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!

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