Common Topic

Syntax and Grammatical Concepts

Keywords: overview grammar typology nouns verbs terms modifiers parts-of-speech philosophy

The purpose of this article is to give a high-level overview of the general typological features of Common, its overall characteristics, and its philosophy of design. Unlike a natural language, Common was designed, and the key to understanding the language is to grasp something about that design.

Common has some unique terminology and concepts that are used and taken seriously by scholars of Common, especially within the NWO, despite in some cases flouting more standard linguistic terminology. We will bring in standard concepts wherever we can, but it is impossible to properly discuss Common without knowing something about its central ideas and framing.

The earliest descriptions of the Common language were all in English, not Common, and the grammatical terminology used to describe Common has its roots in Davidson's original terminology. Hence, the English terminology used here to describe Common's grammar has a unique authenticity. We will use the English terminology throughout but try to introduce some of the Common-language terminology as we go. 

Parts of Speech (Nar Kit na Zisse)

Common thinks of itself as having the following parts of speech:

Terms (naz Jerekka): Concrete objects, concepts, actions and experiences. Corresponds to nouns and verbs. The Common word for 'term' is 'jerekka', 'that which ends').
Modifiers (naz Keulca): Descriptions of objects, concepts or manners of action, and well as describing how arguments relate, in space or in motion. Modfiers are adjectives, adverbs, numbers, propositions and more. They have a property called 'binding' which determines how they are interpreted. The binding types are tight and loose binding, with loose being unmarked. The Common word for modifiers is 'keulca', 'that which makes a change'.
Determiners (nar Samorka): Determiners are phrase heads, and carry all of the grammatical information about how the phrase relates to other parts of a sentence, and a host of other grammatical distinctions. Determiners are articles and auxiliary verbs. Article determiners are also pronouns. Relative pronouns that allow a dependent clause to describe a noun or that allow a dependent clause to function as an argument to a verb also fall into this category, although they are arguably also modifiers. The Common word for determiners of all kinds is 'samorka', 'that which starts'.
Conjunctions (naz Heratca): Words that connect articles and phrases, either logically or in terms of how one flows into the next. Conjunctions tend to have forms that are different inside and outside of phrases (internal and edge conjunctions, in Common terminology).The Common word for conjunctions is 'heratca', 'that which connects'.
Interjections (naz Smokka): Words that serve some kind of purpose outside the framework of an explicit or implied sentence. Often these words have uses in the other categories.The Common word for interjections is 'smokka', 'that which is thrown'.

Phrase Structure (Na Ajsy naz Weteras Lawt)

The concept behind Common is that it has relatively free phrase (na weteras lawt) order, but word order within phrases has highly specific syntax. A basic noun (na poen) or verb (na hultan) is always actually a noun or verb phrase. The Common grammatical terms 'poen' and 'hultan' usually refer to the whole phrase when speaking about the Common language. A term without a determiner could be either a noun or a verb, and its meaning is only clear in the context of the other words it appears with. A Common noun phrase always has the following structure:

DET [MOD] [MOD, etc] [TERM] [TERM, etc.] (HEAD)

The square brackets mean optional elements. Round brackets have a special meaning that we will get to. The abbreviations mean:

DET = Determiner
MOD = Modifier. Modifiers for nouns have subclasses and a relatively strict order of these classes, which is a topic for later.
TERM = Term, these terms are optional and are modifying the head term in some way - they may or may not be explicitly compounded with it, which will have phonological implications.
HEAD - The head term (na jenys jerekka). It's just a term, but as the head it is the most salient part of the meaning of the overall phrase.

The reason why the HEAD is in brackets is because it may be omitted (creating 'ny ikwéteras lawt', an imperfect utterance) - but only if there are no modifiers or terms in the rest of the phrase. In other words, the phrase can consist of a naked determiner (which in this case functions as a pronoun), or else it must have a head term. In the event it is desired to omit the head term but still use modifiers, a dummy term ('na epális jerekka'), 'yn', must be fill this grammatical slot.

Another feature of this phrase structure is that some modifiers, typically prepositions, but also relative pronouns, can take an object, which can be an entire phrase structure or dependent clause. If a modifier takes an object, it is forbidden to remain in the bracket between the determiner and the head term, and it must come out. For noun phrases, such modifier phrases must come in a row immediately after the head term.

Verbs looks the same way. Common teachers don't teach the verb's object(s) as part of the verb phrase, but academic grammarians would use a more conventional analysis. To understand Common on its own terms, we will focus on they way Common is taught and explained. The basic phrase structure is:

DET [MOD] [MOD, etc] [TERM] [TERM, etc.] (HEAD)

The exception is that there is much more freedom with modifiers for verbs, which are of course adverbs. They may come out of the bracket at will, and may move to certain places in the sentence, either at the beginning of the sentence or immediately following the verb, as an element of stylistic freedom that can be used for emphasis. As with nouns, if a verbal modifier takes an object, it must come out of the bracket into one of the allowed positions. Also as with nouns, the determiner may be used by itself as a stand-in for the verb, but if there are modifiers present, even modifiers that have been moved out of the bracket, and the head term is to be ommitted, the same dummy head term as for nouns, 'yn', is required.

With verbs, it is far more likely that a 'paradigm verb' will be used to substitute for the head term if it is desired to be omitted, rather than using yn, but yn is still common. The other thing that differs is that there are less recognized classes of modifiers and less restrictive order for what order they must appear if present.

It is not at all that Common lacks a distinction between nouns and verbs, or between adjectives and adverbs, of course. Grammarians talk about Common verbs and nouns all the time. But what having these 'terms' and 'modifiers' whose function is determined by context does, is make Common very friendly to zero derivation between parts of speech. There are plenty of examples of zero derivation in English. For example, you have the verb 'to stop' and the noun 'a stop' that are zero derived from each other (that is, the word changes part of speech and hence something important about its meaning without any explicit conversion like adding a suffix). Students of constructed languages who are familiar with Esperanto will note the contrast with that language's very explicit and mandatory marking of parts of speech. Common goes to an extreme the other way, at least within its self-recognized part-of-speech categories, and usually gives you no visible way to determine the part of speech of a word other than to just learn it.

English purists have often complained about this process, especially nouns being zero derived from verbs. However, there are literally hundreds of examples in English. Common is like this too, within its broad grammatical categories. So if you noun a verb, in Common that amounts to just taking a term which usually has more of a verbal character and using it with a noun determiner, and that's actually completely halal. There are usually conventional ideas about what the derived word means, but ambiguity is often tolerated and context is required to understand the meaning. What Common grammarians don't like is zero derivation between Common's defined parts of speech. For example, it is considered bad grammar to zero derive a modifier from a term or vice versa - the English word 'green' to describe a part of a golf course, zero drived from the adjective green, is not considered acceptable in Common. Derivational morphology exists in order to convert back and forth between term and modifiers.

The reason given for this is that listeners can identify the end of a phrase when the head term is reached, which will be the last term in the phrase. Supposedly, zero derivation between modifiers and terms muddies these waters. This is a matter for debate, but regardless, it is important to understand that derivational morphology exists to go back and forth between these classes, and native speakers are generally quite disciplined about using it.

Note that in terms of head structure, Common is a head-initial language for the most part, owing to the fact that phrase heads are always initial, but that it has head-final qualities as well, in particular in how compound words and phrases are constructed with a head term last.

Sentence Structure (Na Ajsy naz Wasko)

Common is SVO (Subject - Verb - Object) by default. If there is an indirect object as in a dative structure like 'The man threw the dog the ball', it goes after the direct object, so the opposite order as English. This is just the default, however, because all of the noun elements are marked for case, telling you their thematic role. Common is less dependent on phrase order to convey meaning, and Common speakers routinely reorder phrasal elements of sentences for emphasis. This pattern breaks down in dependent clauses. In depenent clauses, the verb absolutely must be last after all the core arguments, which makes it easier for the listener to know clearly where a dependent clause ends, Elements of a dependent clause must be wholly contained between the clause's introducing determiner and its verb, and no elements of a main clause can move inside a dependent clause.

It as a very normal pattern in Common to front any sentence element to emphasize it or to introduce it as a topic. Common has also picked up the pattern of fronting the verb in yes/no questions from English and other western European languages (this was not an original feature of the language).

Common refers to the subject of a sentence as 'na mixxakija', the referent. All verbs except avalent verbs must have a subject, but the case of the subject depends on the valence pattern - there is no subject case, unlike what we see in English pronouns, for example.

The objects of a verb or modifier are referred to as 'naz tritkija', 'that which is governed'. A modifier can have only one object, which must be in the nominative case, or be a relativiser in the nominative case. A verb can have up to two objects as core arguments, a direct object 'na palikas tritkija', which must be in the absolutive case, and an indirect object 'na happatkijas tritkija'. Just which objects a verb can have is givernment by the verb's declared valence structure.

Relativisers ('su' and 'si', for nouns and verbs, respectively) are a special case. They require an object, which is a verb. They may or may not in turn have a core role in return from the point of view of the verb that is their object depending on their type and case.

Nouns (Naz Poen)

All noun inflection is carried on the article determiner (na poenys samorka) that is mandatory for every noun. No noun exists in isolation, but must be part of a noun phrase with at minimum an article. Even personal names are always used with an article. By contrast, because the articles are also pronouns ('nar epális samorka' when talking about Common, 'nar epális poen' when talking about other languages), they can appear on their own without any associated phrase structure. However, note as above that if an article without an explicit head term is used with any modifiers at all, an empty 'dummy' head term 'yn' (na epális jerekka) is mandatory. Nouns inflect for the following:

  • 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 emphasize 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 auxilliary 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 (rohájkysyn). There are two kinds of definiteness:
    • Definite (rohájkys), the object being referenced is something specific. Approximately the same as using 'the' in English. May be used with auxilliary determiners that act as demonstratives to emphasize pointing something out.
    • Indefinite (ikrohájkys), 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'.

A few notes about Common's case system, which is decidedly eccentric.

1. It uses Absolutive-Ergative alignment, where instead of having a nominative subject for both transitive and intransitive verbs and an accusative subject, as we see with pronouns in English, there is instead an ergative subject for transitive verbs, and an absolutive object for transitive verbs and subject for intransitive verbs. This tends to give the language a somewhat passive-seeming quality, and in fact Common has no passive voice. This will be discussed more in the section on verbs. It would be as though we said 'He hit me' for a transitive verb but 'me was sleeping' for an intransitive verb.

2. The normal hierarchy of cases is was ignored by Davidson - Common has a dative case without having a genitive case. The dative is used in a possessive construction, however.

3. That nominative case. We will go into this more when we talk about the history of Common, but Davidson claimed he created a protolanguage for Common that he used to help build the Common language for Hillbillies. That language has nominative-accusative alignment, and secondarily developed ergativity. The nominative case is supposed to be the actual left-over nominative case from the protolanguage. It actually functions like a prepositional case, as practically all prepositions that take an object take an object in the nominative case. As we will see, it is also used in possessive constructions. Finally, it is the case used to name something in isolation from a sentence.

Verbs (Naz Hultan)

As we saw for nouns, all verb inflection is carried on the auxiliary determiner (na hulta samorka) that is mandatory for every verb. No verb exists in isolation, all verbs require an auxiliary determiner to be identified as verbs and to determine their grammatical relationships. There are several auxiliaries to choose from and each inflects for all the major categories. The auxiliary chosen must agree with the verb in valence - the auxiliary defines the pattern of actors that exist in the sentence. Basically, each verb belongs to a family with a certain 'paradigm verb', and that paradigm determines the valence and the auxiliary to employ. Valence changes are performed by changing the auxiliary, and the meaning of the valence change is determined by the verb's paradigm.

Verbal auxiliaries can also appear by themselves without a verbal head term. If they appear by themselves, however, they cannot have modifiers. If they have modifiers, the dummy head term 'yn' must used the same as for nouns, or else the paradigm verb can be inserted in place of the verb. Speakers may do this in order to be ellipical and obscure their meaning for anyone overhearing a conversation, or just out of laziness. Verbs inflect for the following:

  • Valence (na Kyrakkas Tret). The valence categories are:
    • Avalent (Zresu). Verbs that have no arguments. An example in English would be 'it rained', where the 'it' is just a grammatically required dummy subject. Common would not need the equivalent of 'it', and such verbs would use avalent agreement instead. In Common it is named for its paradigm verb 'zresu', to rain.
    • Intransitive (Pali): Verb has one argument, the subject, in the absolutive case. An example in English of an intransitive verb would be 'to sleep'. In Common it is named for its paradigm verb 'pali', to stand.
    • Semitransitive (Noxaj): Verb has two arguments. One, the subject, is in the absolutive case, and the other, a recipient of the action that is not viewed as a patient affected by the action, is in the dative case. There is no good equivalent in English. Common uses this pattern for verbs of motion, analogous with 'to go' - the absolutive subject is the thing moving, and the dative indirect object is the destination. This is an example of the Common dative being used as a lative case. This pattern is also often used for verbs of emotion or desire. In Common it is named for its paradigm verb 'noxaj', to go.
    • Transitive (Skurun): Verb has an actor, the subject, in the ergative case and a patient, the object, in the absolutive case. An example in English would be 'to hit' .In Common it is named for its paradigm verb 'skurun', to hit.
    • Ditransitive (Happat): Verb has an actor, the subject, in the ergative case, a patient, the direct object, in the absolutive case, and a recipient, the indirect object, in the dative case. And example in English would be 'to give'. In Common it is named for its paradigm verb 'happat', to give.
  • Tense (na Celysyn). The time the speaker is referencing. There are two tenses:
    • Past (Kiles): Actions that took place before the present. They might possibly be ongoing in the present, but the focus of attention is the past action.
    • Nonpast (Panas): Present and future actions or focus.
  • Aspect (na Trijustep): The manner in which the action of the verb is performed. There are two aspects:
    • Perfect: The action of the verb is complete. Combined with the nonpast tense this still implies a past action, but the focus is on the present.
    • Imperfect: Ongoing or habitual actions.
  • Mood (na Puesyn). There are two grammatical moods:
    • Realis (na zra puesyn): The action is real and concrete.
    • Irrealis (na sihys puesyn): The action is somehow hypothetical or potentially counterfactual. This is again a case where Common has simply defined its own terms and made everyone else deal with them - these moods could be just as easily have been called indicative and subjunctive.

Verbs can have other characteristic arguments that may be optional or are generally required for the verb to work but which are not covered by these valence patterns. Such verbs apply these elements obliquely, through prepositional phrases, and there is no grammaticalized signal of these additional arguments.

Voice and Valence Changes

Common lacks a passive voice. Using valence changes, the following constructions are possible:

  • Antipassive (na hultanys ajsy): A valence reduction that promotes the agent from the ergative to the absolutive and drops the patient. The patient can only be referred to obliquely. It is basically the opposite of the passive voice.  Common uses the antipassive in a lot of idioms, and this is one of the hardest aspects of the lamguage to learn.
  • Causative (na weros ajsy): A valence increasing operation where an ergative agent is added to an intransitive or semitransitive construction, and that agent is the cause of the action.
  • Disintentive (na ikháppatys ajsy): A valence reduction on ditransitive and semitransitive verbs to remove their dative indirect object. These constructions imply action that is lacking a clear goal or intent, and is used in idioms where English would use an adverb, like 'walking around' or 'throwing something away' (as opposed as walking to somewhere or throwing something to someone).
  • Benefactive (na happatys ajsy): A valence increasing operation where a normally transitive or intranstive verb has a dative indirect object added. The indirect object is then the beneficiary of the action in some way.

Not all verbs can undergo all valance changes. An transitive verb cannot form a grammatical causative, for example, and has to form a causative construction periphrastically.

Element Dropping

A notable feature of Common is that it is very pro-drop for a lot of sentence elements. As noted above, head terms can be dropped and replaced with the dummy 'yn', or in the case of verbs, also with a paradigm verb. Because the verbal auxiliary specifies the valence pattern of the sentence, it is common for any of those entire phrasal elements to simply be ommitted. This is the idiom that Common uses in place of a passive voice - for a transitive verb, the ergative subject is simply omitted altogether and the absolutive object is fronted in the sentence to emphasize it.

What this does is it allows speakers of Common to be simultaneously circumspect and precise where two interlocutors have shared context to identify the omitted elements. One can do this in any language, but it's a feature of Common that early speakers reveled in, and found useful in using the language for coded communication before the Globalist movement achieved its final ascendency. Today, under the watchful and frequently overbearing eye of the Globalist state, citizens wishing to preserve a modicum of privacy in their communications somewhat ironically make use of this feature.

Modifiers (Naz Keulca)

Modifiers are a very broad category. There are many subcategories. There are orders of precedence for nouns and verbs in which these modifiers generally occur if present (we see the same phenomenon with adjectives in English). These can include things like demonstratives and numbers that English might view as determiners in their own right, as well as words that look like normal adjectives and adverbs. We will spend more time on this topic in a future article.

For verbs, the order of modifiers is much freer, and modifiers do not have to be in the bracket between the determiner and the head term, they can come out and go into other positions in the sentence. In dependent clauses, this pattern is similar, except that a modifier moved to the beginning of the clause must come immediately after the relative determiner that introduces the clause. If there are a number of modifiers, they can mix and match sentence positions.

Prepositions (Naz Tritkas Keulca)

One special class of modifiers is prepositions. In Common they are called 'naz tritkas keulca', approximately 'governing modifiers', for their ability to take an object. Prepositions that must take an object are 'riskesno tritkas keulca', 'obligatory governing modifiers'. Prepositions are modifiers that can take a noun phrase or dependent clause object.

A preposition does not always have to take an object. If a preposition does not take an object, it acts exactly like any other modifier in its order of precedence in the noun or verb phrase in terms of where it may go. However, if it takes an object, it must move out of the bracket formed by the determiner and the head term. For nouns, these are the only modifiers that can move out of the bracket, and any such modifying phrases are placed in a row immediately after the head term. For verbs, these modifying phrases can go anywhere in the sentence or clause that verbal modifiers can go, except just not in the bracket.

Relative Determiners (Nar Zereu Samorka)

Relative determiners are a special class, in that they also act somewhat like modifiers, and could be considered to be both. There are two relative determiners, one for nouns and one for verbs. Both inflect for case. With nouns, the case of the deteminer is the role of the noun the clause describes in the dependent clause. With verbs, the case of the relative determiner is the role the clause plays as an actor in the overall sentence. Relative clauses are always introduced by a relative determiner. For nouns, the relative clause is always placed after the head term of the noun phrase it occupies, immediately after any prepositional phrases. For verbs, the dependent clause is placed just like a noun phrase in the sentence.

Conjunctions (Naz Heratca)

Conjuctions are words that connect elements of the sentence together in a manner that resembles but doesn't exactly match the rules of formal logic, or that control the flow of the sentence, just as in English. Where Common conjunctions are different is that a form that can be used inside a phrase to connect its elements requires a different form to connect phrases and higher level sentence elements together, even if in English the same word would be expected.


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