LotM - Nov 19: Balak
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The language of this November is total pleb's fascinating Balak! Read more for whistled sibilants, evidentiality, and a cool case system that combines case with definiteness!
This public article was written by Admin Sheep on 2 Nov 2019, 00:09.
[comments] jzglotm nov 19lotm Balak is the second language of the month in a row to come from Vaniu! In fact, although the two languages are unrelated, the grammar of Balak is similar in many ways to the grammar of Amaian, but contains its own fascinating details. Read on to learn why the Balak language is eternal!
Let's start our tour of Balak with an overview of its vowel system. The Balak vowel system contains a distinction that could be viewed as tense/lax, or could be viewed as short/long. There are 5 cardinal long vowels, /i: e: a: o: u:/, and five short lax vowels, /ɪ ɛ ɑ ɔ ʊ/. All in all, a lovely and symmetric system!
The consonants of Balak are far more tricky, and dare I say, more interesting. The nasals and stops are simple: /p b m t d n k g/, with velar and uvular allophones of /n/. The approximants are also simple: /j w l r/, with a tapped allophone of /r/. The fricatives and affricates, however, are very interesting. This is because, like its neighbor Amaian, Balak has whistled sibilants! There are both phonemic voiced and voiceless whistled sibilant fricatives, as well as a voiceless whistled sibilant affricate, which has a voiced allophone after a voiced consonant. The other interesting little corner of the Balak sibilant world is the uvular fricative section, where the phoneme /ʁ/ may appear as [χ] following a voiceless consonant, or may become an approximant [ʁ̞] in syllable codas (or in some dialects, everywhere!)
The typical structure of a Balak syllable is (C)(v)V(C). However, not all such syllables are possible: v can only occur after the consonants /t d k g/, and the whistled sibilants /sʷ zʷ/ cannot end a syllable. Several phonological processes operate in Balak, including progressive voicing assimilation of obstruents, degemination of consonant clusters, elision of stops before affricates, and assimilation of sibilant clusters. Balak has stress but not tone; stress is totally predictable (except in loanwords) but follows a complex set of rules. These rules could be interpreted as placing stress on the last heavy syllable, although the definition of heavy syllables is quirky, and includes for instance any syllable featuring a whistled sibilant!
Let's start our tour of Balak morphology with a cool little feature—the qumta. This is a term that can apply to both a thematic vowel that follows a root, or the stem created by that vowel. Both nouns and verbs can have a qumta stem, but the majority of each class do not. Certain forms of the noun (e.g. most singular forms) or verb (e.g. past perfectives) will have the qumta vowel, but others won't.
Another neat feature of Balak morphology is its vowel harmony. Based on whether they contain the back vowels /a o u/ (or their long counterparts) or the front vowels /i e/ in the final syllable of the noun, Balak nouns take either the back or front declension pattern. And what declension patterns they are! Unlike many languages, which decline nouns for every conceivable combination of case, number, and gender/animacy/class, Balak nouns are much more selective in what they mark and when. Balak nouns can be animate or inanimate, and with a few exceptions, only animate nouns mark plural. On the other hand, animate nouns don't mark the accusative case. Instead, they use the oblique case, which is also used for indirect objects and other beneficiaries. The citation form, called the direct case, is used for both the subject of a verb and for indefinite objects (whether animate or inanimate). The final two cases are the locative and postpositional, which are used for exactly what it says on the tin.
Now onto the verbs! Balak has no class of adjectives; instead, stative verbs are used. So instead of having an adjective meaning "eternal" and a copula, Balâçik yuşadamşar Balakia-DRDirect (case)
unmarked case, vs oblique or indirect eternal-NPSTNon-past (tense)
present, continuous and future-3IThird person inanimate (person)
it, not he/she/they uses the conjugated form of the stative verb yuşadam "to be eternal." The other two types of verb are transitive and intransitive. In each case, they inflect for the person, number, and animacy of the subject (the inanimate form, like inanimate nouns, does not inflect for number). Aside from agreement with the subject, verbs also mark evidentiality, mood (realis/irrealis only), tense (past vs. non-past), and aspect (perfective/imperfective). As with most other aspects of Balak grammar, these are not applied in a simple combinatorial fashion. The irrealis forms don't mark any tense, aspect, or evidentiality distinctions, and the aspect distinctions are only made in the past tense. That about wraps it up for our tour of the Balak verb!
[top]More on Balak
That wraps up our tour of Balak! There's always more to explore, so check out Balak's LexiBuild sets, translations, and grammar tables!
[top]A Note on Balak
Got suggestions for how the next LotM should be written? See something in Balak that wasn't covered and you wish it had been? Feel free to shoot us (protondonor, Hastrica) a PM with your questions, comments, and/or concerns. Also feel free to drop by the LotM clan if you have other feedback, want to join in the voting process, or nominate a language! Total pleb's incredible