tlhIngan-Hol Archive: Mon Nov 23 07:35:38 2009

Back to archive top level

To this year's listing

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next]

Re: The topic marker -'e'

Mark J. Reed ( [KLI Member]

Warning: here comes a potentially rambling post about standard
linguistic terminology, agents and subjects, and tense and aspect.

First, re: agent vs subject:  Agent, Patient, and (instransitive)
Subject are distinct *semantic* roles which can map to syntactic
structures in a given language in any one of five different ways (and
different constructs within a single language may fall into different

English (and other Indo-European languages) and Klingon happen to
follow the same primary pattern, called "nominative-accusative" or
just "accusative" for short, where Agent and Subject are treated the
same while Patient is distinguished.  Ergative-absolutive ("ergative"
for short) languages (the usual example is Basque) instead group
Subjects with Patients, leaving Agent distinct.  The three other ways
to divide things up are to make no distinction whatsoever; to
distinguish all three ("tripartite" languages); or to group agent with
patient while subject is distinct.  That last category, extremely rare
if attested at all, is sometimes called "Monster Raving Loony" after
the British political party, because it seems to make no sense.

At any rate, it is perfectly acceptable to use standard linguistic
terminology when analyzing Klingon, and doing so is is not tantamount
to making any claims about the terms used in TKD.  The trick, however,
is to make sure that you don't infer something based on nothing more
than  a terminological correspondence. Sure, Dr. Okrand is a linguist,
and knows how to use terms precisely, but in a book intended for the
lay reader would not necessarily have done so consistently or always.

So, to cross over into another thread, while the "aspect" markers
{-pu'} and {-taH} clearly have aspectual import, I don't think it's
correct to assume that {-pu'} means perfective and {-taH} means
imperfective.  The corresponding meanings overlap, but are not

A given English sentence has a default aspect in the absence of
context: "we visited the ship" and "we have visited the ship" both
default to perfect.  On the other hand, simply appending "many times"
turns either sentence into the imperfect (despite the second one's use
of a nominally perfect tense form).   But absent any other context, I
would agree that "we visited the ship" is best translated as {Duj

But what about "We visited the ship yesterday"?  Absent any other
context, it's also perfective - it's talking about the visit as a
whole, which is complete, rather than some event that transpired
during the visit.  But I would still translate it as {wa'Hu' Duj
wISuch} (which I would not translate back as "We were visiting the
ship yesterday"; that would be {wa'Hu' Duj wISuchtaH}).  I would read
{wa'Hu' Duj wISuchpu'} to mean "Yesterday we had visited the ship" -
in other words, the visit was already complete as of yesterday.


Back to archive top level