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Morphology: No Inflexions

The original version of this page was written for Bax (Piashi); it was subsequently modified for Brx (Pulashi). The only difference, however, is in the choice of letter symbols for personal pronouns.

DP (Design Principles ) 6, 12.

Note: the phonetic transcription in these pages is a broad transcription.

1. Introduction

By a judicious use of separators, we can not only segregate morphemes but allow strings of morphemes to be unambiguously written without the need for 'white space' as a separator; this is obviously helpful in a briefscript. It means there is in effect no formal written distinction in Brx between a particle, an adposition or an affix. This blurs to some extent the distinction between morphology and syntax.

In traditional western grammar grammatical categories are termed 'parts of speech'. Sometimes the parts of speech of Classical Latin and Greek have been assumed to be universal and some IALs, indeed, have specifically marked their own parts of speech this way. This is, of course, Eurocentric and Brx will not follow this course.

In fact the only two major categories which seem to be universally observed are those of noun and verb. Two other major categories, adjective and adverb, are instantiated in some languages, but their treatment varies considerably. Also most languages have minor categories such as conjunctions, adpositions and particles. The latter are not normally inflected (though some languages, e.g. Insular Celtic and the the Semitic languages, have inflected adpositions) and will not be considered here.

Here we shall consider only the major grammatical categories, which many languages inflect to a lesser or greater degree.


2. Nouns

Natural languages may inflect nouns & pronouns for number, gender and case. Let us consider these in turn.

2.1 Number
Most IALs have compulsory marking of singular and plural. This, however, is almost certainly because the majority are of European origin. It is noteworthy that Frater, constructed in 1957 by the Vietnamese linguist Phạm Xuân Thái, does not have any plural marker. No compulsory expression of either number is found in the nouns of the Sino-Tibetan languages, nor in Vietnamese, Khmer, Japanese or Korean. The most important language in the Sino-Tibetan group is Chinese, which is the language of about a quarter of the human race.
Therefore, in accordance with DP 12, Brx will also have no compulsory plural (or singular) affix.
2.2 Gender
However, no IAL has introduced grammatical gender, some though have compelled their speakers to be explicit about 'natural gender' or sex. Usually, as in Esperanto and in the original version of Volapük, the male gender is presupposed and female gender is explicitly marked. It is noteworthy, however, that languages which have been created spontaneously, namely creoles and stabilized pidgins like the Haitian Creole and the Tok Pisin of Melanesia do not reflect this patriarchal outlook. Nor indeed do some IALs such as Novial and Arie de Jong's reformed version of Volapük.
Brx will have no grammatical gender and no compulsory marking of natural gender or sex.
2.3 Case
The Indo-European languages have shown a gradual reduction in case form over the centuries. Neither English nor the Romance languages, except Romanian, retain case forms for nouns, while their pronouns hold on to a much reduced form of the earlier case system. Welsh has gone even further and dropped case distinctions in the pronouns as well. Other languages such as the Bantu languages and Chinese have no case forms.
Thus in accordance with DP 12, Brx will not inflect for case. Nouns and pronouns will show their relationship to the rest of the syntax through syntax, not morphology.

In short: Brx nouns are invariable and do not inflect for number, gender or case.


3. Personal Pronouns

I have put these into a separate section since many natural languages allow distinctions of number, gender or case among pronouns, though not allowing the same among nouns.

3.1 Case & Gender
Often natural languages that have dropped case forms in nouns still retain them with personal pronouns, e.g. English: I ~ me; he ~ him etc.; French: je ~ me; il ~ le ~ lui etc. Some IALs imitate this behavior, e.g. Occidental (aka Interlingue), and Interlingua. Generally, however, if an IAL has noun cases, it has the same ones for personal pronouns (e.g. Volapük: Nom., Gen., Dat., Acc.; Esperanto: Nom. & Acc.; Novial Nom. & Gen.) and if, like Frater, Glosa, and Lingua Franca Nova, nouns have no case endings, neither do the pronouns. Also important languages like Chinese also do not change pronouns to show case.

As Brx has no grammatical gender it remains only to consider whether, as in English he ~ she ~ it, Brx pronouns will show natural sex distinctions. But the modern forms such as 's/he' and the common use of 'they, them' in modern English as a singular epicene pronoun warns us against this. Also one recalls that Finno-Ugric languages do not make such distinctions in the 3rd person pronoun and spoken Chinese uses just for he, she, it, Brx will not make such distinctions either.

Brx personal pronouns will not inflect for case, gender or sex.

3.2 Number
3.2.1 1st person
In "An International Language" (1928), Otto Jespersen observed that: ' ... "we" does not mean several "I's", but "I + someone else or several others" ... '.

Other people have made similar observations. Indeed, very many languages do not use a plural formed from the singular, but use quite different morphemes for the singular and plural forms, e.g.

singularI, meje, me, moi énmimi, ni-ndi-, -m-
pluralwe, usnous mi sisi, tu-si-, -thi-

Some languages, indeed, have two different plurals, e.g.

singularaku, sa(ha)yaaho
exclusive plural
(I and others, excluding you)
inclusive plural
(I and you (and others))

It is often claimed that having distinct inclusive and exclusive 1st person plurals is an advantage. Maybe so - but the majority of the world's languages get along perfectly well without making the inclusion or exclusion of 'we/us' compulsory; therefore Brx will not make it compulsory either.

Brx has no plural marker; it will use two separate words: one for "I/ me," and the other for '"we/us."

3.2.2 2nd person
English has just one pronoun you which does duty for both singular and plural; in Malay-indonesian the one word kamu similarly does duty for both singular and plural. Many other languages also, while having a separate word for informal singular (e.g. French: tu/ te/ toi) or separate words for both informal singular and informal plural (e.g. German: du/ dir/ dich ~ ihr/ euch) use the same form in formal language for both singular and plural (e.g. French: vous; German: Sie).

Therefore, in accordance with DP 12 Brx will make neither the expression of plurality compulsory nor the distinction between informal and formal 2nd person pronouns.

Brx will have only one 2nd person pronoun.

3.2.3 3rd person
Although English has singular forms with a separate plural 'they/them', the latter pronouns are often used in modern colloquial English as a singular pronoun, irrespective of sex, e.g. "The user should consult chapter 3 of their manual where they will also find further details on troubleshooting." Also in Malay-Indonesian, which does not have compulsory marking of number (nor of gender or case), the pronoun ia/ dia may do duty for either singular or plural (though plural can be specifically indicated if required). Indeed, as the 3rd person is used anaphorically, and as Brx nouns do not have compulsory indication of number, then it would seem logical that 3rd person pronouns should not do so either.
3.3 Summary of Brx Personal Pronouns
Person speaking or writing v [m]/I, me
Speaker/ writer and others c [ci]we, us
Person or persons addressed q [ku]you
Person(s) or thing(s)
other than the speaker/ writer
or the addressee(s)
 t [ta]he, him; she, her; it; they, them


4. Verbs

Natural languages may inflect verbs for tense, aspect, mood, voice and agreement with one or more of the verbal arguments. Let us consider these in turn.

4.1 Tense & Aspect
Although tense, in its proper meaning, and aspect are two different categories, in traditional grammar the term 'tense' is often used in a very loose way that covers both tense and aspect (and sometimes other features such as mood). For example, many languages, such as Latin and the Romance languages, are said to possess an 'imperfect tense'; this form, in fact, combines both past tense and imperfective aspect.

Tense, strictly speaking, is the grammatical category which correlates most directly with time. We are accustomed to thinking of past, present and future as such tenses are found in Latin. But English, in fact, has only two tenses: non-past ~ past (the so-called 'future', being expressed by modal verbs 'will' and 'shall'), for example: John lives in Canada ~ John lived in Canada; Miriam is going to London ~ Miriam was going to London; Ahmed has finished ~ Ahmed had finished; Karen says she will come today ~ Karen said she would come today. Chinese lacks even this minimum and has no tenses at all.

It will be seen from the English examples that John lived, Miriam was going and Ahmed had finished are all past tenses, but they express different aspects. In some languages aspect plays an important role, In Arabic, for example, the verb has no tenses; apart from the imperative, the verb has two finite forms, traditionally known as the 'perfect' and the 'imperfect'; some people, however, prefer to call them 'perfective' and 'imperfective' since they do not mean what 'perfect' & 'imperfect' means in Latin, but denote two different aspects. Modern Chinese, which has also has no tenses, does have four different aspect suffixes, -le (the most common), -guò, -zhe & -ne, which may be added to the verb, as well as allowing the verb to be use with no aspect suffix.

However, like tense, aspect is not universally marked and, indeed, there are more possible aspects than just two or four, for example: perfective, imperfective, perfect, progressive, habitual, durative, punctual, iterative. No language requires that all these be compulsorily marked.

Brx will have no formal tense marking, nor any compulsory aspectual marking.

4.2 Mood
This is a grammatical category that expresses the degree of reality of a proposition from the speaker's or writer's point of view. This category appears to be universal, but its mode of expression varies, The oldest Indo-European languages appear to have had four moods denoted by inflexion: indicative, subjunctive, optative and imperative. Over the centuries, these have become reduced. The optative was early fused with the subjunctive in most; the subjunctive has tended to fuse with the indicative and has virtually disappeared from modern English, in which there is now no formal inflexional distinction either between indicative and imperative. Similar trends are found in many other Indo-European languages.

In English, difference of mood is shown by using modal auxiliaries such as can ~ could, may ~ might, shall ~ should, will ~ would, must etc. Modern Chinese also uses modal auxiliaries such néng, hue, yào, yīnggāi.

Brx also will not use inflexions to show mood, but make use of modal auxiliaries.

4.3 Voice
This is the grammatical category which expresses the relationship between the participant roles of the NP (noun phrase) arguments of a verb and the actual grammatical relations born by those NPs. For example, in English the verb "give" has three NPs arguments - Agent, Patient, Recipient - which may variously grammaicalized thus:
  1. John gave Mary a lovely present - active voice:
    the Agent is the subject; the Recipient is the indirect object; the Patient is the direct object.
  2. Mary was given a lovely present by John - passive voice (with retained object):
    the Recipient is the subject; the Patient is the direct object; the Agent is an oblique NP, being the object of the preposition by.
  3. A lovely present was given to Mary by John - passive voice (without retained object):
    the Patient is the subject; the Recipient is an oblique NP, being the object of the preposition to; the Agent is an oblique NP, being the object of the preposition by.

Version (3) is somewhat unusual in English, but is the more common form in most languages with active and passive voices; indeed, in most such languages version (2) is not permitted.

It is sometimes claimed that the passive voice is useful if the Agent is not known or cannot be easily defined. But even languages with a passive voice often prefer an alternative active form with some undefined subject such as "they" or "people" and some use a reflexive form, cf:

  • French: on parle français (active voice, "one speaks French")
  • Italian: si parla italiano (reflexive: "Italian speaks itself")
  • English: English is spoken (passive voice)

Nor are active and passive the only two voices; other categories of voice exist in some languages, such as the middle, reflexive, causative and adjutative inter alia.

Tibetan and Chinese inter alia do perfectly without any voice whatsoever. In view of the wide differences in practice among the world's languages, and that a widely spoken language like Chinese manage without any formal voice marking, the verb in Brx will have no formal marking for voice.


Adjectives & Adverbs

Although we may define an adjective as a word that can be used in a noun phrase to specify some property of the head noun of the phrase, adjectives do not necessarily form a distictive category in many languages. According to Thomas Payne "Some languages have no formally distinct category of adjectives. In such languages, property concepts are expressed as either nouns or as verbs depending upon how they are used in discourse" [Payne, Thomas E (1997), Describing Morphosyntax, Cambridge: CUP].

Where adjectives do form a separate category a common type of inflexion involves their 'agreeing' the the head noun in some way, usually having different forms for gender and number. Often they will also have inflexions which show case agreement. As Brx nouns will be invariant with no grammatical inflexions, it follows that property concepts will also not have any such inflexions, i.e. they will not form a separate category that shows agreement with nouns.

Some languages do have inflexions to show comparison. In such languages there is usually a 'comparative' and 'superlative' form, e.g. long ~ longer ~ longest. Some languages also have an 'equative' degree of comparison, cf. Welsh: cryf (strong) ~ cryfed (as/so strong) ~ cryfach (stronger) ~ cryfaf (strongest). However, many such languages also have analytical forms, thus in English we have: careful ~ more careful ~ most careful; and in Welsh we may have: cryf ~ mor gryf (as/so strong) ~ mwy cryf (stronger) ~ mwyaf cryf (strongest). In the Romance languages comparison is always analytical except for a very small number of adjectives, and in languages such as Chinese equivalent meanings are always expressed analytically. Therefore, following Design Principle 12, Brx will also express comparison analytically.

It follows, theefore, that words denoting property concepts will be invariant in Brx, that is morphologically indistinguishable from nouns and verbs. They will not form a distinct category of 'adjectives'.

The category labelled 'adverb' in English and many other languages contains words of wide range of semantic concepts. In practice any word with a semantic content (i.e. not a grammatical particle) which cannot be clearly categorized as a noun, a verb or an adjective, has been put into the class of adverbs.

Typically, adverbs are invariant ; but in some languages many, though not all, types of adverb can be inflected for degrees of comparison. The observations concerning comparison of adjectives applies also to the comparison of adverbs. It follows, therfore, that any Brx word which might be classified as an adverb in English and other occidental languages will be invariable in Brx and morphologically indistinguishable from nouns and verbs.


As neither nouns nor verbs in Brx will have any grammatical inflexions, there is no formal morphological distinction between them. There is only one class of words with lexical meaning.