Ithkuil: A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language


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5a Verb Morphology
9 Syntax
Introduction
5b Verb Morphology (continued)
10 Lexico-Semantics
1 Phonology
6 More Verb Morphology
11 The Script
  2 Morpho-Phonology  7a Using Affixes 12 The Number System
   3 Basic Morphology 7b Using Affixes (continued) The Lexicon
  4 Case Morphology   8 Adjuncts Revised Ithkuil: Ilaksh

 

Chapter 9: Syntax

9.1 Word Order
9.2 Semantic Focus and Pragmatic Relations
9.3 Morpho-Semantic Considerations
9.4 The “Carrier” Root


Syntax refers to the rules for sequencing the order of words within a phrase or sentence, including rules permitting more than one possible sequential ordering of words. To understand the following discussion of Ithkuil syntax it is necessary to have a cursory understanding of the notions of semantic role, pragmatic role, and grammatical (or syntactical) relations:

In general, the syntax of a language either (1) establishes the permissible grammatical relations of the language, (2) reflects and/or reinforces semantic roles, (3) reflects and/or reinforces pragmatic roles, or (4) any combination of these. As one might surmise from the above, English syntax is weighted heavily toward establishing grammatical relations at the near-total expense of identifying semantic roles. As for pragmatic roles, English rarely reflects these in its syntax (one exception is the strong tendency for placing wh- question words in sentence-initial position in specialized questions, even if they represent a direct object, e.g., What have you done? or Who[m] are they talking about?), however, such roles do tend to be marked “supra-segmentally” by inflection of vocal pitch and tone of voice.

We have already seen the extreme to which Ithkuil marks semantic roles morphologically as opposed to syntactically. And since grammatial relations in and of themselves are relatively arbitrary within language, Ithkuil uses pure word order constraints only to an extent necessary to ensure avoidance of ambiguity in determining which nouns belong as participants to a verb, which nouns lie in apposition to their head, and which words of a compound sentence lie within a case-frame as opposed to outside the case-frame. As for pragmatic roles, we have already seen that semantic focus and optional topicalization are accomplished morphologically in Ithkuil (see Sec. 3.5 and the TPF affix in Sec. 7.7.13). As a result, Ithkuil has relatively free word order which, subject to a few constraints, is manipulated for euphonic and phonaesthetic reasons. Those constraints on word order which do exist are explained below.

 

9.1 WORD ORDER

The highly inflected nature of Ithkuil morphology allows the order of words within a sentence to be quite flexible. Nevertheless, two neutral or “default” patterns exist, one for main clauses, the other for case frames.


9.1.1 Word Order Within Main Clauses

The default word-order for a main clause is as follows:

 

Nt1/R (Nt2) (Na) (Ns) (A) (Cv) (Co) Vb, where:

Nt1/R = first transrelative participant or a personal reference adjunct
Nt2 = second transrelative participant
Na = attributive/associative/adverbial nouns
Ns = spatio-temporal nouns
A = aspectual adjunct
Cv = conflation or valence adjunct
Co = other adjuncts (e.g., affixual adjunct or combination adjunct)
Vb = verb

Thus we see that a main clause normally starts with the highest-order transrelative noun (see Sec. 4.2) or any personal reference adjunct, followed by any nouns in lower-order transrelative cases, followed by nouns in non-transrelative cases. The last part of the clause consists of the verb in final position preceded by any aspectual adjunct, conflation (or valence) adjunct, and combination or affixual adjunct, in that order. As for “higher-” versus “lower-” order transrelative nouns, this refers to the hierarchy or sequence of transrelative cases in which certain cases take precedence over others. This hierarchy is as follows:

ERGATIVE EFFECTUATIVE INDUCIVE ABSOLUTIVE DERIVATIVE
SITUATIVE AFFECTIVE DATIVE INSTRUMENTAL OBLIQUE

 

9.1.2 Word-order within Case-Frames

Within a case-frame (see Section 5.7), a different default order is used in order to identify the clause as a case frame:

Vc (A) (Cv) (Co) (Na) (Ns) (Nt2) Nt1/R, where:

Vc = verb inflected for case-frame
A = aspectual adjunct
Cv = conflation or valence adjunct
Co = other adjuncts (e.g., affixual adjunct or combination adjunct)
Na = attributive/associative/adverbial nouns
Ns = spatio-temporal nouns
Nt2 = second transrelative participant
Nt1/R = first transrelative participant or a personal reference adjunct

This is nearly the reverse order of the main clause, with the case-marked verb appearing initially within the case-frame followed by its attendant adjuncts, then any secondary nouns, followed by any transrelative nouns with the highest-order transrelative noun or any personal reference adjunct in final position within the case-frame. Additionally, the last noun within the case-frame will usually take one of the –V1 suffixes (see Sec. 7.7.13) signifying the end of the case-frame unless this is clear without the suffix (e.g., because the case-frame is in sentence-final position).

9.1.3 Flexibility and Constraints in Word Order

Despite there being a normal word-order for main clauses and case-frames, these are by no means grammatically required. In general, the order of most words can be changed for purposes of euphony. Nevertheless, Ithkuil word order is not completely free. The following word-order constraints exist in order to avoid potential ambiguity or semantic incoherence.

9.1.4 Phonotactically-Induced Syntactic Modifications

As mentioned above, word-order can shift in an Ithkuil sentence to accommodate phonotactic or phonaesthetic ends, i.e., for purposes of euphony. This is because suffixes on a formative, as well as morphemes associated with categories of Bias and Mood, can be transformed into autonomous adjuncts (see Secs. 8.3, 8.4 and 8.6.2). As was described in Sec. 1.4.5, words of six syllables or more are generally undesirable, therefore any formative with numerous affixes is potentially subject to having several of its morphemes redistributed to adjuncts. As an example, the word umreiquçîîmšën ‘series of bombs’ can separate out two of its four suffixes into a separate word çu’’î to give the form çu’’î_umreiqîmšën whose morphological structure is .

When ordering such phonaesthetically-induced adjuncts, it is important that they can be easily associated with the formative to which they apply. Generally, this means that they will be adjacent to the formative, or occur on either side of other adjuncts associated with the formative.


9.1.5 Iconicity

English and other languages generally display phrase-structure patterns and word-order patterns which reinforce, or even reflect, a cognitive understanding of what is being described, i.e., the order of the words themselves reflects information about how we are to understand the utterance. Such a phenomenon is known as iconicity. In English and other Western languages, the most common way in which iconicity is manifested is what is termed “sequential order iconicity,” the idea that the actual sequential order of words in a phrase or sentence reflects the sequential order of the events they describe. For example, the phrases ‘eye it, try it, buy it,’ ‘I came, I saw, I conquered,’ or ‘dine and dash’ describe sequential events where the sequence of the words reflect the sequence of the events. What is most important is that re-ordering of the words either changes the meaning of the phrase or leads to semantic nonsense, e.g., ‘buy it, eye it, try it’ implies that a different sequence of events actually takes place than ‘eye it, try it, buy it.’ This can be more dramatically illustrated with the following pair of sentences.

1) Jane got married and had a baby.
2) Jane had a baby and got married.

In English, the ambiguous word ‘and’ is interpreted as connecting a sequence of events, i.e., ‘and’ is interpreted to mean sequential ‘then’ (= ‘and following that,’ ‘then next’ or ‘then later’). As a result, the meanings of the two sentences imply very different social interpretations about Jane.

Besides the reflection of sequential order, other types of word-order iconicity are possible. For example, compare the subtle difference in meaning between the following two sentences:

3) Sam painted the fence white.
4) Sam painted the white fence.

In the first sentence, we do not know what color the fence was prior to being painted, or even if it was a new fence that had never been painted before. In the second sentence, not only do we know what color the fence had been, but also that it was not previously unpainted, however, we do not necessarily know what its new color is. This sort of iconicity is used to convey a resultative state of affairs, i.e., by placing the adjective ‘white’ after the word ‘fence’ (seemingly in violation of the usual adjective-before-noun word order used in English), we describe a resulting state of affairs.

Yet another type of word-order iconicity is displayed in comparing the following two sentences.

5) Loretta gave Sue a wedding gift.
6) Loretta gave a wedding gift to Sue.

Most grammar textbooks would state that these two sentences are semantically equivalent, the first employing a “ditransitive” pattern (i.e., juxtaposing an indirect object ‘Sue’ with a direct object ‘wedding gift’), while the second uses a “complement” pattern in which the indirect object follows the direct object and is changed to a prepositional phrase using ‘to.’ However, there is a subtle semantic distinction between the two sentences. The first strongly implies that the wedding gift is for Sue, i.e., Sue is the bride and intended recipient. The second sentence, however, invites the possibility that Sue is only a temporary or circumstantial goal for the act of giving, but not the bride and intended recipient. For example, if Sue is merely a guest at the wedding and Loretta needed Sue’s help carrying an armload of wedding gifts, she might give a wedding gift to Sue, but that does not mean she would give Sue a wedding gift. This type of iconicity distinguishing a recipient from a directional goal is an example of what is termed “distance iconicity,” because the two linked words are made more “distant” from each other in the sentence as a reflection of their more circumstantial association.

Ithkuil does not display iconicity. While the order of words in an Ithkuil phrase or sentence may coincidentally reflect a temporal or causative sequence of events, this is not by syntactic design. Because of the myriad means available in Ithkuil to morphologically distinguish sequence, cause-and-effect, resulting states, and the distinction of recipients from directional goals, no iconicity patterns are required.

For example, we saw in sentences (1) and (2) above how English ‘and’ can be used to convey not just mere coordination, but also a sequencing function. In Sections 7.7.3 and 7.7.4, we saw that Ithkuil has no less than thirty-six suffixes (four suffix categories, each with nine different degrees) which convey various coordinative and sequencing patterns with great specificity. Thus, Ithkuil has no morpheme directly equivalent to the ambiguous English word ‘and.’ There is an affix corresponding to ‘and’ in its use as a mere additive listing device (e.g., ‘pears and apples and bananas’), another corresponding to its use as an indicator of simultaneity (e.g., ‘I clenched my fists and scowled’), another corresponding to its use as an indicator of additional information (e.g., ‘The clown likes children and loves to eat’), another to its use as an indicator of parallel description or activity (e.g., ‘We went dancing and so did they’), and yet another as a temporal sequencing indicator (e.g., ‘I went to the window and looked out’).

 

9.2 SEMANTIC FOCUS AND PRAGMATIC RELATIONS

We first discussed semantic focus in Section 3.5, describing it as a means to distinguish new from background information in a sentence. In languages like English, such distinctions are generally accomplished syntactically by means of word order, as illustrated by the distinction between The clown selected a redheaded girl from the audience versus It was a redheaded girl the clown selected from the audience. Because semantic focus (along with optional topicalization) is shown morphologically (with affixes) in Ithkuil, word order changes are not necessary to distinguish new from background information in a sentence. Comparison between the word-order based system of English and the morphology based system of Ithkuil is analyzed in Sec. 9.2.1 below. Additionally, while Ithkuil’s system for indicating topics and semantic focus does not require changes in word order per se, it does allow for significant word deletion, creating abbreviated sentences which, in effect, modify the default word order of a sentence. Such word deletion is analyzed in Sec. 9.2.2.


9.2.1 Using Focus and Sequencing Affixes in Lieu of Word-Order Changes

Focus, in conjunction with the sequencing affixes described in Sec. 7.7.3, can be used to subtle effect in Ithkuil, providing semantic nuance. For example, compare the following English sentences:

All four sentences indicate two sequential events: shopping, then going home. The difference between them is one of focus and viewpoint. In the first two sentences, going home has semantic focus, as that is the new information being conveyed, while in the latter two sentences it is shopping that has focus. The first and third sentence have a “prospective” viewpoint in that the sentence conveys the events in the same sequence in which they occurred, looking upon the events from the viewpoint of the one that occurred first. However, the second and fourth sentences have a “retrospective” viewpoint, conveying the two events in a reverse order from how they occurred, looking back on the events from the viewpoint of the event which occurred last.

In Ithkuil, the distinction in focus and viewpoint in these four sentences would be accomplished morphologically, not syntactically. Positive Focus would be used to identify those parts of the sentence which present new information, while the two viewpoints would be accomplished using the aforementioned sequencing suffixes.

9.2.2 Abbreviated Sentences Using Focus and Topicalization

Focus and topicalization allow Ithkuil, as with other languages, to provide abbreviated sentences in direct answer to commands, the equivalent of questions (see Sec. 5.1.6), or to comment on a topic already under discussion. Because the topic is already known within the contextual discourse, only the portion of the new sentence carrying semantic focus need be spoken. Similarly, the topicalization suffix in conjunction with the INTERROGATIVE illocution affix, allows for abbreviated inquiries within a known contextual discourse, similar to such abbreviated sentences in English, e.g., ‘and Bill?’ in lieu of the full sentence ‘Comment on how this applies to Bill.’

 

9.3 MORPHO-SEMANTIC CONSIDERATIONS

It should be noted that when structuring an Ithkuil sentence, particularly when translating from other languages such as English, care must be given to avoid capturing irrelevant semantic information reflected by the morphology of the source language and trying to find an equivalent or parallel way to reflect those irrelevancies in the Ithkuil sentence. This can have a profound effect on the morpho-syntactical structure of the resulting Ithkuil sentence.

 

9.3.1 Arbitrary Delineations of Perspective or Point of View

One area where word-choice in English and other Western languages arbitrarily affects sentence structure is in the unintentional schematicization of a particular perspective or point of view. For example, consider the following pair of sentences in English.

1) The path climbs steeply out of the canyon.
2) That path descends steeply into the canyon.

Both of these sentences are describing the same property of the path — its steepness. The distinction in the sentences comes from the point of view being reflected by the speaker. In sentence (1) the implied point of view is from the bottom of the canyon upward, while in sentence (2) the viewpoint is from the top of the canyon downward. What is important is that, semantically, the point of view is of no relevance to the steepness of the path per se. So if the cognitive intent of the utterance is simply to describe the vertical gradient of the path within the canyon, there would be only one Ithkuil translation for both of these sentences, eschewing the point of view entirely and restating the sentence to read:


_Listen!

 

9.3.2 Masking of Semantic or Participatory Roles

Similarly, care must be made, when comparing Ithkuil sentence structure with other languages, to note that Ithkuil grammar allows for a more overt reflection of the underlying semantic roles inherent in a given sentence. As a result, sentence structures in Western languages which “mask” potentially anomalous semantic structures are avoided in Ithkuil. For example, compare the following pairs of sentences.

  3a) He supplied a report to the analyst. 4a) She applied a solvent to the stain.
  3b) He supplied the analyst a report. 4b) *She applied the stain a solvent.

The syntactical patterns of these two pairs of sentences are identical, yet the word-order in sentence (4b) is ungrammatical (as indicated by the asterisk), while the same word-order in sentence (3b) presents no problem. The underlying reason for the difference is one of semantic role. While ‘analysts’ can function in the role of Recipients, ‘stains’ cannot (they are merely directional Goals, i.e., where the solvent gets applied). Cognitively, stains cannot “possess” a solvent the way analysts can “possess” a report. In Ithkuil, the semantic roles would be clearly defined by the case-markings of the participants. Therefore, syntactically inconsistent pairs such as (3b) and (4b) do not occur.

Sometimes, rather than semantic role, it is a participant’s relationship to an underlying clause that presents the problem. For example, He’s a tall president means ‘He’s a president who is tall.’ So why doesn’t He’s a likely president mean ‘*He’s a president who is likely’? The reason is that, while ‘tall’ describes its adjacent referent ‘president,’ ‘likely’ does not describe its adjacent referent. Rather, ‘likely’ describes an underlying process in which that referent is or will be engaged, i.e., ‘running for president.’ Therefore, while these two sentences are morpho-syntactically identical in English, their Ithkuil translations are quite different from one another morpho-syntactically:


[literally: There is much height to him who formally presides.] _______Listen!


[literally: He is one who probably will begin to formally preside.]

 

9.3.3 Negation

Negation is another morpho-semantic area where translation from English or other Western languages can be tricky. Consider the English sentence Shelly doesn’t think they like her cooking. Note this sentence does not mean what a literal word-for-word analysis implies, i.e., ‘That they like her cooking is not something that Shelly is thinking.’ Rather, the correct meaning is ‘Shelly thinks that they don’t like her cooking.’ Ithkuil is very precise in specifying exactly what components of a sentence are to be negated. Use of the four affirmation/negation affixes from Sec. 7.7.9 () in conjunction with a formative carries very specific information as to what morphological components of a sentence are being affirmed or negated and to what degree. Using these four affixes alone, Ithkuil can distinguish between the following four sentences without any syntactic rearrangement of the words:

I don’t want to begin singing.

I’m beginning to not want to sing.

I want to not begin singing.

I’m beginning to want to not sing.

Thus when translating negative sentences into Ithkuil, care must be taken to not syntactically “rearrange” a sentence as with Shelly doesn’t think they like her cooking. Additionally, Ithkuil makes a morpho-semantic distinction not found in Western languages: the difference between absolute negation and relative negation. Absolute negation implies that the non-existence or non-occurrence of an entity, state, or event is due to contextual inapplicability, while relative negation indicates that the non-existence or non-occurrence is circumstantial. This distinction is illustrated in the two sentences below:



The girl doesn’t sing [because she can’t, i.e., she is mute].


.
The girl doesn’t sing [even though she can, i.e., she chooses not to].

 

9.4 THE “CARRIER” ROOT

Since the Ithkuil declensional and conjugational system is based on predictable multi-level patterns of consonant and vowel mutation, proper nouns such as personal and place names, as well as non-Ithkuil words from other languages are by nature morpho-phonologically incompatible with such as system. Nevertheless, such words can be declined or conjugated like any other Ithkuil formative by means of the “carrier” root k-r. In addition to this use, the carrier root is employed in certain other contexts as well, as described below.


9.4.1 Words that Cannot Take Affixes or Be Mutated

The six primary stems of the carrier root (kar, kur, kir and their Form II counterparts kâr, kűr, kîr) are respectively associated with animate beings (the two complementary derivatives being humans versus non-humans or figuratively/metaphorically animate entities); inanimate entities (the two complementary derivatives being objectively concrete entities versus subjective entities such as thoughts, emotions, sensations, etc.); and finally intangible abstract referents (the two complementary derivatives being place names and abstractions). The carrier stem is placed immediately before the proper noun or foreign word or phrase, then declined or conjugated normally for any desired morphological categories, even verbal categories. The proper noun or foreign word or phrase itself is left unchanged.

9.4.2 Emphasizing or Highlighting a Particular Category

Another use of the carrier root is to emphasize or topicalize a particular affix or grammatical element associated with a word. For example, in English we can say ‘a big house’ with extra intonation on the word ‘big’ to emphasize that word. To accomplish such emphasis in Ithkuil, the carrier root is used with the augmentative suffix in conjunction with the noun ‘house’ as opposed to simply using the augmentative suffix on the stem for ‘house.’ No change in vocal pitch or intonation is required, as the grammatically unnecessary use of the carrier root serves to accomplish the required emphasis. Any morphological category manifested by a carrier root rather than an adjunct or mutation serves to emphasize that category. (It should be noted that the use of optional combination and euphonic adjuncts do not accomplish such emphasis. Their use versus non-use imparts no difference in emphasis for the particular morphological categories contained in the adjunct.)

9.4.3 Titles of Address

It should be noted that the use of the carrier root in front of the names of persons serves to function as a title of address corresponding to English Mister, Ms. or Miss. There is no distinction of gender or marital status conveyed by the term.

Proceed to Chapter 10: Lexico-Semantics >>

 

Home
5a Verb Morphology
9 Syntax
Introduction
5b Verb Morphology (continued)
10 Lexico-Semantics
1 Phonology
6 More Verb Morphology
11 The Script
  2 Morpho-Phonology  7a Using Affixes 12 The Number System
   3 Basic Morphology 7b Using Affixes (continued) The Lexicon
  4 Case Morphology   8 Adjuncts Revised Ithkuil: Ilaksh

©2004-2009 by John Quijada. You may copy or excerpt any portion of the contents of this website provided you give full attribution to the author and this website.