Sunday, November 10, 2013

Some generalities in derivational semantics

Although toki pona has no syntactic parts of speech in the usual way, the vocabulary here is divided into various traditional classes: nouns, (transitive) verbs, modifiers (adjective and adverbs), prepositions and modals.  Except for prepositions and modals, which have some syntactic peculiarities (taking complements in all positions), the motivation for these categories is primarily semantic.  If using a word in the slots suggested by its category is taken to give the basic meaning of the word, then its meaning in other slots can generally be inferred more or less accurately.

Verbs:  The generic type of the DO of a verb has the same name as the verb (or a verb used as a noun is likely the sort of thing that gets verbed by this verb).  The paradigm is moku, v "to eat", n "food", but most other verbs will do as well.  Of course, as a noun, a verb may also just stand for the activity of the verb, "eating" in the paradigm case, a probably other things as the need arises.  As a modifier, the characteristic meaning of a verb x is "suitable for xing", "edible" in the case of moku.   Of course, more complicated notions, derivative from deep sentences, typically, may also apply, the most common being "given to/liable to x" "gluttonous" in the case of moku.  The first guess about a verb without a DO is simply that the DO is omitted for rhetorical reasons.

Nouns.  Using a noun.n as a verb takes on one of two meanings,  1 "cause DO to become an n" or 2 "apply n to DO".  Thus x li telo e y means either "x melts y" or "x waters/washes y".  Clearly, the specifics of these are context dependent: we don't ordinary wash plants for example, nor water a room.  And similar remarks apply to "cause to become water(liquid)", which might be condensation, for example, rather than melting. Not surprisingly, ilo seem to have only the second meaning here, the first being taken by (surprise!) kepeken.  So,  x ilo e y means "x uses tools on y", the specifics coming from context.  As a modifier, a noun n stands for the characteristic of this thing n stands for, though the details may be filled by either context or convention.  Modifier jan means either "human" or "humane" and then others that follow.  By convention, akesi means "ugly" and pipi means "tiny".  Soweli is supposed to mean "cute" but is rarely so used and the other conventions are a not uniformly recognized.

Prepositions.  The object of the preposition (complement) functions like the DO of verbs derivationally, that is their genera are called by the preposition.  The clear case is tan "from", "source".  But the rule applies equally to lon "at", "place, address" and tawa "to", "goal, purpose".  As verbs, prepositions take the causative sense like nouns: x li lon e y is "x places y".  Of course, without the object of the preposition, the meanings of some of these causings is open to either context or convention (placing y might mean either bringing y into existence or to life or ...).  Similar liberty applies to prepositions as modifiers, taking on all the possibilities from their use as nouns and verbs (tawa is particularly productive in this area, getting into motion generally).

Modifiers.  As nouns these fluctuate between the abstraction of their property (most common) and concrete instances (usually contextually suggested).  loje li kule, "red is a color," on the one hand,  and  loje pi ma Pomelan li unpa, "di royte Pomerantsin trent (or yentst, depending on how you were brought up) " on the other.  As verbs, they take the causative sense again, always with the result  DO li kama m, whatever the modifier m was,

Modals are a kind of verb which take verb phrases as complements (much a prepositions take noun phrases).  Some also function as verbs, e.g. wile, "want", probably as special reductions of their modal function (? wile e DO = wile jo e DO ?).  They can be made transitive with a causative sense, but there are problems about where to put the two DOs, one from the causative verb and one from the complementary verb phrase. As nouns, they tend to be the the abstraction of the modality, e.g., ken "possibility, permission", and as modifiers the corresponding property, "possible, permitted"
These are the basics; what happens after these is what makes each word unique and special (and harder to get a grip on).