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CONLANG  June 1999, Week 1

CONLANG June 1999, Week 1

Subject:

Re: Focus, interrogatives

From:

Sally Caves <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Constructed Languages List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 1 Jun 1999 11:52:34 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

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This is a very confusing answer to your very generous suggestions
for topic, comment, and focus.   I've spent an hour on it already,
and damn it all, missed my eye appointment, and will just have to
send it as is.

Sally

Raymond A. Brown wrote:

> >One thing that needs
> >developing in T. is where the interrogatives will go in its sentence
> >order
> >given its peculiar syntax.  You'd think I'd've figured this out by now,
> >but I haven't:
>
> >Either:
> >
> >        Tolo~ "birthday" lo~ htyme eddam kwe'r tobre uarly vergo?
> >        For his  "       his sister to him what INT thing has she given?
> >
> >This puts the interrogative last, treating it like a declarative
> >sentence
> >(which is how most sentences get treated, only with a "hdar" stuck in
> >('r)
> >before the verb to make it a question;
>
> Here, it seems to me, you are putting a topic first - His sister gave him
> something for his birthday (I know or assume) - and then asking for new
> information as comment - Look, I'd like to know what it was.

Christophe had suggested in a previous post that I keep the
interrogative
element in the same position its answer would be in the responding
question.
And I had suggested that the interrogative element should be in the same
place that a declarative sentence would put it:

        For his birthday his sister to him a book she gave.

Actually, this is a bad Teonaht sentence.  The classic sentence, I mean
one that doesn't have a particular focus, allows two things to be
fronted:
Either the direct object, or the subject.  Oblique objects are always
put in the middle.  I've been making this a rule for about a year.  So:

        A book to him for his birthday his sister gave    is acceptable.
                Formal OSV structure: articifial and literary.

So is:  His sister a book to him for his birthday she gave.
                Less formal and more *natural* SOV structure.
                Note that the pronoun has to be repeated to
                preserve the "formal" insistance on OSV.


What the subtle differences between these two are I have yet to figure
out.
(I am beginning to think like a Teonivar... that was OSV!)
I have been explaining it to myself in terms of high and low speaking,
as well as fiddling with focus and comment.

The problem with putting the interrogative in the place of "book" in
either
of these sentences is that Teonaht likes it to precede the verb, so you
have to rewrite the syntax:

        1) His sister, to him for his birthday, what thing did she give?

rather than:

        2) What thing his sister to him for his birthday INT she give?
to echo:   A book     his sister to him for his birthday she did give.
        (a possibility!  we take the "r" out of "kwer tobre" and
        put it before the verb:  "ly hdar vergo."  I suppose anything
        is possible, and T. is far more flexible than I had thought.


1) would seem to focus on sister; unless we think of the T. as thinking
backwards, and actually making the final element in the sentence (the
one that resonates with us because we hear it last) the focal point.  I
can't tell you how much indecision this has given me.  I want to
rationalize
this by saying that "sister" and "what thing" are both in focus, but
sort
of in the way that you have clashing meter in Old English:
                         /    \    /  x
                        Ding down foemen

One sort of compliments the other.  I know this makes absolutely no
sense
linguistically.  But places of focus for T. are at both the front of
the sentence and at the end.  This is due in part by the tyrannical rule
that the verb can only be in final position in declarative, main
clauses.
I used to think it was because the verb was emphasized.  Last thing you
heard.
That's why you have to say "To the park he goes."  Not because "to the
park
is the focus, but because you cannot CANNOT say: "he goes to the park."
This
would seem to create a contradiction:  if the end of the sentence is the
place
of emphasis, then it would seem that you could put the focus or the
comment
there.  But it's only because of the verb final rule.  Teonaht is full
of
contradictions.  It's a surrounding kind of language.  It likes to
surround
the subject (unless it succumbs to SOV) to a kind of padding: object and
oblique cases first, then subject, then verb.  Much like the noun
itself,
which can have plural affixes on either or both ends.  I think I've hit
on it.  The subject is in the middle of the sentence as OSV.  So does
that
make the middle the focus?  No... it's the place for the subject.  Focus
comes at the beginning.  Oh boy.  And of course any of this can be
violated in poetry.  Or poetic prose.

2) would seem to be an alternative to the subordinate clause, which
requires a reversal of word order in the clause:

> >Or:     Kwe'r tobre na  vergouar lo~ htyme eddam tolo~ "birthday"?
> >        What INT thing is (that) give has his sister to him for his bday?
> >

> There, of course, you're focussing on the interrogative.

Maybe.  It's a matter of focus or logic:  the logic that says that the
interrogative has to fill the place of the object given in the
declarative
sentence is perhaps too rigid and unnatural.

> > It was very important for me to
> >make Teonaht a language of its own unique type, and not a CELTIC
> >language, and
> >I endeavored to introduce unique constructions into it.
>
> Yes - I entirely agree. A pseudo-Celtic doesn't appeal to me either -
> especially when you have the real thing  :)

Gotta be careful, here, Ray! <G>  First, that remark unintentionally
implies a preference for natural languages that all too many of us
have been subjected to by critics of conlanging; I should know, I read
the answers to my lunatic survey last fall. ;-) Second, There are a
number of conlangers who have based their conlangs on the Celtic
languages besides Padraic and Andrew and... I think... Gerald Koenig?
Or maybe he's the inventor of Jameld.  I visited the pages of someone
who used to be more vocal on conlang about a year ago who had devised
something like eleven dialects of Goidelic.  It's not just Celtic that
has furnished "pseudo" languages: Ferki based his Vranian on Church
Slavonic, and I think there is someone devising an invented Semitic
language.

If I had had it in me to make up a new romance language (that's been
done
too... look at Talossan) or a dialect of Basque, I would have thrown
myself into it with vigor, and I could have seen my way towards
inventing
another Brythonic language.  But that's not been the history of my
personal
conlang.  Teonaht was already well under way when I got around to
studying
Welsh.  I didn't want to make it Welsh anymore that I wanted to make it
Finnish.  It's its own entity.  But there are a lot of folks who like
inventing languages on the model of an existing language, and anything
should be acceptable on this list!  Even the notion (horrors!!) that one
likes one's own conlang BETTER than most natural foreign languages.  And
will perversely devote more of one's own academic time to it than "going
out there and learning *the real thing.*"  Often a desire to learn
languages and a desire to invent one go hand and hand... look at this
list of polyglots... but I've had this
"why-aren't-you-out-there-learning-
other-languages" criticism thrown at my Teonaht-making by members of my
family for me not to shudder a little when I hear you say that!  <GGGGG>
To be completely honest:  I went into language study because I had the
Teonaht, and not the other way around.  A shocking admission for an
Anglo-Saxonist to make, but... that is that.  I have to be dragged,
kicking and screaming, into a competent use of a language.  An
wlpan/ulpan,
for instance, or a need to speak it because I live there.  Memory loss,
depression, and other factors keep me from having the lightning bolt,
mouse-trap memory that I envy in other people so essential to language
acquisition and language maintenance that I envy in other people.  And
age.

> >But there are
> >plenty
> >of other traits I've loaded it with that I think are uniquely "Teonean,"
> >as
> >I used to call it.
>
> I think this is inevitable.  People now spend ages pouring through
> Tolkien's writings and analyzing all the various influences which may or
> may not have gone into the make-up of his particular languages.  Maybe, the
> same will happen to Teonaht one day  :)

Ah, if only!  A doubtful prospect, though.  BTW, despite my vinegary
and guilt-ridden comments above, I *really* appreciate your helping me
past and present to sort these things out, Ray.


> Now, in the examples you gave about Tebnar etc above, it seems to me that
> in the interrogative sentences you have topic first and then the
> interrogative in the comment part (i.e. not fronted).  But in the replies
> the focus is fronted.  That is the replies work like Welsh/Breton, but the
> questions don't; and the whole thing is, basically, the reverse of English
> & German!
>
> And why not, indeed?  I like it  :-)
>
Thanks!  But it makes speaking T. for an anglophone so damned difficult.
I can hardly even talk to my cat in it.  Much less my husband.
Unfortunately,
I've erased the Tebnar examples.  :-(

> I don't think either your 'either' or your 'or' examples towards the
> beginning are natural or unnatural in an OSV/SVO language - I never cease
> to be surprised at the wide variety of constructions one meets in natlangs.
> But I think your 'either'
> (i.e. Tolo~ "birthday" lo~ htyme eddam kwe'r tobre uarly vergo?
> >     For his  "       his sister to him what INT thing has she given?)
>
> - gives the language more distinctiveness and 'flavor'.  Especially with
> fronted focus in the replies.

How about:  His sister for his birthday to him what INT thing has she
given?
I've been steering T. towards, if not a full-fledged SOV, then at least
an
alternative syntax with SOV.  But this is an interrogative, which has as
you
say a different structure in most languages.

> Go for it, I say!
>
> Ray.


I'll go for both.  I just need to figure out what the variations MEAN.
Maybe they are merely rhetorical.

Thanks, Ray.
Sally

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