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Re: tatari faran and triggers

From:H. S. Teoh <hsteoh@...>
Date:Monday, November 22, 2004, 18:34
On Sun, Nov 21, 2004 at 03:23:46PM -0500, Kit La Touche wrote:
> sorry about this, my mail client had a seizure, and i just want to get > this sent out. it'll most likely not end up being too legible.
OK, I've taken the liberty to add markers to distinguish between what you wrote and what I wrote, since they all appear to be jumbled up together. :-) [...]
> On Nov 17, 2004, at 8:11 PM, H. S. Teoh wrote: > I know. But it's fun to see how close/far Tatari Faran is to a natlang > nevertheless. (Although in my mind, nothing about it excludes it from > being a possible natlang... I happen to be of the opinion that the > representative natlang types we know about today are only a very small > sample of the set of *possible* natlang types.)
> i'm willing to accept that that may be true, but i work on the > *assumption* that what we know is all there is until we see more - and > if that more can be fit gracefully into the extant system, then it > should be. i reserve judgment on whether there actually are more > types or not. i think there's no evidence either way.
From a linguistic point of view, I agree. From a conlanging point of view, however, I think it helps to realize that what we currently know may not be everything that's possible, and to explore other possibilities. [...]
> But the three core cases (and I'm beginning to be a bit wary of using > the term "case" now that I think about it) are all equal in marking > and in treatment. The closest thing to nominative is the unmarked > absolutive, but that is almost never used in verbal sentences.
> mhm. interesting case structure here. very thought-provoking. how > did you work on it? i'm always lazy when it comes to this in a conlang > - i rarely mark *anything* on nouns anyway, so...
Well, this system arose from my dislike of the asymmetry of the active/passive system employed in English. I wanted a language where "I give a book to John" is identical to "John was given a book by me" and identical to "A book was given to John by me". Identical in the sense that the case-marking on the nouns are exactly the same, and the verb form does not change. [...]
> Wait, so is the fronted NP a topic or a focus? "Topic", if I > understood correctly, refers to the (possibly implicit) context of the > conversation, which need not appear in every sentence. The TF fronted > NP does not behave like this; it is required in every sentence, even > if it is syntactically elided. In this sense, I prefer the term > "subject", but then "subject" has other connotations which do not > apply to TF, so I'm at a loss as to what to call it.
> topic, as i mean it here, is just that - the context of the sentence, > like in a japanese topic-comment structure. this proposal of mine was > that, like in japanese, you could omit elements that were evident from > the topic. so whatever's topic would go first, and then elided > elements would refer to it. note that this idea is not easily > compatible with the one of mine immediately following.
Hmm OK. Well, after revisiting Tagalog, I think I'll stick with the term "subject" for the fronted NP in Tatari Faran. [---]
> actually, what you say about ambiguity of theta-role for elided > "subjects" gets me thinking - perhaps, in a natlang paradigm, one > could say that TF has voice, but it's never phonologically distinct.
> How does this "voice" explain what TF does, though?
> well, it doesn't do so *well*...but my thought was that TF could be > described as (assuming it had some underlying subject-object > construction, which is a *huge* assumption) changing voice would change > what gets focus and, also, where those elements go - but, in TF, > perhaps none of those different voices are phonetically realized, so it > looks like there's no different inflection. that was the theory.
I think the fronted NP in Tatari Faran can be safely called the "subject", provided we use the term "subject" in a purely syntactical sense. But for "object", I have a big question mark on it. Unless you're willing to stretch the definition of "object" to cover multiple NP's with different semantic roles, there's no equivalent of "object" in Tatari Faran. As for voices... I guess you can say they are phonologically indistinct, so the act of fronting an NP is equivalent to a change in voice, except that the voice markers are zero morphemes so it looks like it's just the position of the NP that changed. But I think it's slightly stretching the term "voice" because the fronted NP retains the same case marking as before. [...]
> But what constitutes a natlang, though? Until (relatively) recently,
> I'm not trying to start a flame war, of course, but I'm genuinely > curious about what constitutes a natlang (other than the fact that > some community on earth speaks it). What does it mean to say that > conlang X is a plausible natlang or "like" a natlang? Does it mean > that X fits in the set of natlang typologies currently known? Or does > it involve some other requirement/heuristic that all known natlangs > satisfy? (Note that many the Greenburg "universals" are inapplicable > to languages like Tagalog, such as the word order universals, unless > you really stretch the definition of S and O like I tried to do.) > > If it is the former, are there generic heuristical restrictions of > what natlangs can be, or are all bets off? E.g., is there anything > that makes it impossible to take, say, a programming language like > Java, remap its "nouns" and "verbs" suitably to refer to things > natlangs typically refer to, and get something that looks like a > plausible natlang? (I.e., change the referents of its constituents, > but retain the syntax.) If this is not possible, why? What changes to > syntax would be needed to make it a plausible natlang? Or, if this is > possible, what implications does it have on existing typological > theories? > > Or, to start from first principles, let's say that speaker S wishes to > communicate some event E to some audience A. Let's say, for the sake > of having a concrete example, that the event E is that person T gave a > gift G to person U. So here are some questions: > > (a) What mental model would speaker S have of the event E? S could > think of E as consisting of an action ACT, qualified by the arguments > T, G, and U. Is this the only mental model possible? Are other models > possible? And what model(s) are possible for describing the roles of > T, G, and U? A possible role assignment would be T: agent, G: patient, > U: beneficiary. Another assignment might be T: active-entity, G: > changed-entity, U: passive-entity. What are the restrictions, if any, > on what kinds of models constitute a plausible basis for a natlang? > > (b) Are there any restrictions or general guidelines on how this > mental model gets mapped to the syntax of the language L that S > speaks? For example, is it possible to map the second model (T: > active, G: changed, U: passive) onto, say, an accusative syntax? Say, > by mapping active->subject, changed->object, passive->indirect object. > Or even, changed->subject, active->object, passive->indirect object. > What is it about the second mapping that makes it seem less realistic, > if it does seem so? Is syntax completely independent of semantics, or > are they somehow connected in some way? If they are connected somehow, > what is the nature of this connection? > > (c) What constitutes a "realistic" syntax? For example, are > accusative, ergative, active, trigger, the only possible types of > syntax? Why? What is it about these types of syntax makes them more > amenable to human communication? If there were another type of syntax > that could serve as a natlang, what would it look like? What > properties must it have/not have? > > Perhaps there's no absolute answer to any of these questions. But I > think it would be very interesting to explore the possibilities, and > very instructive to understand, if perhaps only a little, the > impossibilities. In a purely theoretical sense, "everything is > possible", but to me that's just too dismissive. What are people's > "gut feelings" about what is possible/impossible in a natlang, and > why do they feel so?
> these are all interesting questions, and i think they're ones i'll get > to eventually - for now, i use natlang to refer to a language spoken by > real-world groups, and which is at least somewhat studied - that last > criterion because often there are cases of seemingly divergent > languages which can, with a little analysis, be fit into the extant > grammar (whichever one you adhere to - this is a young and exciting > field, neh?) > > for "realistic" i mean is like a natlang, by the above definition.
[...] OK, but what do *you* think constitute defining properties of a grammar that you would consider a "natlang grammar"? E.g., if you were presented with a grammar without being told whether it was natlang or conlang, which criteria would you use to decide which one it is? What are the "gut feelings" you have about what properties all natlangs must have? For example, if the grammar you were given has no distinction between noun and verb, would that signal to you that perhaps it's not a natlang? What about if it blurs the distinction between words and clauses? Where do you draw the line of what constitutes "plausible natlang" vs. "unlikely to be natlang"? That's what I think is interesting to find out. T -- Windows: the ultimate triumph of marketing over technology. -- Adrian von Bidder