How are inflections derived?

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xBlackHeartx
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How are inflections derived?

Postby xBlackHeartx » 2017-02-26, 22:19

I thought about posting this in the conlang forum, but that forum seems to be pretty much dead. Besides, this question is more about coming up with rules for sound change than anything else.

Mark Rosenfelder claims somewhere (I forgot where, I can't seem to find it in my books) that you can simply derive inflections from agglutinating endings, which is how they come about in natural languages. But thinking about it, I can't imagine what forms they may take.

For example, let's say you had a conlang that had inflections for tense, person, and number. That would mean there's three sets of suffixes, one for tense, another for person, and another for number. Just for the sake of discussing this, I'll throw together some half-assed suffixes for us to play around with

future: -pa
present: -Ø
past:-ma

1p: -be
2p: -de
3p: -se

plural: ne

So, just for an example, that means that the first person plural past would be derived from ma-be-ne.

But how would this be reduced to one or two syllables? I'm aware of things like epenthesis, elision, lenition, and such, but how do you decide what gets removed and what phoneme becomes what?

Really the only two sound changes I've heard of are t and s becoming palatalized before an i or some other front vowel. And I've heard of laryngeal consonants turning e's into a's in PIE. Oh, and inter-vocalic consonants becoming voiced. But other than that, I'm clueless.

Is there any actual evidence of agglutinating endings turning into inflections or is that just speculation like Mark Rosenfelder's theory on the semitic languages developed its odd tri-lateral root system? Is there any actual examples people can show me?

edit: Oh, and I am aware of the origin of stem changes: they've simply a consequence of vowel harmony. U moves to the front and becomes y, which then becomes un-rounded and thus turns into i (this is how the plural of 'goose' became 'geese'). Also, the stem-changing past tenses of English (speak-spoke, take-took, bring-brought, etc...) came from the vowel stem harmonizing with an old past-tense marker, which was then dropped since the stem-change made it redundant (this is also why we say 'geese' rather than 'geeses').

xBlackHeartx
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Re: How are inflections derived?

Postby xBlackHeartx » 2017-02-27, 5:16

Disappointed I haven't gotten any replies, but oh well, I guess no one could offer any help.

I did come up with a way to derive fusional (sorry for improper terminology earlier) from these.

First, the final vowel would probably vanish. Thus -mabene would become -maben. The first vowel could also be removed since its the first vowel that appears after the verb root. Thus we get -mben. Obviously the mb cluster would undergo some kind of assimilation, most likely lenition since this appears at the end of a verb thus resulting in -m(m)en (possibly germinated consonant).

The singular form however would go a different root. For -mabe, removing the final vowel would result in -mab. The 'a' here can't be removed since it would result in a syllable-final consonant cluster.

Now, -m- marks the past tense, but we have distinct seemingly unrelated endings for the 1p: -ab for the singular, -en for the plural.

I'm thinking that the -en ending may end up being universal to all the plural endings (which some languages do have, one of the Frisian languages I believe only has separate endings for person in the singular, the plurals all use the same one regardless of person).

Let's work through the other past tenses to see what we end up with:

-made
This would become -mad.
-madene
This would become -mden. If we dropped the -m (I imagine it would assimilate into -n and then vanish), this would result in -den, with a possible lengthening of the verb's final vowel.

So here, there is no distinct past-tense marker, and the vowels are different in both, but both have 'd' somewhere in them.

-mase
Obviously -mas, but since its the third person singular we could just drop the final -s (a lot of languages the third person singular is the most unmarked) thus giving -ma.
-masene
Here, I feel like the 'e' between the 's' and 'n' would syncopate, thus resulting in -masne. Alternatively, we could end up with -msen. Obviously, a buffer consonant would be placed between m and s, giving -mpsen, which would likely turn into -psen.

So the full past tense conjugation is:

1s: -mab
2s: -mad
3s: -ma
1p: -m(m)en
2p: -den
3p: -psen

Honestly, this paradigm doesn't look all that irregular. All the singular forms obviously just have -ma as the past tense marker, with a final consonant indicating person. And the plurals all end in -en, though their person markers (mm, d, and ps) don't really show much correspondence to the singular forms besides -d.

It might help if all the markers for person at least used different vowels. This would result in a system that did look more irregular.

Lesson learned here: syncopation and assimilation can create irregular endings, but its better if the pronouns use different vowels. If they did here, then the final consonants could just be dropped for the singular forms.

Oh, and going further: the final -n on the plurals could be dropped, and if -den made the last vowel of the verb root lengthen, then the -de could be reduced to -d, possibly being lenited into -n. This would at least dissimillate the 2p from the other plurals.

Well, I guess its something. I'll run another experiment tomorrow, but give the persons different vowels this time.

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Re: How are inflections derived?

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-02-27, 5:21

xBlackHeartx wrote:Disappointed I haven't gotten any replies, but oh well, I guess no one could offer any help.

I think I might be able to if you'd just give me more than a few hours.

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Re: How are inflections derived?

Postby Johanna » 2017-02-27, 17:04

Give it some time, seven hours is not much on this forum, especially not when the thread is created at 22:19 UTC / 23:19 CET / 00:19 EET. You created the thread at a time of day when most Europeans have already logged off or are preparing to, and your next post was at 05:15 UTC / 06:16 CET / 07:16 EET, a time when most Europeans are either not awake yet, getting ready for work or school, on their way there, or have even been at work for an hour or two already ;)

Sure, not many have replied yet even now when it's been almost 19 hours (it's now 18:04 CET), but that may simply be because people like to have dinner and relax for a bit once they come home before they check Unilang, not to mention that takes way more energy and time to read through and formulate an answer to two rather long posts than to one. I wouldn't worry unless it's been way more than 24 hours without any replies.

OK, I haven't answered myself despite having been both at home and awake for most of the day, and wouldn't have even if you had only written the TS, but that's because I'm know very little about this, though I can tell you that to me it looks both interesting and plausible :)

Oh, and I should perhaps make it clear that since I'm not using the admin tag, this is all me, not any sort of official note. Still, my position means I have to keep an eye on the forum so I do know a thing or two about things related to the general activity here :)
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Re: How are inflections derived?

Postby linguoboy » 2017-02-27, 19:13

Also, it was the weekend and I tend not to check Unilang much on weekends. And--to be brutally honest--this put me off:
Really the only two sound changes I've heard of are t and s becoming palatalized before an i or some other front vowel. And I've heard of laryngeal consonants turning e's into a's in PIE. Oh, and inter-vocalic consonants becoming voiced. But other than that, I'm clueless.
There are so many more sound changes out there. You don't even have to consult a reference work (like the LCKs) to find them. Just think about the changes which take place when you speak rapidly or casually: vowels and consonants get dropped or merged or assimilated, all sorts of sounds get (af)fricated due to palatalisation (not just /t/), entire syllables are lopped off, etc. And in fact, once you gave the matter a little thought, you figured out many of these yourself.

If you want to see how agglutinative languages can become fusional, look no further than the history of Indo-European (easily the most thoroughly-studied language family in the world). PIE is reconstructed as agglutinative, but none of its daughter languages are. So the history of each branch is replete with examples of agglutinative morphemes becoming fusional.
"Richmond is a real scholar; Owen just learns languages because he can't bear not to know what other people are saying."--Margaret Lattimore on her two sons

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Re: How are inflections derived?

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-02-28, 1:37

linguoboy wrote:Also, it was the weekend and I tend not to check Unilang much on weekends.

It's almost the opposite for me; weekends are the ultimate opportunity I have to post things, and there's a lot of those things to cram into any given weekend. Reading an entire essay by someone I've apparently never even met (though the user name sounds familiar for some reason...) is not at the top of my list of priorities under the circumstances.

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Re: How are inflections derived?

Postby xBlackHeartx » 2017-02-28, 1:51

vijayjohn wrote:
linguoboy wrote:Also, it was the weekend and I tend not to check Unilang much on weekends.

It's almost the opposite for me; weekends are the ultimate opportunity I have to post things, and there's a lot of those things to cram into any given weekend. Reading an entire essay by someone I've apparently never even met (though the user name sounds familiar for some reason...) is not at the top of my list of priorities under the circumstances.


How can you not know what happened to my account? I thought all the mods were getting my emails with Johanna.

I was xBlackWolfx, I had my account de-activated over a year ago. Recently, I tried to have it re-activated, only for Johanna to tell me that they accidentally deleted my inactive account when they went through and deleted a bunch of accounts that had never been confirmed. She explicitly told me that I just had to make a new account. Which I did, obviously.

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Re: How are inflections derived?

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-02-28, 2:13

xBlackHeartx wrote:How can you not know what happened to my account? I thought all the mods were getting my emails with Johanna.

Uhh...no. If you send your messages to all the language forum moderators, then and only then will they go to all the language forum moderators. If you're just sending them to Johanna, they go to her and at most the other admins and global moderators, though probably just her. We language forum moderators have nothing to do with users' accounts. Honestly, we don't even have much to do as moderators specifically since the language-specific forums tend not to be super-active, so most of the time, the only difference between us and any other user is that our names happen to be purple instead of gray/green/blue/red.
I was xBlackWolfx, I had my account de-activated over a year ago. Recently, I tried to have it re-activated, only for Johanna to tell me that they accidentally deleted my inactive account when they went through and deleted a bunch of accounts that had never been confirmed. She explicitly told me that I just had to make a new account. Which I did, obviously.

Yes, I thought you might be xBlackWolfx after thinking about it and looking around a bit. Even then I barely know you at all.

xBlackHeartx
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Re: How are inflections derived?

Postby xBlackHeartx » 2017-02-28, 3:37

Anyway, thinking about my sound change issue. What I came up with probably only represents a few centuries of sound change at best. And looking at modern-day examples, its certainly not out of the question that what I showed could occur within a few generations. Well, the syncopation anyway. The assimilation may take two or three centuries.

One thing I'm having an issue with, is determining a reason for sound change. I keep thinking that sound change needs a trigger. Vowels harmonizing, consonant clusters assimilating, or something like that. It doesn't just happen ex nihilo, even though there are possible examples of this happening in the past. But was that really spontaneous, or is it that we just don't know the trigger? No one really has an answer to the great vowel shift English experienced half a millennia ago, but at that time the Normans had conquered Britain so some speculate that might have been what triggered the change.

Of course, I don't see any reason why phonemes can't just drift around on their own. Language change occurs because languages are simply too complex for parents to teach to their children exactly as they know them. Some things end up dying with the elders while the young improvise new things. I don't see any reason why phonemes can't drift around as the generations pass. I mean, at the very least some phonemes will develop allophones in certain environments, which in turn can become distinct phonemes on their own.

For instance, this is the origin of the ich-laut and ach-laut of German. Originally they were both just allophones of 'ch', but have now come to be recognized as distinct phonemes, but they still occur only in certain environments since they were after-all once just allophones of the same phoneme.

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Re: How are inflections derived?

Postby linguoboy » 2017-02-28, 4:50

xBlackHeartx wrote:One thing I'm having an issue with, is determining a reason for sound change. I keep thinking that sound change needs a trigger. Vowels harmonizing, consonant clusters assimilating, or something like that. It doesn't just happen ex nihilo, even though there are possible examples of this happening in the past. But was that really spontaneous, or is it that we just don't know the trigger? No one really has an answer to the great vowel shift English experienced half a millennia ago, but at that time the Normans had conquered Britain so some speculate that might have been what triggered the change.

The Normans had nothing to do with it. Similar changes took place at roughly the same time in Dutch and High German, where there was no Norman influence at all. Given where it started (SE England), a more plausible explanation is that the rising mercantile class was seeking to distinguish itself orally from their country cousins.

Again, there's a substantial literature out there on the drivers of sound change and phenomena like the GVS in particular. Find it.
"Richmond is a real scholar; Owen just learns languages because he can't bear not to know what other people are saying."--Margaret Lattimore on her two sons


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