Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Little Kahtsaai

I've been churning through sketches and modifications in the last year, resulting in the current rather full language, Kahtsaai. A lot of the work is based on Bixwá, which in turn was the outcome of several sketches. It became clear that Bixwá was getting cognitively unwieldy for my purposes, so I stepped back. I generalized some of the ideas a bit. In particular, I ditched the instrumental prefixes in favor of full-on noun incorporation, with instrumental significance one use available for that (Mithun's type IV NI). This cleaned things up a bit.

I dropped case marking altogether, with one marginal exception. Semantically inanimate nouns are marked when they are the subject of a transitive verb. The verb subject prefix for an inanimate noun is also different. So, in both case marking and verb conjugation, inanimates follow an ergative alignment (mostly), while animates are nominative-accusative:

it fell over

it knocked me over

The language is far enough along that I can complain about the recent weather and environmental conditions:

lately my eyes have been itching from allergies

Noun-noun compounds have a link syllable joining elements (an idea probably most recently inspired by Coast Tsimshian). Incorporated nouns are abbreviated in various ways, most regularly, but a few have particular incorporation stems. So, I could have rephrased things a bit:

lately my eyes have been itching from allergies

Notice that the incorporated noun, wime, has been reduced to just wim-. You will also see that Kahtsaai has an instrumental applicative to bring in a new argument. There is also a benefactive applicative, as well as a fossilized locative applicative that is not freely productive.

So far I have omitted evidential marking, which is usually marked:

it's supposed to be very hot tomorrow

Here we have a hear-say evidential, somewhat merged with the future marker (Kahtsaai is usually aspect obsessed, not marking tense except for the future). The discourse particle tówaar marks a discourse break, especially a change in topic.


  1. This is a neat little sketch. I'm especially intrigued by the marking of inanimate agents. It's something I've been playing around with in some of my sketches for a while as well, though I've usually cast it as a prohibition against inanimate nouns in agent positions. So you get obligatory passives when you have an animate patient and a (notional) inanimate agent. I'd really like to see more on this!

  2. A passive is a good way to cope with that. Blackfoot uses what acts a lot like an instrumental applicative with an indefinite subject. You cannot say

    *oma isttoána ikahksínima annistsi ikkstsíksiistsi
    that knife cut off those branches

    But instead,

    oma isttoána iihtsíkahksinii'pi annistsi ikkstsíksiistsi
    by means of the knife one cut off the branches

    I think it's in one of the Wakashan languages that forbids even an indefinite animate from being the agent of a transitive sentence. So, you can't say "a man helped my father yesterday." Either the man has to be introduced first in some other construction, or the sentence is cast as a passive. It turns out that sentences like these, with indefinite agents in transitive clauses, are very rare in unscripted speech.

  3. English is downright odd in its love for instrument-subject sentences, which are typologically quite rare.

    1. I hadn't fully appreciated that before, but a little googling offers up a wealth of papers on the subject. But I also found this, which is interesting: I had known about the locative inversion before, but not an instrumental inversion.