Tag Archives: topics

Some Ideas for Person Marking

A while ago, I posted a short blog article on how I found Ayeri’s 3rd-person marking strange. I was reminded by a commenter that since Swedish uses han and hon for ‘he’ and ‘she’ respectively (and recently also hen as a gender-neutral pronoun), Ayeri’s -ya, -ye, -yo for ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘~it’ isn’t too unnatural. However, this would-be issue didn’t let go of me, and neither did the fact that Ayeri’s topics still bear large similarities to subjects. So if I should ever get around to making a dialect, sister-, daughter- or proto-language for Ayeri, I thought of some changes in grammar to consider.

The following bit is just two sentences of current standard Ayeri:

[gloss]Ang silvyo peljas turayya mavi si sapaya kayvay. Na kacyong pelye men savaley hagin …
AT see-3SG.N horse-PL-P hill-LOC sheep(.T) REL(.A) wool-LOC without. GENT pull-3SG.N.A horse-PL(.T) one wagon-P.INAN heavy …[/gloss]
“A sheep which was without wool saw horses on a hill. One of the horses was pulling a heavy wagon …”

In this example – as usually –, verbs agree in number and gender with the agent of the clause (masculine/feminine/”neuter” animate vs. inanimate); if the agent NP is a non-topic pronoun, verb agreement additionally includes agent case marking. However, if we reduce gender to just animate/inanimate and also eliminate number marking in verb agreement (pronouns get -n, nouns -ye/-j?!), things could look like this:

[gloss]Ang silvya peljas turayya mavi si sapaya kayvay. Na kacyāng pelye men savaley hagin …
AT see-3 horse-PL-P hill-LOC sheep(.T) REL(.A) wool-LOC without. GENT pull-3.A horse-PL(.T) one wagon-P.INAN heavy …[/gloss]

And also, to decrease the subject-likeness of the topic, let’s make verbs not generally agree with the actor (or the patient in impersonal statements where there is no actor), but with the topic of the clause (While we’re at it, we could maybe also introduce syntactic restrictions to relative clauses!):

[gloss]Silvyāng peljas turayya mavi si sapaya kayvay. Kacana yāng pelye men savaley hagin …
See-3.AT horse-PL-P hill-LOC sheep(.T) REL(.T) wool-LOC without. pull-3.GENT 3.A horse-PL(.T) one wagon-P.INAN heavy …[/gloss]
(Or maybe I should keep ang … -ya, na … -ya etc. instead of using the normal, case-marked pronoun versions as clitics?)

In order to avoid having -yāng all over the place (Ayeri prefers actor topics, so its ancestor may have had a NOM/ACC alignment before probably developing a split-S system that resulted in the current, rather idiosyncratic variant of the Philippine alignment), reduce it to -a:

[gloss]Silva peljas … Kacana a pelye men … Naraya peljang …
See-3.AT horse-PL-P … pull-3.GENT 3.A horse-PL(.T) one … Say-3.A horse-PL-A[/gloss]

Just some ideas …

Flicking Switches: Ayeri and the Austronesian Alignment

  • This article still receives rather a lot of views, so if you are seriously interested in what I wrote below, please read my reevaluation of Ayeri’s syntactic alignment (a preliminary version of chapter 5 of the Grammar). The article below neither properly reflects current Ayeri grammar nor relatively more recent academic research on Austronesian alignment.

In this article, a number of features of the Austronesian alignment will be discussed in hope to gain a better understanding about the difference between what David J. Peterson called the ‘conlang trigger system’ – of which Ayeri uses a variety – and the naturally occurring ‘trigger system’ of South-East Asia, namely the ‘Philippine’ or ‘Austronesian’ alignment which served as an inspiration for part of Ayeri’s grammar, albeit with some misunderstandings. In order to examine and test how Ayeri works with regards to the terms topic, focus, and subject and in how far it differs from Austronesian languages such as Tagalog, papers by Charles N. Li and Sandra A. Thompson, Paul R. Kroeger, and Paul Schachter were taken into consideration.

As the focus of this article is mainly on how Ayeri relates to the Austronesian alignment system, the language’s detailed way of assigning case to the different semantic roles as well as the details of its handling of morphologic case marking with regards to verb transitivity and the classic constituent-order typology will only be touched on superficially. Continue reading Flicking Switches: Ayeri and the Austronesian Alignment

Imperial Messages I – “Budang lanyana iray”

This is the first 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

Eine kaiserliche Botschaft
Der Kaiser – so heißt es – hat Dir, dem Einzelnen, dem jämmerlichen Untertanen, dem winzig vor der kaiserlichen Sonne in die fernste Ferne geflüchteten Schatten, gerade Dir hat der Kaiser von seinem Sterbebett aus eine Botschaft gesendet. (Kafka 1994, 280:15–281:2)

A Message from the Emperor
The emperor – it is said – sent to you, the one apart, the wretched subject, the tiny shadow that fled far, far from the imperial sun, precisely to you he sent a message from his deathbed. (Kafka 2011)

Budang lanyana iray
Yam turakaya lanyāng iray – da-ningrey – va, si kebay, avanaya dipakan, karano, si iyin marinya perinena desay iray nay si danguvāng mangasaha timangya kahu-vā: yam māy turakaya va pakas lanyāng iray budangas mangasara pinamya pang-vā yana.

Interlinear glossing

[gloss]Budang lanya-na iray
message king-GEN high[/gloss]
‘A Message from the High King’

[gloss]Yam turaka-ya lanya-ang iray – da=ning-rey – va, si kebay, avanaya dipakan, karano, si iyin marin-ya perin-ena desay iray nay si dangu-vāng mangasaha timang-ya kahu=vā: yam māy turaka-ya va pakas lanya-ang iray budang-as mangasara pinam-ya pang-vā yana.
DATF send-3SM king-A high – such=tell-3S.INAN.P – 2S.FOC, REL single, subject pathetic shadow, REL tiny face-LOC sun-GEN noble high and REL flee-2S.A towards distance-LOC far=SUPL: DATF EMPH send-3SM 2S.FOC especially king-A high message-P away_from bed-LOC last 3SM.GEN[/gloss]
‘To you – as is told – the single one, the pathetic subject, the shadow that is tiny in the face of the high-noble sun, and that has fled to the furthest distance: yes, precisely to you the high king has sent a message from his final bed.’

Notes on translation

First of all, it has to be noted that I have developed only little cultural background about the fictional people that are supposed to the speak the Ayeri language so far. However, let us assume that like in many parts of both the Occident and the Orient, there used to be an empire with an emperor. Actually, the Ayeri-speaking countries themselves belonged to an empire once that crumbled and split into what is three nations today. However, there is no individual word for an ‘emperor’ in my dictionary yet because I have never seen the need for one. There is, however, bayhi ‘ruler’ as a general term, and also lanya ‘king’ as a more specific one. For the sake of translating the title of the short story and also this series, I chose to call the emperor lanya iray ‘high king’, since this person would be the Great King, the Principal of a group of rulers.

Likewise, there is no word for ‘subject’ yet. Since the whole sentence stresses how small and utterly insignificant the addressee is in comparison to the imperial court, let us go with something derived from avan ‘bottom’ here – ignoring possible connotations of proletarianism. Avanan, the direct (re-)nominalization of this word, already exists and means ‘basis, funding, groundwork’. It is possible to make a word like avanaya < avan ‘bottom’ + -mayaAGTZ’, though.

Another word for which there has not yet existed a definition is ‘pathetic, wretched’, for which I recycled the word dipakan ‘pity’ as an adjective. Another such recycled word is desay, which prior to this translation exercise was only defined as ‘noble’, though together with iray ‘high’, it may just as well be understood to pattern with lanya iray ‘high king, emperor’, also by extension of ‘noble’ with ‘royal’.

There has not been a word for ‘deathbed’ either so far, but I chose to translate that as pinam pang-vā ‘last bed’, thus not naming death overtly. Interestingly, pang-vā ‘(the) last’ was so far listed as a noun in the dictionary probably because it was used only in that context when I coined it earlier. However, it patterns with ban-vā ‘(the) best’, which can also be used as an adjective, since ban ‘good’ is one and -vā is an adverbial quantifier expressing superlative amounts, cf. the verb va- ‘to be (the) most’.

Syntactically, the addressee is kept as the topic of the sentence throughout the passage, as is implied also in the German and English version, albeit only by recursion to it by means of a great number of coordinated modifying clauses. The phrase that was probably the most difficult to translate in this passage is “dem winzig vor der kaiserlichen Sonne in die fernste Ferne geflüchteten Schatten” (Kafka 1994, 281:16–17), which in German is very complicated. The English translation renders this as “the tiny shadow that fled […]” (Kafka 2011), however, this is not exactly what it says in German, since “winzig” does not agree in case with “Schatten”, or otherwise it would have to be “dem winzigen […] Schatten”.

What happens instead is that “winzig vor der kaiserlichen Sonne” (‘tiny in the face of the imperial sun’) forms a syntactic unit, and “in die fernste Ferne geflüchteten” (‘fled into the furthest distance’) does so as well, so that the sentence contains two coordinated modifying clauses that refer to “Schatten”, bracketed by “dem […] Schatten” (Kafka 1994, 281:16–17). The Ayeri translation breaks this highly complicated structure up into two coordinated relative clauses. Note as well that like in the first half of the sentence, the topicalized second person pronoun va(-yam) stays in its syntactic slot after the patient as usual. However, at the beginning of the text, it is buried between the other sentence constituents, which is amplifed by the parenthesis of “da-ningrey”, thus mirroring the insignificance of the addressee even in sentence structure, while the effect is not as strong in the occurrence of this construction towards the end. Now that I’m thinking of it, why not add a grammatical rule to prevent the burying of zero-marked pronouns by moving them right behind the verb phrase if focussed?

  • 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›


I’ve not posted anything in a couple of weeks now although I’ve been meaning to. In fact, these things are still on my backburner of topics to think and write about, some of them more within reach than others:

  • Compounding – ZBBer Tom H. Chappell asked me about it last winter and I’m still owing him an answer.
  • Derivational strategies
  • Syntactic alignment of Ayeri, especially in comparison to the original Austronesian Alignment as present in Tagalog that inspired its slightly weird strategy of subject/topic/definiteness marking (cf. Schachter/Otanes 69 ff., Kroeger) (see post of 2012-06-27)
  • Sharing of determiners and prepositions in coordinated clauses, also in comparison to Tagalog because of syntactic similarities (at least originally intended thus; cf. Schachter/Otanes 113–16, 540–45)
  • Read up on pragmatics, figure out how the language could be used in conversation (sometime)
  • Read up on historical linguistics, finally make Proto-South-West-Kataynian (sometime if ever)

And then, of course, there’s the Grammar that I’ve not been working on anymore since the beginning of this year, sadly, because either I didn’t feel like it or when I did, there were more important things to get done first, e.g. term papers. Since the Grammar is the second most popular page of the last 6 months, I should definitely continue to work on it sometime soon. Including all the things I’ve posted about in blog articles. It’s embarrassing to me at least that I’ve not worked on it for so long.

Unfortunately, however, I don’t see myself getting much work on Ayeri done before the Christmas holidays because — as before — there are many important things to do for university in the next couple of weeks and conlanging is not the only thing I’m spending my spare time on.

  • Kroeger, Paul R. “Another Look at Subjecthood in Tagalog.” Philippine Journal of Linguistics 24.2 (1993): 1–16. Pre-publication Draft. Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics, 21 Apr. 2008. Web. 6 Nov. 2011. ‹http://www.gial.edu/personnel/kroeger/Subj-PJL.pdf
  • Schachter, Paul and Fe T. Otanes. 1972. Tagalog Reference Grammar. Berkeley: U of California P, 1983. 69 ff., 113–16, 540–45. Google Books. Google, 2011. Web. 6 Nov. 2011.