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Stylistic experiment: Tahano Hikamu and blackletter

I’m a doodler. More specifically, I’m in the habit of doodling random words and sentences when watching TV. Moreover, ever since I started toying with adapting Ayeri’s Tahano Hikamu writing system to a style that resembles blackletter, that idea hasn’t let go of me, and it’s become part of my idle doodling. I briefly mentioned the idea of a blackletter-style Tahano Hikamu in the grammar (p. 61–62) along with a small example, but I’ve never really documented it seriously.

So, blackletter. What does this have to do with Ayeri, since it undeniably takes some of its aesthetic of sound and spelling not from European languages but rather from southeast Asian languages? And what’s more, its ‘native’ writing system does so as well—maybe even turning some of the features of real-world syllabic alphabets typical of that region up to eleven. On the other hand, so-called Gothic scripts (see e.g. Knight 1996: 320–322, or if you read German, Schneider 2014: 28–85; this is not directly related to the Gothic language and its alphabet) are a western-central European variation of the Latin alphabet which came into fashion in the middle ages. They survive in the shape of blackletter print for certain purposes up to the present day.

Roman and blackletter styles
Roman (italic) and blackletter styles (Source Serif 4 Italic; UniFraktur Maguntia)

Here in Germany at least (and no doubt in other parts of the Germanic-speaking world as well), you can still find blackletter typefaces for instance in the mastheads of newspapers, on pub signs, beer labels, and other things that are supposed to evoke either a long-standing tradition or rustic folklore. Unfortunately, blackletter also has a dark side: it is also associated with the Nazi era and continues to be used in connection to fascist, nationalist, and racist ideas. In my exploration of and toying with this style, I expressly distance myself from such ideologies.

One key characteristic of Gothic scripts—of which blackletter typefaces are a variant—is that they emphasize vertical lines, making characters tall and narrow, like the windows in Gothic cathedrals. Another one is that the round parts of letters are broken up into multiple strokes, with the ‘feet’ of stems typically bent to the right (Schneider 2014: 29). According to Schneider (2014: 28–29) ‘gothification’ of the Carolingian minuscule can be observed first in the Anglo-Norman area, i.e. England and northern France, and also in Belgium in the late 11th and early 12th century. She writes that the style then made its way into central Europe from the mid-12th century on, spreading from west to east. Gothic book hands and blackletter typefaces with their intricate joining together of angles, straight and curved lines, and sometimes even added embellishing hairlines and tittles may lead to very intricate, at times playful shapes in spite of a stout overall look.

What brought me to combine two such disparate things as Gothic scripts and Ayeri’s writing system, anyway? For one, I’ve been working for the Handschriftencensus research project for the past few years. Handschriftencensus is a meta-catalog on the transmission of all medieval texts in German language by way of manuscripts. In real-life small talk, I like to say it’s basically the Yellow Pages of German codicology research. At the office, we don’t work with old codices directly, however, one of the pre-pandemic perks my job included was participating in excursions to and workshops at libraries such as the Heidelberg University Library’s historical collection and to get literally hands-on with old books there. When not traveling, digitized manuscripts have to suffice. Looking at writing from several hundred years ago is thus part of my current job, and I can’t deny that manuscripts hold some fascination for me, as the photos in this article probably suggest.

A view of the manuscript, St. Gallen, Kantonsbibliothek, Vadianische Sammlung, VadSlg Ms. 302, part 2, fol. 25r, with people's hands around
Getting hands-on with St. Gallen, Cantonal Lib., Vadian Coll., VadSlg Ms. 302 (e-codices, HSC). Displayed here is pt. 2, fol. 25r. Not all medieval manuscripts are this lavishly decorated. Most are drab and practical, made to be used, not treasures to be marveled at.

Secondly, I’ve long found southeast Asian scripts such as Balinese, Burmese, Javanese, Khmer, Thai, etc. intriguing both regarding their system of writing and their look, which also had an influence on Tahano Hikamu. Several years ago, I stumbled upon an image on Wikipedia of the title plate of an 1898 book commemorating queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands’ accession to the throne in 1890. The issue of European colonialism (again, with its history of violence, exploitation, and lingering socioeconomic problems) aside, what especially caught my intrigue here is the first line, which combines Javanese writing with the European blackletter style.

Javanese text written in blackletter style on the title page of a book
Text in Javanese script on the title page of a book printed in Semarang, Indonesia, in 1898 (Koninklijk Huisarchief via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Both the Latin alphabet and the Javanese script emphasize the vertical axis, which opens up a possibility for stylistic experimentation with Gothic style features in an alien environment. If something like this is possible, shouldn’t it also be possible in my script? Tahano Hikamu’s consonant letters as well are mainly built on a lattice of vertical strokes, so there shouldn’t be a problem either to adapt them to broken lines and curly feet. In some cases, it proved even possible to adapt the shape of Latin letters to the ‘gothicized’ Ayeri script directly. The following chart gives an overview of the characters and diacritics with the exception of numerals, which I’ve so far neglected to experiment on.

Chart of blackletter-style Tahano Hikamu characters
Chart of blackletter-style Tahano Hikamu characters

The following correspondences exist, in some cases also independent of the particular style of Tahano Hikamu:

  • TH pa — Lat. n
  • TH ba — Lat. a (double-storey shape)
  • TH na — Lat. i, j
  • TH nga — similar to Lat. w
  • TH va — Lat. r
  • TH ra — similar to Lat. g (looptail shape)
  • TH ya — Lat. u
  • TH fa — Lat. m
  • TH sha — similar to Lat. B
  • TH kha — similar to Lat. R

The diphthong marker appears turned on its head in the above chart (4th line, 5th item from the right), resulting in what looks similar to the quarter rest in music. This is a stylistic variation I have recently experimented with, in part also because I keep forgetting preposed diacritics when doodling words as described initially. Starting with a base stroke thus often rescues the attempt to write a word, so it’s a beneficial feature to keep. The basic grapheme in its ‘canonical’ orientation is straightforward enough to be adapted as well, though. The letter ga posed the greatest challenge, similar to Latin g, which itself has invited stylistic experiments by both scribes and typographers over the centuries as well. For instance, look at the gs in James Todd’s (2015) article on designing the Essonnes typeface, which he samples from a version of the classic Didot. Aren’t they glorious with their serifed lower bowls?

Will you see more of Ayeri written in this style, maybe even a cohesive text? Frankly, I have no idea what the future holds, since I’m still working on my dissertation and am intent on finishing it this year. Small indulgences like writing this blog article already leave me with a slightly bad conscience about neglecting my off-hour duties (working on your PhD is usually an unpaid hobby in German academia, at least in the humanities, and yes, people are not happy about it).

Suffice it to say, doodling in this style has renewed my appreciation for the toil of medieval scribes. It’s a slow and arduous way of writing if you want it to look good, even when it’s just to write a few lines.

  • Knight, Stan. 1996. The Roman Alphabet. In The World’s Writing Systems, edited by Peter T. Daniels and William Bright. New York, NY, and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 312–332.
  • Koninklijk Huisarchief. 2013. Book title commemorating Wilhelmina’s ascension, Semarang 1898. Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain). [Link]
  • Schneider, Karin. 2014. Paläographie und Handschriftenkunde für Germanisten: Eine Einführung. 3rd ed. Sammlung kurzer Grammatiken germanischer Dialekte, B. Ergänzungsreihe 8. Berlin and Boston, MA: de Gruyter. DOI: 10.1515/9783110338676.
  • Todd, James. 2015. Making Fonts: Essonnes. I Love Typography (June 12). [Link]
Private photos of:

‘A Grammar of Ayeri’ Available as Print-on-Demand

  • A Grammar of Ayeri is available from Amazon now, too, so I am assuming you can now indeed order print copies through the regular book trade as well as straight from 🤓❤️📘

If you’ve visited the Grammar page or the Grammar project’s GitHub page recently, you will have noticed that I finally decided to publish a version 1.0 of A Grammar of Ayeri on October 1st. While this is a big step forward that took me some courage, I didn’t announce it in a big way, because I have reason to make a somewhat bigger announcement still today.

That is, I’m excited to announce that you can now also buy print copies of the grammar! Moreover, this happens to be in time for Ayeri’s 15th birthday in December—something I only noticed the other day. A few people have suggested making print copies available on demand in recent months, so you can now order my Ayeri grammar as a real and full-fledged book from Since I decided to give the book an ISBN (978-0-359-09583-4), it should also become available to booksellers of your choice sometime in the next 4–6 weeks. Here’s what the beauty looks like:

The digital version of the grammar will remain available free of charge and with fully disclosed sources, that is, I explicitly intended this as Open Access.

A Grammar of Ayeri provides an overview of the language’s phonemic inventory and an analysis of its phonotactics, an in-depth description of its writing system, as well as a detailed description of its morphology and morphosyntax. Interstitial chapters try to shed a light on Ayeri from a typological perspective, both regarding morphology and syntax. I incorporated a number of blog articles from recent years, so if you’ve been following my blog, you know what to expect. All discussions contain fully-glossed examples for illustration, especially to help with the more technical parts.

Even though I worked on this book for a little more than two years, there are some topics I mention in the grammar without elaborating on them. Since there is always more to do, I had to draw a line somewhere. Topics left for future consideration will thus probably result in blog articles again sooner or later, so stay tuned. A list of errata may likewise follow.

Besides having been asked for print copies, I’ve been asked why I chose to self-publish, and the main reason is that I don’t really see straightaway which kind of publisher I might want to offer the manuscript of this book to, elaborate as it may be.

For one, it does not fit established paradigms of either fiction or non-fiction publishing. The book’s subject is essentially a work of fiction, yet it’s not narrative, but a piece of formal documentation of a conceived abstract object: a made-up language. Moreover, as I see it, conlangs are up to the whims of their creators (at least while they’re alive) and are thus entirely arbitrary when it comes to documenting and analyzing the diversity of human language from the perspective of linguistics—unless, for instance, you do a study on conlanging as a social phenomenon, study and compare the way individual conlangs are made and what that says about their creators, or utilize them as a didactic tool to teach linguistics. In my opinion, the immediate value of a grammar of a personal artistic language to linguistic epistemology is debatable. Lastly, due to the book’s presentation as a scholarly text, it will only appeal to a small readership, which is not exactly profitable. But mainly, I think, the difficulty is in being this weird hybrid of fiction and non-fiction, or fiction in the guise of non-fiction.

Maybe I’m being overly pessimistic with this assessment. Maybe the very aspect of being fiction in the guise of non-fiction might be a selling point in the future (but again: to what kind of publisher?), provided I could still keep my work online because “selling out” is the last thing I want to do. So far at least, no comparable effort has been professionally published to my knowledge, and there exist a few works with a similar scope as mine that I’m aware of, for instance, Étienne Poisson’s Siwa grammar, Martin Posthumus’ Novegradian grammar, and Matt Pearson’s Okuna grammar.

Update on the Grammar Writing Process IX

And there I thought that the manuscript of my Ayeri grammar was basically done … Looks like I will have to do some reanalysis of noun phrases and adjective phrases after all. This blog article is a cross post from Conlang-L. While Jeffrey Brown already said over there that the apparent N⁰-to-D⁰ thing (in parallel of apparent V⁰-to-I⁰) shouldn’t be a problem, the question of what to do with APs hasn’t been answered yet. I’m leaving the comments on this article open because I’d like to know if the below is a reasonable analysis.

(In case the pictures of trees and stuff below appear too small on your screen, click to enlarge.)

OK, since two of you suggested to summarize what I’m uncertain about specifically … Ayeri is a VSO language, and I analyzed it previously as having the following basic sentence structure for transitive clauses where the subject NP is not a pronoun (view this email in a fixed-width font to see the examples and charts lining up):

As I said in my original post, I analyzed my conlang’s syntactic structure in terms of LFG, so the c(onstituent)-structure tree above contains functional annotations instead of relying solely on bar levels in order to identify syntactic functions; non-branching pre-terminal bar levels are moreover typically pruned for tidiness. ↑ = ↓ means that the semantic content of the current node is simply passed on to (or actually, united with, as in set theory) the next higher node; (↑ SUBJ) = ↓ identifies the current phrase as the superior node’s (and ultimately IP’s) subject, etc. This way, Ayeri relies on an extended head for its verb (the head of VP is empty but its functional equivalent is found as the head of IP), so that it is still “configurational,” also since I⁰ still c-commands V⁰’s modifiers this way.

I should add that the verb—normally branching off of VP to the left as V⁰—is analyzed here as being found in I⁰ instead. This way, I⁰ holds the inflected verb, its sister XP optionally holds e.g. an adverb. S contains the arguments of the verb: the left NP is the subject, its sister is the VP we extracted the verb from, and VP’s daughter is the object NP. So in linear order we get verb–subject–object (or VSO for short) for the constituents.

Now, the thing that is still puzzling me is that Ayeri very regularly places modifiers after heads, and since there is no agreement morphology on adjectives, adjectives follow their heads immediately to keep scope unambiguous, even though they are adjuncts and not complements. Complements move up further to the right if an adjective is present: NOUN–ADJ–COMP. To give an example:

  1. {Ang vacya} John koyās dano gindiyēri.

    ang=vac-ya Ø=John koya-as dano gindi-ye-eri

    AT=like-3SG.M TOP=John book-P green poem-PL-INS

    ‘John, he likes the green book of poems.’

Here, the adjective dano ‘green’ follows its head, koyās ‘book’ rather than the head + complement koyās gindiyēri ‘book of poems’ to signal that its head is ‘book’ rather than ‘poems’ (‘*green poems’ are maybe the kind of poetry colorless green ideas prefer, I don’t know). Functionally, this construction should be in no way different from the ‘normal’ constituent order N–COMP–ADJ. It’s simply a quirk of Ayeri to invert the order of complement and adjective/adverb, although as we will see below have seen above, this quirk is motivated.

Here, the part in question is the f(unctional)-structure labeled ‘OBJ’ for its function as an object: its lexical head (‘predicator’) is ‘book’, which subcategorizes for a complement. This requirement is satisfied by the subordinate f-structure labeled ‘COMP’. The object also contains an adjunct function (ADJ), and the only member of the set is given as the adjective ‘green’. The question is now, however, how to analyze this in terms of c-structure. In LFG, functional heads are regarded as co-heads of their equivalent lexical categories, which is why I⁰ and V⁰ are regarded as functionally the same: both functional and lexical heads of the same kind (verbal, nominal) write their semantic features into the same f-structure. The strategy of verbs should thus in principle also be applicable to D⁰ and N⁰, with D⁰ as NP’s extended head. However, I have so far analyzed NPs with adjuncts and complements in the following way and was wondering if this is correct:

While it is generally possible to adjoin a phrasal node to a phrasal node, the restriction according to LFG’s annotation rules is that phrasal nodes adjoined to another phrasal node either need to be unannotated (I suppose, this means ↑ = ↓) or not to embody an argument function, however, COMP is an argument function. For nouns, I suppose one could still invoke lexocentricity—the word as such identifies the NP as a complement, here by way of its case marking. This does not work for all phrase types, however, since e.g. CPs as complements of predicative adjectives (nice [CP that you’re here]) do not mark case. I was wondering therefore if the following analysis might not actually be better, also because it parallels the way Ayeri handles verbs:

The head noun is found as a functional head D⁰ here, while N⁰ itself is empty, however, its complement is still in place. This parallels how V⁰ is empty, while the object, as V⁰’s complement, is still constructed as a daughter of VP. This also allows for annotation of the nodes according to the rules, or at least without bending them, as far as I can tell.

A question arising from this is how to deal with determiners. Since I modeled my analysis in (1) on Bresnan et al.’s (2016) analysis of Welsh—which they analyze as not using Spec as a parametric choice—I implicitly assumed for Ayeri as well not to make use of Spec. This means that I analyzed determiners like ‘my’ or sinya ‘which’ (as an interrogative pronoun) as heads of DP which are complemented by an NP, as in (6a). However, with the analysis in (5), can I still follow this strategy and have [DP [DP NP]], as in (6b), or is it preferred for DP not to recursively include another DP for some reason? This is probably a Syntax 101 question, but I’ve never really had a Syntax 101 class.

I mentioned above that adjectives can have phrasal complements. If an adverb is present, complements of adjectives move up as well, but adjective phrases do not have a functional equivalent. So what would I do there, if the strategy outlined for nouns in (5) is followed mutatis mutandis? Would I simply put an AP inside another AP, or would I maybe rather use DP, since adjectives are a nominal category in my conlang?

  • Bresnan et al. (2016) define an extended head as follows: “Given a c-structure containing nodes N and C and a c- to f-structure correspondence mapping φ, N is an extended head of C if and only if N is the minimal node in φ–1(φ(C)) that c-commands C without dominating C,” or more simply: “X is an extended head of Y if X is the X′ categorial head of Y […], or if Y lacks a categorial head but X is the closest element higher up in the tree that functions like the f-structure head of Y” (136). There is no mention that N/X must be of a functional category, just that it must be the closest higher-up node of C/Y that c-commands but does not dominate C/Y at the same time. The AP—AP construction in parallel to the analysis of DP—NP and IP—VP should thus work, if I’m understanding this correctly.
  • Bresnan, Joan et al. Lexical-Functional Syntax. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2016. Print. Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics 16.

Update on the Grammar Writing Process VIII

I wrote earlier this month that I had been revising the index of my Ayeri grammar. I also noticed that a discussion of verbs with predicative complements like tav- ‘become’, maya- ‘feel’, etc. has been missing so far. I completed and added those things yesterday, respectively. This also means that the manuscript is basically finished since it should now include everything I meant to discuss, and it should be rather presentable. However, hold your horses, it still needs another round of proofreading to weed out mistakes that have crept in due to adding and deleting index tags from the source files, as well as mistakes which are due to my not being a native English speaker, or just plain lapses.

Update on the Grammar Writing Process VII

Oh wow, it’s been a full hundred days since I last gave a report here about my progress. The project is still going on, in case anyone wondered.

After littering the LaTeX source files of the grammar with index tags in April, I’ve been working on clearing them up again for the last 3 weeks or so to make the keyword index actually useful. And while I’ve been at it, I’ve been fixing the one or the other issue I’ve come across as well—spelling, formatting, content. I had hoped to be done with this task by June 1st, but just as usual, everything is taking twice as long as expected. Let me tell you, it’s pretty annoying to go through all page references one by one, and to check whether they’re leading to actually relevant information.

I seriously want this off my desk as soon as possible now, even though I’ve learned a lot by writing this book. However, it’s been preoccupying me for long enough—on July 3rd, it’s going to be 2 years. July 1st is the deadline I gave myself, though knowing my perfectionist tendencies, it’s probably rather going to be August: I’ve been considering to ask some native English speakers I know for some additional proofreading.

I also feel a little guilty about spending so much time on writing this grammar instead of working as hard on my Ph.D. project for university: there are about 1,800 commits to the repository (about 1,000 in the last 12 months alone), and if we assume that each one equals about 45 minutes of work on average (reading takes a lot of time, which is balanced by correcting small things), this amounts to 1,350 hours. This, in turn, is about equal to 34 weeks on a full-time job. On the other hand, I suppose I should be fine if I’ll continue working on my thesis with as much zeal as on the grammar, once the grammar book is done for the time being. Blood, sweat, and tears, etc. Anyway, I’ve come so far with this book project, I don’t want to put it on hold indefinitely, especially now that it looks like the end is only weeks away. And then I can hopefully move on.

Update on the Grammar Writing Process VI

Incidentally, it was the 600th day since I started working on a refined version of the Ayeri Grammar just yesterday. I’ve spent the last 2 weeks proofreading the chapter on syntax and I’m now ready to go back to the start and proofread the whole book again. You can see the very raw manuscript containing the first round of corrections right after writing the chapters and under it the batch waiting for the second round of proofreading in the first photo. The second photo shows that it’s not an inconsiderable amount of paper—and I printed it as 4 pages per sheet.

I’ve said before that I definitely wanted to have a bound copy of the book myself once it’s done (maybe in summer?), so I’ve looked a little at print-on-demand services recently since I figured that other people might want to have one as well. Apparently, whether you use Amazon’s CreateSpace or, a paperback the size I’ve been considering—15.6 × 23.4 cm with approx. 480 pages—can be produced for about $16, so about €13, which sounds pretty reasonable. You even get an ISBN and distribution included, though I have no idea whether a very small profit margin for the author is already factored in as well (we’re likely talking quarters per copy here). I’m certainly not expecting to sell many copies, since conlangs are a pretty specific thing, but if I made the one or the other buck this way which I could then reinvest in running this site, I’d not be entirely unhappy. Since I like to use print and digital in parallel especially with textbooks, I’m planning to keep up the PDF version of the grammar for free. This is essentially what Language Science Press does, minus the peer review they also provide. If anyone were to want a print copy, they could order it in addition and pay a reasonable price for getting a proper book. I think this is a pretty fair offer.

  • Just in case you’re reading this after the grammar’s been published and wonder why the finished book costs a bit more than $16: There’s a big bookseller’s margin slapped on top of the production price. If I sell a book directly via, I will get part of that margin. Otherwise I may get up to $1 for a copy sold. In any case, keeps a percentage (I don’t know how much it is exactly) of the revenue as a service fee.

Update on the Grammar Writing Process V

Happy new year, everyone! I suppose it’s time again to provide a brief update on my progress with writing my grammar of Ayeri. The whole last year I’ve been trying to figure out describing its syntax formally. This will continue to preoccupy me for the time being also in the new year because verbs are still not fully described, and complementizer phrases (used for complement clauses, relative clauses and such) are lining up to be next. Then, I will also have to work on correcting some things in the sections on raising and control with regards to syntactic typology (I should have figured out constituent structure first), and also describe pronominal binding. And after this, I will have to go back to the beginning of the chapter and fix things for consistency and do proofreading.

The compiled PDF is now close to 400 pages (in A4 format, but with generous margins because LaTeX) without frontmatter, appendices and backmatter, and 400 pages is what I had wanted the main part to be at most once everything is done. The section on the syntax of verbs alone is already almost 100 pages long currently, though granted, verbs are probably the most complex part of the language (or any language?), and all those diagrams take up an awful lot of space. I will definitely have to shave some pages off after writing will be done hopefully some time later this year, though, and especially the argumentative parts are probably predestined for some literal cutting to the chase in spite of my trying not to ramble unnecessarily. The description of Ayeri’s alphabet might also rather go in the appendix. Years at university have taught me that good writing can’t be produced on the spot, anyway.

Honestly, sometimes I wish I had an editor to look over my writing to guide me with it. With the syntax chapter especially, I wish someone could check the plausibility of my hypotheses and analyses once writing is done, too. And then, there’s still proofreading of the whole grammar to do. My English may be pretty good overall, but I’m always somewhat distrusting my abilities as a non-native speaker. Proofreading one’s own writing is generally hard in my experience, though, even in one’s native language.

A Question of Alignment XII: Conclusion

In this series of blog articles—taken (more or less) straight from the current working draft of chapter 5.4 of the new grammar for better visibility and as a direct update of an old article (“Flicking Switches: Ayeri and the Austronesian Alignment”, 2012-06-27)—I will finally reconsider the way verbs operate with regards to syntactic alignment.

All articles in this series: Typological Considerations · ‘Trigger Languages’ · Definition of Terms · Some General Observations · Verb agreement · Syntactic Pivot · Quantifier Float · Relativization · Control of Secondary Predicates · Raising · Control · Conclusion

Now that a few tests have been conducted, let us collect the results. As Table 1 shows, Tagalog and Ayeri are not really similar in syntax despite superficial similarities in morphology. According to Kroeger (1991)’s thesis—which essentially seeks to critically review and update Schachter (1976)’s survey by leaning on LFG theory—Tagalog prefers what Kroeger analyzes as the nominative argument for most of the traits usually associated with subjects listed below. That is, in his analysis, the nominative argument is the NP in a clause which is marked on the verb, which corresponds to Schachter (1976)’s ‘topic’, or Schachter (2015)’s ‘trigger’—’trigger’ is also the term often seen in descriptions of constructed languages in this respect. Kroeger (1991) finds in his survey that the nominative argument is largely independent from the actor, so that the logical subject is not necessarily the syntactic subject; what Schachter (1976) calls ‘topic’ also does not behave like a pragmatic topic in terms of statistics.

Essentially, what Tagalog does according to Kroeger (1991)’s analysis, is to generalize voice marking beyond passive voice, so that any argument of the verb can be the subject. However, unlike passives in English, higher-ranking roles (for passives, the agent) appear not to be suppressed or to be demoted to adverbials like it happens in English with the periphrasis of the agent with by in passive clauses. Linguists have been grappling for a long time with this observation, and constraint-based approaches, such as LFG (recently, Bresnan et al. 2016) or HPSG (Pollard and Sag 1994) pursue, may be able to explain things more succinctly than structuralist ones due to greater flexibility. In any case, Kroeger (1991) avoids the terms ‘active’ or ‘passive’ possibly for this reason, and instead uses ‘actor voice’ (AV), ‘objective voice’ (OV), ‘dative/locative voice’ (DV) etc. (14–15).

Ayeri, in contrast to Tagalog, very much prefers the actor argument (called agent here for consistency) for traits usually associated with subjects, independent of whether the agent is also the topic of the clause—in Ayeri it is the topic which is marked on the verb, not the nominative argument. In spite of a few irregularities like patient agreement in agentless clauses and using topicalization as a way to disambiguate the syntactic pivot in ambiguous cases, Ayeri is remarkably consistent with a NOMACC language. The fact that there is a subject in the classic, structural sense is also evidence for the hypothesis that Ayeri is configurational. Since it clearly prefers agent NPs over other NPs, not all arguments of a verb are on equal footing. Tagalog, on the other hand, treats the arguments of verbs in a much more equal manner.

Table 1: Comparison between Tagalog (Kroeger 1991) and Ayeri
Criterion Tagalog Ayeri
Marked on the verb nominative argument (NOM) topic argument (TOP)
Verb agreement optional; if present with NOM, independent of being A required; typically with A, independent of being TOP
Syntactic pivot determined by NOM, independent of being A usually with A, but determined by TOP in ambiguous cases
Quantifier float referring to NOM, independent of being A referring to A, independent of being TOP
Relativization only of NOM, independent of being A (all NPs may be relativized)
Control of secondary predicates referring to NOM, independent of being A referring to A or P depending on semantics, but independent of being TOP
Raising usually of NOM; A possible but marked for some only of A, independent of being TOP; no ECM
Control A deletion target, independent of being NOM (with exceptions) A deletion target, independent of being TOP

It was pointed out before that in Tagalog, the syntactic pivot depends on what is marked as a subject (Kroeger 1991: 30–31). This and other examples from Kroeger (1991) may make it seem like Tagalog is not fixed with regards to the distinction between NOMACC and ERGABS alignment. However, Kroeger (1991) also points out that there is a statistically significant preference to select patient arguments as subjects, and that OV forms of verbs are “morphologically more ‘basic’” (53) than their respective AV counterparts. These observations point towards an interpretation of Tagalog as syntactically ergative, though Kroeger (1991) deems such an interpretation problematic due to non-nominative agents keeping their status as arguments of the verb—which also distinguishes Tagalog from an ergative languages like Dyirbal, where “ergative (or instrumental) marked agents are relatively inert, playing almost no role in the syntax, and have been analyzed as oblique arguments” (54).

In conclusion, is Ayeri a so-called ‘trigger language’? Yes and no. It seems to me that what conlangers call ‘trigger language’ mostly refers to just the distinct morphological characteristic of languages like Tagalog by which a certain NP is marked on the verb with a vague notion that this NP is in some way important in terms of information structure.1 Ayeri incorporates this morphological feature and may thus be counted among ‘trigger languages’ by this very broad definition. However, the real-world Austronesian alignment as a syntactic phenomenon goes much deeper than that and is much more intriguing, as I have tried to show in this series of blog articles, and I did not even cover all of the effects Kroeger (1991) describes in his survey. Ayeri, in syntactically behaving rather consistently like a NOMACC language, (somewhat sadly, in retrospect) misses the point completely if ‘trigger language’ is understood to also entail syntactic characteristics of Philippine languages.

  • Bresnan, Joan et al. Lexical-Functional Syntax. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2016. Print. Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics 16.
  • Kroeger, Paul R. Phrase Structure and Grammatical Relations in Tagalog. Diss. Stanford University, 1991. Web. 17 Dec. 2016. ‹›.
  • Pollard, Carl and Ivan A. Sag. Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar. Chicago, IL: U of Chicago P, 1994. Print. Studies in Contemporary Linguistics.
  • Schachter, Paul. “The Subject in Philippine Languages: Topic, Actor, Actor-Topic, or None of the Above?” Subject and Topic. Ed. Charles N. Li. New York: Academic P, 1976. 493–518. Print.
  • ———. “Tagalog.” Syntax—Theory and Analysis: An International Handbook. Ed. Tibor Kiss and Artemis Alexiadou. Vol. 3. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2015. 1658–1676. Print. Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 42. DOI: 10.1515/9783110363685-007.
  1. I want to encourage everyone to actually do some reading of the professional literature on a given topic instead of only relying on the second-hand knowledge of other people in the conlanging community. It’s hard but you’ll learn from it. With the internet, finding articles and books is as easy as ever. This is one of the reasons why I give citations under the more serious blog articles, and make sure to link literature that is legally available online.

A Question of Alignment XI: Control

In this series of blog articles—taken (more or less) straight from the current working draft of chapter 5.4 of the new grammar for better visibility and as a direct update of an old article (“Flicking Switches: Ayeri and the Austronesian Alignment”, 2012-06-27)—I will finally reconsider the way verbs operate with regards to syntactic alignment.

All articles in this series: Typological Considerations · ‘Trigger Languages’ · Definition of Terms · Some General Observations · Verb agreement · Syntactic Pivot · Quantifier Float · Relativization · Control of Secondary Predicates · Raising · Control · Conclusion

Control verbs behave basically in the opposite way of raising verbs: the subject of the subordinate verb is also an argument of the verb in the matrix clause—subject or object—and this argument acts as a controller for the subject of the subordinate verb. The main clause predicate thus is thought to assign two thematic roles. In GG it is assumed that the subject of the lower clause is a silent PRO element which is coindexed with the controller (Carnie 2013: 442–445, 451).

    1. Subject control:

      Johni tries [that Johni gets a job]
      = Johni tries [PROi to tPRO get a job]

    2. Object control:

      The officer ordered Maryi [that Maryi turn back]
      = The officer ordered Maryi [PROi to tPRO turn back]

Kroeger (1991) refers to subject control as ‘Equi’ and reports that according to Schachter (1976: 505), it is typically the actor of the subordinate verb that is the target of deletion. At first sight this would be a strong argument in favor of defining the actor NP as the subject, however, he notes that under certain circumstances, “the controllee in a transitive complement clause [is allowed] to be either the Actor (regardless of case marking) or the argument which bears nominative case” (Kroeger 1991: 37). This is the case, for instance, with himukin ‘persuade’ and magpilit ‘insist on’. Subordinate verbs marked for non-volitive mood form an exception as well (36–37, also 96–97). Kroeger (1991) illustrates the main pattern of control in Tagalog with the following set of example sentences in (2).

  1. Tagalog (adapted from Kroeger 1991: 37):

While the nominative argument of the subordinate verb changes between the actor in (2a), the theme in (2b), and the recipient in (2c), it is always the actor which is dropped as the coreferential argument. Why the example sentences in (2) use balak ‘plan, intend’ in its object-voice form is not explained. However, Kroeger (1991) mentions that “alternation in the voice category of the matrix verb and the case marking of the controller does not affect the control relation” (37). In other words: whether the actor in the matrix clause is the subject or not does not matter; for Tagalog’s equivalent of subject-control verbs the control relationship always finds its origin in the actor argument, although there are a few exceptions, as mentioned above. The set in (3) presents an interesting example of (‘obligatory’) control based on the patient/theme argument in Tagalog’s equivalent of object-control verbs.

  1. Tagalog (adapted from Kroeger 1991: 93–94):

Regarding (3ab), Kroeger (1991) explains that “when the complement verb appears in its volitive (unmarked) form, the controllee must be the Actor of the embedded clause” (93). Thus, Maria cannot be the patient subject in (3b), since she is still the controllee. If the verb of the embedded clause is marked for non-volitive mood as in (3c), however, the sentence becomes grammatical: “When the embedded verb is marked for non-volitive mood, the pattern is reversed: the controllee must be the subject, and not the Actor. Actor gaps cannot be controlled in non-volitive complements” (94). The difference between obligatory and non-obligatory control adds a further complication to acceptability, but these details do not need to preoccupy us for the purpose of comparison to Ayeri, which lacks these distinctions.

As previously with raising verbs, it is possible in Ayeri to combine a subordinating verb with a full complement clause (4a), an embedded IP complement (4b), or complete incorporation (4c). In both (4a) and (4b) cases, it is necessarily the actor which is coreferened, as the bottom arrow shows. In (4c), the bottom arrow does not show coreference, but the relation of verb agreement. The arrow on top, as before, shows what the respective verb picks as the clause’s topic for all example sentences.

As with raising verbs, the embedded and incorporated verbs appear in a non-finite form, the participle. For (4b) the reason may be that there is no overt agent in the clause with which to agree, and agreement with the patient does not make sense here because the clause does not express a passive either. In (4c) the reason may be that the main verb already carries person features. If the topic marking on the finite verb is altered as in (5), the meaning of the sentences does not change with regards to grammatical relations and voice, giving us yet more reason to assume that the agent is the grammatical subject, and that topic marking has no influence on these matters. Ayeri thus has actual subject-control verbs in the way English has them.

In object-control constructions, the object of the matrix clause’s verb is an actual argument of it, as shown in (6). This argument becomes the subject of the embedded clause, and there is no change in the meaning of the verb between both versions of sentences. We have seen above that Ayeri does not allow to-object raising, since it is not possible to assign patient case to an external agent because Ayeri’s case marking is not purely based on grammatical functions, but there is still also some semantic motivation. Ayeri does, however, allow object control, so it seems to be possible at least to implicitly convert the matrix clause’s patient or theme to the agent of the embedded clause, while the opposite is apparently not possible. Whether syntactic precedence or some kind of accessibility hierarchy is involved here still needs to be investigated.

    1. John asked [Mary to give Peter the book]
      = John asked Mary
    2. The teacher instructs [the students to calculate parables]
      = The teacher instructs the students
    3. I persuaded [my friend to come along]
      = I persuaded my friend

The example sentences in (7) follow the format of those above. Again, it is generally possible to use a complement clause as in (7a) or (7b), as well as complementing the verb in the matrix clause with a non-finite clause with object control (7c). However, the incorporation strategy is not possible here because this would cause a doubling of case roles (7d). As we will see below, however, this is not an issue for intransitive complement clauses.

Strictly speaking, it does not matter in (7a) and (7b) whether the coreferenced argument is the topic in both clauses or not; it is simply not unlikely that it is. Again, topicalization does not have an effect on grammatical relations—although it was shown above that Tagalog, in the canonical case, deviates from its normal behavior as well with regards to control verbs to the point where this construction has been used as an argument in favor of the actor argument being the subject. As for Ayeri, unlike in coordinated main clauses, topicalization is not a strategy for disambiguation of several possible controllers for the pronominal agent of the complement/embedded clause here. Due to the semantics of the verb in the matrix clause, it is clear that the patient argument is to be understood as the agent of the subordinate verb. Thus, there is no ambiguity in anaphoric reference in the complement clause.

  • Carnie, Andrew. Syntax: A Generative Introduction. 3rd ed. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2013. Print. Introducing Linguistics 4.
  • Kroeger, Paul R. Phrase Structure and Grammatical Relations in Tagalog. Diss. Stanford University, 1991. Web. 17 Dec. 2016. ‹›.
  • Schachter, Paul. “The Subject in Philippine Languages: Topic, Actor, Actor-Topic, or None of the Above?” Subject and Topic. Ed. Charles N. Li. New York: Academic P, 1976. 493–518. Print.

A Question of Alignment X: Raising

  • Example (6) in this article is likely wrong, structurally. I’ll update it when I’ve figured some more things out.
  • It’s internally more consistent to maybe analyze it as a VP complement getting its verb extracted and adjoined as a complement to the main verb. There is no “incorporation” of the subordinate object into the matrix clause as such. [Figure 1] [Figure 2]

In this series of blog articles—taken (more or less) straight from the current working draft of chapter 5.4 of the new grammar for better visibility and as a direct update of an old article (“Flicking Switches: Ayeri and the Austronesian Alignment”, 2012-06-27)—I will finally reconsider the way verbs operate with regards to syntactic alignment.

All articles in this series: Typological Considerations · ‘Trigger Languages’ · Definition of Terms · Some General Observations · Verb agreement · Syntactic Pivot · Quantifier Float · Relativization · Control of Secondary Predicates · Raising · Control · Conclusion

Raising verbs involve the sharing of the subject of an embedded clause with the structural subject or object position of its matrix clause; the complement clause’s subject appears as a gap in English. The raised subject is not semantically an argument of the matrix clause’s verb. The matrix clause’s subject may also be a dummy ‘it’ or ‘there’ in English.

    1. It seemed that Johni knows the answer.
    2. Johni seemed _i to know the answer.
    3. *Johni seemed it.

    1. I expected that Lindai sings the national anthem.
    2. I expected Linda _i to sing the national anthem.
    3. !I expected Linda.

Kroeger (1991: 27–28) states that, as expected, raising is restricted to nominative arguments in Tagalog. Non-nominative actors may be raised into the matrix clause as well, however, but at least for some speakers there needs to be a resumptive pronoun—basically, an overt pronominal ‘trace’ in terms of GG—in the complement clause, as shown in (4). Example (3) shows a case of raising of the nominative argument of the complement clause to the patient of a transitive verb; the nominative argument of the complement clause subsequently is realized as a gap coindexed with the patient of the matrix clause, that is, the raised argument. In English, one would speak of to-object raising, though here the patient of gusto, sila, is in its nominative form, so syntactically, ng Nanay ‘mother’, the actor, is the object in this clause. In (4a), the verb of the complement clause, lutuin ‘cooks’, marks its patient argument as the subject. Yet, the non-subject agent, Charlie, is raised to occupy the patient role in the matrix clause. The position of the non-subject agent in the complement clause is subsequently realized as a resumptive pronoun, niya, coindexed with the raised NP. Example (4b) shows that it would be ungrammatical to have a gap in its stead.

  1. Tagalog (adapted from Kroeger 1991: 26):

  1. Tagalog (adapted from Kroeger 1991: 28):
    1. *gusto ko si Charliei na lutuin _i ang suman

Kroeger (1991) presumably switches to labeling the raised NP as ABS in (4) because it is the patient-subject of gusto ‘want’ (note the actor ko occurs in genitive case); the patient of the embedded clause, suman ‘rice cake’, is also marked as a subject with the verb indicating this by object-voice marking. This is basically consistent with how an ABSERG language would mark subjects. Unfortunately, Kroeger (1991) only gives examples of ‘to-patient’ raising, but not of ‘to-actor’ raising (Carnie 2013: 430). As we will see below, Ayeri has no problem with the former (as to-subject raising), however, it cannot do the latter (as to-object raising), probably for semantic reasons. First of all, let us look at to-subject raising, however.

    1. *

      Surpye {ang Pada.}

      surp-ye ang=Pada

      seem-3SG.F A=Pada

      ‘Pada seems.’

In (5), Pada is both the topic and the subject of koron- ‘know’, but not of surp- ‘seem’, as (5d) shows. However, Pada can be made the subject of the matrix clause, as shown in (5b). Raising results in an intransitive matrix clause, which means that topicalizing the only argument of the verb is blocked, as illustrated by the ungrammaticality of (5c). The verb in (5b) also becomes non-finite, like in English. Unlike in Tagalog, it cannot carry any marking for grammatical relations. Furthermore, it is possible in Ayeri to form a complex predicate like surp- koronyam in (6), literally ‘seems knowing’, with all of the arguments of the embedded clause becoming arguments of the matrix clause, that is, the matrix verb is interpreted as a transitive clause and may carry topic marking for any of its syntactic (rather than semantic) arguments.

If the topic is actually the subject, it should be possible in Ayeri to raise non-actor topics into the matrix clause easily. Of course, this is possible in Tagalog. In (7a), thus, Manuel is the one arrested, so he is the patient of the subordinate clause which acts as the subject of the matrix clause. The fact that Manuel is a patient-subject of the subordinate verb, hulihin ‘be caught’, is reflected in its being marked for objective voice. The English translation is consequently given with the subordinate clause phrased in the passive voice. Similarly, in (7b), the subordinate verb, sinuhulan ‘be bribed’, is marked for directional voice. According to this, ang pangulo ‘the president’ is a non-actor subject of the subordinate verb here as well. It also is in the matrix clause, since the matrix verb, napagbintangan ‘be accused of’, is marked for directional voice.

  1. Tagalog (adapted from Kroeger 1991: 26):

As we have seen above, the marking of the privileged NP on the verb in Ayeri has no effect on grammatical relations; making a transitive verb agree with an NP other than the agent NP was also judged questionable. Thus, we would expect Ayeri to not allow for the same flexibility as Tagalog. The next two sets of example sentences, (8) and (9), thus feature non-actor topics in the complement clause in the (a) examples which we attempt to raise into the subject position of the matrix clause in the (b) examples.

Comparing (8) and (9) with (7a) and (7b), it becomes apparent that Ayeri is very dissimilar to Tagalog with regards to the promotion of a non-actor NP to the subject of the matrix clause in that it is not possible to produce a grammatical result this way. Besides yet more evidence for the disconnect between the marking on the verb and subject assignment and also evidence in favor of an interpretation of the actor NP as the subject, it is possibly the fact that the subordinate verb appears in a non-finite form when raising occurs that prevents some of the flexibility of Tagalog observed above. Even if Ayeri were to work like Tagalog large and by, since finiteness in Ayeri also includes topic marking, it would not be possible for the non-finite verb to mark the assignment of grammatical roles to its complements, overt or covert.

The examples (3) and (4) from Tagalog quoted initially both feature to-object raising: the subject of the complement clause becomes an object of the matrix clause’s verb. This phenomenon is also known as exceptional case marking (ECM) or accusative and infinitive (AcI) and entails that the matrix verb assigns accusative/objective case to the raised subject (Carnie 2013: 439–442). The raised subject is not semantically an object of the matrix verb, however, but an external agent:

    1. Mother wants them to study tonightMother wants them
    2. Mary expects him to tidy the roomMary expects him
    3. John hears people sing in the streetJohn hears people

Ayeri avoids this kind of construction. The reason for this is probably that even though it treats agent and patient as semantic metaroles rather permissively, case marking is nonetheless based on semantic roles rather than purely based on syntactic function. Due to the uniqueness condition, a verb in Ayeri cannot have two agent arguments, yet the raised object is an agent, albeit an external one. It is still salient enough as an agent to preclude assigning it patient case, though.

    1. Galamye {ang Sipra,} {ang sibunja} Ijān sangalas.

      galam-ye ang=Sipra ang=sibund-ya Ø=Ijān sangal-as

      expect-3SG.F A=Sipra AT=tidy-3SG.M TOP=Ijān room-P

      ‘Sipra expects that Ijān tidy up the room.’

    2. *

      {Ang galamye} Sipra {ang/sa Ijān} sibunjam sangalas.

      ang=galam-ye Ø=Sipra ang=/sa=Ijān sibund-yam sangal-as

      AT=expect-3SG.F TOP=Sipra A=/P=Ijān tidy-PTCP room-P

      Intended: ‘Sipra expects Ijān to tidy up the room.’

    3. *

      {Ang galamye} sibunjam Sipra {sa Ijān} sangalas.

      ang=galam-ye sibund-yam Ø=Sipra sa=Ijān sangal-as

      AT=expect-3SG.F tidy-PTCP TOP=Sipra P=Ijān room-P

      Intended: ‘Sipra expects Ijān to tidy up the room.’

The example sentences in (11) show that to-object raising is not possible with verbs of wanting—here using galam- ‘expect’ by way of example. That is, the subject of the complement clause in (11a), Ijān, cannot take the object position of the matrix clause in (11b), nor is it possible to form a complex predicate with the arguments of the subordinate verb, sibund- ‘tidy’, becoming arguments of the matrix clause’s verb, galam- ‘expect’, in the way of (6) in (11c).

Other verbs which allow to-object raising in English include verbs of wanting like need or want, or verbs of perception like see or hear. English also permits this construction for verbs of cognition like believe, consider, know, and think, and for verbs expressing a causative relationship like make or let. Verbs like make or let do not have direct counterparts in Ayeri, as Ayeri uses a morphosyntactic strategy rather than a lexical one to express causative relationships. However, as (12) shows, Ayeri does not allow to-object raising with verbs of perception and verbs of cognition either.

    1. *

      {Ang tangya} Yan keynamas malyyam kirinya.

      ang=tang-ya Ø=Yan keynam-as maly-yam kirin-ya

      A=hear-3SG.M TOP=Yan people-P sing-PTCP street-LOC

      ‘Yan hears people sing in the street.’

    2. *

      Paronyeng {sa Avan} tesayam.

      paron=yeng sa=Avan tesa-yam

      believe=3SG.F.A P=Avan lie-PTCP

      ‘She believes Avan to lie.’