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Beyond Tense and Case

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One of the most challenging, and almost most fun parts of Shabkiuza for me has been the development of complex grammatical structures: relative clauses, other subordinate clauses, if/then constructions, why and because, etc. In the initial stages of a language, attention so often falls on simple declaratives, and perhaps interrogatives. Grammar books may direct us towards paying attention to command forms or vocatives or many of the other uses that language has.

However, I feel that subordinate clauses often get neglected. In my language, which uses particles to indicate relationship between noun and verb, the system emerged quite naturally. Normally, these markers behave like prepositions, introducing a relationship between the verb and a noun. Optionally, these markers can raise to prefix to the verb. The noun left behind gains topicality in the discourse.

In a relative clause, I use that same mechanism. Whereas some languages use a relative pronoun in such a clause, I do not. Instead, I raise the associated marker to suffix to the verb. Since only one marker can affix to the verb, and no noun exists in the clause to which it could be referring, the missing element is interpreted as a null relative pronoun.

For example:

(1) Sha lekahhal legammanash tal forgo, granta.

It (inam) SUBJ-knife SUBJ-cut-PAST-3RD-SING OBJ fruit big.

"It that is a knife that cut the fruit is big." or "The knife that cut the fruit is big."

Note that the noun is actually part of a relative clause with the pronoun that comes before it: "It that is a knife". The prefix le indicates that the missing element, corresponding to the relative pronoun, is in subject position.

The next relative clause, "le gammanash tal forgo," is likewise introduced by the le prefix, Once again, this indicates that the relative pronoun is in the subject position.

When the relative pronoun is not in the subject position, the relative clause is separated from the noun or pronoun it modifies with the relativizer a.

(2) Sha lekahhal a deb talveshanat, kinid.

It (inam) SUBJ-knife RELATIVIZER DISTAL-1ST-SING DIRECT-OBJ-want-PAST-1ST-SING small.

"It that is a knife that I wanted is small." or "The knife that I wanted is small."

The relative clause "a deb talveshanat" is introduced by a, a requirement when the relative pronoun is not the subject. The pronoun deb is the first person pronoun. The verb "to want" is vesha, with past tense and agreement morphology on the end.

The prefix tal, which we have seen before as the direct object marker, here indicates that the relative pronoun is in the direct object.

Any object will do. Take for example the verb bleka, "to give."

(3) Zha le halian blekanash tal kahhal he midian.

The woman gave the knife to the man.

(tal: direct object, he: indirect object)

(4) Sha lekahhal a zha lehalian talblekanash he midian, asir.

The knife that the woman gave the man is sharp.

(5) Zha lehalian leblekanash tal kahhal he midian, kinid.

The woman that gave the knife to the man is short.

(6) Ja lemidian a zha lehalian heblekanash tal kahhal, granta.

The man to whom the woman gave the knife is tall.

In each case, the relative pronoun is indicated by making note of the case indicated by the marker prefix.

Given the right marker, I can now construct virtually any type of subordinate clause that I want.

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