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.




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