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29 July 2006 @ 12:18 am
Ílion returns: word classes and word order  
Okay, last time I said I'd post about some grammar fundamentals. No more putting it off.


Ílion has 7 lexical categories ("parts of speech") currently, although I'm not sure where to put some things so this may change:
  • Nouns represent "things"*. They inflect for case and number. They also have gender, which is lexically determined (some nouns are masculine, some feminine, some neuter). It is an open class.
  • Verbs represent "actions"*. They inflect for tense, aspect, mood, and voice. Also an open class.
  • Adjectives represent "qualities" of things*. They are like a cross between nouns and verbs: they inflect for tense, case, number, and gender (agreeing with the head noun in all but tense). Open as well.
  • Prepositions do not inflect. They are capable of limited compounding but are otherwise a closed class.
  • Degree modifiers show the extent to which a modifier applies to a head: words meaning things like "very", "much", or "little". They can modify pretty much any word, except for nouns in the primary case, conjunctions, and particles. The negative (equivalent to English "not") falls into this category.
  • Complementizers. Function words used to nominalize verb phrases, which inflect as nouns. A very small closed class: there are only two.
  • Particles. This category is a bit of a cheat: it's a catch-all for various non-inflecting function words, like conjunctions and subordinators. Nothing like Japanese particles, sorry folks. A closed class.
Pro-forms are considered subcategories of the main categories (e.g. a pronoun is a type of noun).

You may have noticed that one familiar category in English is not included: adverbs. Degree modifiers are typically considered adverbs in traditional descriptions of English grammar, but they're a closed class and considerably more specialized (they really only cover "how much"). Ílion uses nouns to cover most of the territory that adverbs do in English. I'll go into this a bit more when I write about nouns and cases.

Now that we know the building blocks, we can go on to how they're assembled. Without further ado, Ílion word order:
  • Noun phrases are head-first, meaning modifiers (such as adjectives) follow nouns. If you consider prepositions to be the heads of prepositional phrases (rather than just extending noun phrases), then PPs are also head-first.
  • Verb phrases and adjective phrases are head-final.
  • The one exception to verb phrase head-finality is imperatives, which are usually fronted.
  • The core arguments to a verb are in descending order by degree of agency: subject, then objects. For ditransitives, the primary object (recipient) precedes the secondary object (patient).
This is actually a lot like Latin unmarked word order, but while Latin can shift things around because agreement and cases can keep things straight, Ílion cannot.

Next up: nouns and cases.

*More or less
Current Mood: creativecreative
Ameliapadparadscha on July 29th, 2006 10:59 pm (UTC)
Woohoo! More Ílion!

Heh, "things." My linguistics professors always went all haywire about that description of nouns as a "person, place, or thing." "Which is 'happiness'?" they would say, with great passion. "What about 'infinity'? Or 'Communism'?" My response was, "Things, obviously." I never understood why 'things' couldn't refer to the abstract as well as the concrete. (Granted, in one of my earliest conlangs I have different pronouns for abstract versus concrete things, but they're both nouns.)

The imperative rule is good. I have trouble working out how to do imperatives in a lot of my languages. I have this sort of idea that by nature they should be 'fast' ~ easy to say quickly, and so I always try to simplify them. (I should branch out, I suppose ... often the more polite or formal imperatives can be more grammatically complex, but in even those languages I have 'quick and dirty' versions of imperatives suitable for shouting things like "Duck!" or "Look out!" I need to explore more possibilities.)

By the way, who speaks this language? Anyone in particular? Or is it just an independent conlang?
gwalla: language buffgwalla on July 29th, 2006 11:27 pm (UTC)
I like to keep imperatives short, too (AIUI they're usually the shortest inflected verb form in a language, although there are occasional exceptions). In Ílion, I'm leaning towards the ending for imperatives being -t (mood affixes come last, but I'll get into that later).

Ílion is for a space-fantasy-mecha comic series I will probably never get around to actually writing. It's the language of an extraterrestrial (but not extrasolar; it's all set within a single solar system, but not our own) humanoid civilization. They're the culturally dominant civilization in the system, so Ílion fills a similar role to French in the middle ages: the lingua franca of interplanetary trade and diplomacy. Nobles in particular are expected to be able to speak it, even if it isn't their native language. Most of the characters would be human commoners, though, who speak "English"*, and human nobles would also mostly speak "English" among themselves and to their people (although possibly throwing in Ílion phrases to be "sophisticated"), so most of the dialogue would not be in Ílion. English translations would be provided via caption boxes for any Ílion dialogue that does appear.

*Like Basic in Star Wars or Westron in Lord of the Rings, not really English but rendered as such for the benefit of the audience.
Tygerstormteller on July 30th, 2006 01:17 am (UTC)
Granted, in one of my earliest conlangs I have different pronouns for abstract versus concrete things, but they're both nouns.

Hmm. One of my current conlang projects has two noun genders for abstract or concrete things. It calls them the "substantial" and "insubstantial" genders.
gwalla: king crimson fingergwalla on July 30th, 2006 04:24 am (UTC)
I believe there's at least one African language that has "genders" for abstract, inanimate, animate nonhuman, and human. So it's not without precedent.