Tag Archives: irregularity

First, at First, Once, First Time

This is another grammar musing on an issue I’ve been undecided about for quite some time now. If you look into the Grammar, you’ll find that ordinals and multiples are formed from cardinals like this:

men ‘one’ (one)
menan ‘first’ (one-NMLZ)
menanyam ‘once’ (one-NMLZ-DAT)

However, I came across situations where I wanted to say “at first” and “for the first time.” I wondered whether that could be covered as well by menanyam, literally ‘for first’, but somehow, I still wasn’t quite content, since doing something once isn’t always the same as doing it for the first time. Similarly, doing something at first is not necessarily doing it once or for the first time either. I came up with the following three alternate solutions for ‘at first’ some months ago:

?menya, lit. ‘at one’ (one-LOC)
menanya, lit. ‘at the first’ (one-NMLZ-LOC)
menanyam-ikan, lit. ‘very once/for the very first’ (one-NMLZ-DAT=very)

Now, through use, I somehow settled on menanya for ‘at first’ (English bias?), however, as of writing this, I think I could merge that with ‘for the first time’ and let context disambiguate: If there is a description of successive actions following, we know that the speaker probably means ‘at first’ (and then X, and then Y). Conversely, if context reveals that the action has never been done before, or that a person is new to something, we know that it is done ‘for the first time’. If there is no context, like in individual example sentences, things stay unclear, though I guess that this situation is kind of artificial, since sentences are rarely not embedded into context in real life, or even in texts.

If I didn’t want ambiguity, ?menanyam(an)ya could be possible, but I find that very unwieldy, as stacking case markers on top of each other is kind of avoided and renominalization with a case marker feels somewhat awkward, too, although I ran into situations where I wanted to do that with gerunds. Menanyam-ikan could be used as a very stern version of ‘once’, like ‘once and for all’.

Very much incongruent to this is ‘last’, which is now split between sarisa ‘former, previous'[1. This looks like it’s derived from sara- ‘to leave’ + -isa ‘CAU’, so ‘made to leave’ literally, or ‘be left’, since causatives are used somewhat irregularly in Ayeri. I don’t usually keep track of how words are derived, which is kind of stupid sometimes.] and pang-vā ‘back-most’. While sarisa is strictly used to mean ‘previous’, pang-vā[2. This appears to be somewhat in analogy to ban-vā ‘best’, although even that is strictly an irregularity …] can only be used to refer to the last item of a set.

Plurals with -yam and -ya

So on the front page we have that word layamayajam. It means ‘for the readers’ and is composed like this:

laya + maya + ye + yam
read + AGT NMLZ + PL + DAT
‘for the readers’

And layamayayeyam is also what I first had on the front page. What’s long bothered me, though, is the abundance of [j] and that these little buggers can pile up occasionally, leading to words that may be quite a bit tongue-twisting, or at least awkward to say. Test for yourself: [ˌla.ja.ma.ˈja.je.jɑm]. See? This screams for dissimilation (at least in my ears it does), or some other morphophonetic process of removing a pronunciation hurdle. So, what could we do? —

  1. Go by analogy with the locative case marker -ya. In combination with the plural marker -ye, it changes to -ea, so we get -ye-ya-yēa.

    ERGO: We can extend this to -ye-yam, leading to -yēam.

    PRO: This resembles my previous pronunciation habit of slurring /je.jɑm/ to something like /iːɑm/. It’s not perfectly phonemic spelling, but gets close.

    CONTRA: In a case like layamayayēam it’s still kind of awkward, I suppose. Also, -yēa and -yēam are pretty close.

  2. Go the route of dissimilation to the nearest similar-but-dissimilar-enough sound there is in the language.

    ERGO: [je] → [d͡ʒ] is a solution. We can do -ye-yam-jyam. As [d͡ʒjɑm] is a little difficult to say, and the [j] is barely there anyway, we can even go as far as mutating that further to just -jam. Thus, we get layamayajam.

    PRO: Easier to pronounce, also shorter. Also, more synchronic irregularity triggered by morphophonetic processes, oh yeah! Also, there is no ending -jam so far, so it can’t be confused. Also, it’s dissimilar from -yēa.

    CONTRA: -jam doesn’t really look like -yeyam anymore. Also, now I need to figure out how to deal with this in ‘native’ spelling. Probably not at all, because native spelling is more morphemic/phonemic than phonetic.

In the end I decided for the second option. Now I only need to write that down in the grammar. However, this decision also poses the question what to do with other combinations, e.g. -yeas (patient animate) and -yeang (agent animate). Should they become -jas and -jang, respectively? Should I then also retrofit -yēa (locative) to -ja? Hm …