August 25, 2019 39

Conlang Notes | Grammar via Analogy

Conlang Notes | Grammar via Analogy

People constantly discover patterns in languagesk
they speak and extrapolate from what they see. It’s how the verb “dive,” which always had
a regular past tense from “dived,” ended up evolving an irregular past tense form “dove”
in some varieties of English, on analogy with “drive → drove” and “weave → wove.” And the verb “catch,” which was borrowed from
Anglo-Norman French, got the irregular past tense form “caught,” on analogy with irregular
verbs such as teach → taught. The imaginary native speakers of a conlang
could end up doing this as well. So I have invited Biblaridion of Biblaridion
Lang channel to create a little bit of grammar via analogy and show how a conlanger could
make this happen. Hello everyone, and thanks very much, Ewa! Now, let’s have a look at Itlu to see where
and how we can implement some analogy. In Itlu, nouns and verbs are basically two
sides of the same coin. Any noun can also be used as a verb, so we
could take a noun like “lomwa,” person, and conjugate it just like a verb to make
“lomwawy,” “I am a person”, or “lomwany,” “you are a person,” or simply “lomwa”
for “he or she is a person,” since if there’s no person marking, it’s assumed
that the verb has a 3rd person singular animate subject. And if you want to make a noun from a verb,
no problem! All you have to do is apply the habitual aspect
suffix to the verb stem and it can now be used as an agent noun. So “lismipy” could either be used as a
verb to mean “he or she teaches” or as a noun meaning “teacher.” Once a verb is made into a noun in this way,
it’s able to take all the morphology that nouns normally take, most notably case marking. The phonological form of a noun’s case marking
depends on whether the noun is classed as animate or inanimate. In the case of these new agent nouns, they
are all treated as animate nouns, since semantically, they obviously refer to something that has
some degree of agency to perform an action, which is pretty intuitive to associate as
being ‘animate.’ So any time you need a new noun, you can just
take a verb and slap on ‘-ipy’ to make an agent noun for it. And since it’s so easy to create new nouns
in this way, it’s an extremely productive strategy. And once a pattern has been established, all
we have to do to implement analogy is apply the pattern to words it originally had nothing
to do with. Eventually, the Itlu speakers may get so accustomed
to the idea that the ‘-ipy’ suffix turns verbs into nouns that now, wherever they see
a word that happens to end in ‘ipy,’ they assume it was derived from a verb… even
when it wasn’t. So if “otlipy” is “wasp,” then it
must come from a verb “otli,” which would mean something like “to sting,” and ketmipy,
“foreigner or stranger,” must have a verbal counterpart “ketmi,” which would mean
“to visit.” Even though the assumed etymology of these
words was entirely incorrect, that didn’t stop the new coinages from spreading, and
this simple mistake allowed a whole bunch of new verbs to enter Itlu’s lexicon. This type of analogy is called back-formation,
and it occurs when parts of a word are reanalysed as being affixes to which they are, by sheer
coincidence, phonologically identical. This crops up all the time! In English, we’re so used to the ‘-tion’
suffix turning verbs into nouns, that it was only natural to assume the words ‘automation’
and ‘resurrection’ must come from the verbs ‘automate’ and ‘resurrect’, except
these words never actually existed beforehand. But after their usage has been codified and
accepted, that doesn’t matter any more. But analogy can result in a lot more than
the creation of new words. If one pattern is allowed to spread at the
expense of another, it can end up changing entire inflection paradigms. In the old days, all plurals were formed by
reduplicating the final syllable. Except for agent nouns, where the 3rd person
plural animate subject marker was used instead. So while ‘limysipy’ could mean “he or she
teaches” as a verb, or “teacher” as a noun, ‘limysipyli’ could mean either “they teach,”
or “teachers.” When this innovation first occurred, the Itlu
speakers didn’t think much of this difference, as these special nouns were understood as
coming from verb roots, and so it was not too strange that they behaved slightly differently
to other nouns. But as the centuries passed, sound changes
took place, and the meanings of words and their morphology drifted, the relationship
between the now very common agent nouns and their verbal ancestors became a little less
transparent. And looking at their language from the standpoint
of its current state, the Itlu speakers may notice that there are effectively three ways
to pluralize nouns: one formed by reduplicating the final syllable, as happened with all nouns
in the old days, one by geminating the final consonant, and one by adding the syllable
‘-li’ to the end of the word, which only happens in animate nouns. Of course, from a historical perspective,
this ‘-li’ suffix began as the 3rd person animate plural marker, but the average Itlu
speaker doesn’t know or care about their language’s history, they’ll just see an
obvious pattern present in the language as it exists now. And so it may be apparent to them that, since
many, many animate nouns are pluralized this way, ‘-li’ must be a plural marker, and
so nouns which have no history of being agent nouns will be reanalysed as having a plural
formed by removing a word-final schwa if there is one, and adding ‘-li’. As always, there are a few exceptions, especially
among words that are used often enough to resist adopting the new pattern, but these
are now viewed as irregular. However, this pattern only applies to animate
nouns, since all agent nouns were treated as animate in the old days, and so all inanimate
nouns still fall within the original pluralisation pattern. So, what we’ve ended up with is a way of
making new verbs out of nouns, and a way of marking nominal plurals derived from verb
inflections, all without resorting to any new morphology. All that happened was the Itlu speakers forgetting
and reinterpreting their language’s history. Grammar from nothing? How about grammar from less than nothing! Well, that’s about all from me. Thanks for having me, Ewa! Thanks for a cool new piece of grammar! And y’all should check out Biblaridion’s channel,
he has an entire tutorial series on how to create a conlang on there!

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