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Note: For the purposes of this question, please do not assume that the Tongues of Ice and Fire Wiki is correct1 unless it references somewhere else.

The High Valyrian [grammatical] number page of the Tongues of Ice and Fire Wiki contains the statement that

Collectives often acquire a special meaning (e.g. muña "mother" → muñar "parents.") Sometimes this results in them being reanalyzed into entirely new words, with their own plural (e.g. azantys pl. azantyssy "soldier" → azantyr pl. azantyri "army").

High Valyrian has few irregularities (it is a conlang after all) and generally, when they exist, they're clearly noticed and pointed out. The issue I have is that, while there is a rule where collectives keep the gender of the word they're derived from, that 'rule' doesn't state whether or not completely new words do the same.

To give two opposing examples:

ābrar ['aːbrar]

n. 6col.1lun. life. (Relexicalized collective from ābra)

In the above, ābrar is listed as a lunar2 ('lun.') noun, as it is derived from a lunar noun (ābra). However, if it was reanalysed into a completely new word, it could potentially instead be listed as an aquatic ('aq.') noun, such as:

jēdar ['jeːdar]

n. 6col.1aq. year (col. of jēda time.)

If the rules are applied as consistently here as they are in the rest of the language, I'd either expect ābrar to be aquatic or jēdar to be lunar, so is there some rule that dictates if/when a reanalysed collective keeps/looses the gender of the word it's derived from?


1 It often has errors and part of the reason for asking this is to find and fix those errors

2 High Valyrian has 4 genders: lunar, solar, aquatic and terrestrial. Relevant to this question is that lunar nouns generally end in a vowel and aquatic nouns generally end in '-r'

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  • I think there are no rules. Some natural languages use similar mechanisms but they don't have any rules. Commented Feb 1, 2020 at 15:52

1 Answer 1

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I'm assuming that you're asking this question with regard to comparison with natural languages, as it appears that there is no overtly stated rule for High Valyrian in particular.

Whenever you're dealing with reanalysis, there generally aren't going to be rules ACROSS examples, even though there may be patterns. To illustrate, there are a handful of words in Modern English which start with an /n/ but come from older words without it (e.g., 'newt,' < Old English 'efete'), and symmetrically a handful which start with a vowel but came from older words which started with /n/ (e.g., 'adder,' < OE 'nǣdre'). In both cases, these are the result of rebracketing (a kind of reanalysis) of noun phrases with the article 'a(n),' during the period in Middle English when it was losing its final /n/ before consonants. But as you can see, the reanalysis could go in either direction, and of course there are many words (in fact the majority of such words) which retained their original character (e.g., 'acre' < OE 'æcer'; 'night' < OE 'niht'). This we cannot formulate a rule to explain these changes, although we definitely identify patterns, such as the fact that only nouns beginning in vowels or /n/ are affected.

It's also worth noting that in HV specifically, there is also a correlation between gender and animacy. In particular, lunar and solar nouns tend to be animate, while terrestrial and aquatic nouns tend to be inanimate. Given the meanings of the two words you cited, it is possible that speakers have resisted reanalyzing ābrar as aquatic because 'life' is arguably the most quintessentially animate word possible. 'Year,' on the other hand, presents no such problem, and so it is free to be reanalyzed as aquatic. I would wager that stuffy grammarians would likely formulate an artificial "rule" to the effect that zero-derived collectives like these maintain the gender of the base noun they come from, and that speakers adhere to that rule about as much as English speakers adhere to not ending words with prepositions (which is to say, not much). Of course, HV is a prestige language, so it is also conceivable that its speakers strive to speak a "pure" version of their language as a way of asserting their status, something we also see in nat langs.

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