Rawàng Ata: Verbal Clauses (1)

Obviously, this isn’t finished. But, I thought I’d give a sneak peak for the new year anyway.



4.0 – Contents of this Chapter

There are four types of clauses in Rawàng Ata. We will begin with the most complicated type – the verbal clause – and then move on to the others: the absolute clause (nominal or prepositional), and the elementally simple nominal and metatopical clauses.

Verbal clauses are complex. We will consider, firstly, the general composition and ordering of the verbal clause, and then the specific form of verbal clauses centred around dynamic, stative, and motive verbs.  In doing so we will have to consider transitivity and animacy in dynamic clauses, control in stative clauses, and species of indirect object in motive clauses. This will lead us into a discussion of anomalous case-selection, before we turn to the syntax of passive and antipassive voices. We will then consider semantic demands for verbs in the concrete state.

4.1Verbal Clauses

The verbal clause is the heart of the language. It contains at least and no more than one verbal phrase, and will often also include nominal phrases. Nominal phrases are employed to provide the subject and/or object of the verbal phrase.There are never more than two nominal phrases within the verbal clause (except where two or more nominal phrases are included within an overarching more complicated nominal phrase, as through conjunction or apposition).

The basic order in a verbal clause is SVO.

4.2 – Dynamic Clauses

Verbal clauses based  upon dynamic verbs feature a dynamic verb phrase, ‘expect’ a subject nominal phrase, and can optionally also include an object nominal phrase. In saying that the clause ‘expects’ a subject, we mean that in the absence of an overtly expressed subject, one will be assumed according to simple anaphoric rules, which will be discussed later.

The concept of animacy is central to the syntax of dynamic clauses, for two reasons. Firstly, many verbs have ‘animacy-bars’, which set the highest or lowest permitted animacy level for the subject. For instance, sakkung- is ‘animate plus’ – inanimate objects cannot be the subject of this verb. furil-, “to annoy, pester, frustrate, tease”, is ‘feminine minus’ – inanimate, animate non-human, and human female subjects are permitted, but male subjects are not (and nor are pronouns or names).

Secondly, animacy plays a role in determining transitivity. There are two paradigms for dynamic clauses: if the action is transitive, the subject is in the direct case; if the action is intransitive, the subject is in the ergative case. The object, if it is present, is always marked with the accusative case. Transitivity in turn has four criteria:

–          there must be a definite and particular object (though it need not be present in speech).

–          the object must be of lower or equal animacy to the subject.

–          the action must be completed and effective.

–          the action must materially and directly affect the the object.

If the subject is in the ergative, one of these four criteria must not have been met. For example: datta sakkunga kòmana (the sailor kicked the girl) vs. kòmaya kusakkunga dattama (the girl kicked the sailor) – the girl is of lower animacy than the sailor because she is female, so she must be put in the ergative. datta sakkunga vs dattaya sakkunga – both mean “the sailor kicked”, but in the latter case it is intransitive, and therefore means one of three things: the sailor kicked out without an object; the sailor attempted to kick an object but failed to do so, or did so ineffectually, or began to do so but then stopped, or kicked in the direction of an object but did not reach it; or the sailor kicked an object, but had no material effect upon the object (if, perhaps, he kicked a mountain).

There is a clear hierarchy of animacies. First person pronouns, and pronouns with which the verb agrees through first-person prefixes, are of greater animacy than second person (which includes vocatives – however, note that vocatives do not trigger directive verbal syntax), which are of greater animacy than nouns for certain mass animates of power, which outrank humans (including non-humans personified through the use of titles), which outrank animals, which outrank tools, which outrank living plants, which outrank ordinary nouns, which outrank possessed non-tools, which outrank local nouns, which outrank abstractions.

Within the human category, non-females outrank females, and traditionally higher-status individuals would outrank lower-status individuals – however, these days insisting upon the latter hierarchy is seen as archaic, and often offensive. Titled mass animates of power (such as deities) outrank humans.

In order to produce the required effect (transitive or intransitive syntax), speakers will sometimes alter the animacy of arguments – arguments are often raised in animacy by making them vocatives, or by adding titles, and lowered by the use of ‘diminutives’ (nouns referring to a thing of lower animacy, used as metaphors). Some of these diminutives retain their ordinary meaning – fongò still literally means “shovel”, even though it is also used as a diminutive for a man engaged in manual labour, just as kuttin, “frigatebird”, can also be a diminutive for a strong-willed young married woman – while in other cases the diminutive is now associated wholly with the metaphorical meaning: ifari is an inanimate (vegetative) diminutive for a constrictor snake, and is only rarely used in its older meaning, ‘liana’. In these cases of complete meaning transference, there is often ambiguity over the degree of animacy, as the animacy of the new meaning slowly replaces the animacy associated with the old meaning. It is also possible for diminutives to occur in chains (a diminutive replaced by its own diminutive), yielding semantically-obscure substitutions – for example, a human singer may be called by the diminutive ruòhi, literally meaning a type of brightly-coloured fruit – because ruòhi is a diminutive of nalinà, a type of frog, which itself is a direct diminutive used for singers. The apparently obscure substitution comes in two stages: the frog is a euphonous warbler, and its bright-orange throat, blown into a globe in singing, leads to the comparison with the fruit. Other substitutions may be wholly senseless, driven by present or past similarities in sound, or sometimes similarities in sound with another word (sometimes itself archaic) for the same concept. Sometimes interpreting diminutives may require knowledge of local histories and legends, and many diminutives differ from place to place (to such an extent that observing notable diminutives is a common shorthand to imply a particular dialect, often more readily recognised than an attempt to imitate an accent).

4.3 – Stative Clauses

Stative clauses are built around a stative verb. They ‘expect’ an object, and may optionally have a subject also. They are often verbs indicating a state of being, but also may be perception verbs, or on occasion verbs indicated some social transaction. By default, the subject is in the ergative, and the object is in the direct case (i.e. is unmarked). However, if the subject is considered to have an unusually high level of control over, or to have to an unusual degree instigated the state, the object may be placed in the accusative. As with dynamic verbs, some stative verbs have animacy bars – maximum or minimum levels of animacy that are permitted for either the subject or the object. For instance, tōmid-, “to be in debt (to) [o.]” (the object is in debt to the subject (frequently the English translations of stative verbs will reverse the subject-object relation relative to Rawàng Ata – for this reason we note in the definition ‘[o.]’ indicating that the object in Rawàng Ata is the subject of the English translation)), requires both subject and object to at least be human; syuk-, “to be touched by, feel a light passing touch or stroke [o.]” can take any object, but the subject, if any is present, must be at least animate; lokiun-, “consider, regard [o.]” can take any subject, but the object must be at least human.

4.4 – Motive Clauses

Motive clauses are built around a motive verb. They ‘expect’ a subject, and may optionally also take an indirect object. The subject is always in the direct case (i.e. is unmarked). The object, meanwhile, is a noun that has been placed into an indirect case. This may be the lative case (for motion to the object), prolative case (motion past or along the object), accusative case (motion into, out of, or toward or away from the object), avertive case (motion away from, or under fear of, the object), or locative case (a more general motion, often in the vicinity of or within the object). It may even be the ergative case. These case assignments are largely (but not entirely) lexical, and particular verbs may take indirect objects in unexpected cases.

4.5 – Anomalous Cases

Rawàng Ata is a simple language, but not so simple that all nouns always appear in their expected cases. Indeed not. In dynamic clauses, the object (if present) may sometimes appear in the lative, prolative, or ergative, or even the avertive; the subject may rarely appear in the lative. In stative clauses, the object may appear in the locative or avertive, and the subject in the prolative or avertive. In motive clauses, the subject may be ergative, or even accusative.

The lative quite commonly appears as the object of a dynamic verb. Inevitably, the verb must be intransitive, except in certain lexically-conditioned circumstances (that is, when used productively the verb must be intransitive, but for certain verbs the verb can be transitive in some cases) and the lative can usually be read with the meaning of “up to”, or sometimes more generally “towards”, particularly with verbs that are to imply incomplete or unsuccesful action. For example, dattaya sakkunga komàsa may be translated as “the sailor kicks out at the girl” or “the sailor kicks the girl but so weakly it is barely felt”. In this sense, lative objects can accompany almost any verb. Lative subjects are far more rare, but do occur with some specific verbs: for instance, oluìs-, “drip (upon)”, always takes a lative subject.

The prolative, like the lative, is found quite frequently as the object of a dynamic verb – again, the verb will always be intransitive (except in certain lexical instances). The prolative in these cases can be read as “along”, “past”, or “on the surface of”. It can be used to indicate a ‘miss’ – dattaya sakkunga kòmaki might be translated “the sailor kicked the air attempting to kick the girl” – but it can also imply a grazing hit. It is also used with certain verbs associated with tangential motions. It is less common than the lative. Unlike the lative, the prolative can also be found as the subject of a stative verb, most commonly referring to the sensation of light, sound or smell reflected off, or from the periphery of, an object. For example, hiàngingi būkinta kòma  means “the girl was blinded by the glare of the light reflecting off the metal”, where hiàngiya would imply the the metal was itself the source of the light.

The ergative case can be found marking the objects of some dynamic verbs – less frequently than the lative or prolative, but still not unusually, and often productively. It tends to imply either that the stated object is a proxy for the true object (an owner, often, or something related in some other way), or that there is a partitive or durational element to the action. An example of the first type might be datta va kòmaya, roughly “the sailor inserted something sexually into the young woman (polite)”, where the ergative object indicates the unspoken presence of a more direct object (that is, a more literal translation might be “into the belonging-to-the-young-woman thing”); and example of the second type might be datta suta sīya, “the sailor drank a portion of alcohol for a while”, where datta suta sīma would imply “the sailor is an alcohol-drinker” or “the sailor was drinking alcohol”. However, sometimes ergative subjects are used with no obvious motivation, particularly in the formation of idioms – for example, a common euphemism for defecation is rutta lōya, “hold the pot”, where rutta lōma retains the more literal meaning.

The ergative may also be found as the subject of a motive verb. This was until recently seen as ill-spoken, and is an analogy from the use of the ergative with dynamic intransitives. It implies an incomplete or unsuccesful action. This is productive, but not common.

The locative may be found as the object of a dynamic verb. This is the case with a few specialised verbs, but otherwise frowned upon. The object of a stative verb may also be in the locative; this, again, is lexical.

The use of avertive objects for dynamic verbs is primarily lexical, but has also been expanded to other verbs, with the sense of a thing feared or hated, or an object that is acted upon in order to harm it. With stative verbs, on the other hand, the avertive object asserts extreme control over the action. Avertive subjects are lexical for stative verbs.

The accusative is sometimes found as the subject of a motive verb, where it implies self-interest and self-control.

It is important to note that although a verb may allow an anomalous object or subject, this may involve a considerable change of meaning, and this meaning may depend on the nouns involved. Returning to the example of sut-, “to drink”: datta suta sīya is “the sailor drank some alcohol”, datta suta sīma is “the sailor drank alcohol”, datta suta sīki is “the sailor lapped up the alcohol like a cat”, and dattaya suta sīsà is “the sailor tested the temperature of the alcohol”; however, datta suta kòmana is “the sailor performed cunnilingus on the woman”, while dattaya suta kòmaki is “the sailor licked the woman”, dattaya suta komàsa is “the sailor chastely kissed the woman”, and datta suta kòmaya was “the sailor was in love with the woman” or “the sailor enjoyed spending a little time with the woman”. Most verbs are not so fertile, but this perhaps will indicate that great care must be taken with case-selection. This example also shows the interesting way in which sut- regularly takes the prolative (ie takes the prolative without needing to be made intransitive) when the object is a liquid, but not when it is not.



How Odd

… I am currently reading two different books in which a major character is called “Torg”.

This seems improbable.

Sluggy Freelance: Little Evils (Megatome 2, sort of), by Pete Abrams.

Now THIS is quality television! – Gwynn

As with Megatome 1, I haven’t actually read Megatome 2, strictly speaking – in that I haven’t read the paper format book and any bonus stories it may include. I have, however, read the online archive versions of Chapters 13-22, which broadly constitute Books 4-6 (Game Called on Account of Naked Chick; Yippy Skippy, the Evil!; and The Bug, the Witch, and the Robot), which broadly constitute Megatome 2: Little Evils.

During these chapters, the general structure of the comic remains heavily episodic – few storylines last more than a month, and some last only one week. However, there is more complexity than this suggests, because these storylines often touch on longer-running threads – and, rather than being a static background element providing character and tone, these threads themselves form arcs that stretch across months and years – a brief storyline here will foreshadow and lay the groundwork for a bigger storyline there. As a result, underlying the superficial chaos of this collection, there is a deeper sense of coherence.

This collection is better than the previous collection, because it is more exciting, more moving, and usually funnier. Abrams clearly decided that the move from slice-of-life and parodic storylines toward more dramatic, race-against-time plots (experimented with in Vampires, and fully fleshed out in K’Z’K) was an improvement, and this collection is dominated by thrillers: The Storm-Breaker Saga; The Isle of Dr Steve; Kiki’s Virus; Love Potion Part 2; Bun-Bun’s Theatre of Horrors! (AKA ‘KITTEN’); On the Run; Rescue Mission to the North Pole; Not a Good Idea; The Bug, the Witch, and the Robot 2. These in turn require peripheral storylines for post-climax recoveries (Loose Ends) and for set-up (The Bug, the Witch, and the Robot 1), which reduce the frenetic pace of the comic and give more time for reflection, and for greater tonal variety.

Saying that the collection is dominated by thillers is not saying that it’s repetitive, as these storylines vary greatly in length and style. On the Run, for instance, lasts for two months, and is very high-adrenaline, but is mostly very light-hearted (barring the seriously creepy villain sub-plot); Not a Good Idea is more serious, but only lasts for three weeks. A story like The Bug, the Witch, and the Robot is extremely, deathly serious; Rescue Mission to the North Pole is creepy, but basicaly highly-silly fluff.

So, this is more exciting; not only are individual storylines high-stakes and fast-paced, they sometimes crash into each other unexpectedly (the first strip of The Bug, the Witch, and the Robot 2) may be one of my favourite for precisely this reason. But although this means making the comic creepier and scarier, and angstier and with deeper characters, it doesn’t mean a reduction in the comedy. Indeed, quite the contrary – the serious storylines are often the funniest. The seriousness of Rescue Mission to the North Pole, for instance, turns it from a collection of very silly jokes (with characters named ‘Slappyhoho’, ‘Skimpymoomoo’ and ‘Squishydodo’) into something very creepy; the jokes in the more serious stories are even funnier for being out of place (Zoe: “Wait, was that supposed to be a joke? This is no time for jokes!” – Riff: “Sorry, my angst-train derailed for a minute there.”) Add in the fact that Abrams has simply become better at being funny (in a whole range of ways, from slapstick through wordplay to wit, via various types of irony), and I was laughing out loud on half a dozen occasions, with great amusement throughout.

Of course, nothing is perfect. The tone and pace remain disjointed, which sometimes gets in the way (though often aids a layer of humour). Some jokes aren’t funny (please, no more PETA jokes, please). Sometimes the irreverant clash of tones goes over the line and becomes crass (Cannibals Anonymous, I’m looking at you!). There’s still not a whole mass of characterisation, if we’re honest, (the characters are clear, but lack depth) and character is often sacrificed for the sake of a cheap gag. [Please, bring back the real Sam!]. Between the big storylines there is still some filler that is mildy entertaining and best and sometimes irritating. And, of course, as with any comedic work, mileage may vary – I can imagine some people would hate every page of it.

These, however, are mere quibbles, so far as I’m concerned. Not a work for everybody, perhaps, but very definitely worth reading for some – in this collection the author finds his feet and turns out fantastic story after fantastic story, combining a distinctive atmosphere with great comedy and powerful (if simplistic) narratives. I’m going to keep on re-reading, but I suspect this may be the best of Sluggy Freelance.

Before moving on to scores, I’ll mention a few highpoints, in chronological order:

–          The Storm-Breaker Saga. Time-travel divides the cast in two (producing two distinct plotlines), in an adventure that touches on two big plot arcs and foreshadows/introduces a third.

–          KITTEN. A real gem of a piece, this is a clever, funny, even somewhat tense slasher horror parody (and shows that Abrams isn’t afraid to kill off minor but established characters in trivial ways). It’s also as close as Sluggy gets to a standalone story, so could serve as an introduction to the comic (though only to certain aspects of it) – particularly when read with its iirc-even-better sequel, KITTEN II, in a later book (unless that spoils anything for the main plot arcs? I don’t think it does. Not major, anyway).

–          Rescue Mission to the North Pole. A group of renegade special-ops Christmas elves (long story) receive a cry for help from Santa’s workshop, in a story heavily reminiscent of The Thing. The contrast of creepy horror with total silliness creates, for me, a unique timbre.

–          The Bug, the Witch, and the Robot (1 and 2). The most serious storyline yet, but also very funny now and then, and featuring an epic fight scene – this is a big comic-book fight-scene done right, for once (though the perils of the format are subtly lampshaded by references before and after to Asian beat-em-up computer games). It’s a fitting climax to the collection.

Adrenaline: 4/5. Pulled down by the (mostly intentional) lacunae, but pushed up by the repeated high-pace thrills.

Emotion: 3/5. Not the most emotive of works – the characters are too hidden, and the perils too hyperbolic – but its serious intent  makes it no worse than average. In particular, the two The Bug, the Witch and the Robot stories really take a left-turn into serious emotional territory, albeit without any earth-shattering acuity.

Thought: 3/5. Meh. Clever jokes, and complicated plots, but it’s not exactly a labyrinth. Not much in the way of issues, either.

Beauty: 3/5. Unexceptional. Some of the colour strips are pretty, and the Bug style is striking. Some beautiful jokes.

Craft: 4/5. Not everything is perfect – he’s still clearly not mastered every dimension his discipline. However, the great (and sometimes very clever) comic writing, the plotting, the ability to employ multiple art styles, all make clear that Abrams is very good at what he’s doing, and that a great deal of thought and work has been put into this. It’s impressive.

Endearingness: 5/5. I love it. I don’t love every strip (part of the downside of Sluggy’s scattershot tonality is that there’ll always be some storylines that don’t feel right – personally, for instance, I can’t stand the Dimenion of Pain stories). But overall, yes, I love it. A big part of that is the humour. It’s just pure fun.

Originality: 3/5. On the large scale, it’s highly original. On the smaller scale, however, most of the narrative elements are not novel (sometimes intentionally – parody remains very important, though more subtly so than in the first collection).

Overall: Very Good. It really is. It seems pretty strange to be saying it, because this is not the sort of literature one is meant to be impressed by. It’s silly, it’s strange, it’s light-hearted – it’s a webcomic, for heaven’s sake! And not even one of those ‘we’re graphics novels really, we’re meaningful and deep’ webcomics, but a flatout ‘we just want to have some fun’ webcomic. In this case, what’s more, it’s a webcomic that I think is a bit unfashionable even by the standards of webcomics – it’s so old, and later storylines have not always lived up to these halcyon strips. But I’m willing to be unpopular: when Sluggy was good, it was very good. As with all humour, tastes will vary, but I’ve hardly ever read anything that (taken as a whole, and barring the odd bad patch (and filler week!)) I’ve enjoyed more. And not in a guilty way, either. This is eccentric entertainment, but it’s also very smart and very capable. If you think I’m a fool for liking it – more fool you!

Sluggy Freelance: Born of Nifty (Megatome 1) (sort of), by Pete Abrams

For those who don’t know, Sluggy Freelance is a webcomic. More specifically, it’s the webcomic. Started in 1997, it’s been updated almost every day since; as one of a handful of popular webcomics in those early years, it was one of the pioneers that drew in a whole generation of new writers, leading to the tens of thousands of (mostly forgettable if not downright rubbish) webcomics we have today.

Fourteen years is a lot of comics. All are available for free at the website (with a nifty week-by-week option for faster archive-trawls), and all the comics up to the end of 2003 are also available in dead-tree format. [Seriously, the books are only half the total comic? I’ve been reading this thing too long…]. Thankfully, the creator, Pete Abrams, is an organised sort of fellow, it seems – strips are collected into sections, which are collected into numbered chapters (of which there are currently 63). Numbered chapters (until the end of 2003) are then collected into numbered books, of which ten are indicated in the somewhat-behind-the-times archive system, with an eleventh recently published and two more being planned. Numbered books are then collected into numbered “Megatomes”, of which there are currently two, covering the first six books.

Right. So. What I am going to be talking about is, in a loose sense of the name, “Megatome 1 – Born of Nifty”, which covers the comics from August 1997 to June 1999, or the first 12 chapters. However, that’s not precisely true, because I’ve just been reading the archive, not the actual printed Megatome. The printed books often have bonus stories, and the megatome itself has a bonus story not found in the individual printed books. I haven’t read any of these bonus stories. But I don’t think they’ll change anything too dramatic in my reading experience. So. Loosely speaking.

I started reading Sluggy in probably late 2002, maybe 2003. It was… maybe the second webcomic I started reading seriously (after 8-Bit Theatre)? I didn’t really know how these things worked, or what they were for. But I found I liked it.

Sluggy Freelance is strange. Very, very strange. Not in the “strange things happen in it” sense, but in the sense that it’s almost unique as a narrative project. That’s because it’s almost impossible to define.

On the one hand, Sluggy is an off-the-wall, ‘zany’ semi-absurdist comedy about two guys [Torg and Riff, who are each half geek, half dude] and their wacky hi-jinks [and their down-to-earth female neighbour, and their psychotic talking rabbit]. On the other hand, it’s often seriously dramatic, and sometimes even moving. In some things, this juxtaposition gives the reader unpleasant slaps to the brain; in Sluggy, these slaps are so constant that it’s kind of the point. It can take anything, no matter how ridiculous, seriously; and it can take anything, no matter how serious, and make fun of it.

Enough intro; down to details.

Book 1 is mostly crap. At the beginning, Abrams has no idea what he’s doing. It’s a straightforward gag-a-day newspaper comic strip, except that none of the jokes are funny. (Wait, that’s normal for a newspaper comic strip, isn’t it?). It’s painfully self-conscious, particularly in its constant breaking of the fourth wall, and because he still thinks he’s writing in a newspaper, every strip has to begin with a panel of recap (the gag-a-days are grouped into little stories of about a week, though there’s not really any plot to them). Since the strips only have three panels, and one’s the recap, and one’s the punchline, there’s not a lot of room to breath. Plus the art is terrible. It’s not “this guy has no idea how to draw!” terrible (cf the early strips of “College Roomies From Hell!!!”, amongst others), it’s just sketchy and ugly and not very clear. Abrams is clearly learning how to draw good comic-strip art at this stage – and at the same time he’s learning (on behalf of everybody else) how to make comics work on the internet. [A note in passing: in early Sluggy, the ‘comic’ part of ‘webcomic’ is clearly newspaper cartoon strips, rather than ‘comic books’/’graphic novels’. This changes somewhat later on.] And be fair to the guy, this was 1997 – as early strips let us know, this was the age in which pornography took the form of photographs, and the internet was devoted to X-Files fanpages.

But: what set Sluggy apart, right from the beginning, was its desire to constantly change itself. Chapter 1 is one thing, a series of ironic one-liners; and then already by Chapter 2, it’s doing something else: a sci-fi parody, bringing in elements of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Alien. It’s still not very good – the odd joke is funny, but it’s all very silly and shallow and predictable – but it’s very different, and it begins to move in the direction of more coherent plots. Chapter 3 isn’t all that great either, though it has some good moments (particularly in the zombie parody). Chapter 4 is mostly an extended parody of the X-Files. It’s got some good lines, but not much else.

So that’s Book 1. That’s what Sluggy Freelance is like. Lots of postmodernism and framing devices and fourth-wall breaking; lots of silly puns, slapstick, pop culture references and basically high-school level parodies sprinkled with the odd genuinely funny line. And a strong whiff of Bill and Ted.

And then it isn’t. Because Book 2 begins with an entirely different sort of storyline: Torg is powerfully attracted to Valerie, who has just married Torg’s neighbour (who was revealed to be missing during the X-Files parody, an indicator that more serious plotting was on the way). This isn’t played for silly laughs – it’s played for laughs, yes, but that recognise the nuances of the situation. From whacky college humour we’ve suddenly moved into semi-dramatic humour about relationships and guilt. Weird. And there’s no resolution! Instead, Torg gets teleported (via Riff’s Dimensional Flux Agitator) into a “Dimension of Pain”, and in the process of getting him back from the incompetant demons that live there, a great many parallel dimensions enter into things, included one in which Torg has purple hair, strange clothes, and only speaks Portuguese. Huh. It’s extremely silly. And then we’re off again, as the gang go on holiday – a holiday that features some touching moments, and also the first serious action scene of the comic, as Our Heroes try to save a small child from being swept underneath a pier and drowned. What? What sort of comic is this?

As if to emphasise how wildly things are changing, Chapter 8 (“Vampires”) actually begins with a section called “It all starts here” – and, since this begins with a helpful chart of who’s whom, this may be the best place for newcomers to start reading. So the decision to put this as the last chapter of the book and not the first of the next was kind of stupid… but anyway. “Vampires” is about vampires. It’s very dramatic, and it’s not clear whether all the characters are going to get out of it alive. It itself lasts three months, and wraps up plot-threads going back six months.

Oh, yes, now the author tells us: the other thing about Sluggy is the plotting. Sometimes it seems he likes making plots just for their own sake. Things are said in passing that end up being major plot points four books later – mysteries seem inexplicable until they become obvious sometime in the following decade.

Book 3 takes it to another level again. “Vampires” suggested a deeper and more complex comic; “K’Z’K” and the surrounding stories introduce a threat that imperils the world and leads to an epic confrontation on the top of the Empire State Building (this being Sluggy, however, terrible puns still play an important part of the climax). By the end of Book 3… well, I don’t want to spoil too much, but the next book begins with a recap of the situations of all the major characters, and it isn’t happy reading. He really brings out the dynamite. In fact, here’s the final-line summaries for some of the main characters from that recap: “screwed” – “screwed” (again) – “all bummed out” – “presumed dead” – “unknown” (and it doesn’t look good), “soulless vegetable”, and “free” (that’s NOT a good thing). And “ooooh!”. Not what you’d expect from what starts out as a silly little gag-a-day storyline.

By the time the final bang goes off, most of the main storylines of the Sluggy universe have been introduced: Riff and his Dimensional Flux Agitator (DFA); the idiotic, silly demons of the Dimension of Pain and their vendetta against Torg; the serious and nasty demon K’Z’K and its campaign to conquer the world and fill it with an army of mindless undead servants; and Torg’s pet rabbit, Bun-Bun, and his bloody and unending feud against Santa Claus. Only Dr Crabtree, and the great narrative behemoth that is Dr Steve remain to be introduced. And, more importantly, by now we understand what Sluggy Freelance is. We may not be able to describe it, but we know.

If I coul summarise it in a sentence it might be: an intentionally incongruous juxtaposition of, on the one hand, ridiculously stupid humour, and on the other hand high emotional stakes and convoluted plotting. Weird.

On to Megatome 2… robots, witches, evil kittens, time-travel… and brainwashed assassins.

And yes, I know this a rubbish review. You try writing about this stuff and sounding coherent.

Adrenaline: 2/5. Most of it is deathly dull. On the other hand, the dramatic storylines ramp up the excitement quite effectively, so I’m giving it a 2.

Emotion: 2/5. Mostly fairly light-hearted. On the other hand, the dramatic storylines and their endings do tug at the heartstrings a little.

Thought: 2/5. Mostly pretty stupid. But some of the storylines get quite clever.

Beauty: 2/5. The art isn’t that great at this stage (though I guess some of the full-colour Sundays are pretty). Some beautiful jokes and moments.

Craft:  3/5. It’s hard to give too many marks to a humerous cartoon that for much of the time is neither well-drawn nor funny. On the other hand, there are honestly hilarious moments here and there, the art gets slowly but consistently better (and is never horribly bad, frankly), and the plotting is clever. Also, he’s better at puns than me. You have to take your hat off to somebody who can pull off five or six puns in a three-panel strip.

Endearingness: 4/5. Its goofy, silly style will be off-putting for some, but I found it endearing (though also a little tiresome now and then – particularly early on, when the silliness was more pronounced) – while I found the darker tones and complexities complementary, rather than a distraction from the silliness. Plus, by the end of the book it’s getting really funny.

Originality: 3/5. In patches, and in concept, stunningly original. However, the high number of cheap parodies and the over-reliance on pop culture references weakens this element somewhat. [The lack of fully-established characters also makes it harder to break away from expectations too much – at this stage the characters are still mostly foils for comedy, rather than being drivers of it in their own right].

Overall: 4/7. Not Bad. It’s a mixed bag, and some of the early chapters are best suited for existing fans – certainly if I wanted somebody to like this, I wouldn’t have them start at the beginning. However, there’s something wonderfully fresh and fun at the heart of this, and it’s easy to see why so many have been influenced by it. There have been many imitators, but none have been able to capture that impossible shoreline between pathos and bathos in the way that Sluggy did. I’m now off to read Megatome 2 (or, at least, the equivalent chapters in the archive), and I do so in the happy remembrance that although the first Megatome is Not Bad, the best is yet to come.

Rawàng Ata Verbs and Verb Phrases

Not definitive, of course, but currently the direction in which I’m headed…


3.0 Contents of this Chapter

This chapter is about verbs and verb phrases. First we will deal with verbs; then, with other elements of the verb phrase.

Verbs occur in finite and nonfinite forms. We will look first at finite verbs, and then at nonfinite verbs.

Finite verbs have two distinct forms – liquid state and concrete state. First, we will deal with the liquid state. The syntactic and semantic principles underlying the choice of state will be dealt with elsewhere.

Verbs also have two distinct nonfinite forms. These are the simple infinitive and the abstract infinitive. These will be dealt with together and their differences explained. There are also nouns formed derivationally from verbs; these will not be dealt with here, except where they overlap with nonfinite verbs.

After addressing the verb itself, we will then discuss other elements: verbal articles, verbal-nominal particles, and adverbs.

Finally we will address serial verb constructions.

3.1 The Liquid Verb

Rawàng Ata verbs have two distinct forms – liquid state and concrete state. First, we will deal with the liquid state. The syntactic and semantic principles underlying the choice of state will be dealt with elsewhere.

Rawàng Ata verbs are cited in the form of a verb root; these roots cannot stand as words themselves, and often could not do so, as they violate the phonotactic constraints by frequently ending in consonants that cannot appear in final position.

Roots may be simple or complex. The great majority are simple, and have one indivisible body. Complex verbs have ‘initial’ and/or ‘terminal’ augments, between the body and which can be placed affixes. Examples of simple verbs include raw- (‘settle, agree, rest, fix’), dil- (‘see’), sakkung- (‘kick’), and lefi-, “touch heads with”; examples of complex verbs include s-dil- (‘notice’), mu-dil- (‘be highly noticeable’), dī-dil (‘perceive indescribably’), and sakkung-t- (‘set into motion by kicking’).

Verbs inflect by marking up to five categories: subject agreement, object agreement, location, voice, and ition.

Subject agreement is by means of prefixes. There are approximately twenty-six commonly-found prefixes, including the zero prefix. These can be divided into fourteen first-person prefixes (wa-, ba-, ka-, kāta-, īku-, iku-, in-, isi-, bana-, ō-, wana-, diyai-, ku-, làka-, bitti-), three second-person prefixes (tu-, ōtu-, angātu-), seven third-person prefixes (sa-, ra-, nà-, ku-, angāna-, i- and /),one ‘fourth-person’ prefix (lu-), one ‘fifth-person’ prefix (du-), and one ‘sixth-person’ prefix (yay-).

Among the first-person prefixes, ba- is used only by adult male singular speakers. It is used in most formal speech, but in casual speech it has connotations of stuffiness, grandiosity, chauvinism (when used when speaking to women) and arrogance, and is therefore mostly used in asserting or resisting authority and power. kāta- is the female equivalent in terms of grandiosity (and is only ever used when speaking to other women), but is not used in formal settings – instead, īku- is used; it is not seen as potentially offensive like ba- is, so its use is more frequent. iku- is a less formal version that retains the connotation of propriety and modesty, and is used by women when speaking to those who deserve respect but not honour (elders, husbands, etc). ka- is the usual neutral prefix for female speakers. in- is used when typically when speaking to women, and projects a dominant but non-authoritative, young adult male persona – although it is usually used by female speakers; when used by men, it is usually only to address lovers (of either gender), although the oyo gender use it extensively in non-romantic contexts. bana- is the voice of a male child, though it is rarely used by children in practice; it is mostly used by women wishing to stress their own childishness (to appear winsome, for instance, or to pre-empt and defuse accusations of foolishness) – men will only use it when confessing or committing the most foolish actions, and the female kunyi gender emphatically never use it. isi- is a very humble prefix usually used only by women, in cases of marked power imbalence; diyai- is even more humble, and is rarely used in the modern world except by the most penitant wrongdoers, and when addressing the most glorious of masters; isi- and diyai- may perhaps be translated by expressions like ‘I, your lowly servant’ and ‘I, your worthless and inadequate slave’; for men, however, isi- may be more demeaning than diyai-; on the other hand, isi- is more likely to be used playfully or in jest, which diyai– almost never is. wa-, meanwhile, is gender- and status-neutral; it is the default prefix for male speakers, and is used by women in situations that are formal or businesslike but that do not merit the superiority of kāta- or the formalism of īku-; however, some may take moral, sociological or grammatical offense at a woman using wa-, the exception being when a woman is speaking on behalf of others. wa- is often used as a neutral and inclusive exclusive plural, although any other prefix can also be used in this way (for instance, a female speaker using a female prefix with a plural meaning does not entail that she is speaking only on behalf of other women, though it may suggest so). wana- is the standard inclusive plural – that is, used where English would use ‘we’ to mean ‘you and I (and maybe others)’. ō- is a more formal, and more hostile, equivalent of wana-; it may also be used with no clear inclusive or plural meaning, to avoid responsibility, in a similar way to some usages of English ‘one’. làka- is a prefix taught to foreigners, previously only used by removers of human waste; bitti- was once used by those who scavenged discarded items for things that might be of use to others, but is now often used ironically by those who see themselves, or are portraying themselves, as sharp negotiators, or who are defending their decision to speak plainly or coarsely.

There are a great many other first-person prefixes, in theory. Many of these mark varying degrees of social status (of the speaker, of the addressee, and of any audience) and of kin connection – these prefixes are not generally used in modern speech, and are considered rude, obsolete, and inegalitarian, although they may be found in old documents or poems, or occasionally used in highly-literate jest (most speakers are unfamiliar with them). Others are exclusive plurals formed from the various singulars, generally by whole or partial reduplication, or by the affixes ō- or –tō or –tan or –an, or the infix -n-, but most of these are now obsolete. Theoretically, a woman might use the prefix òinkuìnkutan-, but such a form would never in practice be encountered outside comedy.

In general, there is a tendency to avoid any first-person prefix and to speak of oneself in the third person where possible.

Among the second-person prefixes, tu- is used as standard, ōtu- as a more respectful version, and angātu– as an honorific. As it is common to avoid using second-person prefixes except in cases of formality, tu- often has a derogatory connotation; however, this is not always present, when the choice to use a prefix has clearly been made for other reasons (for instance, among family there is less care taken to avoid directly addressing people, and hence there is less connotation attached to the theoretically ‘neutral’ choice of ‘tu’). ōtu- and, particularly, angātu- are also often used in derogatory contexts, particularly to insult foreigners, or others seen as not being fully proficient in the language – distinguishing insult from honour is generally only possible through analysis of the wider context (generally informal usage with highly formal prefixes is probably intended as a covert insult, or at least as a rough jest). As with first-person prefixes, there are a host of obsolete second-person honorific and derogatory prefixes no longer in general use.

Of the third-person prefixes, the zero prefix is used for transitive actions when the subject is a male human (or portrayed as equivalent to human in the case of some fables and children’s stories). In the case of other animates (gods, animals, tools, some natural phenomena), or in the case of human subjects with an intransitive action, or in cases where the human subject is accompanied by a counter (eg plurals), the prefix used is ra-; for inanimates, it is sa-. nà- is used with inanimate mass nouns, when no counter is present (when a counter is present, sa- is used). ku- is used with female human subjects with no counter; angāna- is an honorific. i- is used for subjects that are possessed by something else, unless they are inalienably possessed (in which case lu- is used).

lu- is the ‘fourth-person’ prefix – that is, it is used with the sense of ‘the owner of the thing we’re talking about’. du-, the ‘fifth person’, is used in the vague sense of ‘somebody’, but with the expectation that there is some specific person being talked about – it’s just that the speaker doesn’t know who it happens to be.  The ‘sixth person’, yay- is used in the sense of ‘the causer or controller’ – often someone who has not been explicitly referenced.

These subject prefixes are placed before the root (i.e. after any initial augment). When an initial augment is present, sandhi must be applied where appropriate. For instance, the root s-dil- becomes, with a third person subject, djil-, jadil-, djadil-, jnàdil-, hudil-, sangānadil- or sidil-; dī-dil- yields dīdil-, dijadil-, disadil-, dingàdil-, dīkudil-, dilangānadil- and dīdil-; mu-dil gives mudil-, mujdil-, mujdil-, mùntil-, mukudil-, mangānadil-, and muidil-. This complexity is ameliorated by the small number of complex roots in the language, and the even smaller number of initial augments utilised.

Voice is a ternary category, marked by a suffix. Active voice is unmarked; passive voice is marked by the suffix –ak; antipassive, by the suffix –ut. The use of these voices will be described elsewhere. The suffixes are added to the root directly.

Object agreement is rather more complicated. There are three first-person suffixes (-aw, -awan, -ō), two second-person suffixes (-ut, -angātu), four third-person suffixes (-ar, -as, -i and -/), and one fourth-person suffix (-ul). These are the same as, or transparantly derived from through metathesis, the equivalent subject prefixes. Worth noting is the fact that –ut is the object equivalent of both tu- and ōtu-, that –ō is a formal first-person suffix of either number (-aw being singular and plural exclusive, –awan being plural exclusive), and that zero-marking is used when the object is human and the action is intransitive, or when the subject is human and the action is intransitive.  Object agreement follows the root, or the voice suffix if present.

Version agreement is quaternary. The verb agrees with the version of the noun with which the verb as a whole agrees (object or subject), or, if it agrees with both object and subject, it agrees in version with the subject. First version agreement is unmarked; second version is marked by –a; third version is marked by –ang; fourth-version is marked by –i, but is unmarked if either the subject or the object is marked with –i.

Ition is a binary category: andative (motion away from the deictic locus) or venitive (motion toward the deictic locus). The deictic locus will be explained elsewhere. The andative is marked by a zero suffix, while the venitive is marked by the suffix –u, with the exception explained below. This follows the object suffix if present, otherwise the voice suffix if present, and otherwise the root. The moving thing is the argument which which the verb agrees, or the subject if it agrees with both arguments – although the motion may well be metaphorical.

Location is also a binary category: on land or at sea. This interacts with the ition suffix thusly: andative + maritime = -ni; venitive + maritime = –ai; venitive+terrestrial = –u. Otherwise, the terrestrial is marked by -a, and the maritime is marked with -i. It is important to note that location follows the terminal augment if there is one, and thus may be separated from the ition suffix – in this case, the equations mentioned do not apply. For example, sakkung-t with first-person object, active voice, gives, in the four ition/location combinations: sakkungota, sakkungoti, sakkungòuta, sakkungòuti; sakkung- in the same inflexions gives sakkungawa, sakkungi, sakkungu, sakkungai. In the passive with a third-person inanimate object, sakkung- yields sakkungakasa, sakkungakajni, sakkungakasu, sakkungakasai; in the same inflexions, sakkung-t- yields sakkungakatta, sakkungakatti, sakkungakasuta, sakkungakasuti. In the active, and with zero (or no) object suffix, lefi- yields lefia, lefini, lefiu, lefiai.

It is important to note that not all verbs are marked for both subject and object agreement. Indeed, only verbs in so-called ‘directive’ text do so – ‘directive’ text is any conversation in which the interlocutor is directly addressed, or in which the speaker uses the first-person. In general, directive text is avoided where possible, and is usually found only in relatively formal or intimate contexts – among those who are not family, and who are not talking to their direct superiors, the use of directive text will be perceived as hostile, and possible offensive. An analogue might be the decision to add ‘sir’ to the end of every English sentence when talking to a stranger (and outside a business situation).

In non-directive (‘discursive’) text, either the subject or object may be marked, but not both. This decision is largely lexical – some verbs (dynamic verbs) generally mark the subject and other verbs (stative verbs) generally mark the object. Some verbs can mark either – often with a change in meaning. For example, savota means “it strikes sth.”, while votasa means not “it is struck” but “it is broken by a blow”. Every dynamic verb can be transformed into a stative verb and vice-versa – but in practice, many verbs are only commonly used in one form or the other, or have one form take on a particularly restricted or metaphorical meaning. For example, rasakkunga means “they kick”, but sakkungara means “they feel attacked by new news and developments when they are already unhappy” and is a less common expression.

In addition to dynamic and stative verbs, a third species exists: motive verbs. These are intransitive by definition and only ever mark agreement with the subject – even in directive text. They generally deal with motion, as the name implies, but also include a small number of ‘procedural’, ‘performative’ and ‘textual’ verbs. Examples of these include bortat- (“prepare a meal”, procedural), kal- (“undress for bed”, procedural), iur- (“I resign”, performative), lai- (“I accept”, performative), i- (“I disown you”, performative), hut- (“go away!”, performative), nos- (“remember these words being said”, textual), and yùt- (“believe this statement”, textual). Of these, the performatives are of particular note, as they exist only with first-person agreement, and in a number of cases this is zero-marked. For example, ia is the andative terrestrial of of i-, and iura is the andative terrestrial of iur-; however, the andative terrestrial of lai- is walai, with overt person marking but no overt location marking (one of only a handful of irregular verbs in this regard).

The use of terrestrial and maritime location is also worth commenting on. Generally, these markers mean exactly that – they say whether the event occurred on land or at sea. However, there are cases when the maritime marker is used even when the event occurred on land. Typically, this indicates uncertainty, alienation from others, riskiness, lack of wisdom or moral uprightness, unclear aims or consequences, lack of knowledge by the speaker of the details of the action, and so forth – generally a sense of being ‘far away’ and ‘beyond/without help’. It is also often used for events on land that are not the home island itself – particularly if performed by people who are only ‘passing through’. The terrestrial marker can sometimes be used for actions at sea, but more narrowly – mostly, it is fair to say that an event is ‘on land’ if a person could still easily swim to solid land (which can include swimming down – events passing over reefs can often be ‘on land’).

3.2 The Concrete Verb

The concrete state of a verb can be formed from the liquid state through affixes. In the case of most dynamic and active verbs, this means adding the prefix a- and the suffic –an; in the case of motive verbs, it means adding the prefix to- and the suffix –an. There are also a small number of verbs in which it means adding the prefix kà- and the suffix –a, or the prefix a- and the suffix –ō, or a- and –ìan. Finally, there are some verbs which use the normal affixes in most cases, but replace the suffix –an with the suffix –oto if the object is of a certain type (specifically, where the object is a dual). These irregular verbs are a distinct minority. Verbs with final augments place the suffix after the augment and add an infix between root and augment (almost always –a-); verbs with initial augments place the prefix before the augment.

Concrete verbs inflect to agree with their objects. In the case of motive verbs, there is only one core argument, so this is the same as the ‘subject’ they agree with in liquid state. They agree by means of a prefix. These prefixes are the same as the subject prefixes for liquid state verbs, except that the only first-person prefixes are su- (singular or exclusive) and wa- (inclusive plural), and that with a female object, the same prefix is used as for a male (i.e. ra- or zero); it should be noted also that the rules for zero-marking match those for zero-marked objects in the liquid state. Furthermore, the fourth, fifth and sixth-person prefixes are not used. It is worth reiterating that although in the liquid state wa- indicates singular or exclusive, it indicates inclusive in the concrete state.

Concrete verbs also, in very limited way, inflect to agree with their subjects: this is only true to the extent that a verb that would be dynamic if it were in its liquid state that has a feminine subject will take ku- in place of the concrete prefix a-, and ko- in place of the concrete prefix to-.

Concrete state verbs do not take voice marking. Nor do they take ition marking. They do, however, inflect for location: terrestrial location is zero-marked, while maritime location is marked by –i. This suffix follows the concrete suffix.

For example, “it (inanimate) is kicked” is asasakkungan or asasakkungani. “She  touches heads with him” is kulefìan – the root-final –i takes an accent by analogy with –ìan concretes, and the human subject takes zero marking because the action is intransitive (the details of transitivity will be explained elsewhere).

3.3 Non-Finite Forms of the Verb

Rawàng Ata has not one but three types of infinitive. The simple infinitive is used to refer to an instance or example of the verb but without commenting on its subjects, objects, ition, or location; the abstract infinitive is used to refer to the general concept of the verb. The simple infinitive comes in liquid and concrete states. The difference between simple and abstract infinitive often corresponds to definite/indefinite and undetermined abstract nouns in English – so, for instance, rawàng, the simple infinitive, might be glossed as ‘the agreement’ or ‘an agreement’, and sakkungàng might be glossed as ‘the kick’ or ‘a kick’, while asàrawani might be glossed ‘agreement’, and asàsakkungani might be glossed ‘kicking’.

As can be seen from these examples, the simple infinitive adds the suffix –àng, while the abstract adds the prefix asà- and the suffix –ani. Concrete simples are simply formed from the concrete form of the verb. Verbs with final augments add the suffixes after the augment and an infix between root and augment unless in the concrete state already (-a- for simple infinitives, –asà- for abstracts, with this prefix becoming a- when these abstract infix is present), while verbs with initial augments add the prefix after the augment. Thus, sakkung-t- has the simple liquid infinitive sakkungatàng, the simple concrete infinitive asakkungatanàng, and the abstract infinitive asakkungasàtani; mu-dil has the three infinitives, mudilàng, kàmudilāng, and muasàdilani; lefi- gives lefiàng, alefiànang, and asàlefiani.

3.4 Verbal Accompaniments

Verb phrases in Rawàng Ata involve at least one verb, and can also involve varies small subsidiary words. These words are articles, verbal-nominal particles, adverbs, and motifs.

Articles are short, uninflectable words that precede the verb. They are a relatively small closed class, and they usually carry aspectual, modal, or definiteness information. The most important article is – the definite article. This indicates that the action being discussed is not a new action, but is the same action that has been mentioned earlier in the discourse. It contrasts with , the antidefinite, which indicates that the action is emphatically not the same as any action mentioned previously, no matter what the assumption, but is ‘a different instance of’ the action. Other example articles are: dai, the mirative, which indicates the surprise of the speaker, or their doubt of the event’s veracity, ū, which indicates that the event did not happen (and can have negative or irrealis implications) and no, the distributive, which indicates that for each appropriate object, the action is performed at least once (rather than to all the objects simultaneously).

Verbal-nominal particles are an even smaller closed class: there are only three of them, and can perhaps be considered a part of the verb itself, as they are entirely lexically determined. The three particles are uya, ika and ama – in general, ika is likely to be used with stative verbs, ama with dynamic verbs, and uya with motive verbs, but this is only a guideline. The particles have no real meaning in their own right, but serve syntactically as dummy nouns referring cataphorically to the associated verb, as verbs cannot directly take the place of nouns. The particle precedes the verb, and when appearing in the direct case (ie without suffix) and without any intervening element, it is pronounced as part of the verb itself. In these cases we will mark it with a hyphen. Any article will intervene between particle and verb.

Motifs are a larger class. They are uninflectable particles that follow the verb. They are mostly the same as the motifs that follow nouns. As with nouns, they often suggest  more abstract meanings, or specify paths and participants and perspectives. For example, raw-, “agree, settle, rest, fix, treat” becomes raw- ata, “come to concord together, speak one language with”; similarly, lefi-, “touch heads with” becomes lefi- ata, “have a romantic orgy with”. Birk- mean “scrape”; birk- tos means “skin from head to toe”; birkhen means “scrape down to the bone”. Similarly, luluaiu- means “lick a tasty liquid from the surface of”, and luluaiu- tos means “lick a tasty liquid from the surface of, from head to toe”; ràj- means “look at admiringly”, while ràj- hen means “inquire deeply into the underlying nature of something apparently admirable or attractive”.  Many motifs are simple prepositions, particularly when applied to motive verbs: dong- means “shuffle or slowly and bouncingly roll, or travel in a cart”, while dong- aban means “shuffle or slowly and bouncingly roll, or travel in a cart, across a street or over a river”.

Adverbs are also a large class, but not entirely open. Adverbs agree with the verb in location but in nothing else. They precede the verb, but follow any article.

3.5 Serial verbs

Serial verb constructions are very important in Rawàng Ata. A sequence of verbs can be placed together to convey simultaneous or in some way unitary action. These sequences are not strictly idiomatic, but nor are they entirely open – they are best learnt as units, although innovative sequences are also found. In a serial verb construction, the subject of each verb must be the same, and this may require the use of passive or antipassive voices. Each verb must agree in location, but will share no other affixes (other than concrete state marking if appropriate). Instead, prefixes are placed on the first verb, and suffixes are placed on the last. For example: the verbs ti- (“move to perform an action on a small-ish object”) and luìk- (“pick up and hold) together form the serial verb construction ratia luìku – “he/it comes here and picks up the…”

Any of the verbs in a serial verb construction may be modified by an article, article or motif, although in general there will be one ‘light’ (often motive) and one ‘heavy’ verb, with the heavy verb taking all modifiers.