Tough Travelling – Beginnings

Tough Travelling – the fantasy-trope-based blog challenge, is back! I only took part once or twice in the individual version, and I don’t see this being a weekly thing for me. But what better time to join in than for the inaugural edition of the new version? (now operated by Fantasy Faction)

This week, the theme is “beginnings”, and refers to the common trope of fantasy novels beginning: “in rather poor circumstances in an unimportant corner of the continent; a kitchen menial, perhaps, or a blacksmith’s apprentice. From there, the Guide advises that ‘you will be contacted by your TOUR MENTOR (normally an elderly male MAGIC USER with much experience) who will tell you what to do, which is almost certainly to discover you are a MISSING HEIR.’” (the inner quote is from Diana Wynne Jones).

I’m largely going to ignore that. Well, I’m not, but for my response to that, see the bottom of this post.

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Øynduyska – some examples (1)

I’ve finished for now with Øynduyska, at least in the sense of posting a sketch on this blog. But I’m still translating some things and fiddling with some details, so I thought I’d share four very small (one line) translations, with explanations.

Yes, a couple of things are slightly different from in the foregoing discussion, and represent minor changes I’ve made since then. [or mistakes, of course…]

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Figures of Earth: A Comedy of Appearances; by James Branch Cabell

No soul may travel upon a bridge of words


In 1919, the year of the publication of Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice, few people knew who James Branch Cabell was. He had, for some time, been quietly accruing a small but passionate brigade of die-hard fans – people like Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, and Scott F. and Zelda Fitzgerald – but his work had not yet broken through even into the general awareness of the U.S. literati, let alone onto the bestseller lists.

In 1921, the year of the publication of Figures of Earth: A Comedy of Appearances, quite a lot of people knew who James Branch Cabell was. The two-year prohibition of Jurgen at the behest of the Society for the Prevention of Vice, the associated highly-publicised trials, the subversive allure of the samizdat copies of the book that had been circulating at sky-high prices in the interim, the chorus of intellectual voices in his support and the thundering denunciations of the popular press all ensured that Cabell was – if still not exactly widely-read – at least widely known about. An audience, ready-made by the misfiring PR campaigns of his enemies, waited with bated breath for his next opus, begging to be seduced…

…and that’s probably where things began to go wrong.

I’ll leave the description of the problem to Cabell himself, in a foreword to my copy of the novel:

The fact was forthwith, quite unreticently, discovered that in “Figures of Earth” I had not succeeded in my attempt to rewrite its predecessor: and this crass failure, so open, so flagrant, and so undeniable, caused what I can only describe as the instant and overwhelming and universal triumph of “Figures of Earth” to be precisely what did not occur… the, after all, tolerably large portion of the reading public who were not disgusted by Jurgen’s lechery were now, so near as I could gather, enraged by Manuel’s lack of it.

It followed that – among the futile persons who use serious, long words in talking about mere books, – aggrieved reproof of my auctorial malversations, upon the one ground or the other, became in 1921 biloquial and pandemic.

…even the dedicatees of the novel (Untermeyer and Mencken he particularly singles out; other parts are dedicated to Follett, Hergesheimer and Walpole, and the original foreword to Lewis) lined up to deride the result.


Now, I have to say, this rather baffled me at first. Surely, I thought, the problem here is not that Figures of Earth fails to rewrite its predecessor, but that it does so too exactly, its virtues all the worse for the extra wear? Jurgen is a tragicomic, satirical novel about a man who travels an imagined mediaeval Europe, engaging in a series of trysts with various symbolically distinctive women, generally having his own way yet remaining discontented, the whole told in a weirdly archaic and pseudo-archaic but thoroughly poetical voice, leavened with fin de siècle deadpan wit.  Figures of Earth, meanwhile, is a tragicomic, satirical novel about a man who travels an imagined mediaeval Europe, engaging in a series of trysts with various symbolically distinctive women, generally having his own way yet remaining discontented, the whole told in a weirdly archaic and pseudo-archaic but thoroughly poetical voice, leavened with fin de siècle deadpan wit. The satire is more bitter, the verbiage more otiose, the jokes more obvious and trite, the weak characterisation even weaker, and the irritatingly misogynist jokes about shrewish wives (which is to say all wives, apparently) even more repetitive. It’s not different, it’s just wose.

That, at least, is what I thought halfway through the novel. It’s also probably what I thought two thirds of the way through the novel, though by that point I thought it largely through inertia.

But now I’ve finished it, and suddenly… all is clear.

How do the stories of Jurgen and Manuel differ? Well, what Cabell focuses on in his foreword is the way in which Jurgen, while gallantly draped in the stiff upper lip of gentlemen of the era, is an essentially transparent character, who emotes broadly and moves in straight lines, while Manuel is largely a blank canvas. He is, Cabell says, a figure whom even the poets have never loved, or trusted; we must simply say that such-and-such were the deeds of Manuel, “such and such were the appearances… make what you can of them.” We do not, in other words, have access to the inner thoughts of Manuel.

[which perhaps explains why Cabell is one of the dedicatees of Mary Gentle’s Rats and Gargoyles stories, which similarly refuse to share the thoughts of their characters with the reader]

The fact that the subtitle of the novel is A Comedy of Appearances is something that might seem at once to make sense… but only really makes sense, I think, later on. The appearances in question may not be what they appear.

Then there is a second difference, to which Cabell apparently alludes elsewhere in his writings. Cabell, it is said, sees three potential responses to the unmeaning hellscape that is life: chivalry (the determination to do good), gallantry (the determination to live well) and poetry (the determination to create something more lasting than oneself). Jurgen, in this scheme, is a gallant: his highest concern is his own pleasure. Manuel, however, is a knight: his efforts are directed as doing what is required of him. This distinction may not at first be obvious: Jurgen, after all, does care a considerable amount about what is thought of him, and about his obligations (the entire story is kicked off by his reluctant decision to “do the manly thing” and rescue his wife), while Manuel, with his succession of lovers, hardly seems to be above the pursuit of pleasure. Nor is poetry absent from either novel – indeed, the seductions and dangers of the artistic life are one of the most prominent themes in Manuel’s story (affording Cabell the chance to pre-emptively, barely-concealedly, savage his critics and rivals). I probably wouldn’t have realised the difference if it hadn’t been pointed out to me. But the distinction is very real, nonetheless. Jurgen’s story is the story of the pursuit of the good life (a pursuit sometimes interrupted by other forces); Manuel’s story is fundamentally the story of what it is like to follow one’s obligations, including the obligations put on one by oneself (a following that is sometimes sidetracked by other pressures and impulses). While this is only a difference in emphasis, it gives a book with a wholly different soul, in the final assessment.

But the biggest difference between the two novels is perhaps something much, much simpler. Jurgen is a novel about a mid-life crisis: a middle-aged, married man who realises he isn’t enjoying himself that much. The character does, of course, change and learn throughout the novel, but it is fundamentally a novel about a moment in time, a moment in a man’s life.

Figures of Earth is not. Figures of Earth is instead a novel about the whole of a man’s life.

To come at the point from another angle altogether: it is sometimes said that Cabell was a misogynist writer. It’s unfair, but not incomprehensible as a complaint. The women in his novels are largely symbols, largely idealised, largely present only to teach, reward, punish or otherwise motivate the male protagonist.

And yet to some degree, to see the gender relations of these books in that way is misguided; it is perfectly backward (which means, I suppose, that it is also largely accurate, as seeing things backward usually, if misleadingly, is). Because it is actually the women in the lives of the heroes who are rounded and complex, even if they are complex only as complex symbols, or symbols of something complex. Both Jurgen and Manuel move from one woman to another (Jurgen more than Manuel, to be fair), but as they are largely empty characters themselves, and as these complicated and sympathetic women largely represent entire ways of life, it is the grey and hollow men who take on the colours and substance of the women in their lives. These are novels about women; the men are little more than eyes for the benefit of the reader.

But where Jurgen flits from one woman to another, sampling ways of life like morsels, but never quite accepting any of them, Manuel’s progress is a progress over time. So, of course, is Jurgen’s, but Jurgen’s time is likewise a symbolic time: he moves from Guinevere to Anaïtis in a recapitulation of the life of a generically gallant young man, and there remains a part of Jurgen that is always the old pawnbroker, detached and reflective, an old man dreaming of being young. Whereas Manuel, for all that at any moment he retains more of himself secret and remote (from both his women and his audience), never committing with the enthusiasm of a Jurgen, nonetheless is embedded in time in a way that Jurgen quite overtly is not. Manuel’s movement from one woman to another is not a sampling of tastes, but a changing of his underlying character. We spend too long focused on the blank, reflecting mask of Manuel, and let the real world of his women slip by us. And just as the women form Manuel, so too the women form the book.

This, in the end, is why Figures of Earth is a mirror to, but not a replica of, Jurgen. If its earlier parts in particular appear callow, hollow and brash… I think that they are meant to. That is who Manuel at that point in his life. If it seems like Jurgen but worse… well, perhaps that is because it is a parody of the earlier novel. Not in a coarse, direct fashion, to be sure: but perhaps it is a parody of its soul. It is when Manuel is youngest that he is closest to the gallantry of Jurgen, as young men are prone to gallantry; and here the writing is most refulgent, the humour most obvious, the weight most thin and the import most trivial. Perhaps early readers were reassured at first, thinking this would be another Jurgen. “He may be trying too hard to repeat his success,” they may have thought, “but perhaps he’ll shake of the rust as he goes on.” That, at least, is what I thought.

What actually happens, however, is quite different. The fundamental style of the novel does not change: floriloquent, flippant, decadent and sharp. But as Manuel passes out of his youth, the chilliness occasioned by our impermeable, occluded hero deepens first into sombre, bitter cloud, and then further into the interstellar dark. We begin to realise that if we thought Manuel was a roguish antihero in the mold of Jurgen, we may have been mislead. Or maybe we weren’t? Maybe this is what Jurgens look like, when we don’t have the benefit of access to their rakish, self-justifying thoughts? And if we thought we were traipsing through frustration in the manner of Jurgen to find our way back to repose… we may again have been mislead. This is a novel that proclaims quite explicitly that in all lives, there is far more suffering than joy.

The critic Edmund Wilson, whose own views on Cabell changed considerably over his life, finally came to compliment the book by describing it as “a merciless chronicle in which all the values are negative.” “Merciless” is indeed the word. The flashes of humour only serve to help rip open any illusion of wholesomeness or of content; if at times they nag and drone, it is perhaps not inappropriate. If the language at times waxes far too porphyrous, seeming to seek vainly to distract from the sound of cheap tin by the brazen imitation of far thunder – well, that is not beside the point. Over time, it is not so much that the oratorical style of the early sections changes, as that the older man begins to have more weight to throw into his turns of phrase, more depth and resonance.

In the end, we are left with a protagonist both hidden and exposed: exposed, as every kernel of dignity and illusion is ripped and torn from him, no jot of light left untainted by corrosion; and yet hidden still, defiant in the face of the world and in the face of the reader who can never quite get beyond his mask. Oh, at times it may appear to us that we do. But this, after all, is a comedy of appearances.

In the end, we are left with a defence of anonymity, of emptiness, as its own form of heroism against in the bitter specificities of existence. Or so, at least, it may appear.

Is the result as good as Jurgen? Cabell thought it was; he also comments that it was particularly popular with women, though whether that reflects the intriguing and varied characters of its idealised women, or simply its relative propriety in comparison to Jurgen, I couldn’t say. I can understand why Cabell liked it more. While there’s more prose wasted than in Jurgen, there are also more quotable poetical highlights. And undoubtedly, by the end, it goes into much darker and more profound and confrontational territory than Jurgen. It’s hard to think of a novel more… merciless.

But… well, maybe I’m too young (critics have commented that this is not a book for the young). I like life! I do, occasionally, enjoy a little something more than dry and windy salt speckled with ironic razor blades. There are times when I don’t want to, say, read five paragraphs on why it’s terrible that babies are born because all life is unbearable and we’d all be better off not born at all. I’m not always in the mood for a book that at times seem to primarily be interested in picking a subject and then telling you why everything about it is shit because everything is shit and we’re all going to die and that’s shit. Jurgen had sharp moments, but it was also consistently funny; Figures of Earth is just sharp, and uses its frequent mild amusingness as just another way of stabbing its reader.

And frankly: I’m not entirely convinced. By my own argument, that is. Yes, I do think that some of the brassy quality of the first half or two thirds of the book is intentional. But I’m not sure that it all is. I think that Cabell was trying too hard at times to emulate his prior success. Yes, there are bits that are brilliantly expressed, but there are also lots of bits that could do with an editor. Great, you’re writing in classical hexameter – do you have to? Isn’t pointing out that you’re writing in hexameter kind of being obnoxious? Why yes I did notice that that paragraph there was actually a sonnet cunningly disguised as prose – but did it need to be?

In a book like Jurgen, which engenders good will, these things are an endearing icing. In a book like Figures of Earth, they’re more like an annoying distraction.

In the end, I’m left torn between two irreconcilable hypotheses: that Figures is worse-written than Jurgen, and that it’s better-written. Perhaps it’s best to say: the degree of difficulty he’s attempting here is higher, both in the prose and in the themes. That means he fails more often and it’s more obvious.

But it also means that when he gets everything right, it’s really, really good.

And yet I can’t help but think it could have been better.

Adrenaline: 2/5. The fact that the novel drifts dreamily along is part of its claustrophobic charm. But I might have enjoyed it more in the end (and particularly in the beginning!) if it had been a bit more gripping…

Emotion: 4/5. The detached style, and the unavailability of Manuel, prevent it from being a tearjerker. But if you write an entire novel about tragedy and despair, and write it with piercing, unforgiving psychological accuity and poetic flair, you’re going to end up being emotionally affecting in parts, no matter how blank-faced you keep your protagonist…

Thought: 4/5. An intellectual and sophisticated novel with weighty (so weighty!) themes, along with rampant symbolism (both serious and comedic) and an involuted style of prose that at times requires close attention… but there’s no real sustained conceptual explorations, except perhaps until the very end.

Beauty: 4/5. There are many moments of aching beauty. On the other hand, there’s actually a lot of fluff too, and intentional ugliness.

Craft: 4/5. I’m loathe to quite give him full credit, because I do think there are times when he’s too full of the sound of his own voice (and his own wife jokes). And, hey, next time some sort of pacing structure might be nice. On the other hand, it’s hard to deny the sophistication here, on a mechanical level – the way in which he is able to protray nuanced characters with minimal effort, the way in which he interweaves plot strands, his layers of symbolism and allusion (which I don’t pretend to have gotten to the bottom of), and the way in which he is almost able to pull off a prose style that in the hands of another writer might easily have been (unintentionally) risible. But then again (I’m arguing with myself in real time here) I think perhaps my original impression was more accurate: because I’m not sure it’s fair to completely forget how underwhelmed I was at first, simply because of its overwhelming conclusion. Yes, some of the sins of the early parts were probably intentional; but shouldn’t the author have been able to convey his point without making some parts almost a chore, and without giving the impression he had lost his touch?

Endearingness: 2/5. I admire the book, I enjoyed reading it, and there are bits that I actively like. But at the same time, I positively dislike the novel as a whole. It’s dour, and bitter, and vain, and isn’t something I’m likely to turn to for a comfort read. In fact, it’s almost the opposite of a comfort read.

Originality: 5/5. It could be objected that Cabell does employ, and play on, various tropes of mediaeval romances and early fantasies; but that would be churlish. In truth, this is an entirely sui generis piece of individual genius that, as Manuel would put it, “follows after its own thinking”.

Echo: ½.

OVERALL: 6/7. VERY GOOD. I can see some, like Cabell himself, placing this ahead of Jurgen, on account of its deeper and more sombre themes, its greater profusion of prose poetry, and its more subtle and affecting characterisation. It is, indeed, probably more accomplished than the earlier novel – but, as noted above, it applies that accomplishment in the service of a much more difficult endeavour. The result is something that just fails to hit the heights of its predecessor in almost every way, while also being a profoundly cold and spiky novel; the joy in Jurgen is turned to bitter ashes here, which makes it a rather less engaging literary work, for all that it may be a more philosophically interesting one.


Øynduyska- XVI (Questions, Imperatives, Catenatives)

Near the end of this first phase of Øynduyska.



Formal polar questions, like negations, generally require a modal auxiliary. This modal verb takes the inquisitive suffix -a, and is fronted: machta ðu ðam bylda? – “are you building it?” (lit. “might you be building it?”). Leading questions – less appropriate in formal speech, but common colloquially, additionally employ the Wackernagel particles ay (for positives) or ney (for negatives): machta ay ðu ðam bylda? – “you are building it, aren’t you?”

The chief exception to this pattern is the questioning of adverbs and of prepositional phrases. Such questions may follow the general structure – machta ðu ðam lawli bylda? – “are you slowly building it?” – but where they are the particular focus of the question it is also possible to front the element, and add an interrogative element to it directly. In the case of adverbs and some prepositions, this element is the particle an, directly following the adverb or preposition; for other prepositions, it is simply the suffix -a attached to the preposition. In the case of the preposition an, the preposition is entirely replaced by the interrogative preposition, . Thus, ina ða hussa, machta ðat ligga? – “does it lie within the house?”; ná ða bóka, machta ðat ligga? – “does it lie on the book?”; lawli an machta ðu ðam bylda? – “is it slowly, that you build it?”

Modal auxiliaries are not required, however, with copulas, which instead are fronted themselves, and themselves take the -a suffix: isa iss cąld? – “is ice cold?”

In colloquial speech, but rarely in formal contexts, polar questions may simply be formed from indicative statements, followed by a subordinate clause: typically an is? for present events, an was? for past events, or an są? or an bia? for certain requests. Thus, byld ðu ðam, an is? – “you’re building it, yes?” or byld ðu ðam, an są? – “build it, if you would?”

Content questions meanwhile require interrogative pronouns or adjectives. The basic interrogative pronouns are fann (“who?”) and fassa (“what?”), alongside fónn (“how?”), fara (“where?”), fiðr (“to where?” and “how much?”), fása (“from where?” and “why?”), fǫffáða (“why?”), fien (“with what instrument?”), and fanna (“when?”). Fann and fassa further have the dative forms fąna and famma respectively, and the shared genitive fössa, and may be preceded by prepositions: befós fössa? – “beside what/who?” Certain prepositions however combine with the pronoun to yield special fused forms: awann (“on/in whom?”) and awassa (“on/in what?”), athann (“to whom?”) and athassa (“to what?”), and beocha (“with whom?”).

In fann and fassa content questions, the questioned element is fronted, the interrogative taking the place of an argument, and any non-copular, non-modal verb sent to the rear: fössa ðu saoch? – “who/what did you see?”; fann ði saoch? – “who saw you?” Modal verbs and copulas instead show subject-verb inversion: fann is he? – “who is he?” However, this construction is regarded as somewhat brusque, and may easily be interpreted as accusatory or commanding; a more indirect phrasing is generally prefered. In more formal contexts, this employs a modal verb: fössa dorsht ðu sevha? – “who might you have seen?”; fann dorsht ðam bylda? – “who might have built it?” In more colloquial contexts, a relative construction may instead be used: fann was, sam ðam byldi? – “who was it that built it?”

Questions employing the other interrogatives likewise relegate the verb to the rear, but otherwise leave the clause unaltered: fanna ðu henn saoch? – “when did you see him?” The indirect constructions are not required here, although they may sometimes be employed for additional politeness, formality, or disambiguation. For example, the ambiguous beocha ðu henn saoch? – “with whom did you see him?” – may be rephrased as either beocha was he, sam ðu henn saoch? (“with whom was he that you saw?”) or beocha was ðu, sam henn saoch? (“with whom were you who saw him?”).

In addition to the interrogative pronouns, Øynduyska also possesses two interrogative adjectives, filie (“which?”) and fliecha (“what sort?”). These act similarly to fann and fassa, except that they are often accompanied by the noun they modify: filie macacca is, sam ða cuppa menn hav upybrǫka? – “which monkey is it who broke my cup?”



The imperative may be conveyed simply through intonation and subject dropping: byld ðam! – “build it!” Such a command is likely to be seen as urgent, but also as uncouth and impolite.

Alternatively, the preterite subjunctive form of the verb may be employed, for a more polite and gentle request: bylday ðam! – “build it!”

However, it is also common for requests and commands to be couched in periphrastic constructions. Most prominent are the relatively cold construction formed upon a prepositional predication – lieg het á ði ðam ta bylda, “you are to build it” (lit. “it is on you to build it”) – and the more graceful construction formed with ląthalątha ði ðam bylda, “let it be that you build it”. The lątha construction may also be used in the third person (singular or plural), or in the first person plural, with jussive and cohortative forces respectively.


Embedding and Catenatives

Some Øynduyska verbs are capable of forming, in theory, chains, by taking another verb as their object, or as part of their object.

In such a situation, the embedded verb is placed into the infinitive, preceded by the preposition ta, and it is preceded by its subject and object, if any. The subject is dropped if it is identical to the subject of the matrix verb. If the matrix verb is transitive and takes objects in the nominative or genitive, the subject of the embedded verb will be placed in the genitive, if it is not also semantically a transitive object of the matrix verb, and in the nominative (or dative, for pronouns) if it is; if the matrix verb takes objects in the dative, however, the subject of the embedded verb takes the dative; if the matrix verb is separable, its preposition attaches to the subject of the embedded verb as though it were its object. If the matrix verb is intransitive, however, the subject of the embedded verb remains in the nominative (or dative). Thus, member ech av hem ta bylda, “I remember he builds” (with a separable verb demanding the dative), börr ech hem ta bylda, “I make him build” (in which the subject of the verb is also directly affected by the matrix verb), and varcweeð ech hem ta bylda, “I promise he will build” (with an intransitive matrix verb), but hóp ech henn ta bylda, “I hope he will build” (in which the matrix verb is transitive, but the subject of the embedded verb is not semantically its object, being unaffected by it).

This catenative structure is, for many verbs, contrasted with a ‘relative’ structure with sam and a subjunctive (member ech av hem sam he bylda, “I remember of him that he builds”; hóp ech sam he bylda, “I hope that he builds”). The catenative structure is generally preferred, with the relative structure typically reserved for emphasis, and for situations where more precision regarding tense and aspect is required. Also available is a ‘direct’ construction employing the cataphoric pronoun ðusmember ech av ðus: he byld – “I remember this of him: he builds”. The direct construction is even more emphatic, but commonly used in reporting speech.

An additional complication arises in the case of embedded questions. Here, the catenative construction must be employed, and employs a distinct set of pronouns, modified forms of the interrogatives: fanna and fassa become fa and fas and so forth. Thus, kną ech fa ta byld, “I know who builds” (or “I know who built”; tense and aspect are lost from embedded verbs).

Øyndusyka – XV (Coördinate, Subordinate and Relative Clauses)

Øyndusyka isn’t finished yet…

Coördinate and Subordinate Clauses

Attached to a main clause may be one or more additional, secondary clauses. In Øyndusyka, these fall into two types: coördinate clauses, and subordinate clauses.

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Øyndusyka – XIV (Negation, Topicalisation)

The Øyndusyka project begins to near its end, but not before a good deal more syntax gets presented…


Nominal negation is straightforward: the noun is placed into the genitive plural, and the preceding negator náva is employed: thus, náva hussa, “no house”.

Negation of verbs is more difficult. In general, the verbal negator precedes the verb, and this is seen unproblematically when object fronting has caused the verb to thrown to the back of the clause: ða huss ech ná byld, “the house, I didn’t build”. Copulas and modal verbs, likewise, have no difficulty in this respect, given their default second-position location, but must display inversion with their subjects: iss is háss, “ice is hot”, but ná is iss háss, “ice is not hot”.

However, where the verb is required to be the first element of a clause, it is impossible for it to be preceded by a negator. In these cases, a modal is employed as an auxiliary, with secondary negation on the main verb by means of the particle na; a wide range of modals are found in this function, particularly for events in the present (or future), often encoding an epistemological or evidentiary force – so, ná macht he ðam na bylda, “I am certain it is not possible for him to build it”, against ná cu he ðam na bylda, “it is possible he may not build it” or “I hear he may not build it”. Where no particular intent is present beyond negation, the modal ech dar is typically used in the aorist, progressive, or perfect: ná dar he ðam na bylda, “he doesn’t build it”. In other tenses, the modal dorsht is used: ná dorsht he ðam na bylda, “he didn’t build it”.

As in other modal expressions, it is typical to only use the aorist or preterite tenses, although other forms are on occasion found.

Where a verb is negated and has an indefinite object or subject, the indefinite argument must also be negated, with the particle na; in this case, negative agreement on the main verb is not required. Full negation with náva may also be used, with emphatic effect: ná dorsht ech na huss bylda, “I did not build a house”; ná dorsht ech náva hussa bylda, “I did not build any house” or “I did not build a house at all”. An even more emphatic alternative is to use nawt, with the genitive plural of the noun: ná dorsht ech nawt hussa bylda, “I have never built even a scrap of a house”. Nawt may also be used more generally as a negative indefinite pronoun, when agreement on the main verb is required: ná dorsht ech nawt na bylda, “I built nothing”.

An alternative method of verbal negation – or more strictly clausal negation – involves the Wackernagel particles nöt and nasa. These are used when making specific denials: the latter tends to be more specific than the former. Both trigger agreement on the object. Thus byld nöt ech na huss, “No, I don’t build a house”, and byld nasa ech na huss, “No, I don’t exactly build a house”, or “I don’t build a house in that way”. These constructions are more marked than the modal negatives.



Where the subject of a clause is also its topic, it is typically found only as a pronoun in the clause itself, with the full noun or noun phrase attached (if necessary) either to the beginning or to the end of the clause. Typically, preposed topics indicate a change of topic, while postposed topics indicate continuity. Failure to reduce the subject to a pronoun typically indicates that the subject is not the topic, and represents new or surprising information.

Thus, breaka he ða cuppa up, ða tarb most likely indicates “regarding the bull, it breaks the cup” or “the bull breaks the cup”; ða tarb, breaka he ða cuppa up more likely indicates “whereas the bull breaks the cup” or “and as for the bull, it breaks the cup”. The more syntactically straightforward breaka ða tarb ða cuppa up instead implies the more marked “(it’s) the bull (that) breaks the cup”.

Objects are not dealt with in this way. Changes of emphasis toward discussing the object may sometimes by indicated where necessary by emphatic fronting of the object; objects that are established topics may be reduced to pronouns, but not with extraclausal full nouns adposed. If particularly necessary, periphrasis may be employed: breaka he ðat up, ða tarb – stąmm wi bi ða cuppa, “the bull breaks it – the cup, I mean” (lit. “he breaks it, the bull – we stand at the cup”).

Objects may also, where they are sufficiently clear from context, be simply elided entirely, but this may not occur when the object is the topic – in such cases, at least a pronoun must be found. Thus, upbreaka he, “he breaks (it/something)”, but breaka he ðam up, “he breaks (it/the thing we are talking about)”.

Postposed topics come between the core clause and any postposed adverbs, and usually come before postposed prepositional phrases: breaka he ðam up, ða tarb, befós ða treos, and breaka he ðam up, ða tarb, lawli.

Øynduyska – XIII (Syntax!)

Øynduyska continues…



Basic Word Order

The basic word order of Øynduyska, in main clauses, is VSO. Where there is an auxiliary, it occupies the ‘V’ slot and by default sends the main verb to follow the object: byld ech huss, “I build a house”, but heb ech huss ybyld, “I built a house”.

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