Morphosyntactic Alignment

Today, during a nice lecture on artificial intelligence (which was not boring at all), I came up with a nicely unambiguous morphosyntactic alignment for Kaalajur.

I don’t know if there’s a nice term for the phenomenon I came up with. In Kaalajur, the case affixes of nouns can either be suffixes or prefixes depending on their position relative to the verb. When in front of the verb (that means left hand side in left-to-right writing), the case affix is a suffix. When after the verb, the case affix is a prefix. Hence we get (for intransitives):

  • N-ABS V or V ABS-N

I call this mirroring.

At this stage of development, word order is completely free.

Note that it makes sense in a language without expletives, to talk about valency rather than transitivity, though the terms cover essentially the same phenomenon. Kaalajur has verbs with a valency of zero, which there is no term for in transitivity. That’s why I will stick to the notions of “nonvalent”, “monovalent”, “divalent” and “trivalent”.

Okay, anyways. Let’s have a look at trivalent verbs, because all cases with less valency can be deduced from that. I will just list a few combinations, so you may get the idea:

  • N-ABS N-ERG V DAT-N
  • N-DAT V ERG-N ABS-N
  • V ABS-N ERG-N DAT-N

Now, I denote a noun before a verb as “->” and a noun after a verb as “<-“. I can now write things like “-> V <- <-” which means that there are two nouns after the verb and one before it, with their case affix properly attached respectively.

These were just the preliminaries. Now relative clauses. Relative clauses may be inserted in every gap between the verb phrase consituents: “| -> | -> | V | <- |”. They form a new verb phrase in themselves. There is a relative marker clitic (REL). If the relative clauses uses a gap before the main verb, the REL clitic comes at the beginning of the verb phrase; if the relative clause uses a gap after the main verb, the REL clitic comes after the verb phrase:

-> REL -> V.relative <- -> V.main <-
^-----------------------^----------^-- those belong to the main verb
-------^--------------^--------------- those belong to the relative verb
-> V.main <- -> V.relative <- <- REL <-
^----------^--------------------------^-- those belong to the main verb
-------------^--------------^--^--------- those belong to the relative verb

I hope that this was halfway understandable. It makes considerably sense. It allows for any combination of verb phrase constituents in any order to be unambigously distinguished.

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2 thoughts on “Morphosyntactic Alignment

  1. I’m curious about your system. Mirroring is definitely interesting and I had not heard of it before. I didn’t really understand the notion of nonvalent verbs though: are they like impersonal verbs? I would make an example but unfortunately they don’t exist in engish, but in many languages (such as Italian and Spanish) “it rains” is completely impersonal, which would mean nonvalent if I understood correctly your definition. Another example would be the placet / licet / oportet / … set of verbs in latin (which I think are called absolutely impersonal but I’m not positive about this last one).

    • On the CBB Forum I was told that such mirroring system is unlikely to exist in a natlang, although I don’t really get why… Anyway, seems like it is original then 🙂
      You’re completely on the right track regarding the nonvalent verbs. In English, “it rains” is intransitive, but can still be seen as nonvalent, because “it” in this case is an expletive, a dummy pronoun, because it does not refer to anything in specific. Unfortunately, I’m not able to understand Latin, so I don’t know whether your Latin examples fit. In Kaalajur, nonvalent meas that there literally is no subject.

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