Friday, June 3, 2016

Possession & State in Valaklwuuxa

When there are no nouns, how do you manage genitive constructions?

Somewhat surprisingly, the answer turns out to be "the same way you form resultatives".


Resultatives are derived predicates that indicate a final state resulting from an action. In English, we often indicate these with passive participles; thus, potatoes which have undergone boiling are "boiled potatoes"- "boiled" is the state that results from boiling.

In Valaklwuuxa, resultatives are derived by the prefix <ves->. Thus, we can have sentence pairs like "nbetsa tu txe Dxan-la." ~ "John sat down." vs. "vesnbetsa txe Dxon-la" ~ "John is sitting.", or "le-val" ~ "It's cooking" vs. "le-vesval" ~ "It is / has been cooked."

These kinds of derived predicates tend to be intransitive, but there are some transitive roots which produce transitive resultatives as well- things like "to touch" -> "to be in contact with something", or "to see" -> "to have been seen by someone".

But what happens if you try to apply that particular derivation to something which is not a process? Well...


Consider a root like <kusa> "child". If we conjugate that as "le-kusa", it means "He/she is a child"; we can also add an explicit subject, and say "kusa txe Dxon-la" ~ "John is a child." But if we add the prefix <ves->, we get "veskusa txe Dxon-la" ~ "John has a child"; and, in fact, this is a transitive predicate- the unstated object is John's child.

(In fact, possessive predicates actually tend to be ambi-transitive; if additional description of the object is needed or implied, one uses the transitive conjugations; but if not, the intransitive conjugations are also acceptable. This is fairly weird for Valaklwuuxa verbs, where transitivity tends to be quite explicit, but omitting explicit transitivizers or detransitivizers eliminates extra syllables in a situation where different conjugation paradigms usually eliminate ambiguity anyway.)

Now, if I want to say something a little more complicated, like "I see John's child", I can relativize that object, and get "xe-lwokx txe veskusasa txe Dxan-la" (where <lwokx> is the root for "to see something")- note that the inverse voice suffix <-sa> must be used to relativize the child, rather than the child's possessor (John).

The Semantic Connection

In theory, these two usages of <ves-> could be related in two general ways:

1. Accidental homophony- they are two separate prefixes that happen to sound the same, due to historical sound changes or something.
2. Two uses of the same morpheme- somehow, one semantic operation actually covers both cases.

Strange as it may seem, the correct answer is actually (2). This is, in fact, one and the same prefix in both cases, and is in fact modelled on a similar prefix <es-> in Lillooet Salish. This paper explains the morphosyntactic evidence for considering <es-> to be one morpheme in Salish, but for Valaklwuuxa it is sufficient to simply assert that, yes, this is one thing because that's how the conlang was defined, as long as we can provide a reasonably coherent definition for it. That's gonna take a little bit of formal semantics.

One tenuous semantic connection is to consider that possessing something is itself a state, so it makes sense to have a stative marker on possessed things. Similarly, we can conceive of things "having" states. Many languages in fact do this- in Spanish, for example, one is not hungry; rather, one has hunger, and the use of one verb, "to have", to express both possession and the perfect aspect in English is similarly suggestive that there may be a natural connection between these two concepts. Then, stative-on-a-thing = possession, and stative-on-an-action = resulting state. But, we can go deeper than this.

First, let's consider things that have a necessary relation to something else- e.g., a father is always the father of someone, a child is always someone's child, a husband always has a wife, etc. If we look at a root like <kwutanbets> "husband", it is intransitive and therefore takes one external argument- the person who is a husband. However, there is another, hidden, internal argument- the wife of whom he is the husband. What <ves-> does, then, is to pull out the internal argument and make it external. Thus, we can have sets of sentences like "kwutanbets txe Dxan-la" ~ "John is (someone's) husband" / "veskwutanbets txe nBale-la" ~ "Mary has a husband" / "Dxan txe veskwutanbetsa txe nBale-la" ~ "John is Mary's husband".

(And, of course, we can do the same thing with the inverse relation- "sendand txe nBale-la" ~ "Mary is (someone's) wife" / "nBale txe vesendandsa txe Dxan-la" ~ "Mary is John's wife")

This can be generalized so that we assume all "things" have an internal possessor argument, even if it's not an obvious, inherent one, like husband/wife or father/child.

Now, if we consider processes, the (or at least one) external argument is still an entity, a thing; as explained in a previous post, there is after all no difference in Valaklwuuxa between "I act" and "I am an actor". Processes, however, have a different internal argument. One could have a process-root which has the subject's possessor as an internal argument, and then <ves-> would obviously have the same function in every case. If, however, we assume that process-roots have an internal argument for the end-state of the process, then <ves-> still has the same semantic effect- promote an implicit internal argument to an explicit external argument- but produces resultatives for some roots and possessives for others.

Pronominal Possessives

Now, in Salish languages, this is not the only mechanism of indicating possession. In particular, there are pronominal possessive clitics which can be added to a root. In Valaklwuuxa, however, this is not strictly necessary; normal verb inflections already serve that purpose quite adequately. For example, if you wish to say "my rock" or "my house", you can simply conjugate the possessed form (in inverse voice, of course, lest you say "I have a rock instead!") for first person: "veswonglqasaka" or "vesk'elansaka", respectively. Note than in English, possessive pronouns are tied up with determiners and definiteness; i.e., you can "the rock", "a rock", or "my rock", but not *"a my rock"; to express that meaning, you have to resort to a circumlocution like "one of my rocks" or "a rock of mine". In Valaklwuuxa, however, you can mix and match however you like: "my rock" ~ "txe veswonglqasaka", "a rock of mine" ~ "ta veswonglqasaka".

Now, without specifying the thing, how would you say "It is mine!"? Basically, it comes out as "It's my thing!":

"xe-vestuka!" (I have the thing!) / "le-vestuksaka!" (It is my thing!)

where <tuk> is the root for "a thing".

(cf. "vestukend" ~ "I have a thing" / "I have something", using the non-transitive conjugation.)

The existing machinery is also sufficient for asking questions about possession, although there is some ambiguity for pronominal possessors. As described in my last post, one can simply replace an explicit possessor phrase with an interrogative to ask who owns something, although the lack of independent possessive pronouns means the structure of the answer is not exactly parallel to that of the question in this case:

"veswonglqa ta k'aku-la?" ~ "Whose rock is it?"
"le-veswonglqasaka" ~ "It is my rock." (cf. "veswonglqaka" ~ "I have a rock.")

If you want to ask something like "Is that John's rock?", you merely have to add the polar question particle after "John":

"Dxan k'a se veswonglqasa?"

If, however, you want to ask "Is that your rock?", we get some abiguity:

"dwu-veswonglqask k'a se?" ~ "Is that your rock (or someone else's)?" / "Is that your rock (or another thing of yours)?"

This is, however, no worse than the ambiguity that exists in English polar questions, and it would be very rare for that to cause an actual practical problem in a real discourse context.

The Verb <benlqwo>

In addition to forming both predicative ("I have") and attributive ("my") possessives with <ves->, Valaklwuuxa also has a root <benlqwo>, meaning "to have" or "to carry". In situations where <ves-> is unsuitable (e.g., because the derived form would invalidate a serial construction), <benlqwo> can be used for predicative possession. In cases where a form in <ves-> would be feasible, however, <benlqwo> carries a specific connotation of "on one's person". Thus, one might say:

"xe-veshatqakend" ~ "I have/own a rock." (Why yes, there are two different roots that both mean "rock"- "wonglqa" and "hatqak".)


"xe-veshatqaka se" ~ "I have this rock." / "This is my rock."


"xe-benlqwond ta hatqak-la" ~ "I have a rock on me (in my hand or in a pocket)".