Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Tree Language: Grammar Part 1 - Verbs

So far, I've described the Tree Language in terms of sounds and writing. I've told you that the Tree Language comprises a set of 22 sounds, each of which have a written counterpart, and many of which are vowels that sound extremely similar to native English speakers. I've also described the way that syllables are put together: there are only four ways and much like Japanese, these are mainly of the form (consonant)(vowel), and a couple variations thereof.

But now we come to describing the grammar of the Tree Language, and the first thing that I thought of when I starting mapping out the grammar: a tricky thing called Verbs.

How does a Tree produce an action?

When creating conlangs, most of the time verbs are fairly straightforward. You have to figure out how to grammatically represent actions and states of being in a human sense, and then you have to figure out how to represent how those actions are taken: by you or me, by a group, in the past or the future, etc. And different natural languages represent these things in different ways, and you can consult for models and examples.

However, the problem for me came when I realized that the Tree Language was just that: a Language communicated by Trees. And Trees don't walk. They don't locomote in the same way that humans do. In fact, if I were a sentient Tree I wouldn't do or experience anything in the same way that a human does. Human 'actions', for me, would be altogether alien.

So I made up some new verb classes. Instead of Verbs of Experience and Verbs of Action (as humans would have), I have four classes of verb:
  1. Verbs of Body-Intention (Replacing those 'whole body' human actions such as 'walk')
  2. Verbs of Experience (A plant rooted to the ground would experience things)
  3. Verbs of Action (These verbs are limited to parts of the Tree, rather than the whole plant)
  4. Verbs of Mind-Intention (Something only an Omorbian Tree can do)
So far, so good. But having in mind the characteristics of a tree on Earth and a Tree on Omorbia, there were other verbal problems I had to deal with.

How does a Tree have a gender?

Trees, both on Earth and on Omorbia, have many 'genders'. After doing some research, I decided on four genders for Trees. Male, Female, (dioecious) Male-Female (monoecious with male and female on the same flower), and Female-Male (monoecious with male and female parts on different branches). However, rather than using pronouns like we do in English (i.e. he, she, ze); gender is marked by a syllable on the subject markers (in Tree grammar, information is mainly conveyed through the use of syllable markers, as you'll see).

How does a Tree have a number?

Verbal number is a lot easier. This does not have a syllable marker, and is deduced from context and from the pronouns. Of which, because of number and gender, there are many, many.

How does a Tree experience time?

Here's another quirk of the language. Because Trees on Omorbia are all-knowing and infinitely wise, they experience time differently than humans. So instead of verb cases including the present, the conditional, the past perfected, etc., there are five special cases:
  1. The Present
  2. The Future (the unknowable future)
  3. The Future+ (the knowable future)
  4. The Past (that cannot be changed)
  5. The Past+ (that can be changed)
Beyond those, there are other cases that are more mundane such as imperfect, progressive, and all of these are marked with specific syllables. So if something was a habitual action that happened in the past that cannot be changed (for example, that farmer harvested his crops before he lost the farm, and we can't change that fact), there would be two different syllable markers on harvest. The sentence would be shorter than the English equivalent, but the word would be longer.

Let me map out what I mean by syllable markers:


Imperfect: ˧ʎæ
Progressive: ˧ʎɞ
Single Action: ˦ja
Repeated Action: ˧jæ
Habitual Action: ˧jɞ
Indicative: ˧fʊ
Subjunctive: ˧ʃʊ
Negative: ˨vʊ

Present: ˧ʝɑ
Future: ˧ʎy
Future+: ˧ʎY
Past: ˩jy
Past+: ˩jY


I-female: ˧fY˧ʒʊ
I-male: ˧fY˧ɹʊ
I-male-female: ˧fY˧yʊ
I-female-male: ˧fY˧lʊ
We (family, set, grove): ˧fY˧væ
We (All, forest): ˧fY˧ʃæ
That-one-female: ˧ʃY˧ʒʊ
That-one-male: ˧ʃY˧ɹʊ
That-one-female-male: ˧ʃY˧lʊ
That-one-male-female: ˧ʃY˧yʊ
You-female: ˧vY˧ʒʊ
You-male: ˧vY˧ɹʊ
You-female-male: ˧vY˧lʊ
You-male-female: ˧vY˧yʊ
Those-ones-female: ˧ʃY˧ʃæ˧yʊ
Those-ones-male: ˧ʃY˧ʃæ˧ɹʊ
Those-ones-female-male: ˧ʃY˧ʃæ˧lʊ
Those-ones-male-female: ˧ʃY˧ʃæ˧yʊ

Some other syllable markers related to verbs:

Subject Marker: ˧ʝæ
Direct Object Marker: ˧ʝʊ
Indirect Object Marker: ˧ʝɞ 

Subject did something expected: ˨ʝæ
Subject did something unexpected: ˦ʝæ
Perfected action or intention within time frame: ˧ʝa
Change from untrue to true: ˨ʝa
Still untrue: ˦ʝa

Mind-Intention (i.e. Stop-Intention): ˧wʊ
Body-Intention (i.e. Stop-Intention): ˧wY
Experience (i.e. experience-sun-nourishment rather than feed): ˧wy
Action (i.e. derive-minerals-from-soil; feed): ˧wɞ

Before: ˧ja
After: ˧ʎa
During: ˩ʝa
At the same time as: ˥ʝa
Formerly: ˨ja

Personal Experience: ˧fɑ
Hearsay: ˧vɑ
Probable: ˧ʃɑ
Reflexive: ˧fwæ
Static: ˩ʝæ
Dynamic: ˩ʎʊ

A few more noun-related grammar markers to show you and explain tomorrow, and then I can show you how this works in practice.