Language evolution and the icëlani

Posted by ranskaldan on 10:10 7/24/02

In reply to: Language evolution and the icëlani posted by Hans-Werner Hatting on 14:14 7/19/02

Mark responds:

I knew some exotic language would turn out to have this feature. :)

Well, here's another exotic language that has some form of this feature.

In Chinese, both prepositions and postpositions are used. Which one is used depends highly on what kind of adpositional phrase is involved. There are some words that double as both.

For example, in an adpositional phrase before the verb, zai4 ("at")is used as a sort of "generic preposition" and a specific postposition is added at the end. :

Ta1 zai4-tu2shu1guan3-wai4 kan4-shu1.
He at-library-outside read-book.
He's reading outside the library.

The preposition "zai4" can also be changed for finer distinctions:
Ta1 wang3-tu2shu1guan3-wai4 zou3-qu4.
He towards-library-outside walk-go.
He's going (walking) towards the outside of the library.
(that's akin to using an accusative behind a preposition in Esperanto - or Verdurian, it seems)
Ta1 cong2-tu2shu1guan3-wai4 zou3-lai2.
He from-library-outside walk-come.
He's coming (walking) from outside the library.

(if the double-verbs "walk-go" and "walk-come" look puzzling, it's because -qu4 and -lai2 in the sense of "come" and "go" are affixed to verbs to indicate whether it's "coming" or "going". That's how Chinese distinguishes "take" na2qu4 and "bring" na2lai2.)

So far the adpositional phrases all come before the verb. Sometimes adpositional phrases come after the verb. In this case, all those things that I said about pre-post pairs don't apply. Instead it seems to be a phrasal-verb-like pattern.

For example:
Ta1 zou2-shang-le lou2ti1.
He walk-up-perf. stairs.
He walked up the stairs.

the "shang", which looks like a preposition-adverb hybrid here, can be a postposition as well if used before the verb: (so that's the double role adposition so sought after)

Ta1men zai4-shu4-shang wanr2-zhe ne.
They at-tree-ontop play-contin emotmark.
They're playing on the tree!
(note: zhe is not normally an aspect marker as above, but here's it's used for emphasis.)

In general, adverbial phrases that express "conditions" or "descriptions" of the verb come before, while those expressing "results" of the verb come after.

That brings me to a correction i've gotta make: in the Kit (specifically, the part about "Is your language inflecting, agglutinating, or isolating?"), you gave "I was eating yesterday" in Chinese as "Wo chifan zuotian". The "zuotian" (yesterday) should be before the verb.

Personally, however, I'd prefer a few aspect particles in even the more correct "wo zuotian chifan", which seems very very stilted and unnatural. "wo zuotian jiu4 chi-guo4-fan le" (I yesterday already eat-experienceaspect indicmark) sounds a lot better.

as you said later on in the paragraph, even Chinese can't resist squeezing in a few inflections here and there.

Mark responds:

Thanks for the very clear explanation! I really want to get back to learning Mandarin... the syntax has all kinds of interesting features, such as these circumpositions, as we might call them.

And thanks for the Kit correction. I'll have to rewrite that section... too bad Chinese doesn't quite work the way I want it to there. :) I've heard, though, that languages always mark either tense or aspect or both. (Another universal for Eteodäole to violate!)

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