General Z’aveq Syntax (part 4)

Z’aveq will follow the word order detailed in my previous post on word order without explicit marking, and as such I will not reiterate the content of that post here. However, there are a few comments to make that are specific to this language, but weren’t covered in the generalized syntax post.

First off, the particles referred to in the word order post correspond to a fairly broad set of types of words in Z’aveq. The most obvious members of this set are the aspectual markers, as well as a smaller number of particles that cover the functions of grammatical mood and sentence-level conjunctions in European languages. Additionally, there is a set of directional markers that may optionally be used with a large number of verbs, as well as a comparatively large number of evidentiality markers and similar particles. Each of these sub-categories will be discussed in detail in later posts, but for now we will briefly go over the ordering and placement of particles in sentences that have more than one.

The default order of particles when no particle occupies the theme or focus position (which is frequently the case) will be E(videntiality) – M(ood/conjunction) – D(irectional) – A(spect). All of these particles would occupy the P slot in the pre-movement PSVO sentence, which in principle means that in some sentences there could be up to four of them (since only one from each class my occur in a particular sentence), although in practice maximal sentences aren’t as common as one might expect. As particles are often unstressed and have no accent, there will likely be some additional rules governing tonal contour of a sequence of particles, but that is a topic for another post.

Any particle may be moved into the theme or focus position, and it is possible to construct a licit sentence in which both positions are occupied by a particle. If a particle has been moved to the theme position, and there are still particles left in the default position, they all move with the subject if it is moved to the focus position; the entire set of particles also moves with the verb if it is moved to the focus position after the subject is moved to theme.

In addition to the clarification on the ordering of particles, it bears pointing out that prepositional phrases occur by default immediately after the direct object, although they can also be moved to the theme or focus positions like any other constituent. There is no syntactic concept of an indirect object, nor do you ever see more than two noun phrases that are not part of a prepositional phrase.

Free Word Order for Isolating Language

This is going to be the first in a series of posts about a language that I’m just starting to create. I can’t yet give many details about it, as very few of them have been set in stone, but more information will come as a it becomes available.

Today, however, I just want to talk about word order.

I’ve had the idea knocking around in my head for a while to build a language that allowed “free” word order (defined here as word order in which the placement of all major constituents is dictated by things other than the theta role of the consituent in question) without needing cases or overt direct/inverse marking on the verb.

Assuming we have a default word order of SVO, it’s relatively easy to pull the object up into the theme (initial) position, or the subject into the focus (final) position, without making it difficult to determine which noun is which — the listener can simply assume that the NP closest to the verb should be interpreted according to its position relative to the verb, and the other NP should be given the other role.

However, things break down if you want to move *both* NPs, or if you want to move the verb into focus position while keeping the subject as theme (or vice versa for the verb in theme position with the object as focus). You could of course also declare if there are two NPs in the sentence, the first is the subject and the second the object, but that would just present the same problem, only in reverse.

So far — and this is in no way set in stone yet, although I’m likely to stick with it or something very much like it — I think I’m going to go with something like this:

  • Declare the basic, pre-movement word order to be PSVO, with P being a particle or adverb of some sort that will be present in most if not all sentences (if there are sentences in which it is absent, we may end up with a few ambiguous cases, which is no big deal and could probably be worked around by inserting a dummy particle).
  • Require that some constituent move up into the theme position and another move into the focus position. By default, these will most likely be the subject and object respectively, or subject and verb in an intransitive sentence. Note that this means that the unmarked surface word order will be SPVO.
  • Finally, require that if a constituent immediately preceded by the particle moves to the focus position, the particle moves with it (keeping its place immediately before it). This occurs even if another constituent has already moved, although it does not occur if the particle itself has moved to one of the two positions.

So, for the most basic transitive sentence, we end up with the following grid:

Focus is S Focus is O Focus is V Focus is P

Once we add other constituents, sentences will get longer, but the basic rules will still apply.

Over time, of course, we may see one or two basic particles becoming generalized as a subject marker, possibly with an added element of some sort of TMA marking. But we’ll save that for a descendent of this language.