tlhIngan-Hol Archive: Fri Oct 02 08:56:15 2009

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Re: The meaning of -moH

Doq (

I respect the depth with which you guys have explored the grammar  
surrounding {-moH}. I wonder if Okrand has actually gone that deep,  
and we are just discovering it, or if we are discovering patterns that  
he didn't think about, but followed subconsciously or accidentally, or  
if we are discovering patterns that ultimately canon will prove were  
not accurate.

Here's where we get to the difference between natural language and  
artificial language. In natural language, while you might argue that  
our brains are wired for grammar, and so natural languages will select  
among the wired options for grammar within our brains while  
constructing sentences (notice that every language has a unit that can  
be described as a sentence), it is only AFTER a natural language has  
formed and been used for generations that someone comes along and  
examines the patterns in the language to figure out what the rules of  
grammar for that language might be.

[Hmm. So, language is a batch process. If humans evolve as our  
technologies tend to, then eventually we will have no sentences  
because our language processes will become continuous, not requiring  
the boundaries of the batch.]

Artificial languages begin with the grammar and construct sentences  
according to those rules.

So, Klingon is an artificial language posing as a natural language.  
Over time, it becomes more natural because every time Okrand screws up  
when creating canon (or some director screws up by forcing Okrand to  
compensate in some way not fitting everything he'd planned for the  
grammar or the vocabulary), we have to either make an exception or  
change a rule in order to explain the canon and from that point  
forward, we have to construct new sentences that fit our new  
understanding of the grammar based on a hybrid of Okrand's description  
of the grammar and our analysis of his canon. We can never tell Okrand  
"This example of canon is wrong. It breaks the rules of grammar."  
Instead, we have to "refine" our understanding of the grammar, as if  
the language were natural and this curious new example that breaks the  
rules of grammar as we knew it merely reveals a flaw in our  
understanding of the grammar.

Meanwhile, whenever WE break the rules of grammar, we are merely wrong.

This places us in the awkward spot of figuring out how to make valid,  
original sentences based upon a hybrid combination of vague,  
incomplete grammar and vague, incomplete canon. We're here because we  
love that challenge.

I like this new focus on {-moH}, though I see a bit of a problem with  
focusing on the word "CHANGE of state", rather than more heavily  
weighing it as "change or creation of STATE". If the "change" aspect  
of the meaning were all that important, then why would we ever combine  
{-choHmoH}? The {-choH} would already be implied, right? But there it  
is, in your example: {maghoSchoHmoH}.

There are a lot of angles from which this example is confusing. It is  
a rare example of a verb with an intransitive prefix and {-moH}. Most  
canon examples have a prefix showing a direct object. This one  
doesn't, so it is a great example to use to deepen our understanding  
of {-moH}, as you've successfully exploited it.

I'll focus on why we are combining {-choHmoH} here as you have focused  
on why we combined {ma-moH} in the same word. What would {maghoSmoH}  
mean that would be different from {maghoSchoHmoH}? If a child were  
rolling along in a wagon down a hill and the wagon were approaching  
the bottom of the hill, we might be prescient enough to recognize that  
the wagon will slow down and stop, resulting in a screaming brat, so  
that we might choose to run over and push the wagon in order to keep  
it moving along a path it otherwise would have stopped along. In such  
a case, we (more than one of us) might be able to say {maghoSmoH}, but  
we couldn't say {maghoSchoHmoH}.

I think we are not necessarily the agent of CHANGE of state. We are  
the agent of the STATE. We remain the agent of the state for the  
duration of the state. We can speak of ourselves as the agents of the  
state at any time during the sustained state with {-moH}, whereas we  
only speak of ourselves as the agents of CHANGE of state if we combine  

When we execute a course, the assumption is that we weren't already  
heading in that direction at the speed we already wanted to go. We  
aren't really executing a course. We are executing a CHANGE of course.

I wish Okrand had been clearer when he gave us definitions and canon.  
While I agree that {puqvaD QeD vIghojmoH} works, given the  
oversimplified definition of {ghojmoH} as "teach", I wouldn't be  
surprised at all if Okrand wrote {puq vIghojmoH}. It would be great if  
the language were consistent enough for us to call that wrong, but  
frankly, I doubt that we have a clear enough definition of {ghojmoH}  
to establish the wrongness of that sentence. It could well be that  
Okrand would feel fine about teaching either science or children, and  
if he's okay with it, we're all bound by his choice. Until he explains  
that {puq vIghojmoH} is wrong, I don't think we can have too much of a  
strong footing when scolding others for writing a wrong sentence. The  
word {ghoj} can simply have a root meaning that, when combined with {- 
moH} could include both meanings.

If you are right, then the grammar here is really interesting. What is  
happening is that the subject is the agent of causation and the direct  
object is the object of the root verb, leaving a hole in the grammar  
where the subject of the root verb would go. "I teach science" becomes  
"I cause one to learn science." I am the agent of the state of  
learning science. I am not necessarily the agent of the CHANGE to the  
state of learning science, or even as Okrand explained it, the  
creation of the state of learning science. I'm the agent of the state  
of learning of science.

Maybe the student had already been learning science from someone else  
and then they come to me and I just keep on causing them to keep on  
learning science. I could continue to cause the learning of science  
for years, day after day. No change. Just sustained state.  

Your new inspection of {-moH} helps with the otherwise vague  
definition of {tuQ}, {tuQHa'moH} and {tuQmoH}. Is the parenthetical  
"(clothes)" in these definitions a placeholder for clothing that can  
appear as a direct object of the root verb, or is clothing so much  
implied that the root verb is intransitive? Probably, it is a guide to  
an appropriate direct object.

Meanwhile, {tuQHa'moH} and {tuQmoH} don't tell you whether you are  
dressing or undressing yourself, or someone else. If there's a hole in  
the grammar where the one in the process of acquiring the clothes onto  
their person would go, then it is appropriate to be vague about this.  
So, would {jItuQHa''eghmoH} mean that I undress myself, and  
{be'nalwI'vaD jItuQHa'moH} mean that I'm undressing my wife? If so, we  
just did something odd with the grammar. If the second example is  
correct, then the first example should be {jIHvaD jItuQHa'moH.} Any  
version of {jItuQHa''eghmoH} would be gibberish, since it would imply  
that I am clothing, just as science is the thing being learned in the  
earlier example.

I've gone on too long. Sorry. I'll stop now...


On Oct 1, 2009, at 2:07 PM, David Trimboli wrote:

> ghunchu'wI' wrote:
>> On Sep 30, 2009, at 8:22 PM, David Trimboli wrote:
>>> However, this means we have an odd situation: verbs like {tuH} "be
>>> ashamed" should not be able to take objects, yet verbs like {tuHmoH}
>>> "shame" certainly are able to do so. Why do verbs of quality seem to
>>> change the semantic role of the object while verbs of action do
>>> not? Or
>>> do verbs of action change the semantic role of the object  
>>> *sometimes*?
>>> When?
>> I propose that they *never* change the semantic role of the object.
>> Under this view, {tuHmoH} doesn't actually have an object.  It's just
>> a version of the "prefix trick" at work, making it *look* like the
>> beneficiary is the grammatical object.
> We may have a misunderstanding of terminology here. By "object," I  
> refer
> to a syntactic role, not a semantic role. However, it looks like it is
> the case that the semantic roles do not change either.
> Let's look at a simple sentence:
>    yaS qIp puq
>    the child hit the officer
> Syntactically, we have {yaS} as the object (the noun phrase that comes
> before the verb, the "do-ee") and {puq} as the subject (the noun  
> phrase
> that comes after the verb, the doer).
> Semantically, we have an agent and a patient:
>    Agent: deliberately performs the action (e.g., Bill ate his soup
>           quietly).
>    Patient: undergoes the action and has its state changed (e.g., The
>             falling rocks crushed the car)...
>    <>
> In our simple sentence, the agent is {puq} and the patient is {yaS}.
> Now we look at a sentence with -moH.
>    yaS tuHmoH puq
>    the child shames the officer
>    the child causes the officer to be ashamed
> Syntactically, the situation is the same as before. A careful look at
> the semantics shows that the semantics haven't changed either. The
> child, {puq}, is still the agent ("deliberately performs the action
> [tuHmoH],") and the officer, {yaS}, is still the patient ("undergoes  
> the
> action [tuHmoH] and has its state changed").
> So let's look at more complex examples. The word that sparked my
> interest was {maghoSchoHmoHneS'a'} "may we execute a course?" Let's  
> drop
> the -neS, the "may," and the -'a' for simplicity.
>    maghoSchoHmoH
>    we execute a course
> Syntactically this word has no subject or object or any other noun
> phrase. We could utter a semantically equivalent sentence,
> {maghoSchoHmoH maH}, and say that the subject is {maH}. But in both
> cases there is no object.
> Semantically, things get more interesting. "We" are the agent, even if
> {maH} is left unsaid. But there is no real patient here, beyond
> "something vague" or "things in general." The role of patient is
> subsumed into the meaning of the verb {ghoS}.
> Then we have our old friend:
>    ghaHvaD quHDaj qawmoH
>    it reminds him of his heritage
> Syntactically, we have a beneficiary (noun phrase marked with -vaD and
> which comes before the OVS structure) and an object (noun phrase that
> comes before the verb). There is an implied subject, {'oH}.
> Semantically, we have two new types:
>    Experiencer: receives sensory or emotional input (e.g., The smell  
> of
>                 lilies filled Jennifer's nostrils).
>    Theme: undergoes the action but does not change its state (e.g., I
>           like Kim)
> {quHDaj} is the theme, because remembering it does not change it.
> {ghaHvaD} is the experiencer, because he remembers something, but
> {ghaHvaD} is also the patient, because he has gone from not  
> remembering
> something to remembering it; his state has been changed. (The unstated
> {'oH} "it" would be the "force," or "(natural) cause," which is the  
> role
> of something that performs the action mindlessly, not deliberately.)
> So in this example, at least, the semantic roles are quite different
> than the simple sentence without -moH! The syntactic roles remain
> unremarkable, though they don't help us much to understand how to
> construct these sentences ourselves.
>> With my proposal, the correct object is the thing being learned.  If
>> that thing is not mentioned, the student as beneficiary might be able
>> to appear to be the object.
> I'm not sure I can agree with this. The way the examples all seem to
> look, the correct way to say "I teach the child" would be
> {puqvaD jIghojmoH}. "I do cause-to-learn for the benefit of the  
> child."
> To say "I teach the child science" would be {puqvaD QeD vIghojmoH}. "I
> cause-to-learn science for the benefit of the child." Under this idea,
> {puq vIghojmoH} would be wrong, meaning, at best, "I teach about  
> children."
> -- 
> SuStel
> tlhIngan Hol MUSH

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