[tlhIngan Hol] Moods and modality

Rhona Fenwick qeslagh at hotmail.com
Tue May 8 01:41:19 PDT 2018

ghItlhpu' SuStel, jatlh:
> Basically, how does one determine what moods a language actually has,
> and can we apply this to Klingon?

My understanding is that "mood" as linguistically defined refers to specifically morphological means of signalling modality (that is, the speaker's subjective attitude towards the action of the verb as it is, should be, or may be) on finite verbs, since lexical expressions of modality are presumably limitless in any given language. Also, I think moods in a morphological system of modality would need to be mutually exclusive, otherwise you'd start multiplying moods together and end up with a much more complicated system.

A challenge in distinguishing what constitutes mood and what doesn't is that the analysis varies from linguist to linguist; some linguists happily treat evidentiality, for instance, as a subset of modality, while others prefer to keep the two distinct (that's my perspective, since evidentiality is more about an objective statement of one's evidence for an assertion about what is, as opposed to one's subjective attitude towards what is, what should be, or what may be).

You might like to read Ferdinand de Haan's discussion on evidentiality and modality (begins on p.47 of the PDF):


Now, some tedious pondering on my part as to what this means for Klingon. Take all that follows with a good-sized grain of salt.

With the idea of clearly separating evidentiality from modality, I'd probably treat Klingon as having four distinct morphological moods: one realis (indicative), two deontic (imperative, optative -jaj), and one epistemic (interrogative -'a'). The other Type 9s are all basically involved in making a verb non-finite, either as subordinate clauses (-DI', -bogh, -chugh, -pa', -vIS, -meH) or nouns (-ghach, -wI'), and because non-finite, modality doesn't really apply.

Whether one would want to include the Type 2 suffixes in a count of moods is a more open question. I would tend to say no, because they seem to be able to happily co-occur with the non-indicative moods as well. In Turkish, -mAlI- forms (e.g. gelmeliyim "I must come") are often treated as a distinct necessitative mood, and the difference there is that a verb cannot be necessitative and any other mood at the same time: you can't have an imperative necessitative, for instance. Whereas in Klingon, as far as I know we can quite happily say something like mejnISjaj "may he have to leave" (even if the circumstances in which one would say something like that would be rather narrow).

The Type 6 qualification suffixes fall pretty neatly into the category of evidentiality (and for me therefore not mood, though again, depends on one's analysis).

For type 3, I think that's more aspect, though not the classic forms seen in the Type 7 aspect suffixes. -choH corresponds pretty neatly to what linguists call inchoative aspect, which is not uncommon in various languages. Much rarer is the idea of resumption that -qa' shows, but the Google overlords indicate there's a morphological resumptive aspect "again, starting again" in Kiliwa, a language of Baja California in Mexico. (Tangentially, Kiliwa was the dissertation topic of one Mauricio Mixco, who completed his doctorate at UC Berkeley, in the 1970s, and under the supervision of Mary Haas. Coincidence? I doubt it.)

Type 8 (-neS) seems clearly just an honorific, with no other real semantic function (a couple of strange KGT examples aside).

Type 4 (-moH), as a valency-changing device, would usually be referred to as voice (cp. other valency-changing devices like passive, middle, antipassive, etc.).

Finally, Type 5. Here things get kind of interesting. -lu' isn't passive as such; we know that. But like the English passive, and indeed the Klingon causative, it's a valency-changing operation, therefore voice. -laH is a bit different because it doesn't actually alter valency in modern Klingon, so it's hard to call it voice sensu stricto. However, I've just discovered that in Japanese grammar what's usually called the "potential voice" originates from a form not unlike the passive, and has two case-marked forms, one of which does alter valency:

Active: Tomoko ga mizu o nomimasu "Tomoko drinks water"
Passive: Mizu ga (Tomoko ni) nomaremasu "water is drunk (by Tomoko)"
Potential: Tomoko ga mizu o nomemasu "Tomoko is able to drink water"
Potential: Mizu ga (Tomoko ni) nomemasu "water is drinkable (by Tomoko)"

It may be worthy of noting that English deverbal adjectives in -able are generally passive in nature too: drinkable is not "able to drink", but "able to be drunk". Perhaps an insight (within the game, at least) into the historical origin of why Klingon -laH patterns with -lu'?

QeS 'utlh
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