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The curious case of the English comma

Translator’s note: here, English examples are in bold, while Ŋarâþ Crîþ terms will be in italics.

Glosses are in Ŋarâþ Crîþ for extra amusement; where a gloss uses a special glossing symbol, I have chosen to use the English abbreviation.

For most of the dono English has an equivalent: . ; ? ! are the equivalents of the gen, tja, šac and cjar, respectively, while “ ” correspond to the fos and þos. is used in some cases, roughly corresponding to the ŋos of Ŋarâþ Crîþ, while the łil, rin and cin lack any equivalent in English. However, English uses several dono that are absent in Ŋarâþ Crîþ, most notably the comma, which looks like the following: ,

It is clear that the comma is different from a gen, as it is ungrammatical to end a sentence with it; it is also different from a tja, as seen below:

(Ung.) This is a golden ring, my mother gave it to me when I was young.

Instead, a ; is used in this case:

This is a golden ring; my mother gave it to me when I was young.
ela censit.1.3SG mina.1 erłen sarta; cema’pe cemat.PAST tfoso cem’ac NELSER cemen’pe ÐÊS cem’pe censit.1.1SG.PAST nôrit 1
ela erłen sarta; a nôrit’pe tfoso gcemeleþ.

Another possibility is to use a conjunction2:

This is a golden ring, and my mother gave it to me when I was young.

In this case, the comma is used before the conjunction. However, when the second clause lacks an explicit subject, the comma is omitted:

The squirrel picked up an acorn and climbed a tree.
lê.1 malin nerlit-PAST B«nerlit» mina.1 vricos ’ce sênnotat-PAST mina.1 ener 3
malin vricon nerlime enen sênnoteþ.

Special independent clause phrases in English also behave unusually: while it is grammatical to have them alone in a sentence (consider Yuck! glac! or Tom! navas# *#tom!), they cannot be separated by semicolons from other independent clause phrases:

(Ung.) Tom; can you wash the clothes?
(Ung.) Wash the clothes; please.
(Ung.) In addition; two of the pigs have died.
(Possibly ungrammatical) Yuck; there is mould on the bread!

Rather, a comma is used in these cases:

Tom, can you wash the clothes?
*#tom pentat cem’ve nirłit lê.1 selto
*#tomi; selton nirłit pentes?

Wash the clothes, please.
nirłit lê.1 selto da
le selton nirłas da.

In addition, two of the pigs have died.
olasta nefa SRANA lê.1 merca-PL ŊAČAT dranlit-PPTCP
olasta; mercac nefa ndranlanta.

Yuck, there is mould on the bread!
glac emgren censit.1.3SG goroco čil lê.1 lava
glac; lovas čil goroco veła!

These examples indicate that ‘special independent clause phrases’ are different from independent clause phrases in English.

Another curiosity is the so-clause, some of whose examples in English are given:

If more of our pigs die, we won’t have any food left.
so daþa SRANA gcemo’pe merca-PL dranlit cemar’pe OMÎS-AÞ MIRŁIT nema têŋ cerit-PPTCP
ndaþon merco’pe ndranlo so šinen têŋ carmirła.

Because you don’t have important decisions to make, you’ll surely find your craft.
fose cem’ve INORA-AÞ MIRŁIT vandat sôm-PL NELSER remat cem’ve-OMÎS corþa-RÞ mečit cema’ve cþiremo
vandos sôm ceła fose os cþiremon’ve m·ečit’ve mene.

When I looked through the window, I noticed something floating in the air.
pena_ontas cem’pe varmenat-PAST NASO lê.1 celmas cem’pe menvaðit.1-PAST sar movit-PTCP es lê.1 avona
a gcolmasna varmenat’pe avonena movaþa pen menvaðapeþ.

Note that the so-word appears at the beginning of the clause, rather than at the end as in Ŋarâþ Crîþ. In all cases above, a comma is used after the so-clause. There is an analogous pattern with prepositional phrases modifying clauses:

After the long battle, only the injured warrior remained.
mîr lê.1 arantar circþîm REDEN lê.1 anljat-PPTCP noršidir cerit
cereþan aranten circþimînsa mîr anljaŋ noršidir šinos censaþ.

A so-clause or adverbial prepositional phrase can be placed after the main clause as well, in which case the comma is omitted:

We won’t have any food left if more of our pigs die.
You’ll surely find your craft because you don't have important decisions to make. «c»
I noticed something floating in the air when I looked through the window.
Only the injured warrior remained after the long battle.

However, data collected from +merlan #flirora4 indicates that for most writers, the comma can, in fact, be placed before because in sentence «c»; in fact, it is preferred to have the comma at that position than not.

You know nothing, because you’re only a kid. «e»
cem’ve racrit ces.1 fose cem’ve-censit.1 REDEN mina.1 ferna
fernan varas fose šinon cerecas.

Similarly, in sentence «e», the comma is preferred, although not as strongly as in «c». Further study is required to find out why postposed because might trigger a comma, while postposed so-clauses without because do not.

Barring this oddity, however, one can notice that both ‘special independent clause phrases’ and so-clauses are dependent clauses that modify an entire clause. That is, in English, vocatives and interjections are prototypically dependent clauses that happen to be able to stand alone in a sentence. However, this explanation is unsatisfactory because it does not account for comma usage in postposed clauses of this type:

Wash the clothes, please.
We won’t have any food left if more of our pigs die.

In addition, the comma is used for other purposes than separating a dependent clause modifying another clause. A nonexhaustive list of such uses is shown below:

Conjunction of three or more items:
I bought an apple, a chair and a plum.
cem’pe vaðit.PAST mina.1 nemir mina.1 njantos ’ce mina.1 jatol
nemin njanton’ce jaten’ce vaðeþ.
(Some writers also place a comma before the and.)

Clarifying the status of a referent like a shadow:
I come from Veanse, a city high in the mountains.
cem’pe nelsit.paðere ŊÊLIS @veanse mina.1 artfaþo ragit es lê.1 cercêl-PL
corcôr es ragirþ vełen artfaþen @veanse tectesto’pe.

My sister, who goes to the school by the river, is wearing a new cloak.
cema’pe armo penna nelsit-3SG NELSER lê.1 sarałes djorłas lê.1 eltes celsit.1.3SG pelčit-PTCP mina.1 nafit cačraþ
eltin dirłen sarałeþa ninła armo’pe nafan cačran pelča.
(The writer has only one armo, so the underlined clause could be omitted without losing information. If there were multiple armo, such that the underlined clause would be essential, then the commas would be omitted.)

Between two attributive verbs modifying the same noun in some cases:
This is the old, creaky chair.
ela celsit.1.3SG lê.1 sildrit ihegit njantos
ela sildrime ihegos njantos.

As seen from the examples above, the comma appears to lack any unifying trigger. A complicating factor is that in casual writing, many of the rules of punctuation are flouted; for instance, instead of Tom, can you wash the clothes?, one might write (ung.) tom can you wash the clothes. Further study is required to ascertain what underlying cause licenses the comma, if there is any.

+menþe #seþalor
Translated by +merlan #flirora
  1. mother can mean either melco or tfoso depending on the gender of oneself. There are many kinship terms that act this way in English. 

  2. Note that English uses the same set of conjunctions, regardless of whether nouns or verbs are being conjoined. 

  3. pick up has a meaning that cannot be inferred from the constituent parts – namely sênnotat

  4. A lanky, eccentric person with black hair, in fact.