Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Inuktitut phrase structure

There are many things that I find beautiful and aesthetically pleasing about linguistics, and the Inuktitut phrase structure is one of the most beautiful among them.

Inuktitut grammar is very elegant mathematically because structural exceptions and provisos are rare if practically nonexistent. I came up with my own (unconventional) notational system to capture this structure simply because I wanted to contemplate its beauty and for no other reason. The structure looks like this:

(for noun phrases):

N + (kMn) + PN + (k)

which is explained as:

-those in parentheses are optional;

N = noun base; or V = verb base

superscript k = the quality of modifyer morpheme, of which there are four types: noun stays a noun stem; noun becomes a verb stem; verb stays a verb stem; and, verb becomes a noun stem

M = modifyer morpheme

subscript n = the sequential number (for accounting purposes only, because, in theory, one can connect any number of M's to say one long, long, long phrase and still make grammatical sense)*

PN = pronominal ending (such as I, you, it, I to you, you to me, you to it, I to it, etc.)

(k) = case/mood ending (when a case/mood ending is present, the basic phrase structure (usually a verb adjunct for a noun main phrase, and vice-versa) has to be repeated to balance the grammar of the main and adjunct phrases - ie, when it's a transitive construct) as in

illurjuarmut isilauqtunga

into the house + I entered

*a popular Inuktitut word game is played to see how long a phrase can be constructed without losing its meaning. For eg, siisitusiutiiralaaraaluulauqsimagaluarmijungalittauq = I, as a young dimunitive one, was quite fond of eating cheese

A built-in Douglas Adams quality of such structures makes the game so much fun and funny to play.

The other strength of such a structure is that it may be very amenable to scientific nomenclature and taxonomy because of its inherently descriptive nature and because its PN endings are so regular. I tried the structure out on my own Inuktitutized table of elements for the first and second periods, and it seems much more elegant and regular than the English version (works beautifully for simple compounds too). Another strength is that Inuktitut has no gender marker so "he, she and it" are all denoted by the same basic third person pronominal ending.

I know the plain language description looks messy and confusing but that is in comparison to the mathematical notation, which is information rich and very structurally productive.


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