Abusing the word morphology as a pragmatic matter

So I have a syntax that relies on sentence templates like this:

[subject] li [verb phrase] li [verb phrase] [Prep Phrase] [Prep Phrase].

Phrase are made of words and phrases have their slots. Then come along negation, emphasis, and uncertainty (with a desire for clarification, also known as questions). These can be slot in in many places, which makes them feel like modifiers (adjectives and adverbs). But they can be several words (e.g. anu seme, x ala x) and they resist taking modifiers themselves, e.g. the following:

? jan li wile kin pi suli mute
? jan li wile ala pi suli mute
? jan li wile ala mute wile

I’m going to treat these as morphology. They have a different scope (or different type of scoping rules)– usually one word. (They can have a larger scope). And they can be inserted (almost) anywhere, more places than adjectives. Negation has an uncertain scope, but usually one word.

jan ala pi pali mute. Scope of 1 word
jan pi pali ala mute. Scope of 1 word.
jan pi pali mute ala. Ambiguous scope, but probably read as scoped to mute.

? jan ala pi pali ala mute ala. Slots in everywhere and means something in each slot.
jan laso pi pali laso mute laso. laso doesn’t actually imply anything different in the 2nd half. The heavy work load is still blue.

The ability to put ala into many place in a modifier chain imply that ala behaves like morphology– it works on a single word, not on a phrase.

jan pona kin.
jan ala pona.
jan pona ala.
jan pali ala
jan pali kin. Emphasis on pali. (Or on jan pali)
jan kin pali. Emphasis on jan. (And not on pali.)

But

jan suli walo == jan walo suli. Order didn’t matter. (assuming that jan suli and wan walo don’t have special meanings the way jan pona does.

Anyhow, not sure how to state it, but these feel like they should be modeled as a feature of a single word. (And maybe also as a feature of phrases).

I think this differs from, say a phrasal modifier, e.g. pi telo nasa, in that pi telo nasa modifies a certain phrases of a certain sort and individual words, while ala can modify just about any word, even propositions, verbs, modals. kin likewise can. And X anu X can be applied to any word in the verb phrase, maybe to prepositions.

They also mess up the template, because now the template as a lot of slots.

[subject(ala/kin/anu seme)] li [verb phrase(ala/kin/anu seme)] li [verb phrase(ala/kin/anu seme)] [Prep Phrase(ala/kin/anu seme)] [Prep Phrase(ala/kin/anu seme)].

If fits into so many slots it better to think of it as a way of transforming a word. So we get something that looks like morphology in a largely analytic language. And this should make the code for the parser easier to write (rather than adding numerous ala/kin/anu seme flag each phrase)

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One Response to Abusing the word morphology as a pragmatic matter

  1. John E. Clifford says:

    ‘jan pi pali mute ala. Ambiguous scope, but probably read as scoped to mute.’
    Not officially. It is ambiguous between modifying ‘pali mute’ and ‘jan pi pali mute’ but to modify ‘mute’ it would have to be (by the rules, not necessarily common sense, etc.) ‘jan pi pali pi mute ala’.
    ‘? jan li wile kin pi suli mute
    ? jan li wile ala pi suli mute
    ? jan li wile ala mute wile’
    The first is technically OK since ‘kin’ is transparent. The second is OK but hard to interpret as distinct from ‘(wile pi suli mute) ala’, which it may be a clarification for. The third is nokay as a question, since the ‘X alaX’ format is fixed. What it might mean otherwise is another matter “necessarily strogly does not want”? or so, perhaps.
    ‘kin’ does seem to work almost exclusively on a single word; the case for ‘ala’ is considerably less clear, although there are obvious idioms that enforce that pattern, but they require ‘pi’ when modifiers.
    ‘jan ala pona.
    jan pona ala.
    jan pali ala’
    1 is hard to read as other than a clarification of 2, which, I suppose *might* be confused with ‘jan pi pona ala” Similarly, 3 might be confused with the very different ‘jan pi pali ala’, but hopefully wouldn’t be.
    ‘jan suli walo == jan walo suli. Order didn’t matter. (assuming that jan suli and wan walo don’t have special meanings the way jan pona does.’
    I suppose that meaning doesn’t change here, but one feels wrong or at least odd, and the other not so much, just as in the English “big white man and ‘white big man”. Some sort of implicature gets generated, though I can’t put it into words.
    ‘X anu X’ ‘X ala X’?

    This whole mess raises two kinds of problems: for a parser grammar, hw to accommodate all these variations in each slot; for a constructive grammar, how to account efficiently for these phrases. With item-and-arrangement grammars, you are more or less stuck with just having an option for ‘kin’ and ‘ala’ and whatever else in every construction, In item-and-process grammar, you can recognize that the occurrences have different sources and insert them according to a variety or rules, so ‘X ala X’ comes (along with terminal ‘anu seme’ ) from an initial Y/N question marker, while unit ‘suli ala’ is generated idiomatically. (Can ‘anu seme’ as a Y/N question actually occur anywhere or only terminally?)