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Disambiguation of argument reference

From:Tim May <butsuri@...>
Date:Wednesday, October 9, 2002, 0:36
I've been trying to reform (or perhaps more accurately "form", as it's
never really approached completion) the syntax of my conlang LC-01.
I'm considering making it VSO now, although there are still some
attractive qualities to an SOV scheme.

What I'm thinking about presently is basic argument structure, without
any complications of adjectives, adverbials or relative clauses.  With
full case marking, you might think this would be simple.  However
it's in the nature of LC-01 morphology (as I conceive of it) that any
noun can be seen as a nominalization off a verbal root, and can thus
take an array of arguments of its own.  (It's because I'm fairly
committed to a Head-Modifier NP structure that I'm thinking of VSO,
because arguments to a noun really have to be considered modifiers.)
If these're simply marked for case, ambiguity can arise as to to what
head a noun is an argument.

A number of possibilities occur to me: Inflect case tags for level of
reference, either absolutely or relative to the previous word;  or use
postpositions and place them only after the entire NP to which they
refer is completed.  These seem rather unnatural, though.  Certainly
postpositions don't co-occur with modified-modifier NPs much
naturally, and this scheme would leave the possibility of having to
end a phrase with a string of them - I'm not sure it'd even be
speakable in complex sentences.*

How does English deal with this?  Such ambiguities are possible,
things like "I want to take the one who went to the conference".  But
they don't seem to crop up much.  We don't use arguments to
nominalizations much, we relativize them instead, and make their core
arguments oblique, often with prepositions that don't make any sense
to the main verb.  Of course, if they weren't they wouldn't have any
case marking at all.

A lot can be done with mandatory marking of transitivity on heads, but
this only really helps us with core cases (and required oblique roles,
maybe**).  Likewise gender or person agreement.  Having a variety of
specialized adpositions helps too, but there will always be the
possibility of ambiguity - there are some oblique arguments (locatives
etc) which can apply to any verb, and it's possible that one of the
arguments to a verb will be a nominalization of that verb.

Well, excuse me for babbling here.  I hope I haven't said anything
hopelessly wrong-headed - just thinking out loud.  Anyone have any
thoughts on the matter?

*Something like this, with wo as an accusative postposition:
want-to-take I goer wo
             = I want to take the one who went
want-to-take I goer wo conference to
             = I want to take (the one who went) (to the conference)
want-to-take I goer conference to wo
             = I want to take (the one who went (to the conference))

** Are required prepositional arguments in English, like the
   destination of "put", considered to be core or oblique?


Dirk Elzinga <dirk_elzinga@...>