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Saturday, July 14, 2007


Among various other things, the last few days I've been looking a bit more at the Trique language. I even started to write a mini-dictionary based on what I can make out from this Bible, which currently has several dozen words; this is more to help me remember the meaning of words I've figured out (and to remember meanings I've assigned them in case a different passage contradicts that meaning and I have to reconsider it) than a benefit for anyone else. Between what I've learned on my own and an article my grandpa sent me (I've actually tried to keep the information I acquire from my grandpa to a minimum, as I want to figure out as much of the language as I can on my own, just by reading this Trique Bible) on Trique morphology (the way words change form in different circumstances) which covers some of the most complicated grammar, I thought I'd write a blog post on some of the interesting features of Trique - those that are notably different from other languages, especially common Indo-European ones like English. At some point I might try to expand this post (and have it reviewed for correctness by my grandpa, a linguist fluent in Trique) into a Wikipedia entry on Trique.

First, my grandpa believes that Trique was initially an isolating language, though through various fusions it has become somewhat inflected (words change form in different circumstances). An isolating language is one in which each word carries exactly one piece of information. For example, while English indicates the plural of a noun with the suffix -(e)s, an isolating language would either have a separate word that indicates that the noun is plural, or only express plurals through numbers (Japanese is like this, although it isn't an isolating language; in Japanese, the number of nouns is usually not mentioned at all, and when present is usually simply specified by a number word). Likewise, while English specifies tense with various suffixes like -ed, isolating languages, if they specify time at all (some languages don't have tense at all), will add an additional word that indicates that the verb is a specific tense; Chinese is like this, though I don't have a specific example.

Trique stills resembles an isolating language, though it has acquired some degree of inflection. For example, plurals are indicated by the addition of additional words; I'm not sure if these are particles, adjectives, or something else. For example, the third person pronoun in Trique (it's base form, anyway) is "si3" (numbers indicate tones). To indicate the third-person dual (two people/things), you would say "ngüej5 si3". To indicate the third person plural (I'm not sure exactly when you start using the plural; I've only seen 'one', 'two', and 'many', though it's possible I jut haven't seen 'three' or 'four', etc.), you would say "nej3 si3". See how that works?

Unfortunately, Trique has become more complicated over time, in a fairly systematic way. There is evidence to suggest that prefixes and suffixes have developed through fusion - what was at one time two distinct words have become fused together, with the modifier becoming a prefix/suffix (both of which are seen in Trique). While some affixes are more obvious than others, in general this has severely degraded the "purity" of the language. For example, the verb 'ask' is, in its simplest indicative form, "achin21". The same verb in the simplest anticipatory form (don't ask my what the anticipatory form is; I don't know, yet - that's just what my grandpa called it) is "ga5chinj5". Even more interesting, you could say "I ask" (indicative mood) using the fused form "achin23" (there is no longer a separate word for 'I' in the fused form). As you can see, in this case, whatever the original suffix was, the sounds are completely gone, leaving only a change in tone. This should give you an idea of what I meant by saying this has made Trique morphology rather complicated.

Even more interesting, however, is a system of anticipatory inflection (I'm not sure what the technical term for it is; perhaps some strange kind of assimilation?). That is, where a word changes based on the word that follows it, even though the two words do not fuse like they did in the previous paragraph. For example, recall the dual marker mentioned earlier. Most of the time it takes the form shown previously; however, if you combine it with "re'5" to form the second person dual pronoun ('you two'), you get "ngüej5e3 re'5" - the form of the number has changed, even though it hasn't fused with any prefixes or suffixes. As far as I can tell, this is merely interaction between two particular words in a particular order; it doesn't appear to have any inherent meaning.

Modern Trique appears to have two cases: a standard case and a possessed case. The former is used for words that stand alone (or are the possessor of something else), with the various roles this case can play (subject, object, etc.) indicated by word order. The latter is used for nouns which are possessed by something else (the noun immediately following them, in all the cases I've seen). While the latter seems to be unusual in its own regard (Wikipedia lists only Tlingit as having a possessed case), what's even more unusual is the fact that some words (namely family relation nouns) in Trique have both inclusive and exclusive possessed forms (I wonder if you'd call those separate cases or the same). The difference is made obvious by comparison of two examples: "nej3 dinï1 [brothers of] si3 [him/her]" ('his brothers') and "nej3 dinïj5 Judá" ('Judah and his brothers').

My first "major" discovery, when I was just starting to look at this Trique Bible (and still didn't know any of the language, nor had I talked to my grandpa about it, yet), was learning how quotes - sequences of direct text one person says - are handled. A quote from Mark 6:37 illustrates this structure:

English: But Jesus answered, "You give them something to eat."
Trique: Sani4 gataj34 Jesús gunï3 nej3 si3, Ga'ui'5 nej3e3 re'5 si3 xa4 nej3 si3. Daj4 gataj34 so'2 gunï3 nej3 si3.

With a quote this short (and the Trique info I've already given you), the you should be able to make out the structure, though probably not the entire meaning. You can see that the quote is both preceded and followed by the phrase "gataj34 x gunï3 y"; this means "x said to y" (you could see that if you had more examples available to you). That is, Trique begins quotes by first saying who's saying what [to whom], and then concludes quotes by reiterating that fact (though one of the two may be omitted in short quotes; I actually did some looking to find an example that was both short and followed the typical customs); you can't see it in a quote this short, but usually the former will use pronouns, while the latter uses the full names of the speaker and listener. This was also how I learned the two basic third-person (first and second person pronouns were discovered somewhere else) pronouns and how plurals were constructed.

However, "x said to y" is not a literal translation. I knew from the beginning that "gataj34" meant 'said', but at first I thought that "gunï3" was simply a marker that indicated who was the target, experiencer, or some other role. This turned out to be incorrect. In fact, "gunï3" is a verb - to hear. What this is literally saying is "x said, y heard". This illustrates one of the interesting features of Trique: using short clauses with (preferably) intransitive verbs in series to form more complex thoughts and sentences.

This serial clause construction is also often used in places where languages like English would use relative clauses (I believe Trique does have relative clauses; they just aren't used as often), as is illustrated in the first line of the Lord's Prayer, which I posted previously. Another example (John 1:42) is also given, for a bit different structur:.

English: Our Father in heaven
Trique: Drej3 [father of] nej3 yunj2 [us] huuin2 [are] re'5 [you] nne2 [live in] re'5 [you] xata'4a [heaven].

English: You are Simon, son of John. But you will be called Cephas (Cephas means Peter).
Trique: Hue2 re'5 [you] huuin3 [are] Simón. Ni4 da'ni1 [son of] Juan huuin2 [are] re'5 [you] nej3. Sani4 hue2 re'5 dugu'na23 Cefas. Ni4 Cefas ruhuaj3 gata3 [means] huuej3'e [I'm guessing this is 'rock'].


Anonymous said...

I just read a little bit more on the Trique language and you really did pick a distinct one. Its higher-level language family is just roughly 2.3 million.

Reading the small samples of Trique, translation of the Bible passages would seem like a challenge although I'm not sure if the translation was English to Trique or Greek to Trique with influences of English sentence structure.

I'm guessing that your particular interest in Trique is based on its unique grammar rules and the workout that it gives your linguistic side.


Christian said...

If you ever want to chat about Trique, please drop me a line. I'm a linguist at UC Berkeley who has done fieldwork on the language for 3 years now.

-Christian DiCanio
dicanio at berkeley dot edu

Anonymous said...

Curious who your grandpa is, my father is the person who translated that Bible... from English to Trique... he would have interesting things to say about how the written language has changed since his efforts in the 1960's. Are you working with the Chicahuaxtla or San Martin Itunyoso version?