Formal-Functional difficulties

I have been in denial about this with the Bardi grammar for some time now, but the current revision work means I can’t ignore it.

There are several different approaches that can be taken to describing Bardi. One is to orient the grammar around the morphology. There’s a lot of morphology, so there is no shortage of forms to base a description around. The second is to base it around constructions, or your grammatical unit of choice. The third takes speech acts/functions as the organising principle. Of course, different aspects of grammars work better one way than another. But I have a whole hodgepodge of topics which don’t seem to fit together coherently.

One is possessive marking. Some nouns have possessive marking as a prefix; others only have a pronoun, but the order of element isn’t fixed, and possessives are also used for non-possessive meanings. Either a unitary set of concepts is split over multiple morphology-based chapters, or the possession marking is kept together but the contents of the section cover morphology, syntax and agreement patterns.

The sequence in which information is introduced is also problematic. It makes sense to put all the morphophonology and boundary stuff in one place, but it requires some explanation of clitics which hasn’t happened at that point.

This is not a new problem for grammar writers, of course.


One response to “Formal-Functional difficulties

  1. My solution so far has been to organize everything around the morphology (the chapter on the Tlingit verb is 1/2 of the whole grammar). I have to deal with things like ergativity, possession, noun classification with classificatory verbs, directionals, and so forth, all the sorts of things which would be scattered across the grammar if dealt with strictly according to morphology.

    Instead, what I do is write copiously about one topic in what seems to be the most logical place for it, then stick in little sections where the morphological description requires it that address only that morphological phenomenon and then reference the big section where all of the meaty description is. So in the section on sentence structure there’s a big section which describes (or will describe) syntactic and morphological ergativity. Then in the noun chapter the section on the ergative case suffix describes how it works and then refers the reader to the sentence structure section on ergativity for more details. This leads to some redundancy, but it’s better for the reader because they don’t have to go hunting for the only place where everything about a topic is described, but they can refer to the main descriptive section if they want more details.

    What do you mean by organizing around speech acts/functions? Some examples?

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