for a
> but it's all good) and
> couldn't for the life of me figure out what to call 'em except
> in/voluntary agent or experiencer. Yuck.
> > In Nur-ellen, the agentive marks the person or being from which the
> > (volitional) action originates; only animate nouns may occur in this
> > case. The objective is used to mark the direct object of an action.
> > The argument of an intransitive verb is in agentive if the verb refers
> > to a volitional action, while stative verbs such as "to stand", and also
> > verbs like "to fall" take the objective case.
> My version messed with this somewhat: if you said "rain put the fire out"
> (for example--I did some morpheme-generation for a few hours today, and
> then burned out!--so the words don't actually exist yet), most Qenaren
> (fictitious country) speakers of Chevraqis would mark either "rain" as
> voluntary and "fire" as involuntary, or both as voluntary. Reason: it's
> a throwback to the mostly-animistic religious views that prevail in the
> area. An Avren (neighboring fictitious country) would probably mark both
> as involuntary.
In Nur-ellen, one _could_ put the rain in agentive because it is one of
the phenomena of nature which are grammatically animate. However,
because the rain hardly has the intention to put the fire out but just
happens to do it (just as someone might happen to trample on something
without intending to do so while walking), one would put it in dative
(preposition _na_ + agentive) because this is the Nur-ellen way of
expressing that someone happens to do something without intending it.
If the word "rain" wasn't grammatically animate, one would have to use
the instrumental (preposition _ni_ + objective) here.
> I don't know if this is allowable, but hey...if I read other people's
> posts for long enough (the ones I can understand--I'm quite behind on
> terminology) I should eventually catch on. :-)
This is perfectly allowable. There are probably no two active languages
which draw the line between things that could act volitionally and
things that could not the same way. These languages evolved at times
when the concept of "life" was defined in a more intuitive way than what
modern science tells us what it is.
It is actually quite common that certain natural phenomena such as wind,
rain or fire, are considered animate as they appear to act out of
themselves. Note that pre-scientific people tend to attribute some kind
of life or soul to quite a lot of things. Sometimes, the only inanimate
nouns are those referring to bulk substances and man-made items.
Celestial bodies (sun, moon, stars etc.) probably are classed as animate
more often than not.
This can even lead to the existence of suppletive forms, such as two
terms for "water": one inanimate, referring to water as a substance
(such as water in a bottle), the other animate, referring to water as a
force of nature (such as a flowing river).
Actually, I have allowed myself some freedom in Nur-ellen. Celestial
bodies, for example, are animate; so are _kem_ "earth" and _men`l_
"sky". Another animate word is _lamb_ "language" as the speakers of
Nur-ellen (modern-day Elves) view language as a living thing that
evolves. Automata and demons (creatures of un-life) are inanimate; the
latter two categories have prompted some peculiar idiomatic uses: the
nouns _byrokrat_ "bureaucrat" and _natsi_ "Nazi" are both inanimate,
because bureaucrats and Nazis tend to behave like automata and demons,
respectively. (Note that _byrokrat_ is not the generic term for a
person fulfilling a function in an administrative hierarchy, but rather
a derogative term for someone who onerously applies rigid rules.)
This also means that one cannot plainly say "The Nazi sings", but must
work around by using the instrumental:
Ni i natsi linn.
INST the OBJ.Nazi sing
Another way would be something like "The man who is a Nazi sings":
I ben natsi linn.
the AGT.man OBJ.Nazi sing
The construction "ben natsi" is a mixed-case apposition. Cases in
appositions only agree if both nouns are animate (or both are inanimate,
in which case the agreement is trivial because the case of an inanimate
noun is always objective).
If the apposition consists of an animate and an inanimate noun, the
animate noun is inflected normally and the inanimate noun is always in
objective, regardless of the case of the animate noun. Such appositions
are actually quite common, especially in cases where an inanimate noun
occurs as an epithet (an example would be "Charles Martel", i.e.
"Charles Hammer", in Nur-ellen that would be
agt. _Karl Dring_, obj. _Garl Dring_; _Dring_ being in objective case in
both forms). On the other hand, in the example _Henrik Rau_ ("Henry the
the objective is _Jenrik Rjau_ because both nouns are animate.
(If there is some confusion at this point about how many cases Nur-ellen
it is two: agentive and objective. The terms "dative" and
refer to prepositional constructions, not cases in the strict sense of
P.S. I apologize for not having my Nur-ellen page online yet. I have
quite a number of other things to consider and hardly find the leisure
to fix the loose ends in the grammar. So please be patient and content
yourself with the stuff I write about it here for a while (and don't
start a relay in the meantime
- I'd really like to participate in the next one, but Nur-ellen is not
yet ready to go). I hope to get the thing up and running within the
next two weeks.