In this post, I finally start focussing on the nitty-gritty of the Moten grammar. This post describes nouns and pronouns (as well as adjectives incidentally), the syntax of the noun phrase, as well as the morphology and semantics of the various declensions.
Although I simply speak about nouns, I should more precisely speak about nominals, as nouns in Moten don't fill in the same syntactic space as nouns in for instance English.
Nominals refer to everything that has a noun-like behaviour. In Moten, there are three types of nominals: common nouns, pronouns and proper nouns.
Common nouns are the most populous category of nominals, and contain everything we usually refer to as nouns, and even more (including adjectives, which are actually a specific usage of common nouns). They do not distinguish gender nor any other noun classes, and mass nouns do not behave syntactically differently from count nouns. There is a subclass of common nouns called counters, but those differ from other common nouns only in the way they interact with numbers, and I will talk about them in detail in the next post about Moten. Common nouns inflect for number, case and definition.
Pronouns are nominals whose referents change with context and/or the person talking. They are often used to replace other nominals or complete them. Pronouns in Moten are actually much more similar to common nouns than pronouns in most Indo-European languages. They can freely take nominal complements and adjectives, and be used as adjectives themselves (in which case they correspond to determiners in other languages). Their main difference with common nouns is that they don't inflect for definition (even when they are semantically definite), and only few of them inflect for number. They do inflect for case though.
Proper nouns are nominals with a very specific referent, which they give a name to. Like pronouns, they are actually close to common nouns syntactically, and they freely take nominal complements and adjectives. However, due to their specific meaning they are not often used as adjectives (although it is not forbidden). Like pronouns, they don't inflect for definition (although they are always semantically definite). They inflect for case, and can inflect for number if that is semantically meaningful. In writing, they often, but not always, start with a capital letter.
As I've written above, adjectives are not a separate category of words in the Moten language. In fact, any common noun (if it semantically makes sense), most pronouns and some proper nouns can be used as adjectives. This is done simply through apposition and word order. Basically, when in a noun phrase two or more nominals are juxtaposed, the first one is the head of the phrase, and any other nominal following is an adjective completing the head. For instance, using ufan: great, greatness and bazlo: town, city, one can make bazlo ufan: great town, or ufan bazlo: urban greatness.
Finally, numerals are not considered a separate category of words either. They are just common nouns that can be declined for case and definition. Ordinal numbers also inflect for number. However, cardinal numbers do not, and always use the singular case markings even if they are semantically plural. This is true of any common noun with a lexically plural meaning though, not only of the numerals.
For now I will focus on common nouns and pronouns. Proper nouns will receive treatment in a future post.
Since common nouns have the most complete declension, I will focus on them in this section. In the various sections on pronouns, I will indicate how their inflexions differ from those of nouns.
As indicated in the previous section, nouns inflect for number, case and definition. Moreover, there are no gender nor inflection classes of any kind, so all nouns inflect the same, and do so regularly. Nouns distinguish two numbers (singular and plural), three cases (nominative, accusative and genitive) and two definitions (indefinite and definite). Number and case are marked together, while definition is indicated by a separate affix.
Indefinite nouns are unmarked, while definite nouns are marked with an infix -e-, placed in front of the last vowel of the noun.
Example: linan: a bird, linean: the bird.
Case and number are marked by the combination of an infix (placed in front of the last vowel of the noun, and after the definite infix if it's present) and a suffix. The different affix combinations are:
|singular||no affix||-d- + -n||-v- + -i|
|plural||-s-||-|z- + -n||-f- + -i|
Adding those affixes may create inadmissible clusters. Those are resolved using a set of very strict morphophonemic rules, which follow here (those rules take place once all necessary affixes have been added, including the definite infix if needed):
- -e- only causes changes when followed by e, i or u:
- -e- disappears before another e.
- The sequence -e- + i becomes ej. The new j may react to a following consonant, merging with l and n to form |l and |n respectively, and disappearing otherwise.
- The sequence -e- + u becomes eju.
- -s- only reacts when following a consonant:
- -s- disappears after s, z, |s or |z.
- The sequence t + -s- becomes |s, the sequence d + -s- becomes |z.
- The sequence |l + -s- becomes ls, the sequence |n + -s- becomes ns.
- -s- becomes z after a phonemically voiced consonant (i.e. not after the nasals, laterals and approximant, which are phonemically voice-neutral).
- In any other case of disallowed cluster, or if those changes would still result in an inadmissible cluster, instead of those changes an u is inserted before -s-.
- -d- only reacts when following a consonant:
- t and d disappear before -d-.
- The sequences s + -d-, z + -d-, |s + -d- and |z + -d- become zd.
- The sequence |l + -d- becomes ld, the sequence |n + -d- becomes nd.
- -d- becomes t after a phonemically voiceless consonant.
- In any other case of disallowed cluster, or if those changes would still result in an inadmissible cluster, instead of those changes an u is inserted before -d-.
- -|z- only reacts when following a consonant:
- s, z, |s and |z disappear before -|z-.
- The sequence t + -|z- becomes |s, the sequence d + -|z- becomes |z.
- The sequence |l + -|z- becomes lz, the sequence |n + -|z- becomes nz.
- -|z- becomes s after a phonemically voiceless consonant, z after a phonemically voiced or voice-neutral consonant.
- In any other case of disallowed cluster, or if those changes would still result in an inadmissible cluster, instead of those changes an u is inserted before -|z-.
- -v- only reacts when following a consonant:
- f and v disappear before -v-.
- The sequences s + -v-, z + -v-, |s + -v- and |z + -v- become zv.
- The sequence |l + -v- becomes lv, the sequence |n + -v- becomes nv.
- A phonemically voiceless consonant becomes voiced before -v-.
- In any other case of disallowed cluster, or if those changes would still result in an inadmissible cluster, instead of those changes an u is inserted before -v-.
- -f- only reacts when following a consonant:
- f and v disappear before -f-.
- The sequences s + -f-, z + -f-, |s + -f- and |z + -f- become sf.
- The sequence |l + -f- becomes lf, the sequence |n + -f- becomes nf.
- A phonemically voiced consonant becomes voiceless before -f-.
- In any other case of disallowed cluster, or if those changes would still result in an inadmissible cluster, instead of those changes an u is inserted before -f-.
- -n only reacts when following a consonant:
- -n disappears after n or |n.
- The sequence j + -n becomes |n, if it's directly after a vowel.
- In any other case, an u is inserted before -n.
- -i reacts after both vowels and consonants:
- -i disappears after i, j, |l or |n.
- -i becomes j after any other vowel.
- The sequence l + -i becomes |l, and the sequence n + -i becomes |n, if they are directly after a vowel.
To illustrate the effects of those morphophonemic rules, here are the complete declension tables of a few common nouns:
bazlo: town, city
As you can see, although there is a single declension paradigm, the various morphophonemic rules result in very different surface forms depending on the noun.
Despite their simple names, the meaning of the case distinctions in Moten is more complicated than it seems, and needs a thorough discussion to understand it fully.
The main principle behind case semantics is that all three cases are polysemic: they have three different meanings, that can always be classified under the categories core, spatial and temporal. The naming scheme of the cases used here derives from their core meanings.
The nominative case's core use is as the subject of a verb. However, it is restricted in that sense: the nominative case is always used to indicate the subject of an intransitive verb. However, when the verb is transitive, a subject in the nominative case indicates that it is actively participating in the action, rather than simply experiencing it or suffering under it. For instance, with the verb izunlaj: to be, to stay, and the noun ka|se: man, the following sentence:
Ka|se umpej izunluda|n ito.
means "the man is staying home" (literally: "the man is staying at the house"), no matter whether the subject is actively, voluntarily staying, or forced to stay because of home arrest. However, with the verb ipe|laj: to see, to watch, to look at, the sentence:
Ka|se umpedin ipe|laj ito.
can only mean "the man looks at the house". Since the nominative case can only be used with an actively involved subject, the sentence cannot mean *"the man sees the house" (I will show further in this post how to handle such sentences).
The nominative case is also the case of direct address, when calling out to someone or something. In other words, it also has a vocative meaning.
When used in the spatial or temporal senses, the nominative case is essive, i.e. it indicates the place where (or time when) an action takes place. This use is exemplified in the first sentence above, where umpej (umpi in the definite nominative singular case) is translated as "home", i.e. literally "at the house".
The accusative case's core use is as direct object of a verb, as exemplified by umpedin (umpi in the definite accusative singular case) in the second sentence above. The accusative case is used to indicate the direct object of any transitive verb, but interestingly it is even used with the copula atom: to be. In the Moten language "to be" is considered to be a transitive verb, and the language makes no distinction between equative and transitive sentences:
Ka|se gezdemun ipe|laj ito: the man looks at a father.
Ka|se gezdemun ito: the man is a father.
As you can see, the transitive and equative sentences are identical in structure. It is even true of the meaning of the nominative subject: in the equative sentence above the man is considered to be actively participating in the act of being a father, i.e. it's a role the man took on willingly (I will discuss the use of atom as a copula further in a future blog post. For now, just remember that it can only be used for equative, definitional predicates. For qualitative predicates, i.e. predicate adjectives, another construction must be used).
In the spatial sense, the accusative case is lative, i.e. it indicates the place where you go to or towards. Here is an example, using the intransitive verb juba|si: to come:
Ka|se umpedin juba|si ito: the man comes to the house (or "the man comes home").
In the temporal sense, the accusative case has a durative meaning, i.e. it indicates how long an action is taking place, rather than simply indicating when it is taking place. The difference is exemplified in the next two sentences, using dod: evening, night:
Ka|se umpej deod izunluda|n ito: the man is staying home at night (literally: "the man is staying at the house in the night").
Ka|se umpej dedodun izunluda|n ito: the man is staying home during the night (or: "the man is staying home the whole night").
The genitive case's core us is to allow a noun to complete another noun. It's even the only way a noun phrase can become complement of a noun (other types of noun phrases can only be used predicatively, i.e. as complements of verbs). The meaning of the genitive case can be possession, but also origin, quality, ownership and quite a few other meanings. It is similar in meaning to the English preposition "of". Here is an example:
Ka|sevej umpej: the house of the man, the man's house.
Notice how both the completing and the completed nouns take the definite inflection. Any combination can be used, if the semantics allow it:
Kazvej umpej: the house of a man, a man's house.
Ka|sevej umpi: a house of the man.
Kazvej umpi: a house of a man.
In the spatial sense, the genitive case is delative, i.e. it indicates the origin, the place where you come from. In that sense, the genitive case can be used to complete a noun as well as to complete a verb. For instance:
Ka|se umpevi juba|si ito: the man comes from the house (or "the man comes from home").
In the temporal sense, the genitive case has a frequentative meaning, i.e. it indicates the number of times an action is repeated, or that an action is repeated every so often. Using our temporal example again:
Ka|se umpej devodi izunluda|n ito: the man is staying home every night (or: "the man is staying home at nights").
The polysemy of cases means that sentences can be somewhat ambiguous. Although this is sometimes done on purpose, Moten has ways to reduce ambiguity. This will be shown in the next section.
Besides case declensions, the Moten language has a series of functional prefixes used on nouns to indicate their function in the sentence. The reason why those are not considered case affixes is because they are different in shape (prefixes rather than infix + suffix), some are actually used besides cases to specify their meanings, and they are not restricted to nouns. As I'll show in a future blog post, those prefixes can also be used on verbs to create subclauses. But for now, let's focus on their use with nouns.
There are two classes of functional prefixes. The first one is composed of the prefixes mo- and di-. They are optional prefixes, rather abstract in meaning, and used with declined nouns to disambiguate the meaning of their case. Simply speaking, the prefix mo- indicates that the case used on the inflected noun is used with its spatial meaning, while the prefix di- indicates that the case has its temporal meaning. As any other affix, those trigger some morphophonemic rules:
- The o of the prefix mo- only causes changes when followed by o, u or i:
- It disappears before another o or before u.
- The sequence mo- + i becomes moj. The new j may react to a following consonant, disappearing before |l, |n and j, and merging with l and n to form |l and |n respectively.
- The i of the prefix di- only causes changes when followed by a vowel, n or l:
- It disappears before another i.
- di- becomes dj- before any other vowel.
- The sequence di- + l becomes di|l if it's followed by a vowel. In the same way, the sequence di- + n becomes di|n if it's followed by a vowel.
Note that when they are used with a noun in the genitive case, this noun cannot be used to complete another noun any more. Use of those prefixes makes the noun phrase predicative. Here are a few examples, done by rewriting the sentences above to use the prefixes as needed:
Ka|se mumpej izunluda|n ito: the man is staying home (mumpej = mo- + umpej).
Ka|se mumpedin juba|si ito: the man comes to the house (mumpedin = mo- + umpedin).
Ka|se mumpej dideod izunluda|n ito: the man is staying home at night (dideod = di- + deod).
Ka|se mumpej didedodun izunluda|n ito: the man is staying home during the night (didedodun = di- + dedodun).
Ka|se mumpevi juba|si ito: the man comes from the house (mumpevi = mo- + umpevi).
Ka|se mumpej didevodi izunluda|n ito: the man is staying home every night (didevodi = di- + devodi).
The second class of prefixes behaves somewhat differently. Those prefixes have relatively concrete meanings, cannot be used with case declensions (those prefixes can only complete nouns in the nominative case) and cannot be omitted. Basically, they form a sort of oblique case paradigm, although they are not restricted to completing nouns. Those prefixes are:
- |la-: benefactive. This prefix indicates who benefits from the action, and often corresponds in English to the preposition "for" or the expression "for the sake of". It is also used to indicate the recipient of an action (for instance to whom something is given).
- go-: originative. This prefix is used to indicate the non-spatial origin of something. It is different from both the genitive case in its core use (which indicates possession and other attributive relationships) and in its spatial use (where it strictly shows the spatial origin of a movement). the originative is typically used to indicate whom the subject received something from.
- ko-: instrumental. This prefix is used to indicate the instrument or means by which the subject accomplished an action. It can mark companionship (although there is an alternative construction for this, which is more commonly used) and is also used to indicate the material an object is made from, or the manner by which an action is accomplished. Finally, it is also used to mark the experiencing, non-voluntary subject of a transitive verb. It corresponds variously to the English prepositions "with", "by" or "from", or to adverbs of manner.
- te-: final. This prefix is used to mark the goal of the action (in English, this is mostly rendered by "for").
- |zu-: causative. This prefix marks the cause or reason for the action (equivalent to English "because of").
As any other affix, they trigger specific morphophonemic rules:
- The prefixes go- and ko- cause exactly the same changes as the prefix mo-.
- The prefix |zu- also causes the same changes as the prefix mo-. However, the u of this prefix also disappears before a and e.
- The e of the prefix te- behaves exactly like the definite infix -e-.
- The a of the prefix |la- only causes changes when followed by a, e, u or i:
- It disappears before another a or before e.
- The sequence |la- + u becomes |laju.
- The sequence |la- + i becomes |laj. The new j may react to a following consonant, disappearing before |l, |n and j, and merging with l and n to form |l and |n respectively.
Here are a few example sentences using those prefixes:
Ka|se |le|leon zande|n joplej ito: the man gives the woman a ring (|le|leon = |la- + e|lon + -e-, with e|lon: woman).
E|leon goka|se zande|n joplej ito: the woman receives a ring from the man.
As you can see, both sentences use the verb joplej, despite the different translations. A future post will deal with joplej and its counterpart ja|zi|n, and how they can be used to mean "to give", "to take", "to receive" and "to transfer", depending on the participants in the clause.
Ka|se umpedin kosezgeo juba|si etok: the man came home fast (kosezgeo: "with speed". Notice how the noun is definite in this construction).
Koka|se umpedin ipe|laj ito: the man sees the house.
This sentence shows how an experiencing, non-voluntary subject is indicated using a noun phrase with ko-.
Ka|se te|lea |negi etok: the man did it for the sake of peace (te|lea = te- + |la + -e-: "for peace").
The verb is |negi, a transitive verb meaning "to do, to act, to accomplish". This sentence also illustrates the fact that in the Moten language, like in Japanese, one can omit anything not relevant to the discussion or clear by context. Here, the object of the verb is omitted, whereas it cannot be in English (hence the added "it" in the translation).
|Ze|leon, ka|se umpedin juba|si etok: because of the woman, the man came home (|ze|leon = |zu- + e|lon + -e-).
Note that in English, the expression "because of" often has a pejorative meaning, especially if the complement is a person. That is not the case in Moten, where |zu- is completely neutral. For that reason, in the sentence above |ze|leon could just as well mean "thanks to the woman".
As you can see, all those prefixes, along with the various cases, allow one to express a wide range of noun phrase functions already. I'll show in a future post how to express even more functions, using mostly nominal expressions.
After focussing so much on common nouns, it's now time to look at pronouns instead. As I wrote above, their main difference with common nouns is that they never inflect for definition (even when they are semantically definite) and sometimes don't inflect for number either (even when they are semantically plural). Apart from those differences, pronouns can be used wherever nouns are used, and can take exactly the same case inflections and functional prefixes. For our overview, let's start with the personal pronouns.
Moten's personal pronouns are relatively boring. The first person singular pronoun is ga: I, me, while the second person singular pronoun is ba: you (sg), thou. They have plural versions: telga: we, us and telba: you (pl), you all (those are actually transparent compounds with tel: other). There is no third person pronoun in Moten. However, there is a reflexive pronoun, vike: self, used to refer to the subject of the current clause. This reflexive pronoun is used as is even if the subject of the clause is the first or second person, and unlike the other personal pronouns it can inflect in the plural, and does so when the subject is semantically plural. Here are a few examples of the pronouns in use:
Ga umpedin ipe|laj ito: I look at the house.
Koba umpedin ipe|laj ito: you see the house.
Ka|se telgdan ipe|laj ito: the man watches us.
Telba |lavikse isej ito: you (all) talk to yourselves (isej: to say, to talk).
Unlike English, the Moten language is pro-drop, i.e. participants are omitted when it is clear (by context or through other means) who is doing what, or when the speaker just doesn't want to specify everything. In this matter Moten is similar to the Japanese language, and because of this personal pronouns are not as much used in Moten as in English. For instance, the sentence:
Umpedin ipe|laj ito.
is perfectly valid and can mean anything from "I look at the house" to "they see the house", depending on context and possibly non-verbal cues given by the speaker.
There are no possessive adjectives in Moten. Instead, one simply uses the genitive case of the personal pronouns (including the reflexive pronoun):
Gvaj badej: my dog (badej = badi + -e-, with badi meaning "dog").
Gvaj badi: a dog of mine.
Ba vigvej umpej izunluda|n ito: you are staying at your (own) house (or simply: "you are staying home").
Vikfej mumpej izunluda|n ito: (we, you, they) are staying home (the fact that the reflexive pronoun is in the genitive plural indicates that the subject is plural, but it doesn't indicate which person it is).
Because Moten is strongly pro-drop, the next-to-last sentence feels relatively emphatic, and would be equivalent to saying something like: "YOU are staying at YOUR OWN house!" in English (with tone emphasis indicated using capitalisation). Even in the last sentence it would feel natural to omit vikfej, unless the speaker is being precise on purpose (for instance to indicate that each referent is staying at their own house, rather than someone else's).
Like common nouns, the personal pronouns can be used as noun phrase heads, but also attributively, as adjectives. When used in this way, they allow one to form expressions similar to the English "We the People":
Ka|se telga e|lon |latelba isej ito: we men talk to you women (if you don't understand how this sentence is structured, don't worry. Further in this post I explain exactly how noun phrases are formed).
To finish with, while tel is simply a common noun meaning "other", it is also commonly used in the definite form as a reciprocal pronoun equivalent to "each other":
Telba |latel isej ito: you talk to each other (literally: "you (all) talk to the other").
Teve|l mumpej izunluda|n ito: (we, you, they) are staying at each other's house (literally: "is staying at the other's house").
Kotelga te|zelun ipe|laj ito.: we see each other (literally: "we see the others". Here, tel is in the plural, which means that each subgroup that sees the other is formed of more than one individual).
The Moten language has three demonstrative pronouns. They can inflect for number, and are person-oriented rather than distance-oriented:
- len: this (near the speaker).
- lam: that (near the listener).
- los: that over there (away from both the speaker and the listener).
Given that Moten lacks a third person pronoun, the pronoun los is used instead (including its genitive as a third person possessive adjective). The demonstrative pronouns can be used anaphorically and cataphorically (i.e. to refer to something already mentioned or to something that has not been mentioned yet), but can never refer to the subject of the current clause (you have to use the reflexive pronoun for that). And just like common nouns and the personal pronouns, the demonstrative pronouns can be used as noun phrase heads, but also attributively as adjectives. Here are a few examples:
Ka|se |le|leon luden ja|zi|n etok: the man gave this to the woman (typically, this would be used with the speaker having the object they are talking about in their hand).
Koga lu|zamun ipe|laj ito: I see those (next to you).
Ka|se umpi los izunluda|n ito: the man is staying at that house over there.
Ka|se luvosi umpedin ipe|laj ito: the man looks at his (i.e. someone else's) house.
Spatial and Temporal Pronouns
The spatial and temporal pronouns are two series of pronouns that share the same orientation as the demonstrative pronouns. However, unlike the demonstrative pronouns, they can never be used anaphorically or cataphorically. Instead, they refer to more or less general areas of space or time. They are difficult to define very clearly, as they have no equivalents in English or French. Rather, they are often used in ways where English would use adverbs of time or place (using the temporal or spatial meaning of the noun cases).
There are three spatial pronouns, corresponding to the demonstrative pronouns, and similarly person-oriented. They are:
- e: this place (near the speaker), "here".
- a: that place (near the listener), "there".
- o: that place over there (away from both the speaker and the listener), "over there".
Similarly, there are three temporal pronouns:
- et: this time (near the speaker), "now".
- at: that time (near the listener), "then".
- ot: that time then (away from both the speaker and the listener), "at time time, formerly, in the future, once upon a time".
As indicated by their translations, at and ot can refer to the past as well as to the future.
A few examples might help you to understand how they are used:
Ot ga badin egek: I used to have a dog (literally: "at that time then, I had a dog", with agem: to have).
Datun mumpedin juba|si etok: Meanwhile, you came home (literally: "during that time, came home").
Ka|se vej juba|si ito: The man comes from here.
Ka|se fej juba|si ito: The man comes from around here.
As you can see in this last example, those pronouns can inflect in the plural as well as in the singular. However, their plural forms have an approximate rather than numerically plural meaning.
Like the demonstrative pronouns, they can also be used attributively as adjectives, although that use is relatively infrequent. When used this way, they have the sense of demonstrative adjectives with a strictly spatial or temporal sense.
The Moten language has three interrogative pronouns. Two are used to ask questions of identity, and differ only because one is animate and the other one inanimate. The animate interrogative pronoun is mik: who, while the inanimate interrogative pronoun is mut: what. The third interrogative pronoun is used to ask for a choice, and can be used for both inanimate and animate referrents. It is: mun: which one. Here are a few examples of their use:
Umpedin mik juba|si etok?: Who came home? (literally: "home came who?")
Ba mudikun ito?: Who are you? (literally: "you are who?")
Ka|se zande|n |lamik joplej etok?: Who did the man give the ring to? (literally: "the man gave the ring to whom?")
Ka|se |le|leon mudutun joplej etok?: What did the man give to the woman? (literally: "the man gave what to the woman?")
Ka|se |le|leon mudun joplej etok?: Which one did the man give to the woman? (literally: "the man gave which one to the woman?")
Ka|se temut |negi etok?: What did the man do it for? (literally: "the man did it for whose sake?")
Ka|se umpedin |zumut juba|si etok?: Why did the man come home? (literally: "the man came home because of what?")
Ka|se momut izunluda|n ito?: where is the man staying? (literally: "the man is staying at what?")
As you can see in those examples, the interrogative pronouns are not fronted as in English. Instead, they normally appear directly in front of the verb (as we'll see in a future post, the position directly in front of the verb is the focus of the sentence, i.e. where the speaker gives new information, or asks for it). They inflect only in the singular, never in the plural, even when their referent is plural (so mun can mean "which ones" as well as "which one"). What you can also see from those examples is that what in English is rendered using various interrogative pronouns and adverbs is always rendered by inflected forms of the interrogative pronouns in Moten. This is a general truth: the Moten language has only three interrogative words, and all the other question words are formed using them.
As any other pronoun, the interrogative pronouns can be used attributively as adjectives. In that usage, mun can be translated simply as "which", while mik and mut both translate as "what kind of". The only difference between those last two is that mik can only complete animate nouns, while mut can only be used with inanimate referrents. Animateness isn't a strict category in Moten though, although using mut with persons is only ever done when one wants to be insulting. Here are a few examples:
Ka|se umpi mun izunluda|n ito?: Which house is the man staying at?
Len badi mudikun ito?: What kind of dog is this?
Lam zanej mudutun ito?: What kind of ring is that?
As I wrote before, pronouns can take adjectives, just like common nouns. This is also true of the interrogative pronouns. In particular, it is quite common to use tel with them, in the sense of "else":
mik tel?: who else?
mut tel?: what else?
mut motel?: where else?
The indefinite pronouns are pronouns that refer to one or more unspecified beings or objects. In Moten, they are regularly and systematically formed by adding prefixes on the interrogative pronouns. There are five prefixes, which are presented below:
- ta-: existential. It corresponds mostly to "some" in English (however, see below the discussion about se-).
- nu-: universal. It corresponds to "every", "each" or "all".
- me-: negative. It corresponds to "no". As in English, negative indefinite pronouns make the whole clause negative in meaning.
- |le-: elective. It corresponds sometimes to the suffix "-ever", sometimes to "any". Unlike "any" though, it does not have a negative meaning when in a negative clause.
- se-: unknown. While the elective prefix |le- indicates that the referent is irrelevant, and the existential prefix ta- indicates that the referent exists but doesn't define it any further, this one indicates that the referent exists, but is unknown to the speaker. In English, indefinite pronouns using "some" somewhat cover the semantic space taken by this prefix.
Using those prefixes and the interrogative pronouns, you end up with fifteen indefinite pronouns. They are used much like the interrogative pronouns themselves: pronouns derived from mik refer to persons, those derived from mut refer to things, while those derived from mun can refer to both persons and things, and indicate choice within a set. Also, they only inflect in the singular, and their inflected forms can be used to translate indefinite adverbs like "somewhere", "nowhere" and "anyhow". Here is the list of pronouns and their translations:
- Based on mik:
- tamik: someone, somebody (but I'm not telling whom).
- numik: everyone, everybody, all.
- memik: no one, nobody.
- |lemik: anyone, anybody, whoever.
- semik: someone, somebody (but I don't know whom).
- Based on mut:
- tamut: something (but I'm not telling what).
- numut: everything, all.
- memut: nothing.
- |lemut: anything, whatever, whatsoever.
- semut: something (but I don't know what).
- Based on mun:
- tamun: one, some (of them, but I'm not telling which one(s)).
- numun: each one (of them), all (of them).
- memun: none (of them).
- |lemun: any one (of them), whichever.
- semun: one, some (of them, but I don't know which one(s)).
Here are a few examples:
Semik umpej izunluda|n ito: someone is staying at the house (but I don't know who it is).
Koga memdutun ipe|laj ito: I see nothing.
Ka|se numdun ige: the man has all of them.
Ka|se umpedin kotamut juba|si etok: the man came home somehow (but I'm not telling how).
The indefinite pronouns can also be used as adjectives, with the same restrictions and meaning as the interrogative pronouns. And like the interrogative pronouns, the indefinite pronouns can take adjectives, in particular tel in the sense of "else". Here are a few sentences for illustration:
Ka|se tamik umpej izunluda|n ito: some (kind of) man is staying at the house.
Ka|se semut modve|l juba|si ito: the man comes from somewhere else.
Structure of the Noun Phrase
I think I've introduced enough new concepts and vocabulary for now, so I will conclude this post by explaining in more detail how noun phrases are formed in the Moten language. This will probably clarify some of the examples I used before.
Forgetting inflection for the moment, the structure of the noun phrase can be described simply as: (sub-noun phrase(s)) head (adjective(s)), i.e. zero or more sub-noun phrases, a mandatory head, and zero or more adjectives. Sub-noun phrases are just like any other noun phrase, except that they must be in the genitive case (no other function can be used attributively). The head is any nominal: common noun, pronoun or proper noun. As for the adjectives, as I explained at the beginning of the post, they are not a separate category, and nearly any nominal can be used as an adjective. And as an exception to the rule that Moten is head-final, adjectives normally appear after the head of the noun phrase. Here are a few examples of non-inflected noun phrases, in order of complexity:
Badi odun: young dog (odun: youth).
*Ga ukol: old me (ukol: old age).
Bvaj umpi: house of yours.
Bazluvoj ga: me from a town.
Kazvej mjan bontu: slow cat of a man (mjan: cat, bontu: slowness).
Telgvaj bazlo ufan ukol: old and great town of ours.
Kazvej elvo|n badi sezgo odun: young and quick dog of a man and a woman.
These examples, and especially their translations, are a bit stilted, since they are all non-inflected and thus indefinite (the example marked with * is even ungrammatical as it stands, as will become clear in the next paragraph. To be grammatical, it would have to be ga ukeol). However, they all illustrate well how noun phrases work in Moten.
Now comes maybe the most difficult thing to grasp when it comes to the structure of the noun phrase in Moten: each noun phrase has a number (singular or plural), a definition (definite or indefinite) and a function in the sentence. Those characteristics are indicated by the definite infix, the casual affixes and/or the functional prefixes. The difficulty about this is that those affixes are added to only one word in the noun phrase, and that word needn't be the head of the noun phrase. Rather, they are put on the last nominal of the noun phrase, and all the other nominals in front of it are left in their bare form, including the head of the phrase itself. Moreover, the affixes are added to the last nominal according to its nature. So if the last nominal in the phrase is an indefinite pronoun used as adjective, it will only be inflected in the indefinite singular, even if the phrase has a plural meaning. Conversely, if the last nominal is a common noun completing a personal pronoun, it will take the definite infix, because the noun phrase is definite due to its head being semantically definite (the adjective may even have to be declined in the plural if the personal pronoun is plural). The fact that personal pronouns themselves can't take the definite article (and normally take singular case affixes even when they are semantically plural) doesn't matter here, since the personal pronoun is not the inflected nominal in the phrase.
Here are a few examples of inflected noun phrases in sentences, to illustrate the point made in the previous paragraph (the noun phrases are emphasised for clarity):
Ka|se vigvej umpi mukeol izunluda|n ito: the man is staying at his own old house.
E|lon |laba zande|n joplej ito: I give a ring to you woman.
Koka|se mjan bontu ukedolun ipe|laj ito: the man sees the old and slow cat.
OK, I believe this post has been long and dense enough for now. I do think it was necessary though, as nominal grammar is the cornerstone of Moten grammar, and what I've been describing here will reappear in other places, including in verbal grammar.
However, although I'm stopping here for now, it doesn't mean we're done with nominals. On the contrary, there is still plenty to say. So the next post will still be about nominals. It will focus on numbers, counters (a subclass of common nouns with a peculiar behaviour around numbers and a few other words) and the expression of time. I may also talk about the degrees of comparison.
I hope you have enjoyed the last post of the year. If you have a question, remark, or see a mistake in this post (very possible, I'm bad at editing myself), don't hesitate to leave a comment, and I'll get back to you as quickly as possible.