[tlhIngan Hol] intransitivity

Will Martin willmartin2 at mac.com
Mon Feb 24 13:55:11 PST 2020

Transitivity is a little messy in Klingon.

We have a few examples, like {vum} which we know is “intransitive” in the sense that the subject is the thing moving and if an agent causes something else to move, then {vemmoH [agent]}. We didn’t get that from canon examples. We got it from a conversation with Okrand about that specific verb. He doesn’t talk about most verbs like that, so we have to guess.

Even if we have an example or two of a verb being used transitively or intransitively, we can’t know for sure if the non-canon interpretation of canon is wrong if we haven’t had that explained to us because some verbs get used both ways. We also know why this is true:

Okrand doesn’t want to mark a verb one way and later forget and use it the other way, so he doesn’t want to tell us which way is right so we won’t come back to him and tell him later that he’s using it wrong.

And even if we know a verb is transitive, what specific kinds of things can be the direct object of any specific verb, so that these things don’t need a Type 5 suffix to link them to the verb? It can be somewhat intuitive, but it also can be quite arbitrary. 

{ja’} and {jatlh} has changed over time, for example. Originally, the direct object of {ja’} was the person spoken to, and the direct object of {jatlh} was the language or noun-representing-words-being-said (like a poem or a speech). It was a neat difference between the two verbs. Then it got smeared by canon example, and now, it’s not really obvious that either verb is wrong for either kind of object.

… which brings us back to why Okrand doesn’t want to get specific about this stuff.

So, we have to guess. It’s probably the most obviously vague area of Klingon grammar.

To be fair, in any language, there are certain nouns that work great as direct objects of certain verbs and other nouns that, by cultural convention, should not be used. If you speak the language, you know which nouns work and which ones don’t. If you don’t speak the language as a native, you can easily err out of honest ignorance, as we are doomed to do in Klingon.

charghwI’ vaghnerya’ngan

rInpa’ bomnIS be’’a’ pI’.

> On Feb 22, 2020, at 1:12 PM, Hugh Son puqloD <Hugh at qeylIS.net> wrote:
>> On Feb 22, 2020, at 11:03, SuStel <sustel at trimboli.name> wrote:
>> When writing a dictionary, remember that it's not just whether a word is transitive or intransitive, it's whether a particular sense of a word is transitive or intransitive. A translating dictionary will tell you that Suv means fight, but it may not tell you that it can be used transitively, where the object is the entity being fought against, or intransitively, where the subject is engaging in a general activity of fighting, possibly against itself. It's not enough just to say "Suv is transitive."
> We also don’t actually know with certainty whether many verbs are transitive or intransitive. We just use them transitively or intransitively based on how we interpret their glosses. Just recently somebody on the Discord server was asking how, if {voQ} is intransitive, one could use it in a sentence like “A choked B”. The answer, of course, would be to use {-moH}, but that answer is completely dependent on the assumption that {voQ} is intransitive in the first place. I think it is a bit of a stretch, in the absence of canonical examples of that verb being used. And even if we have a canonical example of it being used either transitively or intransitively, that doesn’t rule out it behaving like {meQ}, unless we have very explicit information that it’s *only* used some ways and not others, which is a level of information we really don’t have for most verbs.
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