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Re: THEORY: Odd case systems (was Re: Charlie and I)

From:Christophe Grandsire <grandsir@...>
Date:Monday, September 20, 1999, 8:11
Thomas R. Wier wrote:
> > "Raymond A. Brown" wrote: > > > There is case; it just works > > differently from both Classical Latin & from what the prescriptivists think > > English should have. > > True. I can't remember if I've already told the list about this, but > in Atkan Aleut (Alaskan language), there is a case system of sorts, > but not at all what you might expect. The absolutive (in singular, > -x^, the voiceless uvular fricative) is used for all nouns in the > sentence if each is specifically mentioned: > > (1) Hlax^ mikakux^ > boy:AbsSg play:Pres:SgSub > "The boy is playing." > > (2) Hlax^ suunaadax^ agukux^ > boy:AbsSg boat:AbsSg make:Pres:SgSub > "The boy is making a boat." > > (3) Piitrax^ asxinus kidukux^ > Peter:AbsSg girl:Pl help:Pres:SgSub > "Peter is helping the girls." > > The relative (here, -m), on the other hand, is really weird. > It's used for singular subjects, but tells you that an objective > noun is implied by the verb but is not directly stated (i.e., > is a pronoun of some sort): > > (4) Hlam aguqaa > boy:RELSg make:Past:SgObj > "The boy made it." > > (5) Piitram kidukungis. > Peter:RelSg help:Pres:PlObj > "Peter is helping them." > > The case essentially tells you "Hey, I'm a singular subject, > but you also need to be looking for an object somewhere." > But not only does the noun change, the verb decides to > agree with the object instead. It looks like all this might have > evolved out of an ergative-absolutive system, but clearly > isn't now, because the relative and absolutive can both be > used for syntactic subjects of any type of verb (well, the > relative can't be used for transitives, obviously, because > there are no objects). Of course, the whole system gets > considerably messier when *all* nouns are implied, but we > won't get into that... >
I like it very much! Are there resources on the web about this language? I wonder if it wouldn't be something like that that happens in Tj'a-ts'a~n, the language of the Sky People. The system of cases is very strange in this language, and as a matter of fact I still don't master it. It seems not to show really the function of nouns in the sentence (in fact, the verbs agree with the nouns in many things like gender and case, and the position of the pronominal complex of agreement in the verb is the very thing that shows the function of the noun in the sentence), and as a matter of fact even spatial cases can be used for the subject of the verb. The case system seems to have nearly a semantic meaning. The most difficult of the 34 cases are the cases I name (not arbitrarily but nearly) ergative, absolutive, nominative, accusative and equative-attributive-dative. I still don't know really how to use them, but it seems to be a very messed-up active system that includes also volitionality and maybe also something like you showed in Aleut. To give you an example: boj-ga-n-roj-aj-do pse-k'a-n-'aj-te the-HuM-human-inessive tall-HuM-inessive The man is tall. (just a fact) boj-ga-n-roj pse-k'a-n the-HuM-human(-equative-attributive-dative) tall-HuM(-equative-attributive-dative) The man is tall. (eternal truth) boj-ga-n-roj-u pse-k'a-n-i the-HuM-human-accusative tall-HuM-accusative The man gets taller. boj-ga-n-roj-u k'a-n-i-pse-k the-HuM-human-accusative HuM-accusative-tall-An One makes the man taller. (the 'one' is supposed to be other than a Sky Person or an animal, but still animated) But I wonder if it is not the absolutive case that would be used if the subject of the sentence was something else than a simple 'one', or something else than a pronominal complex in the verb. I should ask my source (if 'asking' is possible). -- Christophe Grandsire Philips Research Laboratories -- Building WB 145 Prof. Holstlaan 4 5656 AA Eindhoven The Netherlands Phone: +31-40-27-45006 E-mail: