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Stālāg (Terbian)

the language of the Terb


Cases and semantic roles

Nouns morphologically distinguish two grammatical cases, core and oblique. This morphological case is marked in the case-number complex that is suffixed to the noun. On top of that, two are specified in the core case by using word order and/or postposed particles.

The core case is used for the main arguments of the verb (subject and direct object). The oblique case is explained below.


Agents and Patients

The semantic roles for nouns in the core case are called Agentive and Patientive (or just Agent and Patient -- from now on A and P). Transitive verbs take A-subjects and P-objects. Intransitive verbs mark their subjects as either A or P (usually depending on semantic considerations), in a fixed way that is part of the definition of the verb. Therefore, Terbian can be termed an active split-S language.

For a given verb, word order and context are usually sufficient to distinguish A from P. Objects should always be marked if fronted or otherwise replaced from their usual slot directly after the verb. Objects that are proposition-final tend to be left unmarked.

The particle that marks the Agentive role is ye. The particle that marks the Patientive role is kos. Many speakers make these clitic and shorten them to -y and -ks, respectively. Personal pronouns, as well as deictics, have special Agentive and Patientive forms.

In informal or colloquial speech (not necessarily uneducated) the role particles are dropped altogether when word order suffices to make it clear which noun phrase is the agent and which is the patient. In these cases they are stated only for emphasis and/or when the usual word order is changed. The examples below all use the longer form.

1. Bardr ye agyot ĕppĕl kos.
bard-r  ye 0-  agy  -o -t   ĕppĕl-0  kos
man -SC A  SNO-close-SN-PRF door -SC P
man (agent) has closed door (patient)

2. Ĕppĕl kos agyakwos.
ĕppĕl-0  kos agy  -akw-o -s
door -SC P   close-MPV-SN-PRS
door (patient) is closed

3. Zemsr kos nullo io sīgebo ar.
zems-r  kos null -o -0   i   -o  sīgeb-o  ar
cat -SC P   sleep-SN-PRS that-SO mat  -SO on
cat (patient) sleeps on that mat (oblique)

Example #2 has the verb in the mediopassive voice, which will be explained in the verbs section. In this case, it transforms the dynamic verb ‘close’ into a static verb ‘be closed’.


The oblique case

The oblique case is used on its own, marking a subordinate noun, as a very general genitive or associative case, or a compounding operator. For example: nama zdenu ‘women’s tears’, kanta mĕls ‘stream of drops’.

The oblique case also governs all postpositions: stālō ar ‘in the lake’, jekkjeto ssē ‘like a diamond’. Curiously, this pattern is exactly what would be expected if postpositions where in fact nouns, and accordingly, postpositions can be inflected for oblique case to form a relative clause: stālō aro namr ‘the woman (that is) in the lake’.