Tag Archives: causatives

What I’ve been up to recently

There hasn’t been much going on here recently. This is mainly due to working on the research for my BA thesis at the moment. However, I’ve also done a little general information hunting on causative constructions on the side that will eventually result in a blog article discussing Ayeri’s way of handling these things in more detail. I touched on the topic briefly and tentatively already in a thread respectively on Conlang-L and the ZBB. Especially in the case of the ZBB thread, be aware that I’ve corrected myself multiple times in the course of it. And I’m still not quite sure if I’ve understood everything correctly, so if you’re knowledgeable about Tagalog et al.,[1. Ayeri’s case marking was originally inspired by a misunderstood and simplified version of that by way of lacking linguistic background knowledge at the time. I’ve kept coming back to it recently in order to compare and see where I’ve been “wrong”.] don’t hesitate to contact me for correction. Both threads are basically only about syntactic ways of handling causative marking, but Ayeri definitely also has morphologic causative marking on verbs (e.g. kond- ‘eat’, kondisa- ‘feed’) as well as some lexical causatives (e.g. tenya- ‘die’, tomba- ‘kill’). Some more thoughts on that will likely go into the blog entry as well, of course.

Imperial Messages IV – “Nay marin yenuya silvayana ikan …”

This is the fourth posting in a series on the process of translating the short story “Eine kaiserliche Botschaft” by the Praguer writer Franz Kafka (*1883, †1924). The individual installments will go through the text mostly sentence by sentence, quoting from the German text as well as a translation of it into English. Following these quotations, I will discuss and comment on newly coined words and thoughts I had on grammar while doing the translation.

The text

Und vor der ganzen Zuschauerschaft seines Todes – alle hindernden Wände werden niedergebrochen und auf den weit und hoch sich schwingenden Freitreppen stehen im Ring die Großen des Reichs – vor allen diesen hat er den Boten abgefertigt. (Kafka 1994, 281:6–11)

And before the entire spectatorship of his death – all obstructing walls have been torn down and the great figures of the empire stand in a ring upon the broad, soaring exterior stairways – before all these he dispatched the messenger. (Kafka 2011)

Nay marin yenuya silvayana ikan tenyanena yana – manga adruran merengyeley-hen bidis nay ang manga bengyan nyānye tiga similena hicanya ling rivanya ehen, siya lingreng iray nay apan – sā tavya mayisa ya ninayāng marin enyaya-hen.

Interlinear glossing

[gloss]Nay marin yenu-ya silvaya-na ikan tenyan-ena yana – manga adru-ran mereng-ye-ley=hen bidis nay ang manga beng-yan nyān-ye tiga simil-ena hican-ya ling rivan-ya ehen, si-ya ling-reng iray nay apan – sā tav-ya mayisa ya ninaya-ang marin enya-ya=hen.
and in_front_of group-LOC spectator-GEN complete death-GEN 3SM.GEN – PROG destroy-3P.INAN wall-PL-P.INAN=all obstructing and AF PROG stand-3PM person-PL honorable country-GEN circle-LOC top_of mountain-LOC stair, REL-LOC ascend-3S.INAN high and wide – CAUF become-3SM ready 3SM.FOC messenger-A in_front_of everyone-LOC=all[/gloss]
‘And in front of the whole group of spectators of his death – all obstructing walls were being destroyed and the honorable persons of the country were standing in a circle on top of the mountain of stairs which ascended high and wide – in front of everyone of them he dispatched the messenger.’

Notes on translation

Few new words needed to be coined here: one is bidis ‘obstructing’, which I derived from the previously existing verb bidisa- ‘to block, obstruct’, which seems to be a causative derivation of the noun bidan ‘block’. Also, there was only a word for ‘stair in a staircase’ in the dictionary, ehen, but I discovered the lack of a regular way to derive sets of things. I left the word as ehen in the text, but made a compound with rivan ‘mountain’ as its head, since the setting Kafka describes reminds me strongly of Mayan pyramids or similar religious architecture with long and high-climbing stairs found in Asia. It should be noted that the compound is rivanehen ‘stair-mountain’ as an individual word, but the compound, headed by a noun, is regularly split after the the head for case marking: ling rivanya ehen ‘on top of the stair mountain’. Tiga ‘honorable’ was derived as an adjective from tigan ‘honor’.

One striking thing in the German text that has not been translated in the same way into English is the change to present tense in the parenthesis: the walls “werden niedergebrochen” (Kafka 1994, 281:8) in present tense, dynamic passive, while in English the walls “have been torn down” (Kafka 2011) in present perfect, stative passive, although the great ones “stehen” (Kafka 1994, 281:9) as well as they “stand” (Kafka 2011). Since Ayeri uses morphologic tense rather sparingly and does not employ an epic preterite like German and English do, I used the progressive marker manga to achieve a similar effect of immediacy.

A nifty feature of Ayeri comes into play in this sentence: usually, verbs have agreement in person and number with the agent of the clause, however, in “manga adruran merengyeley-hen bidis”, the verb adru- ‘to destroy’ has third person plural inanimate agreement (-ran), which refers to “merengyeley”, from mereng ‘wall’ + yePL’ + -leyP.INAN’, which is itself marked as a patient so that the clause does not contain an agent and thus is in passive voice.

What’s more, the German text has an adverbial clause right at the beginning of the sentence that is picked up again for emphasis after the parenthesis. However, usually Ayeri requires the verb phrase to come first, with the verb phrase here marked for location focus, since this seems like the prevalent perspective in the original. Still, for stylistic purposes, I think it might be better to keep the original structure, so that the constituent order of the sentence becomes marked in the face of this epic moment.

An issue I found problematic is that in the original, the circle of dignitaries is so strongly emphasized, while the structure in the last part of the sentence, “before all these he dispatched the messenger” (Kafka 2011) is translated in the most straightforward way by using a causative construction again (“sā tavya mayisa ya ninayāng”), thus the locative topic that should have been used must be replaced with the causative one out of syntactic constraints. I tried to compensate by overspecifying enya ‘everyone’ with the quantifier -hen ‘all’, which basically results in the meaning ‘all of them all’.

  • Kafka, Franz. “Eine kaiserliche Botschaft.” Drucke zu Lebzeiten. By Franz Kafka. Eds. Wolf Kittler et al. Frankfurt a. M.: S. Fischer, 1994. 280–82. Print.
  • ———. “A Message from the Emperor.” Trans. by Mark Harman. NYRblog. The New York Review of Books, 1 Jul. 2011. Web. 9 Feb. 2012. ‹http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2011/jul/01/message-emperor-new-translation›

Imperial Messages II – “Sā sarayya ya ninayāng …”

This is the second posting in a series on the process of translating the short story “Eine kaiserliche Botschaft” by the Praguer writer Franz Kafka (*1883, †1924). The individual installments will go through the text mostly sentence by sentence, quoting from the German text as well as a translation of it into English. Following these quotations, I will discuss and comment on newly coined words and thoughts I had on grammar while doing the translation.

The text

Den Boten hat er beim Bett niederknieen lassen und ihm die Botschaft ins Ohr zugeflüstert; so sehr war ihm an ihr gelegen, daß er sich sie noch ins Ohr wiedersagen ließ. (Kafka 1994, 281:2–5)

He bade the messenger kneel by his bed, and whispered the message in his ear. So greatly did he cherish it that he had him repeat it into his ear. (Kafka 2011)

Sā sarayya ya ninayāng pinamya nay ang naraya taran budangas tangya ninayana. Budangang kapo-ing padangyam sitang-yana, sā na-narayāng yos tangya yana bayhi.

Interlinear glossing

[gloss]Sā saray-ya ya ninaya-ang pinam-ya nay ang nara-ya taran budang-as tang-ya ninaya-na.
CAUF bow-3SM 3SM.FOC messenger-A bed-LOC and AF say-3SM quiet message-P ears-LOC messenger-GEN[/gloss]
‘He had the messenger bow at his bedside and quietly said the message into the messenger’s ears.’

[gloss]Budang-ang kapo=ing padang-yam sitang=yana, sā na~nara-yāng yos tang-ya yana bayhi.
message-A important=so heart-DAT self=3SM.GEN, CAUF again~say-3SM.A 3SN.P ears-LOC 3SM.GEN ruler[/gloss]
‘The message was so important to his own heart that the ruler had him say it again into his ears.’

Notes on translation

The only newly coined word here is ninaya, from nin- ‘to carry’ and -mayaAGTZ’: a messenger is literally a ‘carrier’, thus. I chose saray- ‘to bow’ instead of ‘kneel down’ because I did not like to derive a word from the existing expression for ‘knee’, that is, sirayila (lit. ‘foot bend’).

This paragraph contains a structure I’m struggling with every time I come across it even twice: causatives. There is theoretically no need for expressions like “have sth. done” or “let s.o. do sth” in Ayeri, since the same meaning can be expressed by marking the motivating constituent as a causer, which is distinct from the agent in this language. The construction demands that the causer be the topic of the sentence (CAUF for ‘causative focus’), while the entity forced to act is marked with the agent case according to its semantic role. The use of the reflexive morpheme sitang- ‘self, own’ in “padangyam sitang-yana” is for emphasis.

The decision to resolve the semi-colon of the German text (cf. Kafka 1994, 281:4) as a full stop was made for more or less stylistic reasons. The semi-colon certainly underlines the parallel structure of the two clauses, however, a full stop works just as well.

  • Kafka, Franz. “Eine kaiserliche Botschaft.” Drucke zu Lebzeiten. By Franz Kafka. Eds. Wolf Kittler et al. Frankfurt a. M.: S. Fischer, 1994. 280–82. Print.
  • ———. “A Message from the Emperor.” Trans. by Mark Harman. NYRblog. The New York Review of Books, 1 Jul. 2011. Web. 9 Feb. 2012. ‹http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2011/jul/01/message-emperor-new-translation›

Alleged Beliefs

On my Twitter timeline, a link to an article by Katy Steinmetz at the TIME magazine’s website, titled “Elvish, Klingon and Esperanto—Why Do We Love To Invent Languages?”, came up several times this evening. In this article, Steinmetz interviews Michael Adams, professor of English at Indiana University, on conlanging. I left the following comment:

“Are invented languages better designed than natural languages?
— That’s what their inventors believe.”

Invented languages better than natural ones? Well, I suppose that’s an idealist view. They will probably never be as complex, for one, as natural languages if that’s your criterion of measuring quality. Natural languages grew and changed and diversified by means of being spoken by hundreds to billions of people over the course of millenia – a process which a single creator or even a group can never fully immitate – leaving us with a wealth of forms to explore and build our own languages on, and be it just for the love of tinkering. On the other hand, do invented languages need to be as complex as natural languages, being consciously modelled after existing languages, in order to be of good quality? Not necessarily, I think. It’s about exploring possibilities and watch how things work or play together. That’s why you build models in the first place.

And actually I’ve only now realized that the question was whether constructed languages are better in their design than natural languages, not just objectively better, as I assumed in my reply was the question. 😕 Certainly constructed languages are usually designed more consciously than natural languages, which underly an evolutionary process that’s at least partly blind (or even for the most part?). But whether design decisions by authors make constructed languages inherently better than natural ones I have doubts about. They’re the results of different processes, so it’s hard to compare.

However, just for fun and because of a couple of rather elaborate sentences and vocabulary that seemed challenging, I spent the 1½ hours after writing my comment translating the whole shebang into Ayeri, minus the quotation from the article at the beginning:

[gloss]Sa engyon narānjang vehisa ban narān suhing? Māy, neprayang adareng paranas sempayyanena. Menanyam-ikan, sa kamatong tadoy kamya narān suhing bata ang perava bananley ada-yenueri. Ang nakasyon, ang tilayon nay sa palungisayon narānye suhing naramayari menang yonangya pesan manga ling sinkyanyēa. Adareng macamley si ang ming kusangisaya ikan tadoy tianya kebay soyang-nyama yenu. Eng hapangisāra eda-macam mahaley dahasyena dilānyam nay ling sinaya sa ming vehnang narānye sitang-nana, nārya-nama cānyam veha-veha. Palunganya, ang ilta kamayon kamya narānjas suhing bananyam ban narānye vehisa sang ri vehtos miran narānyena suhing? Paronyang, adareng rapōy. Ri ming dilavāng mimānjas narānvehyaman nay ming silvvāng miranyam sirī mirāra linyayereng soyang kayvteng sitanyaley. Sā tiavāng menanyam-ikan kusangan-kusanganyeley eda-yaman.
PFOC exceed-3PN language-PL.A build-CAU good language natural? Well, suppose-1S.A that-A.INAN opinion-P idealist-GEN. one-NMLZ-DAT=very, PFOC be_as_as-3PN never complex language natural if AFOC measure-2S quality-P.INAN that=category-INST. AFOC grow-3PN, AFOC change-3PN and PFOC different-CAU-3PN language-PL natural speak-AGTZ-INST hundred billion-LOC until MOT while century-PL.LOC. That-A.INAN process-P.INAN REL AFOC can double-CAU-3SM completely never creator single or=even group. AFOC.INAN rest-CAU-3S.INAN this=process treasure-P.INAN form-PL-GEN explore-NMLZ-DAT and top REL-GEN-LOC PFOC can build-1P.A language-PL self=1P.GEN, CONC=just love-DAT build~DIM. Difference-LOC, AFOC need be_as_as-3PN complex language-PL.P natural quality-DAT good language-P build-CAU REL-A INSTFOC build-3SN.P way language-PL-GEN natural? Believe-1S.A, that-A.INAN necessary-NEG. INSTFOC can explore-2S.A possibility-PL.P language-build-PTCP-NMLZ and can see-2S.A way-DAT REL-DAT-INST function-3S.INAN thing-PL-A.INAN or together-3P.INAN each_other-P.INAN. CAUFOC create-2S.A one-NMLZ-DAT=very double~DIM-PL-P.INAN this=reason.[/gloss]


  • Causative marking on verbs and the resulting meaning is still nicely irregular: Sa palungisayon (PFOC different-CAU-3PN) is supposed to mean ‘they are differentiated’, while ang ming kusangisaya (AFOC can double-CAU-3SM) is supposed to be ‘they can copy/immitate’.
  • Reduplication is fun.
  • I think I’m going to allow concessive adverbials in sentence-initial position, like English does.
  • Numbers still are a bit odd for me to work with: menang yonangya pesan (12² 12⁸-LOC until) ‘hundred to billion’ as an attributive phrase, with yonangya, although not nominalized, marked for the locative case demanded by the postposition. If I did nominalize it, the resulting meaning would be ‘billionth’.
  • The question pronoun for ‘how, in which way’ (simin) should not be used as a relative pronoun, at least not in more formal language. Instead, use miran sirī (way REL-Ø-INST) ‘the way in which’, which is also how I arrived at simin.
  • Adams, Michael. Interview by Katy Steinmetz. “Elvish, Klingon and Esperanto—Why Do We Love To Invent Languages?” TIME. 2011. Time, Inc., 16 Nov. 2011. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.