Common Topic

Colloquial High Common

Keywords: colloquialism

This article collects and will build over time observations about how High Common is spoken in practice, and how it is sometimes written when the writer is quoting a person speaking colloquial High Common or wants to strike a very informal tone. Some of these phenomena represent trends in the language and are becoming increasingly acceptable in more formal speech and writing.

What this article is not is a compilation of Low Common idioms, although many of these items come from Low Common or shade into Low Common - Low Common is an incredibly complex topic with a lot of regional and social variation. Instead, it looks at more relaxed registers of what is definitely High Common.

1. Abbreviation of Copula 'an' to ''n'

In informal speech, it is very common, almost universal, in fact, for the vern 'an', 'to be', to reduce to apostrophe-n. You can see how this looks in the tables below. Here are the formal, 'correct' forms:

Realis Conjugation of se an
  Imperfect Perfect
Non-past se an sete an
Past sea an seta an
Irrealis Conjugation of se an
  Imperfect Perfect
Non-past si an siti an
Past sia an sita an

In these forms, 'an' behaves like a normal Common verb - modifiers can fit between the auxiliary and the head term, modifying terms can be chained in front of the verb, etc. Contrast this with the abbreviation form: 

Realis Conjugation of se'n
  Imperfect Perfect
Non-past se'n sete'n
Past sea'n seta'n
Irrealis Conjugation of se'n
  Imperfect Perfect
Non-past si'n siti'n
Past sia'n sita'n

In contrast to the formal forms, the abbreviated forms cannot be broken apart. Any modifiers will have to go in a different allowed position than between the auxiliary and the head term, and chained modifying terms cannot be used. In the event that a chained modifying term is needed or it is desired to insert another modifier between the auxiliary and the verb, the formal version will be used.

The abbreviated form may appear to present a risk of confusion - for example, the abbreviated past tense imperfect form 'sea'n' may appear to be the same as the formal non-past imperfect form 'se an'. In practice, though, there is less confusiuon than you would think because of the prosody of Common. In the formal version, the verb 'an' tends to take sentence-level stress, and the auxiliary 'se' would not be stressed or take equal stress. The abbreviated forms, by contrast are stressed on the se portion.

So to take an example:

A pikki se an citit.
The cat is happy.

/a ' se 'an 't͡ʃi.tit/


A pikki sea'n citit.
The cat was happy.

/a ' ' 't͡ʃi.tit/

This difference is subtle and there is still some scope for confusion, but the near-universal use of the abbreviated form in all but the most careful speech and the detectable difference in prosody makes it less of a problem than might be expected in practice.

2. Word Order in Sentence-Final Dependent Clauses

In proper High Common grammar, the verb must go after any thematic elements (noun phrases that play a core role in the verb phrase, i.e., any in the ergative, absolutive or dative case) in a dependent clause. This is true whether the dependent clause is serving as an actor in a verb phrase and introduced by 'si', or modifying a noun and introduced by 'su'.

However, in colloquial High Common, this rule is relaxed when the dependent clause is the last element in a sentence, and word order may be more free. For example, the following is very proper High Common:

We te pex xi ja pikki a skitrem tene slek.
I know that the cat ate the mouse.

However, in casual speech, it might well come out:

We te pex xi ja pikki tene slek a skitrem.

In this case, the final dependent clause takes on more of Common's preferred SVO word order. However, if the clause were not sentence-final, it would always be:

Xi ja pikki a skitrem tene slek te pex we.

This particular colloquialism is often missed by editors and appears to be well on its way towards becoming accepted. However, it is still considered sloppy and sub-standard by language authorities.

3. Refer to a Conversation Antecedent with 'spe'n'

In casual Common, it is very common to refer to some conversational antecedent using the word 'spe'n', and abbreviation of 'spet yn', that functions grammatically like a noun term. This is not good style for formal writing, but is ubiquitous everywhere else, and is becoming increasingly accepted in writing in all but the most formal contexts.

4. Use of the Negative Article 'y'k'

See attached article on negation for details - standard High Common requires any indefinite argument to a negative verb to be negated by being placed in the paucal and to include a negative quantifier, either 'ikky' or 'cul'. However, a very popular slang form is a shortened version of 'yr ikky', typically transcribed as 'y'k' by writers trying to render casual speech. Y'k can decline into all four cases, as y'k, jy'k, ijy'k and ny'k. It is considered bad Common, but appears to be on the ascendant, being heard to creep in to the casual speech of even habitually careful speakers.

5. Use of 'a'n' Forms for Bare Third Person Pronouns, 'na'n' Possessive

Refer to the attached article on idiomatic uses of articles and pronouns in Common. Native speakers are comfortable with first or second person pronoun/articles, or the interrogative pronoun 'ko', appearing by themselves as pronouns with no head term. However, they tend not to be as comfortable with the regular third person pronouns 'a' and 'y' appearing by themselves without a head term, especially at the end of a clause.

There is a tendency in colloquial language to insert the dummy head term 'yn' as the shortened form ''n' everywhere a bare third person pronoun appears, unless a modifier is used with it, in which case it expands into 'yn' and the modifier inserts between the pronoun and the dummy, as the rules of Common syntax require. Example:

Ja paluh tene lawf a'n.
The dog was chasing it.

This is particularly pronounced with possessive forms in colloquial speech:

A ponet na'n se an etyl.
Its nose is red.

This usage is particularly deprecated for possessives and objects of prepositions, but is highly popular.

Of course, Common likes to avoid possessives whenever possible, so often the best translation of a possessive form in English is no possessive at all.

6. Topic Fronting with 're'

See attached article - in colloquial High Common, it is common to point out a topic X for a sentence or speech by fronting it with a form like 're na X', set off with a comma in writing. The antecedent can then be pointed out at the place where it would have occurred in the sentence with the head term 'spe'n'. This is especially seen when a possessor of something is the topic of a sentence, because Common tends to efface and drop possessors.

7. Syncope of -[çəs]

There is a sound change in modern High Common where:

[çəs] > [s] / [vowel]__#

The phone [ç] is an allophone of /h/ after a front vowel /i/ or /e/. One of the most noticable impacts of this syncope is that it causes terms that end in -ih or -eh to have the modifier form -is or -es instead of -ihys or -ehys. You will hear most High Common speakers make this shortening in casual speech systematically, but in writing this is not usually reflected. One example to the contrary is 'axih' --> 'axis' in the modifier form instead of the expected 'axihys'.


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