Author Topic: Sentence structure?  (Read 1093 times)

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Offline Levrrtep

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Sentence structure?
« on: February 03, 2010, 01:06:22 pm »
Kaltxi.
I have recently started learning Na'vi, and there is one thing that has puzzled me- the seeming total lack of sentence structure. Could anyoune please enlighten me on this?

Offline Eight

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2010, 02:30:13 pm »
Do you mean word order?

It's a heavily inflected language and so doesn't rely upon word order to convey meaning. This is not new - Latin and Classical Greek were much the same in that respect. In fact there's loads of languages (old and modern - popular and extinct) that act similarly but I can't list them all off the top off my head.

There's no lack of structure in Na'vi.

Offline kewnya txamew'itan

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2010, 02:44:57 pm »
Na'vi has no fixed word orders (although there are preferred ones).

The way this works is that it uses cases.

If the verb only has a subject (with nothing being affected directly) then the noun is not marked.

If the verb is reflexive (the object is the same as the subject) then the noun is uninflected but the verb takes the <äp> infix.

In all other cases, the subject takes the ergative -l (if it ends in a vowel) or -ìl (if it ends in a consonant)

The object takes the accusative -t(i) (if it follows a vowel, the i is optional) or -it (if it follows a consonant)

An indirect object (I give the present to you) takes the dative -r(u) (if it follows a vowel, the u is optional) or -ur.



This means that the sentence "I eat the yerik" can be written:

oel yerikit yom
oel yom yerikit
yom yerikit oel
yom oel yerikit
yerikit oel yom
yerikit yom oel


and all have exactly the same meaning.





English still has the remains of a case system.

I is an unmarked or ergative case 1st person singular (oe or oe-l).

me is an accusative case 1st person singular (oe-t(i))

to me is a dative case 1st person singular (oe-r(u))
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Offline Levrrtep

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2010, 05:12:38 am »
Irayo for the answer. I don't really understand some of the things you said, but I don't really worry about that, for as I have said I am a complete beginner. Still, it's answered my question, and I thank you for that.

Offline tsrräfkxätu

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2010, 10:12:19 am »

This means that the sentence "I eat the yerik" can be written:

oel yerikit yom
oel yom yerikit
yom yerikit oel
yom oel yerikit
yerikit oel yom
yerikit yom oel


and all have exactly the same meaning.


Do we know this for sure? In topic-comment languages, which is what Na'vi appears to be, word order may seem completely random, but in fact conveys extra information. Consider the following examples from Hungarian:

1) A macska issza a tejet.
The cat-NOM drink-3SG-TRN the milk-ACC.

The permutations below are equally grammatical:

2) A macska a tejet issza.
3) Issza a tejet a macska.
4) Issza a macska a tejet.
5) A tejet a macska issza.
6) A tejet issza a macska.


However, all six are a bit different semantically. In fact, they answer different questions:

1-2, 4) Mit csinál a macska?
What does the cat-NOM [do]?

3) Mit csinál a macska a tejjel?
What does the cat-NOM [do] the milk-with?

5) Ki issza a tejet?
Who drink-3SG-TRN the milk-ACC?

6) Mit iszik a macska?
What drink-3SG-INT the cat-NOM?
What does the cat drink?

(Even the forms that answer the same question show nuances in meaning, which become apparent in a context, but that's largely irrelevant here.)

I'm just thinking that the same semantic difference could be encoded in the word order of a Na'vi sentence. Of course, there you have a topic marker -re, but what if it's not present?
« Last Edit: February 04, 2010, 10:46:24 am by blueme »
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Offline wm.annis

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #5 on: February 04, 2010, 10:43:11 am »
Frommer has said, in a comment on his Language Log post that such information will be conveyed by word order, but that he hasn't decided the rules yet:

Quote
@Wm Annis: Your point about free word order is very well taken. You’re absolutely right: by “free” I meant, as you said, “not syntactic”; discourse issues will affect the choice of word order. Na’vi is still a work in progress, and up to now I’ve been making some word order decisions on the basis of “feel”—no doubt influenced by the languages I know, given that I don’t have native speaker intuition. (Wish I could find someone who does.) Codifying the rules of discourse is something I’m working on.
'Awa lì'fya ke tam kawkrr.
A Na'vi Reference Grammar

Offline tsrräfkxätu

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #6 on: February 04, 2010, 10:48:02 am »
That's good  to know. Cheers!
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Offline kewnya txamew'itan

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #7 on: February 04, 2010, 04:13:07 pm »
Do we know this for sure? In topic-comment languages, which is what Na'vi appears to be, word order may seem completely random, but in fact conveys extra information.

You are correct, it is likely that there are subtle differences in meaning but they all describe the same action.

I am of the opinion (without any actual reason) that sentences that English require a passive voice can be adequately expressed by placing the object in the first position for example.
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Offline Eight

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #8 on: February 05, 2010, 07:24:02 am »
I am of the opinion (without any actual reason) that sentences that English require a passive voice can be adequately expressed by placing the object in the first position for example.
Probably true - but the passive voice is a massive part of modern English's ability to convey nuances and suggestion across the different registers.

Once you get beyond the basics, these differences in word order *might* be quite important. But as none of us are at that point yet (since the point itself doesn't seem to exist), it's not something to worry about. And for teaching beginners, it is probably better to say that variations in word order don't currently give different meanings (as you did).

Offline tsrräfkxätu

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #9 on: February 05, 2010, 08:19:30 am »
And for teaching beginners, it is probably better to say that variations in word order don't currently give different meanings (as you did).

I beg to differ. With so many people of so many different linguistic backgrounds (including natural word order), I'd say it would be safer and better to tell a beginner that this and this word order is certainly correct, use that, and maybe mention that the others are also believed to be equal, but we're not sure about it. IMO.

"This and this" would be (I believe, but correct me if I'm wrong): (S)VO (S)OV for statements, ?VS(O) for interrogative, and V (+ko) for imperative/optative. I doubt that these three simple rules would cause more of a headache to beginners than telling them that they can do whatever they want.

(Also, I might not have succeeded in pointing that out, but in Hungarian for example, 4 of the possible 6 configurations have rather different meaning, so it's possible that we're talking about more than just nuances with Na'vi too.)
« Last Edit: February 05, 2010, 09:23:03 am by blueme »
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Offline Eight

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #10 on: February 05, 2010, 09:18:28 am »
"This and this" would be (I believe, but correct me if I'm wrong): (S)VO for statements, ?VS(O) for interrogative, and V (+ko) for imperative/optative. I doubt that these three simple rules would cause more of a headache to beginners than telling them that they can do whatever they want.
I must have missed the memo which said that. Where did these "rules" come from?

I've been using SOV since I joined here and in all the corrections I've been given by the big names on the board (and there have been many many corrections :D) noone has ever suggested there's something wrong with my word order. Except for correcting me on the possessive dative structure.

I've also seen a lot of variety in word order on here, the corpus, and in Frommer's emails so until a time comes that we know different, I can't see how telling beginners to use your prescribed forms is going to help them when they see different all around them.

Edit: OR you can try to explain to beginners all about discourse issues that might affect the "choice" of word order. Which is going to make it quite a steep learning curve to reach that first sentence.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2010, 09:21:29 am by Eight »

Offline Eight

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #11 on: February 05, 2010, 09:23:53 am »
Oh, and if SVO is the form for statements, you might want to tell Dr. Frommer :D

Tewti,     ma     Prrton!     Plltxe     nga     nìltsan!
wow    VOC    Prrton    speak    you    well
Wow, Prrton! You speak well!

Offline tsrräfkxätu

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #12 on: February 05, 2010, 09:44:37 am »
Yes, you're right, it's obviously (S)OV, I mistyped. But the fact that you can point out my mistake with such confidence already hints at an underlying "standard" word order, doesn't it? Anyway, there was no memo, and your sarcasm is uncalled for.  :-\

In English, there are various allowed word orders, yet beginners are completely fine with the knowledge that SVO is the only one, and learn the others later on, when they start to understand different registers and styles. In Hungarian, I would also suggest that a  beginner use SVO, as it will be perfectly fine for most of their everyday communication needs. Later on, they can learn the other configurations and the difference between them.

The danger I see here, with letting everyone run free with the word order, is that it can lead to people developing bad language habits. And bad habits are harder to kick, than good ones are to pick up.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2010, 09:49:26 am by blueme »
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Offline Eight

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #13 on: February 05, 2010, 09:51:39 am »
Yes, you're right, it's obviously (S)OV, I mistyped. But the fact that you can point out my mistake with such confidence already hints at an underlying "standard" word order, doesn't it
I didn't point out your mistake, I was saying that there different allowable structures (at present). SOV is mine, many others use SVO, and many use what ever comes into their head at the time.

Quote
Anyway, there was no memo, and your sarcasm is uncalled for.
Wasn't my intention to annoy you there - so I apologise for that.

Quote
In English, there are various allowed word orders, yet beginners are completely fine with the knowledge that SVO is the only one, and learn the others later on, when they start to understand different registers and styles.
Except the difference is that both English and Hungarian have a huge history of spoken usage to establish these word orders and any flexibility in them. Na'vi does not - and we have nothing to really say that there is a beginning standard order at all.

Offline Eight

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #14 on: February 05, 2010, 09:54:23 am »
The danger I see here, with letting everyone run free with the word order, is that it can lead to people developing bad language habits. And bad habits are harder to kick, than good ones are to pick up.
I would agree if we knew what bad habits are in Na'vi. We don't really.

Currently, there are no notions of correctness in the fundamental word order of sentences.

Offline AuLekye'ung

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #15 on: February 05, 2010, 10:04:53 am »
So, how does time factor into these things?  I ate my ikran when the palulukan ran.

I-ERG ate my-DAT(?) ikran-it, but what happens to the second part of the sentence? Been bothering me for awhile.
Txo *fìzìsìst*it oel ke lu, kxawm oel tutet lepamtseo lu.  Oe pxìm fpìl nìpamtseo, oel rey letrra ayunil oeyä nìpamtseo.

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Offline tsrräfkxätu

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #16 on: February 05, 2010, 10:15:30 am »
I would agree if we knew what bad habits are in Na'vi. We don't really.

Currently, there are no notions of correctness in the fundamental word order of sentences.

We do know -- based on the movie and the emails -- that (S)OV is indeed a correct word order, and the most productive, I daresay. That doesn't mean that SVO or OSV are bad habits, but the fact that those come naturally for some (or even the majority of) speakers, doesn't make them correct either.

Anyway, I guess this is the same kind of philosophical disagreement I had with Taronyu over how we all approach the language, and in the end it all boils down to personal preference.
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Offline Eight

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #17 on: February 05, 2010, 10:16:27 am »
Probably going to get something wrong here but off the top of my head

Oel oeyä ikran-it y<am>om a krr palulukan t<am>ul.
I-ERG my ikran-ACC eat-PAST when Hammerhead run-PAST

oeyä ikranit oel yamom a krr tamul palulukan

is probably also fine. The only thing I'm not quite sure about is whether one of those clauses should be in the subjunctive since semantically is subordinate. Would need to check.

Edit: BTW a krr seems to subordinate the second sentence so is more likely to be
"When I ate my banshee, the hammerhead ran". Which I assumed to be what you were after, but if the hammerhead's running scared you so much you swallowed your banshee then you might want to swop the sentences around (leaving a krr in the middle still).  /Edit
« Last Edit: February 05, 2010, 10:51:21 am by Eight »

Offline tsrräfkxätu

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #18 on: February 05, 2010, 10:26:59 am »

The only thing I'm not quite sure about is whether one of those clauses should be in the subjunctive since semantically is subordinate. Would need to check.

Subordination does not in itself prescribe subjunctive. It is a mood that you need to apply when expressing statements that are contrary to the present situation (e.g. wish, possibility, etc.)
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Offline Eight

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Re: Sentence structure?
« Reply #19 on: February 05, 2010, 10:38:30 am »
I totally agree that personal preference counts for nothing here. And despite my fondness for SOV, I don't see any preference for word order shown in the corpus of Frommerian Na'vi.

 

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