Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Path & Manner in Valaklwuuxa

How languages describe motion is a particularly interesting subfield of verbal lexicology. In some languages, verbs of motion are even a distinct morphological class. Most of my blog posts on conlanging & linguistics have focused so far on WSL, which has no verbs, and thus no verbs of motion, but since I just started blogging about Valaklwuuxa, which is practically nothing but verbs, this topic suddenly seems relevant!

Conlangery #14 discusses verbs of motion in some depth, but the short version is that there are two major semantic components to motion: the manner in which one moves, and the path or direction along which one does it. Different languages differ in which of these components they encode in verbs, and which they relegate to adverbs, adpositional phrases, or other mechanisms. Germanic languages, for example, tend to encode manner, while Romance languages tend to encode path instead. Since English is a Germanic language with a ton of Romance borrowings, we've got a bit of both- manner verbs like "walk" (go slowly by foot), run (go fast by foot), swim (go by water), drive (go by directing a machine), etc., and path verbs like "ascend" (go up), "traverse" (go across), and "enter" (go into). Russian, in comparison, has verb roots that describe manner, which combine with prefixes for path.

So, how does Valaklwuuxa do it?

Valaklwuuxa has several roots that act a lot like manner verbs. For example:

ketqenda - go slow
petqentqe - go fast
nbatqe - move under one's own power (i.e., for humans, walk; but also applies to flying birds, swimming fish, vehicles, etc.)
lande - drive or ride

But, it also has roots like <tak> "to go along/beside", and <wole> "to move around a circuit", which are clearly path verbs.

And, on a moment's reflection, it seems like there must be both kinds of verbs; when verbs are your only open lexical category, and there's only one preposition, and not many basic adverbs... there's really no choice but to encode both path and manner information in verbs.

There are, however, still ways to determine whether the language is primarily path- or manner-oriented, aside from just looking at a list of lexical entries.

In the case of <ketqenda> and <petqentqe>, while these verbs can be, and are, used to describe motion, they can also be used with a more generic attributive sense. The attributes "fast" and "slow" generally imply motion, but literal displacement over a distance is not always entailed. Thus, one can say, e.g., <xe-petqentqenk!> to mean "I am going quickly!", "I'm hurrying", or just "I am fast!" Similarly, the imperative <(dwu-)petqentqex!> can mean "hurry up!", or "go faster!", but it can also be used in a metaphorical sense similar to "think fast!"

Most of the time when <ketqenda> or <petqentqe> are used with reference to literal motion, they appear in a serial-verb construction with some other verb, as in

dwu-petqentqe takex!
dwu=petqentqe tak=ex
2sg=go.fast go.along=IMP.sg
"Go (along the path) quickly!"

Words like <nbatqe> and <lande>, despite being more prototypical motion-verbs, behave similarly. They are very rarely used as finite verbs by themselves. In fact, they will be used on their own, as the predicate of a clause, almost exclusively in contexts where they are implicitly serialized with another verb, which may not even be a motion verb- and which can radically change the meaning! For example, if someone asked

"Did you cook it?"

you might answer with

"Yes, I did it myself!"

which is an elliptical form of <xe-nbatqe valesk!> "I cooked it by myself!"

If you want to actually say that someone is walking somewhere, it would be very odd to just say, e.g., <nBale txe nbatqe-la> or <nbatqe txe nBale-la> for "Mary is walking", unless the fact that Mary is travelling has already been established in the discourse and you are just highlighting the fact that she is doing it by walking, as opposed to some other means.

From all this you might get the impression that perhaps "to walk" and "to drive" are just bad glosses, and <nbatqe> and <lande> aren't really motion verbs at all- but that's only half the story! For one thing, something like <xe-nbatqe takend>, assuming that "I" am a adult human, really does mean "I am walking along a path", not just "I am traversing a path by myself", perhaps by awkwardly rolling, or some other means. (If the subject were not an adult human, of course, the translation would change to reflect the "prototypical" mode of movement for whatever the subject is). The phrases <landekwe wole> and <wolekwe lande> are also used somewhat idiomatically to mean "to patrol a perimeter (in/on a vehicle)" or "to drive around a race track" (the first takes an object for the thing you are going around, while the second takes an object for the thing you are riding or driving); again, not "to circumnavigate with help".

Furthermore, while the bare roots are not used much by themselves, there are derived forms which are no longer "verbs of motion" themselves, but depend on the motive meaning of the basic manner verbs. Thus, we have words like <landegwel> (literally "to start travelling by vehicle"), which is used for things like "to set out", "to start the car", "to uncircle to wagons", etc.; and words like <vwenbatqe> (literally "to walk as much as possible"), which is used to mean "to have explored" (and the more derived form <vwenbatqweev> "to be out exploring")- not "to do everything yourself"!

Thus, even though Valaklwuuxa necessarily has motive roots for both path and manner, we can determine from usage patterns that it is in fact primarily a path-oriented language.