Monday, 27 February 2012

Moten, Part VII: Particles

In Moten, there are only three parts of speech: nominals, verbs and particles. Since we've already spent so much time describing nominals and verbs, it is only fair to devote at least one post on particles. In this post, I will discuss what particles are, what types of particles there are, how they behave, and I will give a few examples.

What Are Particles

In Moten, particles are invariable words that are neither nominals nor verbs. They are usually small (one or two syllables, although some can be bigger), and have by themselves little lexical meaning, being used instead to mark grammatical categories or as discourse fillers. So far we've encountered a few of those:

  • The ranking direction particles used in ordinal numbers, |zaj and kun;
  • The conjunction opa;
  • The interjection daa;
  • The negative clitics mu and us, and the affirmative clitic saj (with mu and saj also being usable as interjections).

Particles can be seen as a catch-all category, that contains anything that cannot be considered a noun or a verb. Still, there are only a few types of particles, and they are mostly similar in behaviour.

Types of Particles

Particles are not a single monolithic category. Rather, it's a combination of two categories of invariable words: clitics and interjections. The main difference between those two groups of words is that interjections are used by themselves, while clitics cannot be used on their own and must appear in front of another word.

I will now discuss each type of particles in turn, starting with the interjections as they are simpler to handle.


Interjections (also called exclamations) are words or expressions used by a speaker for various reasons:

  • To express an emotion, a sentiment or a feeling ("oh!", "ugh!", "ouch!", "cheers!");
  • To fill a pause in speech ("er...", "um...", "well...", "you see...");
  • To communicate with the listener or people in general ("hello!", "thank you!"", "yes!", "no!", "sorry!").

As you can see, interjections can be normal nouns or verbs or even entire sentences, but here I will focus only on interjections that are single invariable words unrelated to nouns or verbs. Conventional expressions and other types of exclamations will be handled in a future post.

There are two types are interjections that are considered particles: conventional words expressing a feeling or filling a pause, and onomatopoeic words that are meant to mimic non-speech sounds (whether human or non-human).

I will not linger on onomatopoeia. Typically, those are simply attempts to capture a non-speech sound using the phonology of the language, and Moten is no exception. Given its restrictive phonology, sounds are typically rendered differently in Moten than in English. For instance, the ticking of a clock is typically rendered as kinkan in Moten, while the bark of a dog becomes ufu!. And there's also ni|si, the sound of continuous speech (equivalent to English "blah"). Note that not all onomatopoeic words are particles: the noun mjan: "cat", for instance, has a clear onomatopoeic origin.

A common feature of emotional interjections is that they don't always follow the phonology and phonotactics of the language they're used in. For instance, in English you have interjections like "tsk-tsk!", which is actually a click consonant, or "phew!", which starts with a voiceless bilabial fricative, otherwise unknown in English. As we will see, this observation is valid for Moten as well. Another feature is that although people often feel they instinctively produce those interjections, they are still very much language-dependent. Even a cry of pain is different depending on the language spoken! When physically hurt, an English-speaking person will most likely shout "ouch!", while a French person will rather scream "aïe", and a Japanese person will yell "itai!"! In the same way, interjections in Moten are quite different from those found in English.

Here is a short list of common interjections, as transliterated by C.G. and myself using Moten orthography. Since for them the transliteration may not always fully represent pronunciation, I've added the pronunciation itself, in square brackets, using the IPA.

  • daa! [daː]: used to indicate encouragement, but can also show exasperation. Equivalent to "come on!" or "hey!".
  • aja! [aˈja]: used when someone is startled by something, indicates surprise.
  • ejo? [eˈjo]: used to show wonder or disbelief. Equivalent to "eh?", "what?" or "sorry?".
  • mejee! [meˈjeː]: used to catch someone's attention. Equivalent to "ahem" when pronounced softly, to "hey!" or "yoo-hoo!" when shouted, and to "psst" when muttered.
  • ekkee! [ekˈkeː]: used to react to physical (or psychological) pain. Equivalent to "ouch!" or "ow!". Can also come out as ikkee [ikˈkeː].
  • ssii... [sːiː]: used to indicate hesitation, or as a filler during continuous speech. Equivalent to "er..." and "um...".
  • pelg! [pelx]: used to indicate disgust, whether physical or metaphorical. Equivalent to "ugh!".
  • ssp! [sːp]: used to ask for silence. Equivalent to "shh!".

As you can see, most of those interjections have phonetic features that are not part of normal Moten phonology, like long vowels and long or doubled consonants (represented by double letters), final syllable stress (which is realised as both stress and a higher pitch), sounds not in the Moten inventory (represented by as close a letter as possible), or syllables without vowels.

I also need to make a special mention of zutuun, pronounced [zuˈtuːn]. Although considered an onomatopoeia, it actually refers to something that doesn't make a sound: absolute silence itself! It is used, both in writing and in speech, to indicate silence itself (a spoken equivalent of crickets chirping, basically).

How to Use Interjections

We have all these interjections, but how do we use them? They are invariable words, so they cannot be used as noun phrases or verbs. In other words, they cannot be used inside clauses. Rather, they are equivalent to a full statement, i.e. to an independent clause. So they can be used on their own, as a separate independent sentence, or they can be juxtaposed to an independent clause. They can also, in normal speech, be inserted within a clause, but that is just a special case of juxtaposition, i.e. they don't take a grammatical role in the sentence they're inserted into.

This sounds much more complicated than it actually is, so here are some examples to explain what this means:

Daa, ga umpedin izu|lebi egek!: Hey, it's me who cleaned the house! (here, the interjection daa is simply juxtaposed to the following independent clause, and is on equal footing with it)

Ssp! Ka|seden ezve|si ige!: Hush! I want to listen to the guy! (here, the interjection ssp is considered a separate sentence, as the punctuation shows)

Ga bdan... ssii... ipenluda|n etok: I was... er... waiting for you (here the interjection ssii is embedded into a clause, but it doesn't have a grammatical role in that clause. Rather, it just interrupts it briefly, as an independent entity, and the clause resumes afterwards).

However, there are cases when one needs to use interjections inside a clause, if only to report speech containing such an exclamation, or to talk about the interjection itself.

Reported speech can be handled relatively well using direct speech, as in the following example:

"Daa, ga umpedin izu|lebi egek!". Luden isej etok: "Hey, it's me who cleaned the house!" he said.

However, since interjections are invariable, they cannot be used in indirect speech, which needs a verb in the dependent form. And this doesn't solve the issue of talking about interjections.

There is actually a relatively simple solution to this problem, but it requires me to talk about grammar rules I haven't introduced yet. So rather than confuse you, I will just have to move this discussion to a future post (talk about bait and switch, eh?!).


Now that we're done with interjections, let's look at the other type of particles: clitics. I already talked about them a little in the previous post, but they are worth a more complete presentation.

Clitics are morphemes that are syntactically words, but are phonologically dependent on another word. They are pronounced like affixes, but are treated otherwise as separate words. In Moten, clitics are particles that are written as separate words, but cannot appear on their own. Rather, they have to be followed by another word (i.e. all clitics in Moten are proclitics), to which they are attached prosodically (i.e. they behave in speech like a prefix), and often (but not always) syntactically (i.e. they modify that word in some way). The words that clitics attach too must be usable on their own, i.e. they cannot be clitics themselves. This means two things:

  • Clitics can attach to any nominal, verb, or particles that can appear on their own (i.e. interjections);
  • Only one clitic can attach to any word. Unlike in other languages, clitics cannot be clustered in front of a single word. This somewhat restricts what one can do with clitics.

Clitics have a large variety of uses. We've already seen the negative mu and us (the latter being an example of a clitic that much be attached to a following word, but doesn't modify that particular word), and the affirmative saj. We've also seen the ranking direction particles |zaj and kun, which are special in that they can only be used in front of the relative ordinal numbers. Finally, we've seen the conjunction opa: "and", which is also a clitic.

This last one is only the most common example of a group of clitics used to connect phrases together. Beside opa (which along with "and" can also mean "also" or "and also", "and... too"), this group contains kej: "or", me|lo: "but, yet, but also", iz: "for" and u|nav: "so". Although they look similar to the coordinating conjunctions of English, they are different enough in usage that further discussion is required.

The conjunction opa is used to present non-constrasting items, or one item with additional ones on the same level. Here's an example:

Mjan opa badej mumpej izunluda|n ito: The cat and the dog are staying in the house (this can also mean: "the cat, and also the dog, are staying in the house").

A peculiarity of opa is that it can often be replaced by mere juxtaposition. For instance, the example above can also be written as: Mjean badej mumpej izunluda|n ito. See below for an explanation of the syntactic different between those two sentences.

The conjunction kej introduces an alternative item (or more than one) on the same syntactic level. Here's an example:

Ge|sem kej di|lea ige: (My) father or (my) mother have (it).

The conjunction me|lo shows a contrasting or exceptional item, still on the same level as the original item. Here is an example:

Mjan kolos odun me|lo bontedun ige: That cat is young but slow.

It can also be used after an item completed by mu to indicate the very alternative hinted at by the negative particle. For example:

mjan mu bontu me|lo sezgo: a cat that is not slow but fast (literally: "a not slow but fast cat").

The particles iz and u|nav can be seen as opposites, as the first one indicates a reason while the second one introduces a consequence. In both cases, the item they introduce is on the same level as the item they contrast it with. Here are two examples:

mjan bontu iz ukol: a cat that is slow for it's old.

mjan ukol u|nav bontu: a cat that is old and thus slow.

Syntactically, the use of those clitics can be surprising. First, they can only be used to connect nominals (and noun phrases) together, including nominals used as adjectives (although juxtaposition is more common in this case), verbs (and verb phrases) together, and interjections together, on the condition that the connected elements all have the same function in the clause they appear in. In particular, they cannot be used to connect clauses together! This means that something like "I know this man, but we haven't seen each other for a while" cannot be translated as is using a coordinating clitic (there is a way to sidestep this issue though, as we will see below). Second, way back then, I explained how in a noun phrase, only the last nominal receives the declension marks that indicate its function in the sentence, and whether the phrase is definite or indefinite. But if you look closely at the examples I gave above, you'll have noticed one thing: this rule extends to coordinated phrases as well! When a series of noun phrases are coordinated, only the last nominal of the last phrase receives inflection marks. This means that besides the same function, all the coordinated noun phrases must have the same definition and number marking!

In terms of usage, the coordinating clitics are normally not used in front of the first element of a coordination, but they are mandatory in front of all the following elements. This means that a sequence like "a man, a woman, a dog and a cat" must be translated as ka|se opa e|lon opa badi opa mjan. It is still possible to add the coordinating clitic in front of the first element as well, especially with only two elements, but this results in constructions equivalent to correlative conjunctions:

opa ka|se opa e|leon: both the man and the woman.

kej ka|se kej e|leon: whether the man or the woman.

me|lo ka|se me|lo e|leon: not only the man but also the woman.

As I have mentioned, verb phrases can also be coordinated with those clitics. This can only be done when those verbs have the same function in the clause they are set in, i.e. they can use the same participants that are present in the clause. Also, like noun phrases, they can only be coordinated if they share exactly the same conjugation, as only the last one gets inflection marks and the auxiliary. Here are a few examples to illustrate those points:

Saj ige, bdan pe|laz opa eze|s ige: Yes indeed, I can see and hear you (the beginning of this sentence implies that it's an elaborate reply to a question like pe|laz ige mu ige?: "can you see me?", for instance over a Skype session).

Juba|si opa izunluvaj saj ito!: You really have to come and stay (as you can see, only the last verb takes the genitive case that marks the strong situational modality, but both verbs are actually in that form).

In the previous post, I described mu in terms of its use as a negative clitic. What I didn't mention then was that it can be used as a coordinating clitic as well. When used to coordinate phrases, it is most often used in front of every item in the list, and can be translated as "neither... nor". Here is an example:

Koga mu badi mu mjedan pe|laz ito: I have seen neither the dog nor the cat (the coordinating role of mu is made obvious by the fact that only mjedan is inflected).

Finally, so far I have focussed on how the coordinating clitics are used to put words together. What I haven't talked about is the fact that although their main role is coordination, those clitics can also be used on a single phrase or word! When used in this way, the clitics take on a nearly adverbial meaning. For instance, opa used this way can be translated as "also", kej becomes close to "rather", and me|lo means "however" or "though". Be aware that their scope is still the word they complete, as shown in the following examples:

Komotenku|leju gebez ige. Opa kofilansiku|leju gebez ige: I can speak Moten. I can speak French as well (although opa appears at the beginning of the sentence, it doesn't link it to the previous one, but only completes kofilansiku|leju).

Bvaj ge|sedemun eksaz us ito. Bvaj me|lo di|ledan ada |zaj djeganeo jeksaj etok: I don't know your father. I met your mother though, last year (literally: "it's not true that I have met your father. Your mother however I met the previous year". Here, the fact that me|lo completes di|ledan only is made clear by its position, directly in front of that noun, even closer to it than the genitive bvaj).

Still, this use of the coordinating clitics leads to the ability to sidestep the issue of not being able to coordinate clauses with those clitics, as mentioned above. Basically, just as is done with mu, adding a coordinating clitic to the auxiliary of a clause broadens its scope to the whole clause. Such a clause can then be used on its own (in which case the clitics are usually translated as adverbs) or juxtaposed to another clause (in which case the result is close to having coordinated clauses). Here are a few examples:

Filansi zunlaz ito. Doj|slan zunlaz opa ito: I've lived in France. I've also lived in Germany (here the two clauses are separate sentences, so the clitic is translated as an adverb).

Tinedan izu|lebi gedvaj ige, elejvuzi me|lo ige: I want to clean my room, but I want to sleep too (literally: "I want to make the house become clean, however I want to sleep". Here, since the two clauses are juxtaposed it's more fitting to translate the clitic as a conjunction, or a combination of a conjunction and an adverb in this case).

|Sukedon u|nav ito mu ito?: So, is he your brother? (when asked to a man or boy. Here we see that those clitics can also be used in yes-no questions, by adding them on the first auxiliary)

There are many more clitics, all with various meanings and uses, but we will discover them as they come in future posts. For now, let's focus on the next issue concerning clitics.

Clitic Pronunciation

As I mentioned here and in the last post, clitics are separate words, but phonologically they behave like prefixes. This means that like affixes, they need to change pronunciation in order to prevent sound collisions that are not allowed according to Moten phonotactics. However, unlike affixes, those pronunciation changes are limited to the clitics themselves (the words they are added to don't change), and they are not indicated in writing, the only exception to the rule that Moten is written as it is spoken.

I will not describe the possible morphophonemic changes for all the clitics already described. However, I can give a series of general rules that should cover most if not all cases:

  • When the last letter of a clitic is identical to the first letter of the word that follows it, the last letter of the clitic is elided in speech. For instance, the phrase opa a|sizea: "and/also on Tuesday" is pronounced [opatsizea], with opa reduced to [op].
  • When the last vowel of a clitic cannot appear next to the first vowel of the following word (basically whenever at least one of those vowels is i or u), the sound [j] is appended to the clitic. For instance, the fragment me|lo umpej: "the house, though" is pronounced [meʎojumpej], as if me|lo was written *me|loj.
  • When the last consonant of a clitic disagrees in voicing with the first consonant of the following word (and neither is a voice-neutral consonant), the last consonant of the clitic changes to agree in voicing with the first consonant of the following word. For instance the fragment u|nav kit: "so a large animal" is pronounced [uɲafkit], as if the clitic was written *u|naf.
  • If a clitic ends in j, |l or |n, that consonant will be elided if the following word starts with one of j, |l, |n, l or n. In a similar fashion, the final n of a clitic will be elided in front of a word starting with |n, and the final l of a clitic will be elided in front of a word starting with |l.
  • If a clitic ends in s, z, |s or |z, that consonant will be elided in front of a word starting with s or z. The consonants |s and |z are also elided in front of |s or |z, but s and z are not.

Note that those rules are recursive, i.e. they need to be applied as many times as needed. For instance, the fragment u|nav fokez lam: "thus that person" is pronounced [uɲafokezlam], i.e. the final v of u|nav is made voiceless since the following word starts with a voiceless consonant, and is then elided since the result is the same sound as the one that starts the word fokez.

These rules should cover all possible collisions between incompatible sounds.

What's Next

Well, I believe we've made quite some progress with this post, so it's a good place to stop for now. Of course, Moten has more particles, but they all work as has been described above, with the only difference being what they exactly mean. And we'll have ample opportunity to introduce new particles in future posts.

So, if I sum up what we've seen so far, we've learned how to pronounce Moten, how nouns and verbs work, how to form full sentences and subordinate clauses, and quite a few interjections and other particles. So what have I got left up my sleeve? Quite a lot actually, so this series of blog posts isn't likely to end for a while!

So, what about next time? What I'm planning to do next time is to uncover an essential piece of grammar, basically the very backbone of Moten, and the feature that gives it most of its expressive power. Why have I waited for so long to introduce it, if it's so vital? Because it isn't that easy to describe and understand, and you need to have a good knowledge of the basics to get how this feature works. So, what am I talking about? Well, people who know a bit about Moten already, and/or who saw my 4th Language Creation Conference presentation, will rejoice, as I am talking about the wonderful concept that is surdéclinaison! Yes, I'm finally going to discuss this elusive feature here!

But be warned! Surdéclinaison is used everywhere in Moten. So expect next post to be a monster! Actually, I might split it in two or more posts if I feel it's becoming too heavy. But it's a fascinating feature, so this won't be a boring ride! See you next time!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Moten, Part VI: Negation and Polar Questions

So far, all our statements in Moten have been nice and positive. But sometimes one just wants to be able to say "no". So it's time to take a break from discussions about verb morphology and syntax, and to learn how to form negations. And since negations are not fun unless you have something to disagree on, I'll then carry on to describe how to form yes-no questions and the typical ways to answer them.

Types of Negations

When people think about negations, they usually think only about words like "no" and "not", and possibly, after a while, about words like "nobody", "never", etc. As for negation itself, they think of it as very simple: just put "not" in a sentence to deny that a statement is true. But while it is a very logical way to think about negation (influenced by how people were taught about it in school), negation in language is far more complicated than that.

In terms of form, negation can be quite complex. English negates verbs with "not", but only modal verbs, "to be", "to have" and "to do" (as an auxiliary) can directly take "not". All other verbs form their negation with "do not" or a related form. So the negative form of "he eats meat" is not *"he eats not meat" but "he doesn't eat meat". In other languages, there may be more than one form of negation, depending on the type of verb or how it is used. For instance, in Modern Greek verbs are normally negated using the little word δεν, but verbs in the imperative or the subjunctive moods use the word μην instead. In Mandarin Chinese, the negation of verbs in a present or future context is 不(bù), but the negation of verbs in a past or perfect context, as well as the verb 有(yǒu): "to have" in any context, is 没(méi) instead. And there is of course the eternal question of whether two negations in the same sentence cancel each other or not (in formal English, they cancel each other. In colloquial English, they often don't. In other languages, sometimes double negations are even mandatory!).

And even in terms of meaning, negation is hardly a simple matter. People often explain negation as "saying the opposite", but is that always so? Indeed, a sentence like "that's not possible" is more or less equivalent to "that's impossible", but what about a sentence like "that's not blue"? What's the opposite of "blue"? Isn't this negation more like saying "that's another colour than blue"?

And don't forget that negation isn't a matter of full sentences only. Negation can be restricted to a noun phrase, indicating usually the absence of something ("What? No popcorn left?"), to an adjective ("This not-so-short book is still a page turner"), or to a noun itself ("That's a non-issue").

The reason why I am explaining all this is that negation in Moten is handled differently depending on what is negated, and the actual meaning of the negation. Basically, Moten recognises three different types of negation, and handles them all differently. I call those three types of negation the opposite, the alternative, and the logical negation. I will handle those in turns in the next sections.


Opposites are a kind of lexical negation. Generally, opposites are thought of as sets of two options ("possible" vs. "impossible") or extremes on a continuous scale ("big" vs. "small", "love" vs. "hate"). Opposites can be any kind of words, but they are most commonly found among adjectives and nouns. In English, opposites are normally formed with the prefix "un-" ("happiness/unhappiness"), the prefix "in-/im-/-ir" ("tolerant/intolerant"), or can be separate lexical items ("deep/shallow", "thick/thin").

In Moten, there is no systematic way of forming the opposite of a word. In other words, Moten doesn't have an equivalent to the prefix "un-". Opposites in Moten are always separate lexical items. For instance, the opposite of bontu: "low speed, slow" is sezgo: "high speed, fast". The opposite of ufan: "greatness" is tlebe: "mediocrity". And pairs like ja|zi|n/joplej ("to transfer towards/away from the speaker"), jagi/juba|si ("to go/to come") and even sponda/kit ("small/large animal") can also be viewed as opposites.


In English, "not" can be used in cases where there is no obvious opposite. In those cases, the use of the negation isn't simply to deny something, but to indicate that an alternative is true. For instance, when saying "this wall isn't blue", one is actually saying "this wall is another colour than blue". And even when an opposite is clear, one might want rather to indicate that something is not on a specific side of a scale, rather than simply on its opposite side. For instance, "my car isn't small" doesn't necessarily mean that the car is big. It could simply be medium-sized. In this case, what the speaker is saying is "my car is other than small".

Moten has a specific way to handle this type of negation, using the word mu. Although it can usually be translated as "not", it is more correctly glossed as "other than". It never automatically indicates the opposite, and it doesn't simply deny things. Rather, it points towards alternatives.

The word mu is a particle, i.e. a small invariable word. Its use is simple: just put it in front of another word, and it modifies the meaning of that word, and of that word only. Also, no other word can be placed between it and the word it modifies. It can be used with both nominals and verbs. When put in front of nouns that are used adjectivally (as attributes or as predicates), mu is normally translated as "not" (although remember that it marks alternatives rather than opposites). For instance:

mjan mu bontu: a cat that is not slow (but not necessarily quick either. Being quick is only one of the alternatives. Literally: "a not slow cat").

Lezuz kolam mu ufedan ige: That song isn't great (it may be bad, or it may just be average. Literally: "that song has the not-greatness". Notice how mu is put in front of ufan, while in English "-n't" is added on the verb. This is very important difference between English and Moten: adding mu in front of the verb would result in a totally different sentence, as we will see below).

When mu is put in front of other nouns, it will often be translated as "non-". For instance, mu go would mean something like "a non-job", i.e. an activity that is anything but a job. In the same way, mu ku|lu is "a non-language", which could mean: "a form of communication that cannot be considered a language". As for mu |lea, it means "non-peace", which seems similar to the English "fake peace". Note that mu can never be translated as "no" in this usage, since "no" indicates the absence of something, while mu indicates alternatives (implying thus the presence of something, just something different from what is said). We will see how to translate the adjectival "no" later in this post.

The most complicated case is when mu is used with conjugated verbs. Since conjugated verbs in Moten use periphrastic forms, mu can be put either in front of the verb itself or in front of the auxiliary, with very different results. When used in front of the verb itself, mu indicates that what is happening involves the participants shown in the statement, but that it is different from the action or state described by the verb. For instance:

Koga ada|zeaj ka|se ludamun mu ipe|laj etok: I did not see that man in January (this sentence means more literally: "I did something (involuntarily) that involved that man, and that happened in January, but it wasn't seeing him". It might have been hearing him, hitting him, calling him, etc.).

Umpej mu zunludazun etok: You shouldn't have just stayed home (in other words: "being at home isn't a problem, but you should have done something else than just staying there").

When used in front of the auxiliary, the meaning of mu changes somewhat, in that instead of its scope being only the word it completes, its scope becomes the entire clause. Basically, in this position, mu indicates that the full clause itself is not what happens or happened, but something else. It's equivalent to surrounding the entire clause with "something else than... happened". For instance:

Koga ada|zeaj ka|se ludamun ipe|laj mu etok: I did not see that man in January (more literally: "something happened, it may have involved that man, it may have happened in January, and it may haven been seeing, but it was in any case not seeing that particular man in January").

Umpej zunludazun mu etok: You shouldn't have stayed home (in other words: "you should have done something else than staying home").

Since auxiliaries used as fully-fledged verbs do have synthetic forms, for those using mu can be slightly ambiguous:

Lezuz kolam ufedan mu ige: That song isn't great (this can mean: "that song does something involving greatness, but it isn't having it" or: "something is going on, but it isn't that song being great").

Using mu with verbs is quite tricky, but it's vital to use it correctly, since it's the most commonly used negation. As long as one focusses on mu meaning "other than" rather than simply "not", its usage shouldn't be surprising.

Phonologically speaking, mu is a clitic, i.e. it is a separate word, but it behaves somewhat like a prefix. This means that there are morphophonemic changes when the particle appears in front of a word that starts with a vowel:

  • In front of a word starting with u, mu loses its vowel, so something like mu ufedan is actually pronounced as mufedan;
  • In front of a word starting with another vowel, a j is inserted, so mu ige is actually pronounced as mujige.

As an exception to the rule that Moten is written as it is pronounced, those phonological changes are normally not reflected in writing (so the examples I gave above are actually correctly written). This is a general rule for Moten clitics: those changes are much more limited than those happening with affixes, and do not result in changes in other words' stems, so keeping the clitic recognisable in writing is considered more important than reflecting pronunciation accurately.

Before we carry on with another type of negation, I want to introduce another particle: saj. It is basically the opposite of mu, i.e. it indicates that whatever it is added to is definitely what the speaker is talking about. While mu means "other than", saj means "definitely", "really", "just so" etc. It is used in exactly the same way as its opposite: it can be used in front of nominals and verbs, and modifies only the word that follows, except when it is an auxiliary verb, in which case the scope of the particle is the full clause. Here are a few examples:

mjan saj bontu: a cat that is definitely slow.

Lezuz kolam saj ufedan ige: That song is really great.

saj |lea: true peace.

Koga ada|zeaj ka|se ludamun saj ipe|laj etok: I definitely saw that man in January (literally: "what I did in January with that man was definitely seeing him").

Umpej saj zunludazun etok: You should have just stayed home (in other words: "what you should have done was definitely staying home").

Koga ada|zeaj ka|se ludamun ipe|laj saj etok: I really did see that man in January (more literally: "it is definitely so that I saw that particular man, and it was certainly in January").

Umpej zunludazun saj etok: You should really have stayed home (in other words: "it is really so that you should have stayed home").

Lezuz kolam ufedan saj ige: That song really is great (this can mean: "what that song does with greatness is definitely possessing it" or: "it is really so that this song is great").

Phonologically speaking, this clitic is very stable. It only changes before words starting with j, |l or |n, in which case its final j is elided. So saj |lea actually sounds like sa|lea.

Logical Negation

This type of negation is simply the one that people naively think of when they speak of negation in general: when you negate a statement, you simply deny it, i.e. effectively you prefix this statement with something like: "it is false that". This kind of negation is not concerned with opposites or alternatives, only with the truth value of a statement. Also, by its nature, it is statement-wide, i.e. its scope isn't restricted to a single word or phrase.

In Moten, logical negations are formed using the particle us. Like mu, it is a clitic that must appear in front of another word and is phonologically a prefix. However, unlike mu, its scope isn't limited to the word it appears before. Its scope isn't even limited to a single clause. Instead, its scope is an entire statement, i.e. an independent clause and all subordinate clauses that depend on it. Unless independent clauses are coordinated, it's equivalent to say that the scope of us is the entire sentence.

The word us is normally simply translated as a clause-level "not", but it is more exactly equivalent to saying: "this statement is false". Because of this, it doesn't really matter where it appears in the sentence, and indeed it can be moved around relatively freely (the only place where it cannot appear is after the last verb of the sentence). In practice though, us is usually restricted to the main clause (although it could appear in subordinate clauses without changing the meaning of the statement), between noun phrases or before the conjugated verb (either the verb itself or its auxiliary). The two positions where it appears most often in normal speech are before the focus and before the auxiliary.

Here are a few examples to illustrate how us works:

Bdan ipelda|n us ito: I'm not watching you (literally: "it's not true that I'm watching you").

Us bdan ipelda|n ito: same as above (changing the position of us has no influence on the meaning of the sentence).

Gvaj mumpedin ubva|si iges isej us etok: He didn't say that (he) wanted to come to my house (literally: "it's not true that he said that (he) wanted to come to my house").

Gvaj mumpedin ubva|si us iges isej etok: same as above, but rare (putting us in a subclause does not restrict its scope to that subclause. In particular, this sentence does not mean: "he said that (he) didn't want to come to my house").

Gvaj kobadej us pledegun ige: My dog isn't small (literally: "it's not true that my dog has smallness").

Motenku|ledun vajaguz us patok, |laga gebez us ige: If you don't know Moten, you cannot speak to me (as I mentioned before, conditions in Moten are separate independent clauses, i.e. separate statements. For this reason, as explained above, each us in this sentence is restricted in scope to the main clause it appears in).

The fourth example above illustrates one issue: what if we want to report that someone said bvaj mumpedin agvuzi us ige: "I don't want to come to your house"? Simply converting this sentence into an indirect speech subclause will not work, since us will refer to the whole statement rather than just the subclause. One could use direct speech, since a direct speech clause is always a separate sentence: (Luden) isej etok. "Bvaj mumpedin agvuzi us ige". But how can we report this sentence using indirect speech?

The answer is surprisingly simple: replace us with mu. The only restriction is that mu must appear directly before the auxiliary of the core clause. So, if we go back to the example above:

Bvaj mumpedin agvuzi us ige -> Gvaj mumpedin ubva|si mu iges isej etok: He said that (he) didn't want to come to my house.

The above sentence means literally: "he said that he did something else than wanting to come to my house", which is not quite the same as the actual reported sentence (where the speaker only indicated the truth value of his statement, rather than implying alternatives). Also, the result is ambiguous (the reported speaker could actually have said bvaj mumpedin agvuzi mu ige, which is a more correct direct equivalent of the indirect speech here). Still, it is the normal solution to that issue in Moten. If one wants to be clear that the original speaker used us rather than mu, direct speech is the only solution.

This restriction is actually valid for all subordinate clauses: since us cannot be used in subclauses (or rather, refers to the whole statement even there), the only way to negate a subordinate clause is to use mu in front of its auxiliary verb (this is not completely true. See the next section for more details). For instance:

Koga e|lon |lalam opluvezi mu ege zanede|n ige: I have the ring that you didn't want to give to that woman (literally: "I have the ring with which you did something different from wanting to give it to that woman").

Another case where us is forbidden and the only allowed negation is mu is prohibitive statements. Such statements are simply negative imperatives or hortatives: someone ordering, advising or encouraging someone else (and possibly themselves) to not do something. There is a simple reason why such sentences cannot be negated with us: orders don't have a truth value. An order isn't a statement that could possibly be true or false. Rather, it's a request for the listener(s) to do something, so that the statement implied by the order becomes true. Since orders don't have a truth value of their own, they cannot be negated by us, but they can be negated using mu in front of the verb:

Ludamun mu ja|zin!: Don't give me that!

Telga mu ag!: Let's not go!

Questions are another type of sentence without a truth value. They don't have a truth value because they are asking about the truth value of the underlying statement. Polar questions directly ask whether the underlying statement is true or false, while non-polar questions ask about the unknown piece of information that makes the underlying statement true. For this reason, questions cannot be negated by us, but mu can be used without a problem:

Ka|se umpedin |zumut juba|si mu etok?: Why didn't the man come home?

So now we know that us can only be used in a restricted environment: independent statements. It cannot be used in subordinate clauses (rather: it can be used in subordinate clauses but always refers to the main clause in this position), in orders or in questions. In all those cases, only mu is allowed.

Like all other particles, us is pronounced slightly differently depending on the word following it. In front of a word starting with s or z, the particle's final s is elided. And in front of a word starting with a voiced consonant (not counting the voice-neutral nasals, laterals and approximant), the final s is pronounced as if it was z. So the sentence us bdan ipelda|n ito is pronounced as if it was written uz bdan ipelda|n ito.

Unlike mu, us doesn't have an opposite. That's because any statement not containing us is considered true by default, so there's no reason to indicate the truth value by a separate particle. If one wants to emphasise that a statement is really true, one can always use saj in front of the auxiliary. For instance:

Bdan ipelda|n saj ito: I'm really watching you (literally: "It's really so that (I) am watching you").

Negative Indefinite Pronouns

A long time ago, I introduced the negative indefinite pronouns: memik: "nobody", memut: "nothing" and memun: "none". I didn't linger much on them, only writing that they work as in English, making the whole clause negative. The only example I gave then was koga memdutun ipe|laj ito: "I see nothing". But now that we've seen that negation in Moten works quite differently from negation in English, it's time to look in further detail how they fit in.

To begin with, do they form a separate type of negation, or do they fit in one of the categories described earlier? The answer is simple: they belong with us in that their presence automatically implies falseness (i.e. for instance memik means literally "it is false that... someone..."). However, they do differ from us in one fundamental way: their scope is limited to the clause they appear in. In particular, they can be used in subordinate clauses and negate them, unlike us. However, since they imply a specific truth value, they still cannot be used in orders or questions, even negative ones. Here are a few examples:

Koga memdutun ipe|laj ito.: I see nothing.

Kolos memdutun ipe|laj itos isej etok: He said that he saw nothing.

Earlier in this post, I explained that mu used in front of a noun can never mean "no", since it indicates alternatives while "no" indicates absence. Rather, the adjectival "no" is translated by using memun, used as an adjective, i.e. after a noun. For instance:

Ga umpi memdun ige: I own no house (the use of the nominative case here implies that this is a deliberate choice).

As shown in those examples, the negative pronouns are used just like in English: their presence is enough to negate the whole clause. They do differ in some ways, but that will be described in the next section.

Double Negation

Double (or multiple) negation occurs when using two or more forms of negations in the same clause or sentence. In formal English, two negations in one clause cancel each other, and the result is positive (although often with a slight change in meaning: "she is not unattractive" doesn't quite mean the same as "she is attractive"). But in other languages the result can still be negative, as it was in Old and Middle English and still is in some English dialects. For instance, in Modern Greek, "nobody's talking" is κανείς δεν μιλάει, literally "nobody isn't talking", and omitting δεν: "not" would be ungrammatical. So, how does this work in Moten?

We first need to remember that there are three different types of negation in Moten: opposites, mu marking alternatives, and us (and the negative indefinite pronouns) marking the logical negation. When we talk about multiple negation, we need to define which negation we are talking about.

Opposites are easy: since they are simply lexical items, they do not behave differently with other opposites (or other negations) than any other word. For instance, just as mu ufan means "not great" (literally "different from great"), mu tlebe simply means "not bad" (literally "different from mediocre"). Some words do not behave differently with negations from other words just because they can be perceived as semantically negative themselves.

The mark of alternatives mu is not too difficult either. Since its scope is limited to the word that follows it, multiple mu simply ignore each other. For instance, the sentence koga mu ada|zeaj mu ka|se ludamun ipe|laj etok basically means "I saw this 'non-man' sometime but not in January". The two mu particles apply to different nouns, so they just don't interact. The only exception is a sentence with at least two mu particles, one of which is in front of the auxiliary. In this case, it applies to the whole clause, including the part containing another mu. Still, focussing on the original meaning of mu ("other than") clears up even those cases. For instance, the sentence lezuz kolam mu ufedan mu ige looks like it means "that song isn't not great", but in fact it means something like "that song does something with something other than greatness, but that isn't possessing it" or "something is happening, but it's not that song having something other than greatness". Those two mu particles do not necessarily cancel each other, although it's one of the possibilities. Indeed, if mu ufedan here means "average" (which is a possible meaning for that expression), the sentence means "that song isn't average", i.e. it might be great (in which case the two particles cancelled each other) or it might be truly bad (in which case the two particles actually strengthened each other). Both meanings are licit, and only context can disambiguate.

What about a sentence where both mu and us appear? Those can be complicated, and depend mostly on where mu is set. But in general, and especially when mu is set in front of the auxiliary of the main clause, mu and us will cancel each other, resulting in a positive statement. However, this statement still has a different connotation from a simply affirmative statement. Using those two particles results in a strengthened positive statement, by basically indicating that alternatives are false. Here are a few examples:

Bdan mu ipelda|n us ito: I'm definitely watching you (literally: "it is false that I am doing something different from watching you").

Gvaj kobadej us pledegun mu ige: my dog is truly small (literally: "it is false that something different from my dog being small is happening").

In some cases though, the two particles may simply ignore each other, resulting in a statement where they neither cancel nor strengthen each other. This happens mostly when mu is used in front of a nominal or in a subordinate clause. Here are a few examples:

Mu bdan ipelda|n us ito: I'm not watching someone else from you (literally: "it is not true that I am watching non-you". In this case, the only thing the sentence says is that the speaker isn't watching people who are not the listener. However, it doesn't necessarily mean that the speaker is watching the listener. They could just as well be watching nobody in particular).

Gvaj mumpedin ubva|si mu iges isej us etok: He didn't say that (he) didn't want to come to my house (as in English, this does not imply that he said he did want to come. The reported speaker might has said nothing whatsoever).

As you can see, those sentences are not always easy to understand, although their meanings derive directly from the meaning of the particles mu and us. The complexity increases quickly if you start using more than one mu in a sentence already containing us, so those sentences are usually avoided. Only people wilfully trying to confuse listeners or readers will use such statements.

A related issue is sentences with mu and a negative indefinite pronoun. Basically, for those sentences all the remarks I've made above are still true, if one replaces us with a negative pronoun. The only thing I need to add here is that since pronouns are nominals, mu can be added directly in front of a negative pronoun. The meaning of such a construction is simple: the two negations are cancelled, leading to a strengthened affirmation. For instance, the sentence koga mu memdutun ipe|laj ito means "I definitely see something" (literally: "I see a non-nothing").

The last case of multiple negations we need to look at is the use of multiple logical negations, i.e. us and the negative indefinite pronouns in the same sentence. This may actually be the simplest case, especially if you speak an informal version of English where negations don't cancel each other. Indeed, despite the name I've given them, logical negations in Moten don't cancel each other. A single logical negation falsifies a statement or clause, and any added logical negation just leaves it false. This has three main consequences:

  • It is perfectly licit to repeat us more than once in a statement. However many times it appears, the statement will have the same meaning as if it appeared only once. For instance, it is perfectly correct to say bdan us ipelda|n us ito or even us bdan us ipelda|n us ito. Those two sentences are equivalent to bdan ipelda|n us ito and simply mean "I'm not watching you".
  • Multiple negative pronouns can appear in the same clause without making it positive. So for instance the sentence momemut memdikun pe|laz ito means "I haven't seen anyone anywhere" (literally: "I have seen nobody nowhere").
  • While a negative pronoun is enough to make a clause negative, it's perfectly licit to add any number of us particles to that clause, as long as it's an independent one. This doesn't change the meaning of the resulting statement. So the sentence komemik se komotenku|leju gebez us ige means exactly the same as komemik se komotenku|leju gebez ige: "nobody can speak Moten around here" (igebezi: "to speak" is an intransitive verb. The language in which the speaking is done is always introduced using the instrumental).

Polar Questions

Now that we know how to say "no" (well, not literally yet), we need to learn how to ask the questions we can answer "no" to. So far, we have only seen non-polar questions (also called content questions or wh-questions), i.e. questions using a question word like mik: "who", mut: "what" and mun: "which", or one derived from them. Those are formed simply by adding the question word to a clause, normally in focus position before the main verb:

Mudikun ito?: Who are you?/Who is it?

Momut izunluda|n ito?: Where are you staying?

Those questions ask for an explanation, to fill a hole in the speaker's knowledge. The other type of questions, called polar questions (also called yes-no questions) ask rather for the listener to agree or disagree with the speaker (well, actually, not always). Those questions set up a situation and give the listener only two alternatives: to agree (answering "yes"), or to disagree (answering "no").

Different languages have actually quite a few different strategies to form polar questions. Some, like German and Dutch, do so through word order (the verb is put at the beginning of the sentence) and intonation. English is like that as well, although only verbs that can be used as auxiliaries are fronted. While formal French also uses the same word order system, spoken French forms polar questions differently: word order is not changed, but the question starts with est-ce que, an expression meaning literally "is it (so) that", but that behaves basically like an interrogative particle. Other languages that use an interrogative particle are Polish (czy) and Japanese (か: ka), although in Japanese the question particle appears at the end of the question rather than at the beginning. And then there are languages like Modern Greek that differentiate between statements and polar questions strictly through intonation, with no change in word order or special interrogative particle.

An interesting strategy is found in Mandarin Chinese. While polar questions can be formed using the particle 吗(ma), another common way is the so-called verb-not-verb construction, where a polar question is formed by repeating the main verb of the sentence, but negated. For instance, from the statement 你会说中文(nǐ huì shuō zhōngwén): "you can speak Chinese" (literally: "you know speak Chinese"), you form the question 你会不会说中文? (nǐ huì bú huì shuō zhōngwén?): "can you speak Chinese?" (literally: "you know not know speak Chinese?"). It can be seen as an abbreviation of stating something and its negation as alternative, and asking the listener to choose between the two. And as it happens, this is how polar questions are formed in Moten as well!

To form a yes-no question in Moten, just take a declarative statement and repeat its final auxiliary, preceded with mu (us cannot be used, since it's forbidden in questions). This construction is normally accompanied with a rising intonation at the end of the question. Here are a few examples:

Kobadej tol mo|zun ige mu ige?: Have dogs got four legs? (literally: "the dog has got four legs (or) something else?")

Umpej zunludazun etok mu etok?: Should I have stayed home? (literally: "I should have stayed home (or) something else?")

Et jagvi ito mu ito?: Do you have to go now? (literally: "you must go now (or) something else?")

As the literal translations above show, in Moten polar questions consist of stating something as well as its alternative (using mu). Since in Moten everything that has been stated already and can be inferred from context can be dropped, nearly everything in the alternative statement (which is a near copy of the previous statement) is left out except the negation and the auxiliary (which is needed as mu is a clitic and needs a stressed word after it), hence the resulting construction.

Answering a polar question is usually done using echo answers. That's to say, rather than using a small word meaning "yes" or "no", in Moten you just repeat the verb used in the question, by itself or negated with mu (or us, but such answers are less common and have a different connotation, see below), depending on the kind of answer one wants to give. In practice, the only part of the verb that is repeated is the auxiliary. Using the three questions above, here is how they can be answered:

Kobadej tol mo|zun ige mu ige? — Ige: Have dogs got four legs? — (Yes,) they have.

Umpej zunludazun etok mu etok? — Mu etok: Should I have stayed home? — (No,) you shouldn't have (in this case, the answer has a connotation of "you should have done something else").

Et jagvi ito mu ito? — Us ito: Do you have to go now? — (No,) I don't have to (in this case, the connotation is "it's not true that I have to", and implies that the person will go anyway. An answer mu ito would mean: "I have to do something else than go", and thus would imply that the person will indeed not leave).

It is not uncommon to strengthen affirmative answers by adding saj to the auxiliary. For instance, one could answer the question kobadej tol mo|zun ige mu ige?: "have dogs got four legs?" by saying saj ige, meaning: "they definitely have" or "of course they have". More surprisingly, it is also possible to use saj and mu on their own as answers. In this case, those particles are used as interjections rather than clitics (note that us can never be used as interjection), and their meaning is slightly different from the one they have when used in front of an auxiliary. As interjections, they are used to answer orders and requests: saj then means "OK!" or "sure!", while mu then means "no way!" or "I refuse!".

Reported Polar Questions

In the previous post, we've seen how indirect speech is formed for statements and non-polar questions, simply by putting the auxiliary in the dependent form. So now that we've seen how to form yes-no questions, it's time to learn how to report them.

Actually, reporting polar questions isn't different from reporting any other type of statement: put the verb in the dependent form and change what needs to be changed to fit the new reference point. The only complication is that a yes-no question normally contains not one but two finite verbs. If we go with the idea that a question is basically an abbreviated repetition of a statement in a positive and a negative way (i.e. two juxtaposed independent clauses), we would expect both finite verbs to take the dependent form. And indeed, in formal speech and writing (I will talk about formality and politeness in Moten in a future post), that's what happens. Here's an example:

Umpej zunludazun etok mu etok? -> Umpej zunludazun eto mu eto ifi|zo|n etok: he asked whether he should have stayed home.

However, in normal, informal speech, this construction is normally not used. Instead, only the last finite verb is put in the dependent form. If we use the same example as above, it becomes:

Umpej zunludazun etok mu etok? -> Umpej zunludazun etok mu eto ifi|zo|n etok: he asked whether he should've stayed home (here, I'm illustrating the change from a formal to an informal register by using the contraction "should've" rather than the full "should have").

Although it is a surprising construction (one could even say it's ungrammatical to have a verb in the independent form in a subordinate clause), it's the one most commonly used. As I wrote above, it's certainly not wrong to put both finite verbs in the dependent form, but this is markedly formal, and not common in everyday speech.

What's Next

This was a relatively complex post, with a lot of new information. It might have looked at times nearly inscrutable, but it is actually much easier to use negations in Moten than to explain how to use them. Also, we aren't yet finished with polar questions. Still, this is a good place to stop for now. Next time, we will take a break from the heavy syntactic stuff, and focus more on those little words we've mentioned on and off in these posts: particles. We will define what exactly are particles, how they behave, and we will list a few useful ones.

As usual, questions and comments are more than welcome! I guess this post may be confusing in some places, so don't hesitate to ask for clarification!