Saturday, July 31, 2010

Alignment in Unnai

I sometimes wonder on how to break the routine (which I sometimes really enjoy) of picking a morphosyntactic alignment although you have many options, it all comes down to three main alingments which can be further divided into varieties and variations. You can have a Nominative-Accusative language which typically marks only the accusative, but could mark the nominative just as well, you have the Ergative-Absolutive which typically marks only the ergative, but marking the absolutive is not unheard of, or a Tripartite which marks all arguments.

There are some catches, though, and commonly there is no completely Erg-abs language. In fact Erg-abs marks the Subject of intransitive as objects of transitive, but Nom-acc does not mark Subjects of intransitive as Objects of transitive verbs. Or even sometimes an Erg-abs marks objects of transitive verbs different from Subjects of intransitive ones, the case of Basque. So you have these two types (plus their counter-versions) and the Tripartite (to mark them all), although I must say this is if you want to keep it reasonably simple.

I wanted to make something different for one of my languages, which I’m calling Unnai for now. In this language nouns are invariable for case, but the verb is conjugated according to the morphosyntactic alignment you chose to follow.

ölön to hear

ölögno Nom-acc intrasitive or omiting object of transitive
ölöngon Nom-acc transitive
ölöjnen Abs-erg transitive or omiting subject of transitive

Of course you have to use the pronouns accordingly. And depending on the verb alignment then can shift places without changing their meaning.

ölöngon shag ghal I hear you
ɛlˈɛngon ʃag ɣal

ölöjnen ghal shag I hear you
ɛlˈɛd͡ʒnen ɣal ʃag

It is noteworthy to mention that both sentences mean the same, although Unnai has no passive voice. In those cases where passive voice would be used Unnai uses the second construction to express it, since you can leave aside the subject of the verb ölöjnen ghal would mean “(someone) hears you” or, what’s the same, “you are heard (by someone)”. So adding the subject here would be pretty equivalent to adding the agent in a passive construction.

Friday, July 30, 2010

About Castilian

While I was having a coffee with my family in the rotating café in New York one guy asked us if we were from Spain. I told him we were from Argentina, and he commented 'but you speak Spanish... or Castilian' like hinting it was the correct form of the name. I answered 'yes, it's the same' to which he responded he thought we called latinamerican Spanish Castilian rather than Spanish. The concept took me by surprise, but the most astounding fact was that many people in Latinamerica actually think this. They think Castilian is a term used just for Latinamerica.

This is not so.

Actually there is no real 'Spanish' as such, if you take that to mean that all of the Kingdom of Spain has actually only one language, which is not so. When the kings of Castile unified the whole country under one ruling house they established the speech of the kingdom's capital as the standard for the kingdom's language, which happened to be the Castilian variety of Romance. This is the language the spanish brought with them to America, and it is the language spoken in most of the continent, with a great number of variants.

Spaniard Spanish is no less Castilian than American Spanish. If you take 'Spanish' to mean 'the official language of Spain', but actually Spain has many languages, most of them romance (Catalan, Galician, Aragonese, Leonese, and many more) or even isolates (Basque, and many different dialects and variants).

So at best you can either call Castilian to all forms of the Spanish which is official in Spain and used in all Hispano-american countries or call Spanish to all of its forms.

But the error does exist even in native speakers in the american continent. Another example of how Spanish tends to categorize and split and assign concrete meanings to all its words trying to turn all synonyms into different words for different concepts.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Random ideas for a conlang

As I was walking home from my university I started thinking about conlangs, as I usually do. I find the way home very inspiring. I was remembering my first attempts at cracking Japanese, when I only had a japanese video-game and a kana chart. I was thinking about the copulative, which really got my attention back then. The copula can change depending on register, from です to だ, without mentioning the expletives and emphasizers.

I rekindled one idea I used to have. In japanese you can say スタンドだ (sutando da), which means "it is a Stand" or "A Stand!" (this is due to the game in question being Jojo's Bizarre Adventure). But you can also say 美味しいです (oishii desu) "it is tasty" or "this is good!" depending on context. So you have in the first case a noun and in the second an adjective, so I started to think... how about a conlang with a copulative particle which changed depending wether it is a noun or adjective or whatever.

So for instance, you could have something like... unil da, "(it) is love", but you could have mundo ki "(this) is old". So the copula could act as both a copulative and also a word classifier. Maybe you could even make the words flexible enough for them to mean unil ki "this is loveable" and mundo da "it's an old thing". Now that I think about it, it'd be as if you were to take the suffixes in Esperanto as separate particles... libr o "book" and libr a "book-like". But also mixed with a little Japanese :p

Of course I'm not saying I would use this very words or particles as they appear here, just testing the idea with some sounds to see how could it work, so this is not purely theoretical. Well, this was my idea for a conlang I had yesterday, just another idea...