Tag Archives: negation

Indefinite Pronouns in Ayeri

I think it was Miekko who pointed this out to me a whole while ago. There’s a long-decommissioned page by Apollo Hogan on which he summarizes bits on the typology of indefinite pronouns from the book Indefinite Pronouns by Martin Haspelmath.1

Some Theoretical Underpinnings

According to Haspelmath’s classification, there are 9 groups of indefinite pronouns:2

SpecificKnown to speakerSK (1)
Unknown to speakerSU (2)
Non-specificIrrealis contextI/NS (3)
Negative polarityConditional protasisCOND (5)
Polar questionQU (4)
Standard of comparisonCOMP (8)
Indirect negationIN (6)
Direct negationDN (7)
Free choiceFC (9)

What is interesting here is that languages form contiguous groups from these elements according to the item indices above. For example, English is indicated as 12345 (some-), 456789 (any-), 7 (no-); German is indicated as 123456 (etwas), 23456+89 (irgend-), 456+8 (je-), 6+89 (jemand-), 7 (n-):3

(7) DN
(1) SK(2) SU(3) I/NS(4) QU(6) IN
(5) COND(8) COMP
(9) FC

A Little Survey of Ayeri

Let us now see how this translates into Ayeri. In the following, I will more or less faithfully translate and adapt some of the example sentences given on the website linked above, which are probably quoted straight from Haspelmath:

  1. Specific, known to speaker (SK):
    1. Ang no naraya arilinya vaya – leku sinyāng!
      Ang
      AT
      no
      want
      nara-ya
      talk-3SG.M
      arilinya.Ø
      someone.TOP
      vaya
      you.LOC
      lek-u
      guess-IMP
      sinya-ang!
      who-A

      ‘Somebody wanted to talk to you – guess who!’
    2. Le rua ningyang arilinya vayam.
      Le
      PT.INAN
      rua
      must
      ning-yang
      tell-1SG.A
      arilinya.Ø
      something.TOP
      vayam.
      you.DAT

      ‘I must tell you something.’
  2. Specific, unknown to speaker (SK):
    1. Le tangyang arilinya, nārya ming naroyyang, adareng sinyaley.
      Le
      PT.INAN
      tang-yang
      hear-1SG.A
      arilinya.Ø,
      something.TOP,
      nārya
      but
      ming
      can
      nara-oy-yang,
      say-NEG-1SG.A,
      ada-reng
      that-A.INAN
      sinya-ley.
      what-P.INAN

      ‘I heard something, but I can’t say what it was.’
    2. Ang pegaya arilinya pangisley nā!
      Ang
      AT
      pega-ya
      steal-3SG.M
      arilinya.Ø
      steal.TOP
      pangis-ley
      money-P.INAN
      my

      ‘Somebody stole my money!’
  3. Irrealis, non-specific (I/NS):
    1. Pinyan, prantu yāril palung.
      Pinyan,
      Please,
      prant-u
      ask-IMP
      yāril
      somewhere
      palung.
      different

      ‘Please ask somewhere else.’
    2. Intu arilinyaley kondanyam yām!4
      Int-u
      Buy-IMP
      arilinya-ley
      something-P.INAN
      kond-an-yam
      eat-NMLZ-DAT
      yām!
      me.DAT

      ‘Buy me something to eat!’
  4. Polar question (QU):
    1. Ang ningya arilinya vayam arilinyaley adanyana?
      Ang
      AT
      ning-ya
      tell-3SG.M
      arilinya.Ø
      anybody.TOP
      vayam
      you.DAT
      arilinya-ley
      anything-P.INAN
      adanya-na?
      that.one-GEN

      ‘Did anybody tell you anything about it?’
    2. Ang koronva arilinyaley edanyana?
      Ang
      AT
      koron-va.Ø
      know-you.TOP
      arilinya-ley
      something-P.INAN
      edanya-na
      this.one-GEN

      ‘Do you know something/anything about this?’
  5. Conditional protasis (COND):
    Le silvvāng arilinya, ningu yām adanyana!
    Le
    PT.INAN
    silv-vāng
    see-2SG.A
    arilinya.Ø,
    something.TOP,
    ning-u
    tell-IMP
    yām
    me.DAT
    adanya-na
    that.one-GEN

    ‘If you see something/someone, tell me about it!’
  6. Indirect negation (IN):
    Paronoyyang, ang koronya arilinya guratanley.
    Parona-oy-yang,
    Believe-NEG-1SG.A,
    ang
    AT
    koron-ya
    know-3SG.M
    arilinya.Ø
    anybody.TOP
    guratan-ley
    answer-P.INAN

    ‘I don’t think that anybody knows the answer.’
  7. Direct negation (DN):
    1. Ang koronya ranya guratanley.
      Ang
      AT
      koron-ya
      know-3SG.M
      ranya.Ø
      nobody.TOP
      guratan-ley
      answer-P.INAN

      ‘Nobody knows the answer.’
    2. Le koronyang ranya.
      Le
      PT.INAN
      koron-yang
      know-1SG.A
      ranya.Ø
      nothing.Ø

      ‘I know nothing/I don’t know anything.’
  8. Standard of comparison (COMP):
    1. Engara simingreng edaya ban yanen palung.
      Eng-ara
      be.more-3SG.INAN
      siming-reng
      weather
      edaya
      here
      ban
      good
      yanen
      anywhere
      palung
      else

      ‘The weather here is better than anywhere else.’
    2. Engyeng larau enyās palung.
      Eng-yeng
      be.more-she.A
      larau
      nice
      enya-as
      everyone-P
      palung
      else

      ‘She is nicer than anyone else.’
  9. Free choice (FC):
    Ang ming guraca enya eda-prantanley.
    Ang
    AT
    ming
    can
    gurat-ya
    answer-3SG.M
    enya.Ø
    anyone.TOP
    eda=prantan-ley
    this=question-P.INAN

    ‘Anyone can answer this question.’

It turns out that Ayeri merges all of (1) through (6) as arilinya ‘somebody, something’, has a separate (7) ranya ‘nobody, nothing’, and then also merges (8) and (9) as enya ‘anyone, everyone’. Among the dozen or so of natural languages cited as example types, Ayeri is thus closest to Catalan, given as 123456 (algun), 45678 (cap), 89 (qualsevol). What Ayeri doesn’t have, however, is an indefinite negative pronoun in the fashion of French personne or Catalan cap, since ranya can only be used for direct negation and arilinya is inspecific as to affirmative or negative expectation or reference. Comparing the results to the first table above, it should be clear that Ayeri lacks a polarity distinction in that negative polarity is not a distinct category but pronouns overlap with both negative and positive (or non-negative?) categories.

  1. My university’s Linguistics department library has a copy of the book, however, I don’t have it at hand now, so I’ll maybe add proper page references later. For the time being, I’ll rely on the information on Hogan’s page.
  2. This table copied from Hogan’s page, linked above.
  3. This table, too, is lifted from Hogan’s page.
  4. Not quite sure about the kondanyam part here, maybe better: Intu arilinyaley yām siley ming konjang ‘… which I can eat.’ (… REL-P.INAN can eat-1SG.A).

“To be, or not to be …”

Quoth Peter Bleackley on Twitter:

See the message on Twitter.

Indeed, besides Peter’s joke (that took me a while to recognize …), it would be interesting to compare how various languages with a zero copula translate Shakespeare’s probably most famous line (yellow marking mine):

To be, or not to be, that is the queſtion
“To be, or not to be, that is the queſtion” (William Shakespeare, Hamlet, III.1 — Shakespeare Quartos Archive, CC-BY-NC; original image cropped and yellow marking added)

Since Ayeri is a language with a zero copula – that is, the copula, “be,” does not have a phonetic realization – I was wondering how to translate this quotation. However, I would rather expect from context that the way “be” is used in English here refers to existence: the verb “be” is used as a full, content verb rather than the copula as a function. That is, the way Hamlet uses “be” does not suggest that he is assigning a quality to the subject, as in “The king is dead,” or “I am suicidal.”

In spite of possessing a zero copula, Ayeri nonetheless has an overt verb for “be” in the meaning of ‘exist’: yoma-. However, what Ayeri still lacks is a proper infinitive – the only non-finite form there is, is the participle, but you can’t usually use this as a nouny standalone thing as in English.1 A possible solution to this problem is to use the noun, yomān ‘existence’. This raises another question, though: how do you negate that, that is, what do you get for ‘inexistence’? Searching the dictionary for nouns in in-/ir-/il-, dis-, un- doesn’t reveal any obviously negated nouns.2

Besides verbs, the only other category that can be negated are adjectives, which are rather noun-like in Ayeri. Adjectives may be negated by -oy and -arya (which has a variety of allomorphs), and since the negation of ‘existence’ we need here is categorical rather than transitory, I would choose -arya. This results in yomāryān as a possible negation:

yoma-
exist
-arya
-NEG
-an
-NMLZ

‘inexistence’

On the other hand, since yomān is already derived from a verb and verbs get negated with -oy, another possible derivation could be yomoyan:3

yoma-
exist
-oy
-NEG
-an
-NMLZ

‘inexistence’

I think the latter case is more succinct, so I’d translate the famous line from Hamlet as:

Yomān soyang yomoyan – adareng prantānley.
Yomān
existence
soyang
or
yomoyan
inexistence
ada-reng
that-A.INAN
prantān-ley
question-P.INAN

‘Existence or inexistence, that is the question.’

Note that in the first half of the sentence, the nouns are not case marked. I chose not to mark them for case since as far as I can tell, they do not fit into the case frame of any verb here, besides the fact that the sentence above does not include any overt verb.

Of course, using less enigmatic language while it still being a bit of a pun, I could also simply translate:

Ten soyang tenyan – adareng prantānley.
Ten
Life
soyang
or
tenyan
death

‘Life or death – that is the question.’

But that would’ve been boring.

  • Shakespeare, William. The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke. London, 1604. [​27.] The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke: An Electronic Edition. The Shakespeare Quartos Archive. Shakespeare Quartos Archive. Mar. 2009. Web. 8 May 2013. ‹http://www.quartos.org›. (The image the presented excerpt is taken from was published under CC-BY-NC; original image cropped and yellow marking added.)
  • David J. Peterson informs that the “[u]sual route is ‘to live or not to live’.” Phrasing it exactly that way doesn’t work in Ayeri either, though.
  1. I’m not sure if there’s something in the Grammar about this. If the Grammar allows participles to stand on their own, my usage has changed meanwhile.
  2. A possible candidate would be tenyan ‘death’, though, since ‘life’ is ten‘; -ya is one of the allomorphs of -arya (cf. below). Ayeri quite loves -ya as a morpheme!
  3. With the transitory adjective negation -oy, the outcome would indeed have been the same, so it really doesn’t matter here.