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 Post subject: Instead of definiteness
PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2011 8:24 am 
Avisaru
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My conlang has definite/indefinite distinctions pretty much like English, and I'm not sure it's the best choice. So I'm wondering about other ways of going about such things.

Actually, my system is slightly different, in that the definite form is the default, so you would say "he studies the chemistry" or "she likes the politics". But apart from that it's basically the same.

What do other natlangs and conlangs do?

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2011 8:47 am 
Avisaru
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Japanese has no definiteness marking. It does have a contrast between topic <wa> and subject <ga>; the topic acts a little like "the" -- as in "you know the one" -- and the subject acts a little like "a" -- as in "there's a new thing to talk about." This is glossing over a lot of the details though.

My conlang just ignores the definiteness issue, much like Latin did.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2011 8:53 am 
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Poswa and Pabappa use the dictionary form as the indefinite when it's being brought up for the first time in a conversation. So Sopsa pižap pelpelbi "a cat pounced on a mouse". But then if you use either of those nouns in the next sentence, the listener assumes that you're talking about the same cat and mouse, which English would translate by using 'the', and if you want to talk about a new cat or new mouse you have to add a suffix (usually -bba). I imagine that the speakers of Poswa and Pabappa would not see this as a "switch" system, and would think that English's system is as odd as ours seems to them.

I dont know if any natlangs do it this way.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2011 9:40 am 
Sumerul
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hito wrote:
Japanese has no definiteness marking. It does have a contrast between topic <wa> and subject <ga>; the topic acts a little like "the" -- as in "you know the one" -- and the subject acts a little like "a" -- as in "there's a new thing to talk about." This is glossing over a lot of the details though.

I have heard it said that having a topic-prominent language rather negates the need for definiteness marking.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2011 10:24 am 
Avisaru
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Spanish has four definite and four indefinite articles, and I think they are used pretty much like in English. Each article is masculine/feminine, singular/plural, definite/indefinite - and you have 8 articles.

Hebrew and Arabic only have one definite article, and no indefinite. So instead of saying "a cat is eating fish" you say "cat is eating fish". Other than that, this system works like English, too.

Also, like hito said, Latin and Russian don't have articles at all. I don't no exactly how things are said in those languages (and I'm pretty sure it is different in each one), but they seem to handle things well without articles.

As for conlangs: most of my conlangs only have one definite articles, like Hebrew and Arabic, and work in a similar fashion. One of my conlangs has three articles: a singular indefinite, a plural indefinite and a definite. They work like in English, only the plural indefinite is used when there is plurality. I never really thought about definiteness, so my conlangs aren't special in this field.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2011 11:38 am 
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Tuung (TӀyyӈ) verbs tell you their definiteness. So do adjectives.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2011 12:08 pm 
Sumerul
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Mr. Z wrote:
Hebrew and Arabic only have one definite article, and no indefinite. So instead of saying "a cat is eating fish" you say "cat is eating fish". Other than that, this system works like English, too.
Not quite like English. If you have an adjective with a definite noun, the article is prefixed to both the noun and the adjective(s):

ילד קטן > הילד הקטן
/jeled katan/ > /hajeled hakatan/
a small boy > the small boy

Also, you'd put it with abstract nouns, such as "love", "friendship", "childhood", etc.


Lakota has three indefinite articles: waŋ, waŋží, and waŋžíni.

Waŋ is used for indefinite but specific, real, existing things, for example:

Míla waŋ olé.
knife a look.for
He's looking for a (certain) knife.

Waŋží is used for indefinite, hypothetical, non-specific, irrealis things:

Míla waŋží olé.
knife a look.for
He's looking for a/any knife.

Waŋžíni is used in negative sentences:

Míla waŋžíni olé šni.
knife a look.for not
He's not looking for a knife.

The word tákuni nothing is used in negative sentences in place of waŋžíni when the negative topic is an abstract noun:

Wówičala tákuni yuhápi šni.
fate nothing they.have not
They have no fate.

Plural topics have a completely different set of indefinite articles, which correspond to the singular articles:

waŋ > eyá
waŋží > etáŋ
waŋžíni > tuwéni, tákuni, etáŋni

Míla eyá bluhá.
knife some I.have
I have some (particular, real) knives.

Míla etáŋ luhá he?
knife some you.have Q
Do you have some (any) knives?

Tuwéni nobody is used with a negative animate human topic:

Wičháša tuwéni waŋwíčhablake šni.
man nobody I.saw.them.ANI not
I did not see any men.

Tákuni nothing is used with negative animate non-human topics, with negative inanimate topics, and with negative uncountable topics:

Šúŋka tákuni waŋwíčhablake šni.
dog nothing I.saw.them.ANI not
I did not see any dogs.

Míla tákuni waŋbláke šni.
knife nothing I.saw.them.INAN not
I did not see any knives.

Tȟaló tákuni bluhá šni.
meat nothing I.have not
I do not have any meat.

Etáŋni none is only used by some elderly speakers for negative uncountable topics:

Tȟaló etáŋni bluhá šni.
meat none I.have not
I do not have any meat.


As for definite articles, kiŋ is the plain article, which always occurs with definite nouns:

thípi mitȟáwa kiŋ
house my the
my house

aŋpétu kiŋ lé
day the this
today

The article k'uŋ is always anaphoric, referring back to something previously mentioned or understood:

Šúŋka k'uŋ lé é.
dog the this is.the.one
This is the dog (we were talking about).


There is also the relativizing article čha:

Hokšíla čha héčhuŋ.
boy REL do.that
It was a boy who did that.

… and the unknown-topic article héči:

Táku héči waŋbláke šni.
what unknown.topic I.see not
I do not see what it is.


In conlangs, Sordóivi (as it currently stands (I'm revising it slowly)) has the indefinite construction as the default (and the indefinite is not the same as the zero-forms).


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2011 12:55 pm 
Avisaru
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Some East Asian languages use demonstratives or measure words to express the equivalent of definiteness or indefiniteness. In Vietnamese, for instance, instead of saying "a cat", you'd say something that's sort of like "creature cat". English has these kinds of measure words too, for usage with generally numerals or with certain words, like "two head of cattle" or "five thousand cups of coffee", but English's usage of it is more limited to certain situations and words. Even the situations with languages that have it, are, obviously, not applicable in all situations and words.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2011 2:15 pm 
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Depending on version of my conlang, some versions have a three-way distinction between definite, indefinite, and generic, and some other versions have a binary distinction between generic and non-generic.

Indefinite is unmarked, it's marked just by the absence of definite or generic marking. If the language doesn't distinguish between definite and indefinite, then non-generic is unmarked.

Definite means that the speaker expects the addressee(s) to be able to identify the referent(s) of the noun phrase just by the information given. Even pronouns and proper nouns are marked for definiteness, thus the equivalent to "the this" and "the John".

Generic means that it isn't a specific referent that the speaker has in mind. Like if you want to say "Birds can fly." then it isn't a specific group of birds you mean, just birds in general. It may not be true for all birds, but it's a generic statement. A generic noun isn't marked for number, so "bird" in "Birds can fly." isn't plural in my conlang, just generic.


My conlang has both a distance neutral demonstrative (together with other demonstratives, there are ten demonstratives total) as well as an ability to turn the third person pronoun "he/she/it" into an adjective. They could both approximate the definite article if the language doesn't have any definite article.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2011 8:51 pm 
Avisaru
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The thing about "any knife" vs. "a particular knife" is pretty clever.

My conlang has, apart from the ordinary definite and indefinite, also "some" and "any" which also come in both plural and singular forms. Maybe this is redundant, and I could let the "some" and "any" replace the indefinite? So, there's "some(one) knife" = a particular one, "any(one) knife" = any knife, and "the knife" = a knife we have already talked about.

As for the east Asian classifiers, I don't see how they're connected to definiteness. So if "a cat" becomes "creature cat", how would you say "the cat"?

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2011 11:04 pm 
Avisaru
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Chuma wrote:
As for the east Asian classifiers, I don't see how they're connected to definiteness. So if "a cat" becomes "creature cat", how would you say "the cat"?


As I said, you can also use demonstratives too, i.e. in Vietnamese it would be "creature cat this" or "creature cat that".

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 19, 2011 4:01 am 
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Chuma wrote:
As for the east Asian classifiers, I don't see how they're connected to definiteness. So if "a cat" becomes "creature cat", how would you say "the cat"?

They're not, as far as I know. If you were to compare them to anything common in European languages, it would be gender.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 20, 2011 3:40 pm 
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My language uses a definitiveness and indefinite but they are mixed with the system of "this/that" more and unmarked if not present XD


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 20, 2011 7:36 pm 
Avisaru
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Batabi has a definite article which marks old information. New information - i.e. indefinite nouns - is brought to the front of the clause and adverbials are turned into core arguments by the use of an applicative:

sul-a i-Yúunu i-gā-a ngá=ñu-fàn-ər ñe
stone-ACC DEF-John.NOM DEF-man.ACC INF=round-hit-INST finish
John must have hit her with a stone!

Definiteness is also tied into deixis is tied into directional preverbs, in that there is a distinction between the preverbs and ya, which indicate movement towards and away from (or alternatively, near to and far from) the deictic centre. Definites have a strong tendency to be considered closer to the deictic centre - somewhat like 'and so, this man was talking to me' in English - so may be used for definite objects (or sometimes other syntactic roles) and ya for indefinites.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 20, 2011 7:52 pm 
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My conlang Imuthan has three indefinite articles. A zero article means any, 'sô' means some or which in interrogative sentences, 'tô' means a certain or a specific. The definite article is 'ê'. All/both 'ļa' and no 'gô' are treated like the articles.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 21, 2011 6:37 pm 
Avisaru
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1. cat the
2. a cat the
3. cat a

1 being for a specific cat, 2 optionally used to introduce that cat, and 3 for a non-specific cat (and not switching to 1 or 2 after the introduction).

^That's what my conlang does.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 21, 2011 10:55 pm 
Avisaru
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cybrxkhan wrote:
Chuma wrote:
As for the east Asian classifiers, I don't see how they're connected to definiteness. So if "a cat" becomes "creature cat", how would you say "the cat"?


As I said, you can also use demonstratives too, i.e. in Vietnamese it would be "creature cat this" or "creature cat that".


This is similar to Chinese. Occasionally, something can be marked with a measure word in the same way you would use an indefinite article. (ex. 他有只狗 / "He has a dog" lit. "He have MEAS* dog"), but it's generally implied that there is an elided 一 ("one") in there. In writing, 此 can be used on its own as a definite article of sorts, but in limited contexts (此 is technically an archaic demonstrative ["this"] that doesn't require a measure word the way most demonstratives do. This is probably why it's only seen in writing, as measure words evolved to disambiguate homophones.)

* Meanings of some measure words are fairly bleached. 只 is a common measure word for a variety of animals: dogs, sheep, cats -- but I don't know if it really means much. The only standalone meaning I know for it is "only", which doesn't fit this context.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 22, 2011 6:04 pm 
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Old Gzho makes a distinction that mostly corresponds to definiteness. Generally, new information goes after the verb, and old information (the 'topic') before it. "Old" information usually means something which has been mentioned in the current conversation. An NP normally goes in "indefinite" position the first time it's mentioned, even it's understood from context.

Ivir gæðes
see.1PS person.ACC
"I see a man/person"

Gæðes ivir
person.ACC see.1PS
"I see the man/person"

* This sentence could also be glossed as "The man, I see (him)". A true cleft construction (gæðes, lis ivir, or gæð, lis ivir) is also possible, but not really necessary.

Things which are unique (e.g. "the sun") normally follow this rule, but may vary, especially in set phrases.

Plawhev emgainhyu
sun rise.3PS
"The sun rises" = "Good morning"

-----

Victot li Rhák marks nouns for specificity. I'm not sure how to describe it, but basically a noun is specific if it refers to a ... specific / particular thing. The difference between this and (in)definiteness is that the listener is not necessarily expected to know which thing is being referred to. You could say that, if a noun is specific, the speaker knows which thing it refers to, but the listener may or may not.

Lóm bocos nér
"I'm looking for a (particular) woman"

Lóm-il bocos nér
"I'm looking for a woman (any woman will do)"

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 22, 2011 6:33 pm 
Avisaru
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Chuma wrote:
My conlang has definite/indefinite distinctions pretty much like English, and I'm not sure it's the best choice. So I'm wondering about other ways of going about such things.
Actually, my system is slightly different, in that the definite form is the default, so you would say "he studies the chemistry" or "she likes the politics". But apart from that it's basically the same.
What do other natlangs and conlangs do?


AIUI some natlangs, Turkish among them, mark specificity/referentiality instead of definiteness.

I don't recall hearing of any natlangs that mark the definite one way and the specific but indefinite another way.

If the definite is marked there may be no need to mark the indefinite; if the specific/referential is marked there may be no need to mark the non-specific/non-referential.

Some natlangs mark the definite but not the indefinite.

I don't know whether any natlangs mark both the specific and the non-specific, nor whether any mark the specific but don't mark the non-specific. I would not be surprised if there were both.

"Specific/referential" is a pragmatic status. A use of a noun-phrase is a specific/referential use if the speaker has a specific referent (or some specific referents) in mind.

"Definite" is also a pragmatic status. A use of a noun-phrase is a definite use if, not only is it specific and referential, but also the speaker reasonably expects the addressee to know which referent(s) the speaker is specifying.

Thus the contrasts "'definite' vs 'indefinite'" and "'specific/referential' vs 'nonspecific/nonreferential'" exist in every natlang; but in any given natlang neither contrast might be marked.

Definite articles tend to derive etymologically and diachronically from demonstratives. You could use demonstratives instead of definite articles. Or you could have all your noun-phrases default to definite unless otherwise marked.

Indefinite articles tend to derive etymologically and diachronically from the numeral "one". You could use the numeral "one" instead of indefinite articles. Or you could have all your noun-phrases default to indefinite unless otherwise marked.

The same could be done using the specific-vs-nonspecific contrast instead of the definite-vs-indefinite contrast, though I'm not sure what you could use instead of either a "specific article" or a "nonspecific article" or both.

Or, you could use "this" or "that" for definite, "one" for specific but indefinite, and nothing for nonspecific.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 22, 2011 7:04 pm 
Sumerul
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TomHChappell wrote:
I don't recall hearing of any natlangs that mark the definite one way and the specific but indefinite another way.
You clearly didn't read my post. :P In Lakota, the definite article is kiŋ, and the indefinite specific article is waŋ (contrasting with the indefinite non-specific article waŋží (which is incidentally the word for one)).


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 22, 2011 7:21 pm 
Avisaru
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Astraios wrote:
TomHChappell wrote:
I don't recall hearing of any natlangs that mark the definite one way and the specific but indefinite another way.
You clearly didn't read my post. :P In Lakota, the definite article is kiŋ, and the indefinite specific article is waŋ (contrasting with the indefinite non-specific article waŋží (which is incidentally the word for one)).

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