Sunday, 24 August 2014

Moten Word for the Day

mejto /me̞jto̞/, interjection: “hello, hi”

Dogs and conlanging, the two main themes of this blog in one single post. My life is complete now ;).

Anyway, mejto is the most basic way to greet people in Moten. It’s neutral and can be used in all situations unless you want to be very polite, it’s symmetrical and you can just answer someone using it by repeating it back to them, and it’s usable in all situations, whether face to face, on the phone or through written text.

In terms of etymology, it seems pretty clear that it’s related to the verb imeti: “to greet (someone)” (especially when you remember that the root of this verb is met, with i-…-i being a circumfix marking the infinitive). The exact nature of the relationship is unclear though, or at least, there’s no productive derivational pattern in Moten that could explain the form mejto. There is, however, another interjection that seems to have arisen much the same way: the word davi|zo means “thank you” in Moten, and is obviously related to the verb idavi|zi: “to be happy with, to thank”. Both mejto and davi|zo seem to be derived from their respective verbs in the same way: an infix -i- after the last vowel of the stem (usual phonotactic rules in Moten easily explain why that infix ends up as -j- in mejto and disappears next to the i of the davi|z stem), along with a suffix -o (Moten productively marks case with the combination of an infix and a suffix, so it’s pretty much standard fare for the language). This probably used to be a productive pattern in Moten, but as the language changed it stopped being used and the two words mejto and davi|zo got fossilised as interjections.

As to the original meaning of the -i-…-o form, my bet is that it must have been some kind of hortative. It’s probable that in the past, verbs in Moten had more finite forms than they have now, and this might simply have been one of them. So the original meaning of mejto may have been “let (me) greet (you)”. An alternative explanation is that it may have been an optative (“(I) wish to greet (you)”). Both are possible, and without more evidence it’s impossible to rule one out.

One bit of evidence that both mejto and davi|zo probably started as finite verb forms is that even today they can take adverbial phrases, and when they do those always appear in front of them (i.e. they take the typical final position verbs normally always take). One can for instance say (using a benefactive): |laba mejto: “hello to you!” or |laba davi|zo: “thank you”. It’s not definitive evidence (in particular, since imeti is a transitive verb with the person being greeted as the object, one would expect the expression *bdan mejto, with the pronoun ba: “you” in the accusative case, to be licit. Yet it’s not, at least not in Moten as it is currently spoken), but it is tantalising.

In any case, what you can take away from this particular word as a language creator is that even if you don’t create your language according to the historical method (i.e. derive it from a proto-language), you can “fake” historical depth in your naturalistic conlang by peppering it with recognisable but non-productive derivation patterns, that hint at a previous stage where the language was somewhat different. Do not overuse it though: if a pattern is really common, why should it ever stop being productive? But used sparingly and with care, it can really add depth and naturalness to your language.


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