Dơk Nhuang: Beginnings

April 29, 2011 § 2 Comments

So I got onto a Vietnamese kick today, for some who knows ungodly reason, and ever since about 2pm I’ve been sketching up a phonology and thinking about grammar for something inspired by the language that until about 1pm today I knew (close to) nothing about. I’m going to sketch out a couple ideas here I’ve had for grammar. I’ll make a phonology post later, but just so you know the lay of the land a little bit, look at these two posts I made: you can see the consonant inventory here and the basic vowel inventory here. The orthography isn’t totally settled, so I’ll post about that later too.

Also, the language’s name is Dơk Nhuang [ɗɤk ɲu̯aŋ], which means something like ‘Language of the Nhuang’, though I’ll be calling it [i]Nhuang[/i] for the remainder of the post. Nhuang is monosyllabic (though it doesn’t have tone, at this point) and isolating. The only morphological processes are reduplication (which is mostly used to derive extended words with the same meaning as the base) and compounding. The basic word order is SVO, though there is flexible placement of non-core arguments/constituents. They may occur to the left or right of the VP.

Word classes
The major word classes in Nhuang are [i]noun[/i] and [i]verb[/i]. Nouns are differentiated from verbs in that they 1) may form the head of NPs and 2) must follow the copula le [lɛ] to form a predicate. Verbs may form the head of predicates without the copula and may be preceded by the future marker keu [kɛw] and the verbal negator [sɤ]. Verbs are further subdivided into [i]stative[/i] and [i]active[/i] verbs; they are distinguished by syntactic tests. Stative verbs may be preceded by degree adverbs (i.e. bi [ɓi] ‘very’) and may not follow imperative markers (of which there will be several). Active verbs may not be preceded by degree adverbs, but may follow imperative markers. Stative verbs may also be used as postnominal modifiers, while active verbs must occur in a relative clause. This distinction is probably gonna get split up somehow, but I’m not sure how yet.

In addition to these two broad open classes, there are several closed classes: pronouns, demonstratives, classifiers, numerals, quantifiers, prepositions, adverbs and sentence level particles.

There is no inflectional morphology in Nhuang, though there are a couple derivational morphological processes that are quite productive. One of these is reduplication, of which there are two types of reduplication: (1) intensifying reduplication and (2) alliterative reduplication. The first type applies stative verbs and adverbs and involves full reduplication of the word in question. It indicates a more intense meaning: vưà [vɨɜ̯] ‘red’ > vưà vưà ‘very red, deep red’. The second type of reduplication is also quite productive, and is not limited to specific lexical classes. Alliterative reduplication reduplicates only the first consonant of the base word in question, adding to this a vowel nucleus that is different from the base’s nucleus, but predictable based on regular rules. Every base nucleus has one or two corresponding alliterative nuclei. This type of reduplication is stylistic in nature; the reduplicated version of a word (usually) has the same meaning as the base. In some cases, there is some sort of semantic drift and the alliterative form has been lexicalized. Some examples of alliterative reduplication are:

rieu [ʐjɛw] ‘mask’ > rieu rê [ʐjɛw ʐe:] ibid.
dak [ɗak] ‘black’ > dak dai [ɗak ɗəj] ‘night’ (example of semantic drift)

I still haven’t worked out the exact correspondences between the base and reduplicant vowels here.

Nouns and the NP
Nouns are divided into three broad classes: inanimate, feminine and non-feminine. The second two classes are animate. Membership in these classes is generally based on semantics, though I haven’t figured out the specifics of how this works. Each class is associated with a classifier or classifiers (haven’t decided how many for each there will be), and demonstratives are sensitive to class membership in their form. The order of elements in the noun phrase are:

Article – {Demonstrative} – Numeral – Classifier / Measure word – Head Noun – Attributive modifiers – {Demonstrative} – Possessive – Relative Clause

The only obligatory element is the head noun. The demonstrative may occur on either side of the head noun. Right now this is just a sketch, so I don’t know the details of how this total structure works.

Basic clause structure
The basic word order in Nhuang is SVO. This order is fairly rigid for the core arguments of the clause: subjects precede the verb, while objects follow it. The VP (= [V O]) combo forms a tight constituent, and the object may not be separated from the verb complex by any elements. The subject NP is usually the first constituent in the clause. The peripheral elements of a clause- such as adverbs, prepositional phrases, etc- usually after the VP. However, it is possible to place peripheral constituents between the VP and the subject NP. Thus SVOX and SXVO are both valid word orders.

Wh-questions are generally in situ, though it is possible to front a question wh-word/-phrase. In this case, if the wh-word is a core argument, a resumptive pronoun occupies the argument slot. This is also the case in focus fronting.

There is a large inventory of clause final particles used for various purposes that I haven’t quite figured out yet. for example, yes-no questions are formed with the interrogative particle [mɨ].

Phew. That’s all I cant type out right now. My brain is buzzing with ideas, but they’ll have to wait til tomorrow. I should be posting on the verb complex and perhaps focus/wh-fronting. Feedback is welcome as always!


P1: Phonotactics and Consonant Clusters

April 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

P1 syllables may begin and end in exactly one consonant. Word initial syllables may begin in a vowel, a glide, or a consonant (or CG combo), while word internal syllables must begin with either a consonant or a glide. There are no syllable-internal consonant clusters, and those consonant clusters that do appear are the result of a closed syllable followed by the next onset. There are some general principles as to how this clustering works:

1) The consonants /h ð̞/ never occur in clusters, and /ɾ l/ do not occur as the second member of a cluster
2) There are no clusters with two identical consonants
3) Nasals assimilate to the following obstruent when they occur in a cluster
4) Stops/the affricate may only be followed by obstruents

Based on these principles, the valid consonant clusters that occur in stems can be summarized in the following table. Final consonants are represented along the vertical access, initial consonants along the horizontal. “N” indicates a nasal that assimilates to the following obstruent An X indicates that the cluster occurs, while lack of one indicates that it does not:

So, as can be seen from the chart above, most consonants can stand in the coda of a stem internal syllables. However, the consonants that can occur in word and stem final syllables are much more limited. They are /t̪ t ts m n k l/.

P1: Word Order, part 1

April 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

One of the central aspects of P1 clausal syntax is the fact that it displays V2 word order, like many Germanic languages. This means that the finite verb must always be the second constituent of a clause. Unlike like some V2 languages (like German), P1 obeys this constraint in both main clauses and subordinate clauses with overt complementizers.

The underlying word order, before any V2 movement is applied, is a pretty simple SVO. Core arguments are not case marked in P1, and therefore placement on either side of the verb serves to distinguish subject from object. A more exact layout of the P1 clause can be sketched as follows:

[Topic slot] – [V2 slot] – Subject – Verb complex – Object(s) – Periphery

The ‘periphery’ contains adverbials other non-core argument constituents. Some verbs may take more than one object, in which case a direct object nominal is placed before an indirect object nominal (which is marked with dative case). The V2 slot is filled by the finite verb (which moves from it’s position within the verbal complex. This slot is obligatorily preceded by a topic constituent, which is moved from somewhere else in the clause.

I’m toying around with an idea of having certain types of constituents in the Topic slot trigger/constrain some sort of morphology on the verb, but I haven’t figured this out completely yet.

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