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We puzzle through the very difficult and complex subject of thematic roles and role marking, and then review the awesomely complicated Okuna.

Top of Show Greeting: Standard Telèmor

Links and Resources:

Featured Conlang: Okuna (formerly known as Tokana)
An excerpt from the grammar:
Compare also the following examples. In (4.45) and (4.46), the event of writing ends once the letter is
nished; hence kihun `letter’ is the delimiter, and takes the dative case. Example (4.46) also includes a
non-case-marked noun phrase, es luom `an hour’, which measures the amount of time from the beginning
of the event to the endpoint. In (4.47), the temporal measure phrase itself delimits the event: that is, the
event is over once one hour has elapsed, not once the letter is nished. Since the measure phrase identies
the endpoint, it appears in the dative case, while kihun, no longer construed as a delimiter, is treated as the
theme argument and takes the nominative instead.
(4.45) Sakialma kihoin siehpyi
Sakial.NOM letter.DAT write.PV
`Sakial wrote the letter’
(4.46) Sakialma kihoin es luom siehpyi
Sakial.ERG letter.DAT one hour write.PV
`Sakial wrote the letter in an hour’
(4.47) Sakialma kihune es luoim siehpyi
Sakial.ERG letter.NOM one hour.DAT write.PV
`Sakial worked on the letter for an hour

13 Responses to “Conlangery #19: Role-Marking”

  1. Anthony Docimo

    My apologies for not sending a reply sooner. I always intend to, but circumstances conspire against.

    In particular, thank you for that very helpful triune set about TAM, as it’s helping me with my latest conlang project (which, hopefully and with the aid of these podcasts, shall survive longer than my other attempts at conlanging)

    Until I heard the TAM, I don’t think I realized that any of you were fellow Marylanders.

    I always enjoy listening to the podcasts.

    Have nice days and be well, hons.

    -Anthony, aka Rodlox.

    • Ossicone

      Of the hosts, only I’m from Maryland. But there are quite a few Marylanders on the forums (CBB & ZBB).

    • admin

      You know, though Ossicone/Bianca has unfortunately moved out of the area, it seem that there are enough people in this general region that we could actually do sort of a meetup. Well, with me at least, William being quite far away as well.

      • Anthony Docimo

        Sadly, I no longer live in Maryland. (NC now)

        I wasn’t as interested in conlanging when I lived in MD (just natlangs – i hadn’t yet hit on the idea of using conlanging to advance my understanding of natlangs)

  2. David J. Peterson

    English has 11 basic color terms. I think you may be getting confused about what “basic color term” means. A basic color term is a color term that can’t be explained in terms of other color terms. So in English, you can’t describe “pink” as “light red” or “whitish red”, or anything. That’s how we know “pink” is a basic color term. The largest number of basic color terms is 12 (Russian and Hungarian, which have different basic terms for what we’d call “light blue” and “dark blue”). “Basic color term” does not mean “not produced from derivational morphology”. “Orange” is a basic color term even though it’s a borrowing; “puce” is not a basic color term even though it’s pretty cohesive. See this description for more.

    • admin

      Oh, so you listened. I understand. I just happen to hate the color orange, it annoys me. I shouldn’t let that affect linguistic analysis, though. Now, as far as conlanging: None of my conlangs will ever have a basic color term for “orange”. Judging from the chart, that is quite a natural thing for a language to lack.

  3. RandomDutchman

    When you list common word orders you’re actually missing one of the biggest.
    Most Germanic languages have an order where the verbal phrase ends the clause, except that the main clause gets marked as such by moving the verb form inflected for person (but nothing else) to the second or first position in a sentence.
    So for example, in Dutch you could have the following subordinate clause:
    … dat ik je broer een boek gegeven heb … (… that I’ve given your brother a book …)
    Dutch has some restrictions on the word order, but it need not be SOV. German is even freer, possibly due to case:
    … dass deinem Freund das Buch gefallen hat … (… that to your friend the book has appealed … => … that your friend likes the book … => Ind.Obj.-Subj.-Verbs)
    To turn this into a standalone sentence, you do this: (Dutch again.)
    ‘Je broer heb ik een boek gegeven.’ (To your brother I’ve given a book.)
    Note that ‘heb’ is in the second place, but apart from that, word order can be, and often is, all over the place, even in Dutch where only pronouns have cases. The difference is marked by tone, grammatical case (especially in German), or not at all, in which case you’ll need to rely on context.
    Note also that ‘gegeven’ is still at the end. This doesn’t just apply to verbs, but to any word that’s part of the verb phrase. Consider:
    ‘De schil van deze vrucht eet men niet.’ (One doesn’t eat the peal of this fruit.)
    Here ‘niet’ means ‘not’ and it applies to ‘eet’ (eat).
    ‘Vergeet je je sleutels niet?’ (Are you not forgetting your keys? => Don’t forget your keys!)
    Here ‘niet’ applies to ‘vergeet’ (forget). To a native speaker this makes instant sense; if it doesn’t make sense to you, maybe it’ll help to look at this sentence:
    ‘Let op dat je je sleutels niet vergeet.’ (Take care that you don’t forget your keys.)
    Aha, ‘niet’ was in ‘secretly’ (not so secret to a native speaker) in front of ‘vergeet’ all along.
    Languages like this are called V2 languages, and not mentioning them was especially jarring considering that English, the language of the podcast, still contains traces of V2.

    • admin

      Yes, V2 is an interesting phenomenon, although my understanding is that the basic word order (for sentences without an auxiliary verb) is SVO in these languages (maybe SOV in some?). Also, I’m not familiar with any examples of V2 word order outside the Germanic family, though if you know any, let me know.

      I’d be interested to hear what “traces of V2” are in English. I have never heard of that before. Can you give some examples?

      • RandomDutchman

        In V2 languages, sentences without an auxiliary verb don’t use the basic word order, that’s kind of the point. And as I said, it’s kind of easy to see that in Dutch (or German, or Danish, …) SVO is not the basic word order, because if you assume that it is, you hit upon so many inconsistencies and so much weirdness in even very simple sentences. E.g. ‘Ik vergat mijn sleutels niet.’ (I didn’t forget my keys.) The word ‘niet’ (not) always modifies the word following it, which in this case really is ‘vergat’. If SVO had been the basic order, it would have been *‘Ik niet vergat mijn sleutels.’ (Warning: that last sentence is wrong and sounds quite horrible.)
        And it’s wrong in multiple ways, because not only is the V-in-the-middle part of SVO wrong, the S and the O are wrong too since even in Dutch with its lack of cases the subject and object roles aren’t the primary determiners of word order. At least in spoken Dutch, there’s the tendency to shift new information to the end and to start the sentence with whatever you need to make sense of the new information, starting with our focus. Let’s compare a few sentences.
        1. Hem gaf ik het boek. / 2. Het boek gaf ik aan hem. / 3. Ik gaf hem het boek. / 4. Ik gaf het boek aan hem.
        ((Aan) hem = to him; het boek = the book; ik = I; the subject must be in slot 1 or 3, so in this case these are all grammatically possible orders.)
        The implied questions these sentences answer are:
        1. What did you give him? / 2. ‘Whom did you give the book to?’ / 3. What did you give? / 4. ‘Whom did you give the book to?’
        As an aside, if the implied question had been ‘Who gave him the book?’ you’d have to either drop the indirect object and say ‘Het boek gaf ik.’ or you’d have to emphasize ‘ik’, typically by pronouncing it slightly louder and at slightly higher pitch.

        As for English, if V2 hadn’t happened, English wouldn’t have gotten its current word order. ‘I gave him the book’ would have been *‘I him the book gave.’ or something like it. Another place you can see it is in how English handles questions. In V2 languages, the first position contains the question word (or nothing, in case of a yes/no question). So you get questions like ‘Will you go out tonight?’ and ‘What shall we have for dinner?’ If V2 hadn’t happened it would have been *‘You tonight will go out?’ and *‘What we for dinner shall have?’ or, if English hypothetically had been descended from an SVO language, ‘You will go out tonight?’ (acceptable in some circumstances) and *‘What we shall have for dinner?’ Compare Dutch: ‘Ga je vanavond uit?’ and ‘Wat zullen we eten vanavond?’ and note the positions of the verbs ‘ga’ and ‘zullen’.

        To wrap things up, this podcast regularly makes a point of discussing naturalism in conlangs and long (and very interesting) discussions are had about grammatical points in various languages. But sometimes the grammatical history of your own language can be just as interesting and it’s apparently easily overlooked.

        • RandomDutchman

          Note: I’ve since learnt that in linguistics ‘focus’ is actually a technical term, but when I typed this I only had the everyday sense in mind, so I don’t know if the technical sense is correct here. I’m only relating my personal experience as a native speaker of Dutch, not doing deeply-digging linguistic analysis / research.

  4. wolf

    When you mention languages that give a whole NP a case, rather than the individual words, by tacking something on… doesn’t English do that?

    [Queen and David Bowie]’s song Under Pressure is good.



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