Saturday, 9 February 2013

The yin-yang of Inuit language grammar

One of the long-term projects I'm currently working at work is the development of descriptive grammars for all Nunavut dialects. Since I envision these series of books to be useful and relevant to non-specialists (ie, non-linguists but teachers and Inuit language instructors), it's forced me to rethink many of my assumptions as a trained linguist, and to rethink a way of schematic presentation of linguistic principles that anyone with a few hours of reflection could gain a servicable grasp of what the heck I'm talking about.

I'm finding in my (informal/semi-formal) literature review of the works of people I admire and respect as linguists (Kenn Harper, Louis-Jacques Dorais, Mick Mallon, etc.) and the material available on-line is that much is taken for granted because most of it is intended not for the layperson but specialists like me and the people I work with. This is not really a comment of surprise, just an observation.

This current situation and my present needs has got me thinking about a yin-yang type completion of grammaticality of the Inuit Language that I think most Inuktut speakers would immediately understand if not immediately grasp - at least for the transitive constructs.

What I mean is that there is a natural dichotomy (in a sense of something branching into two equal parts) between case endings (inflectional forms of nouns and pronouns) and mood endings (verb forms and modality) into constructs like this:

indicative mood in declarative phrases:

[-junga] "I am..."
[-juguk] "you and I are..."
[-juq] "he, she or it is..."

can be completed with various (but not all) case endings:

accusative case [-mik]
ablative case [-mit]
allative case [-mut]*

*the allative case [-mut] "to; towards" has a different meaning than instrumental case [-mut] "with" - as in qukiutimut nattiqtara "I caught the seal with a rifle".

Using [taku-] "to see" we can contruct grammatical phrases like this:

takujunga qimmirmik "I see a dog"
takujuguk qangatasuurmik "you and I see a plane"
takujuq uvannik "he sees me"

Using [ani-] "to exit" we can construct grammatical phrases like this:

anijunga iglumit "I come out of a house"
anijuguk allagvingmit "you and I come out of the office"
anijuq igluvigarmit "he comes out of an igloo"

Using [isiq-] "to enter" we can construct grammatical phrases like this:

isiqtunga allagvingmut ""I enter an office"
isiqtuguk igluvigarmut "you and I enter an igloo"
isiqtuq iglumut "she enters a house"

These are not comprehensive lists by any stretch of the imagination but rather are intended to hint at the yin-yang schematics that are possible between case and mood endings. Because of the inflectional nature of the Inuit grammar word order is made mote and one may say qimmirmik takujunga "I see a dog" just as grammatically as tukujunga qimmirmik "I see a dog", and this flexibility applies to all transitive constructs because the grammatical functions are built-into the case and mood endings rather than word order as Engliish grammar demands with its SVO word order.

So, we can see that the declarative (or, indicative) mood can be completed by at least three different types of case endings - but there are, of course, more than just three case endings that this mood can be completed with. The basic principle of conjunction between case and mood endings is the point I'm trying to make here (in transitive constructs).

One of the yin-yang images is of a mountain: used to describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world; and, how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. and this: Yin and yang are actually complementary, not opposing, forces, interacting to form a whole greater than either separate part; in effect, a dynamic system. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yin_and_yang) which I think capture the interrelations of case and mood endings most succinctly.

Jay

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