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Re: THEORY nouns and cases

From:Ray Brown <ray.brown@...>
Date:Tuesday, April 27, 2004, 5:57
On Monday, April 26, 2004, at 07:43 PM, Mark P. Line wrote:

> Ray Brown said: >> >>> It clearly has a time-distinction, but no morphologically marked >>> tense. >> >> I know of no language which has non-morphologically marked tense. That >> does not, of course, mean such a language doesn't exist, but I cannot >> comment until I know rather more about the language which is purported to >> have tense marked by variation in syntax. > > Strongly isolating languages mark tense periphrastically, obviously,
Yes - but not simply by word-order as Jo (IIRC) suggested. English has quite a few & Welsh even more such periphrastic forms.
> if > your definition of 'tense' allows for that possibility. But I'm inclined > to use the term 'tense' like you use the term 'case' and limit it to bound > morpheme classes (which are as varied as any other bound morphemes in the > world's languages -- phoneme segments, morphophoneme segments, > morphotonemes, word prosody morphophonemes, etc.).
It would be useful if thus could be the case, but the term tense is habitually used somewhat loosely to cover a variety of forms that have some time reference (and, more often than not, aspectual reference also). So it becomes necessary in practice, if one wants to be unambiguous, to say things like 'English has only two synthetic tenses (I come ~ I came: non-past ~ past)' as opposed to 'analytic' or 'periphrastic' "tenses". Indeed, extending the term 'tense' and perpetuating terms applicable to bound morpheme classes of another language often IMO falsifies the structure of a language. E.g. calling forms like 'I shall go' or 'I will go' "the future tense" obscures the fact that these are formed with _modal_ verbs, shall~should, will~would, in the same way as forms with can~ could, may~might. We'd not say that, e.g. 'I can go' is *"the potential tense". It's evident that PIE had no future tenses, nor did pre-Classical Greek. The latter used the subjunctive mood when necessary. Indeed, the future tense of Classical Greek (which, interestingly, does not survive in modern Greek) was derived from older aorist subjunctive forms. It's not exactly unknown among natlangs that futurity is seen as less certain that present and past and is expressed modally. So why disguise the fact in English?
> Figuring out how > different languages can encode concepts of *time* is a whole 'nother can > o' worms,
It certainly is!
> and tense is only a small part of that even in languages that do > have tense in the strict surface-morphology sense.
Quite so - both mood & aspect get mixed up in English surface structures.
> >> Is there any natlang where noun phrases occur but no actual nouns? > > I don't think Malay/Indonesian has any open classes that can reasonably be > called 'noun', 'verb' or any of the other open-class metaconcepts we've > inherited from Latin philology. From what I've been able to gather, this > is true of all Austronesian languages that are as isolating as Malay. It > makes them easy to learn but very hard to describe (when all you have is > dusted-off Latin philology to go by...).
Yep - you may well be right. Which is why I think creating auxlangs that explicitly mark Latinate parts-of-speech are not being universal in outlook. But that's another can o'worms ;)
> >> Good - I still have this hangover from my few years on a certain other >> list where suspicion was rife and flames frequent. > > Oh, surely that improved a lot after *I* left that list.......
Not one bit!! You missed the internecine strife between the differing 'schools' of would-be Novial revivalists. That's when I quit.
> >> I agree that wo3 is the subject, ni3 is the indirect object and that shu1 >> is the direct object. I disagree strongly that Chinese possesses a >> nominative, dative and accusative cases which all happen to have the same >> morphological form. > > "Case" is simply not a useful term for that language unless you're very > clear that you're talking about a semantic category in your particular > brand of theory and not a morphological surface category.
I agree - indeed, I think that unless it _clearly_ relates to a semantic category in GB or some similar theory, it is not only unhelpful but is misleading.
> When not > associated with a particular theory that defines the term "case" a certain > way, the term should always be taken to refer to surface morphology (as in > Trask's first definition).
Yes, because that is the way it will generally be understood.
> >>> But ok, maybe the difference between case, prepositional phrases and >>> verb+noun phrases is vague. Or is it not? >> >> Not the way I use case. > > Right. Case is just one way of marking (part of) the relationship between > a noun group and the verbal nucleus of a clause; prepositions and word > order are other ways. Case is case, prepositions are prepositions, and > word order is word order. They all help to solve similar problems, and > it's fun and interesting to compare languages in that way.
Yes it is - the same with other aspects of language (like tense, mood, aspect e.g.), it's interesting & fun comparing the many different ways natlangs actually do solve these various problems (rather than trying to pretend all languages are really doing the same thing). [snip]
> >>> What about languages with only one lexical class like Nootka? >> >> I confess I know practically nothing about Nootka. I cannot comment on >> your questions without at least some knowledge of the language & it would >> be helpful to see different descriptions of it. To my skeptical mind, I >> just wonder if the 'one class' will prove to be as elusive as the 'one >> vowel' (or no vowel) claimed for some natlangs. >> >> [snip - because without a proper description of Nootka, I cannot usefully >> reply] > > I don't believe Nootka has only one lexical class; I believe that its > lexical classes simply fail to map onto our usual IE categories of nouns > and verbs and such.
I did a bit of Google search today (in time available) but didn't discover as much about Nootka as I'd like. Only that: - the language is better called 'Nuuchahnulth' - it belongs to the southern branch of the Wakashan languages - it's got an interesting phonology (which I won't detail here) - the Wkashan languages show extensive suffixation; reduplication & infixation are also found, but prefixation is rare or unattested - there are rich sets of lexical suffixes - the Wakashan languages are generally predicate-initial - most roots can function as predicates or arguments (Hey! it reminds me of Prolog :) But I found no reference anywhere to Nuuchahnulth's having only one lexical class. I can well believe, however, that Wakashan lexical classes, like Austronesian lexical classes, do not map onto the usual IE categories. Indeed, why should they? It's these differences that make the study of natlangs so interesting. Ray =============================================== (home) (work) =============================================== "A mind which thinks at its own expense will always interfere with language." J.G. Hamann, 1760