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Unilang: the Grammar

From:Oskar Gudlaugsson <hr_oskar@...>
Date:Tuesday, April 24, 2001, 12:30
I think that technically there is no such thing as "grammar", as distinct
from morphology, syntax, etc; or so I understand modern linguistic
terminology. Is grammar the total of those, excluding all phonology? In any
case, I open a "grammar" thread to discuss in entirety various things that I
don't feel to belong properly to either morphology or syntax.

Though it is important that the grammar of Unilang be "easy", it is much
more important that it be flexible, effective, and regular (though not too
artificially so; this is not to be a philosophical language). By those
qualities it would become "easy", almost by default; or at least useful,
even "powerful" (now that's a loaded term, certainly), which is ultimately
most important.

I start in the only way I know how - brainstorming:

* Parts of speech are generally flexible and often undefined,

* The various construction words have clitic versions and emphatic versions.
The clitics are essentially just monosyllabic markers of grammatical
information, such as tense, aspect, number, person, etc. The "emphatics" are
then the independent, or full, versions of those. For example, /mi/ might be
an optional marker of present tense, while, say, /'koto mi/ might mean
"now", emphatically; /hu/ might (optionally) mark the second person, and
something like /ua'hu/ be the second person proper (sort of like "toi" in
French). Note that all the forms above are just made up to give temporary
examples; no words have yet been generated.

* All clitic marking is entirely optional. If tense, person, number, etc, is
irrelevant or obvious by context, it's simply not marked.

* There is however a limited inventory of endings, that have more abstract
meanings; endings are compulsory, unlike clitics. I will detail them below.

* Two primary "verb forms": infinitive and finitive. The infinitive is
simply the naked stem and is not strictly a verb; there is not necessarily a
morphological distinction between a verbal infinitive and the noun referring
to the action itself. The infinitive represents all participles; optional
aspect marking, attached to the infinitive, will express our traditional
past participle, though perhaps in many different ways (since English ppl is
in fact a collection of conceivable aspects). It is likely that the ending
for the finitive will be /er/. The finitive form can also be used as a noun,
and is then an agent.

* Tenses are expressed by clitic forms of the adverbs "now" (present),
"before" (past), and "after" (future). They can be further augmented with a
referential "then" clitic, which makes time refer to the present of the
events in the sentence/account; to rephrase that, while a "now" is the
present of the conversation, a "then-now" is the present of the events
described in the conversation. This technically makes for six different

* There are three persons. To make a plural of the persons, a plural marker
can be added, or person clitics can be combined; thus, 1p-pl is an exclusive
"we", 1p-2p is an inclusive "we", 1p-3p is "me and him/her/it/them", etc. A
numeral may furthermore be used instead of the plural marker; e.g. 2p-2 "you
two", 3p-30 "the thirty of them".

* Numerals likewise have a clitic form and a full form; the clitics appear
in various grammatical marking, such as determiners and with pronouns.

* Gender is optionally marked by a clitic.

* Aspect is also exclusively marked by clitics, but I have not determined
the whole system of aspects. It requires careful thought and ingenuity; I
liked the Lakoff system someone presented recently.

* The order of the clitics is fixed: nouns have [determiner] - [number],
verbs have ([person] - [other person/numeral] - [gender])* - [tense] -
[verb] - [aspect], where the ( )* part is the pronominal subject item.

All right. I should go eat now... can't do conlanging all day! :)



Yoon Ha Lee <yl112@...>
dirk elzinga <dirk.elzinga@...>