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Telpahke Scratchpad: Alignment - what the hell have I done?
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Author:  Dewrad [ Sat Dec 09, 2017 11:32 am ]
Post subject:  Telpahke Scratchpad: Alignment - what the hell have I done?

I've been working on a language called Telpahke, which has some weird stuff going on with its morphosyntactic alignment. I'm pleased with the resulting system, but I'm having difficulty in analysing what I've come up with here and giving names to the relevant cases and voices.

The noun has three cases which, in order not to prejudice any specific analysis, we'll give the placeholder names Case 1, Case 2 and Case 3. Similarly, the verb distinguishes two voices, which we'll imaginatively call Voice 1 and Voice 2.

So the cases and their functions:

Case 1 (examples: siǝl 'woman', mɛs 'fish (pl.)', sat 'fire') is the least marked of the three. It is used for copular sentences, the only argument of an intransitive verb, and the most "prominent" or "topic-like" argument of a transitive verb. It is also the argument in this case with which the verb exhibits concord.

Case 2 (examples: selé 'woman', masé 'fish (pl.)', sɔtɛ́ 'fire') is used for the most patient-like argument of a transitive verb in Voice 1, to mark the possessor in a genitive construction (e.g. selé mɛs 'the woman's fish') and as the object of a postposition (e.g. sɔtɛ́ he 'inside the fire').

Case 3 (examples: síǝleθ 'woman', mɛ́seθ 'fish (pl.)', sátaθ 'fire') is the most restricted of the three cases. It is only used to mark the most agent-like argument of a transitive verb in Voice 2.

So, with the verbs it gets a bit weird. With transitive verbs, the key point is which of the core arguments is more prominent or topic-like, and this determines which voice is used. For example, in the following sentence the woman is the most prominent argument:


The woman is cooking the fish. (perhaps in answer to the question "who's cooking the goddamn fish tonight?")

While in this sentence, the fish is the most prominent argument:


The woman is cooking the fish. (answering "what the hell is the woman cooking tonight?")

Moving on to intransitive verbs, the selection of which voice is dependent not on prominence.

Semantically transitive verbs used with only one argument (like English ergative verbs, I guess?) take Voice 1 when the agent is the only argument, but Voice 2 when the patient is the only argument:


The woman is cooking. (obviously, she's doing it on purpose.)


The fish is cooking. (it doesn't have much choice in the matter)

However, semantically intransitive verbs can either take Voice 1 or Voice 2 dependent on how much "control" or volition the only argument has over the action:


The woman runs.


The woman sleeps.

By and large, this is lexically determined; changing the voice here is not a strategy for speakers to indicate whether something was on purpose or not:


The woman falls. (by accident)


*The woman falls. (on purpose)

Now, the thing is: I don't know how the hell to fit all this into a neat box, or name the categories. Transitive verbs seem to have something Austronesian-like going on, while intransitive verbs look like some kind of active-stative setup. What the hell have I created here?

Author:  Salmoneus [ Sat Dec 09, 2017 12:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Telpahke Scratchpad: Alignment - what the hell have I do

Well done; you have independently recreated Austronesia!

Author:  Dewrad [ Sat Dec 09, 2017 12:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Telpahke Scratchpad: Alignment - what the hell have I do

I was aiming for the Indian subcontinent! :x

But yeah, transitive verbs- it's basically Austronesian-lite without instrumental or benefactive voices. It's the intransitive verbs that make the classification as "Austronesian" more of a difficulty.

Author:  Salmoneus [ Sat Dec 09, 2017 12:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Telpahke Scratchpad: Alignment - what the hell have I do


Author:  Salmoneus [ Sat Dec 09, 2017 2:59 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Telpahke Scratchpad: Alignment - what the hell have I do

Right, a couple of things....


- Austronesian vs Philippine - what conlangers typically talk of as "Austronesian alignment" is actually more precisely known as Philippine-type alignment. Philippine alignment, as the name suggests, is found primarily in the Philippines, and some parts of northern Indonesia - and I think some Formosan languages, and arguably Malagasy. The core of Philippine aligment is that there are multiple non-agent voices (or 'focuses') - originally probably three - patient, location, and instrumental/benefactive. Some people add arbitrary additional restrictions to exclude languages like Malagasy.

But most Austronesian languages don't work that way. In particular, many Austronesian languages are (morphologically and syntactically) 'symmetric voice' languages, like Philippine languages, but, like Telpahke, have only two such voices, rather than four or more. Telpahke is thus, in this regard, broadly speaking an 'Indonesian-type' symmetric voice language.



- the really weird thing in my opinion is actually the genitive. In Austronesian, and I believe worldwide, it's very common for the ergative (Case 3) to also be used as a genitive. You instead use the accusative (Case 2) as a genitive, which to me seems really... odd. Is there a particularly reason for this? [is it perhaps a relic of the accusative being used after prepositions, and the preposition of possession has just dropped out somehow?] Is it something to do with a partitive, maybe?


- your "prominent argument" also seems strange to me - you use "topic-like" as a synonym, but in your examples you appear to instead be identifying it with focus, not topic. The topic is old information, not emphasised new information.

For instance, in Austronesian it's common to have a rule saying that only definite nouns can be the subject. This makes sense if you treat the 'subject' as topic-like - topics naturally have to be definite (or something similar), and definite nouns are already somewhat topic-like. But in you example of the answer to "what the hell is the woman cooking?", there's no need for the answer to be definite. Often, it won't be - what the hell is she cooking? Fish is what she's cooking. 'Fish' here is not a topic, and in Austronesian alignments it can't be the subject, but in Telpahke it can be. (Notice that in English, it's more natural to keep 'fish' as the object there (fish is what she's cooking) than to promote it to subject through passivisation (fish is being cooked, fish is what's being cooked) - again because it's a focus, not a topic).
[A question that would provoke a topical 'fish' would be something like "Tell me about the fish?" or "What's happening with the fish" (answer: "It's being cooked (by the woman)" - promoted to subject in English precisely because it's the topic). ]

At least, so I understand it. I don't natively speak a topic-prominent language myself. But it does look like yours is focus-prominent instead, which is indeed very unusual. (does it ever happen?)
[Austronesianists sometimes use "focus" to mean "voice", but that's unrelated]

- split-intransitive: natural enough in Austronesian. People seem reluctant to discuss it openly (because the transitive alignment is much more exciting), but I get the impression that it's not uncommon - transitivity being such a big issue in the family. Himmelmann gives the example of Balinese, which splits its intransitives through voice marking on the verb much like its transitives (with the exception that one of the voices on intransitives doesn't appear on transitives), and of Acehnese, which apparently deals with voice on intransitives exactly as with transitives, and specifically splits its intransitives by the level of control (though the marking is done by having obligatory verbal pre-clitics with agent-like intransitives, and optional post-clitics with patient-like intransitives).

[my own Rawàng Ata, incidentally, works like this fundamentally, though there are also complications]


- have you given any thought to how you will handle dyadic intransitives? Are they like normal transitives, or perhaps like passive intransitives? Are you sure all your 'transitives' are actually transitive (because that could motivated voice changes)? Or are some of your intransitives actually transitives with elided arguments?

Author:  gach [ Sun Dec 10, 2017 11:21 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Telpahke Scratchpad: Alignment - what the hell have I do


Author:  Vijay [ Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Telpahke Scratchpad: Alignment - what the hell have I do


Author:  Soap [ Sun Dec 10, 2017 2:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Telpahke Scratchpad: Alignment - what the hell have I do

Genitive as patient is typologically unusual,yes, as though it had evolved from a verb meaning "of, to belong" which later disappeared. Not impossible but rarer than it's opposite afaik.

Author:  Vijay [ Sun Dec 10, 2017 2:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Telpahke Scratchpad: Alignment - what the hell have I do

Slavic languages have something kind of like that.

Author:  Dewrad [ Mon Dec 11, 2017 12:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Telpahke Scratchpad: Alignment - what the hell have I do


Author:  Vijay [ Mon Dec 11, 2017 12:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Telpahke Scratchpad: Alignment - what the hell have I do


Author:  Dewrad [ Mon Dec 11, 2017 1:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Telpahke Scratchpad: Alignment - what the hell have I do


Author:  Vijay [ Mon Dec 11, 2017 1:23 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Telpahke Scratchpad: Alignment - what the hell have I do

Yep, mačho is the cognate in Romani AFAIK to [mat͡ʃʰ]/[mas] (perhaps more commonly [mət͡ʃʰˈli] in Hindi, though Hindi does also have [mat͡ʃʰ]). :)

Author:  Salmoneus [ Mon Dec 11, 2017 3:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Telpahke Scratchpad: Alignment - what the hell have I do


Author:  gach [ Tue Dec 12, 2017 2:55 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Telpahke Scratchpad: Alignment - what the hell have I do


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