Common Topic

Nouns and Pronouns

Keywords: nouns grammar declension number person case relative clause interrogative

In this unit, we will introduce the basics of pronouns ('nar ikwéteras samorka', incomplete determiners), nouns (naz poen), noun declensions, and other particles that can decline like nouns such as relative and interrogative pronouns. The more in-depth discussion will focus on noun phrases, with relative structures being a topic for a future article.

Recall the phrase structure of Common - Common ostensibly doesn't have nouns and verbs in isolation. The basic syntactic units are noun phrases or verb phrases, with a determiner and a 'head term' (na jenys jerekka). The determiners can be used on their own, because they are also pronouns and auxiliary verbs, but require a dummy head term 'yn' (na epális jerekka) if they are used in this fashion with any modifiers.

Nouns inflect for the following, with all inflection carried on the determiner/article/pronoun particle associated with the noun phrase:

  • Case (na kyrakka): The syntactic role of the noun in the sentence, generally in relation to the verb. This will be explained more fully in the section on verbs. There are three "thematic" cases (nar pifitys kyrakka, literally 'game cases') that directly mark a role in relation to the verb) and one "non-thematic" case (na lat kyrakka, 'the outside case'). The cases are listed below.
    • Absolutive (Palikas): The subject of an intransitive verb or the object of a transitive verb. Can be thought of somewhat as the 'experiencer'. This is a thematic case.
    • Ergative (Skuruncas): The subject of a transitive verb. Can be thought of somewhat as the 'causer'. This is a thematic case.
    • Dative (Happatkiyas): The indirect object of a sentence. Common also uses this in common idioms for motion towards or into something, or for possession, and so it has some functions like a lative or genitive case as well. It can also indicate the beneficiary of an action. This is a thematic case.
    • Nominative (Poencas): Common grammarians insist on calling this case the Nominative, and so shall we, but the Common nominative does not function like a normal nominative case. It functions more like a prepositional case and is used to name things outside of any relation to a verb. It, too, can also function like a genitive case, or a vocative. It is the one non-thematic noun case.
  • Number (na tret): There are three numbers:
    • Singular (Atencas): One of something. The number 'one' can be used in addition to emphasise singularity or that the object is one out of a group.
    • Paucal (Cajre): A few of something, or, an exact number of something. If a numeric auxiliary determiner is used to count something, and the number is anything other than one (including zero, fractions or negative numbers), the paucal must be used. To count exactly one of something, again use the singular. Using the paucal tends to imply something is countable, even if the number isn't given. It also tends to imply that the referent is a part of a whole and not the whole. This is reflected in the Common name 'cajre', which means 'exact', rather than 'sajn', 'few', to describe his number.
    • Plural (Pawt): Many, a lot, but without the number specified. Sometimes used with a number to specify magnitude, but the use of the plural implies an estimate or inexact number in this case, as well as have a sense that the referent is the whole of something as opposed to a part.. Use of the plural implies something can't readily be counted. The plural/paucal distinction can also be used for inclusive/exclusive distinctions, as with Common's inclusive and exclusive equivalents of the pronoun 'we' in English.
  • Definiteness (uhájkysyn). There are two kinds of definiteness:
    • Definite (uhájkys), the object being referenced is something specific. Approximately the same as using 'the' in English. May be used with auxiliary determiners that act as demonstratives to emphasize pointing something out.
    • Indefinite (ikuhájkys), no specific object is being referenced. When used with the singular, is like using 'a' in English. When used with the paucal or plural it is more like using 'some' - when used with the paucal without a number, it tends to have the sense of 'a little'.

The interrogative/uncertain could arguably be a third type of definiteness in Common, because it acts exactly like the other two third person articles for definite and indefinite. However, the definite and indefinite particles are related to each other (actually historically, not in terms of a fictional history) and are treated as different than the interrogative article, which has a different origin, so the breakdown above is what is most used.

A note on number: Common tends not to use mass nouns. If there is an idiomatic way to use the plural, Common tends to choose it. So a word like 'mury', 'hair', is treated like a singular hair, and to refer to a head of hair one would use the plural, 'naz mury', much like French. Mass nouns tend to be things that are not naturally distinguishable as being composed of individual parts, like fluids. If it is necessary to count portions of a mass noun, like drops of water, a word for the portion is counted in the paucal or referred to in the plural, and then the substance is referred to periphrastically using the null preposition 'y'.

In the following sections, each of the noun determiners/articles/pronouns will be detailed with their declensions and usage. The lemma, or dictionary entry, for each article is its absolutive singular form.

First Person - Ates Palisyn (we)

The first person pronoun/article is 'we'. It works like any other non-relative determiner in Common in that it is used in a phrase structure with a head term, even though it is very commonly used on its own like the equivalent English words 'I' or 'we'. The most common head terms used with it are a personal name, title or honorific. In this case, it would be the idiomatic way to say what English would set aside with commas, for example, 'I, Tony, see the child' would be 'We Toni nox triju ija pocuk'.

Declension of we (First Person)
Case/Number: Singular Paucal (Exclusive) Plural (Inclusive)
Absolutive we wer wez
Ergative je jer jez
Dative ije ijer ijez
Nominative wen wenar wenaz

One special feature of number in the first person, is that the paucal number is used for exclusive (not including the addressee) and the plural is used for the inclusive (including the addressee). These forms are equivalent to the English 'we' and 'us', but the sense of whether the person addressed is included is generally always carried and contrasts with English. However, the normal sense of the paucal (a few of something, or something that can be precisely counted) versus the plural (many of something, or something that is too numerous to conveniently count) is still operative and can create ambiguity as to which sense is meant when a number is used.. Such ambiguity has to be worked out via context or extra phrasing to clarify if needed.

Second Person - Kawas Palisyn (zu)

The second person pronoun/article is 'zu'. Like 'we', it is a normal determiner that can take a head term. Unlike 'we', it is actually quite common to use a head term with 'zu'. Honorific or polite forms of address are virtually mandatory except with intimates, functioning like a T-V distinction in a language like French or Spanish. These are implemented in Common with honorific head terms rather than grammaticalized. Formality and respectful address in Common is a much larger topic that will be addressed later.

The nominative form of zu is used quite often as a sort of vocative case to address someone directly without syntactically relating it to a verb. Personal names are also often this fashion. For example, an imperative sentence like 'Tony, look at the child' could be written as 'Ju Toni te zeul a pocuk'. The 'ju' is required, you could not address a person by name without it. You cannot refer to a person by name in general without including an article, similar to Catalan.

Declension of zu (Second Person)
Case/Number: Singular Paucal Plural
Absolutive zu zur zus
Ergative ju jur juz
Dative iju ijur ijuz
Nominative zun zunar zunas

Note: The irregularity in the plural was part of the language's original design and something Davidson explained as a result of dissimilation in the language's pseudohistory.

Third Person - Netys Palisyn (a)

The third person is different in that it has two forms, a definite and and indefinite form. The base form is considered to be the definite 'a'. This is not part of the language's original design. We will go into this in more detail when we discuss the language's history, but Common as it was first spoken on the screenshow and by early users had a system of gender for concrete and abstract terms (so it applied both to nouns and verbs), and the way gender manifested was that determiners had to agree with their head term in gender for both nouns and verbs. One of the most radical developments in the language that occurred 'in the wild' when the language ceased to be fully under its creator's control was a repurposing of this agreement system, which in nouns resulted in the concrete being reanalyzed as the definite and the abstract being reanalyzed as the indefinite.

With no system of agreement, the gender system became mooted and fell apart. It remains with us in the definite/indefinite and realis/irrealis contrasts in nouns and verbs, and in certain phonological patterns in the vocabulary, especially in early coinings. The gender distinction was made using a high-low vowel harmony, with a low vowel in the main stressed syllable of a term usually being a sign that it was concrete, and a high vowel indicating an abstract term. The article used the same low/high pattern to agree with the head term.

Declension of a (Third Person Definite)
Case/Number: Singular Paucal Plural
Absolutive a ar az
Ergative ja jar jaz
Dative ija ijar ijaz
Nominative na nar naz
Declension of y (Third Person Indefinite)
Case/Number: Singular Paucal Plural
Absolutive y yr yz
Ergative jy jyr jyz
Dative ijy ijyr ijyz
Nominative ny nyr nyz

The third person was the only person that required gender agreement, and so it is the only article that has a definite/indefinite distinction in modern Common. The indefinite paucal has the sense of 'some', and the indefinite plural has the sense of 'many' or 'all'.

Interrogative/Uncertain Pronoun - Na Zikos Samorka (ko)

There is one interrogative pronoun in Common, 'ko'. Ko does not have a definiteness distinction but does have all three numbers. It is used in asking questions, but despite the fact that Common grammarians refer to it as an interrogative, its presence does not always indicate a question. It can also be used just like 'what' in English in non-questions, like 'I don't care what kind' ot 'which one', a declarative sentence, where ko's function is to signal that its referent is open to question in some way. Common doesn't actually have a clear and unambiguous way to ask questions (or to give orders) and depends on context and idiom - this is a topic to expand upon in a later article. For now just know that 'ko' can be used as a replacement for 'a' in questions and it signals the questionable element.

Ko glosses as approximately 'what' or 'which' in English. It can be used for other 'wh-' type words by adding a head term that clarifies its meaning. Common doesn't have simple, direct words for things like 'who' and 'how'.

Declension of ko (Interrogative)
Case/Number: Singular Paucal Plural
Absolutive ko kor koz
Ergative co cor coz
Dative ico icor icoz
Nominative kon konar konaz

Relative Pronouns - Nar Zereu Samorka (su and si)

There are two relative pronouns. One is used to modify nouns (su), and the other one is used to modify verbs (si). They inflect for case but not number. We will look at simple examples to show what these pronouns do - again, this is a complex topic that deserves a more complete treatment in a future article.

Declension of su and si (Relative)
Case/Type: Nominal Verbal
Absolutive su si
Ergative xu xi
Dative ixu ixi
Nominative sun sin

Nominal Relative Pronouns

The article su is used to introduce a subordinate clause that describes a noun, in effect the entire subordinate clause acting as a modifier to a noun phrase. For that reason, su blurs the line between an article and a modifier. Its placement must always be immediately after the head term after any prepositional phrases and in series with any other relative clauses that modify the noun. The referent of su is the entire noun phrase it modifies. The referent noun is always an actor in relation to the verb of the subordinate clause. The case of su is that of the role of the referent in the relative clause. Phrase order in the relative clause is relatively free, with the caveats that the clause must be introduced by a form of su and that the verb phrase must go last in these causes. A simple example:

 A pocuk su ija paluh noxot triju se an citit.
the(ABS) child that(ABS) the(DAT) dog go(NP.PF) see stand(NP.IM) be happy

'The child that saw the dog is happy.'

The article su is in the absolutive case because the referent, the child, is the experiencer of the verb triju, to see, in the subordinate clause. The verb goes to the end of the clause, and that signals to the listener that the clause is over and subsequent speech belongs to the main clause.

Verbal Relative Pronouns

The article si is used to introduce a subordinate clause that as a whole fills an actor role centred around the verb in the main clause. The case of si is the case for the role the clause performs in the main verb. The clause introduced by si may appear anywhere in the sentence that as simple noun phrase introduced by 'a' could go. Word order within the clause is the same as for su. The clause must be introduced by si and the verb phrase must be the last element in the clause. A simple example:

A pocuk nox triju ixi a paluh se an citit.
the(ABS) child go(NP.IM) see that(DAT) the(ABS) dog stand(NP.IM) be happy.

'The child sees that the dog is happy.'

The article si is in the dative case because the verb 'triju', to see, is a semitransitive verb, and the thing seen, in this cause, the fact that the dog is happy, therefore must be in the dative case.

Pronouns Versus Articles

In Common, articles are pronouns. Davidson wrote that in the language's fictional history, the current articles evolved from pronouns, like we might say in certain varieties of English 'them boys' instead of  'the boys'. However, Common takes this to a greater length. When a pronoun meaning is desired, the head term is simply dropped - this is the most common way to use 'we' and a very common way to use any of the others. However, across the board, if any modifiers, modifying terms, prepositional modifying phrases or subordinate clauses are to be used with any of the articles detailed above, the dummy head term 'yn' is required by the grammatical rules of Common without exception. A simple example:

Ja te zeul we.
The(ERG)  hit(NP.IM) eye I(ABS)

'He is watching me.'

Note the 'ja' can mean he she or it, Common does not grammaticalise natural gender.

In the whole discussion above, note the lack of possessive pronouns like 'my' and 'your'. That is not an omission, Common really does lack those words. How Common does handle possessives is a bigger topic that we will handle in a future article.

Through these initial articles on the general grammatical concepts of Common and a basic grounding on nouns and verbs, we have a sufficient base to be able to delve into any other areas of the language or expand on the topics raised here  with meaningful examples. We will close out this core set of articles with a short history of the Common language itself, the final piece needed to discuss the language in a sensible way with adequate context.


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