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19 July, 2012

Strongly-integrated loan verbs and weak-final quadriconsonantal roots

Splitting quadriliteral verbs into strong and weak is not universal in the literature. At least Borg and Azzopardi-Alexander make no mention of this, however their treatment of quad verbs feels a little lacking to me. But they do make the following distinctions:

  1. Repeated bi-radical base, e.g. GEMGEM (G-M-G-M)
  2. Repeated third radical (C3), e.g. GERBEB (G-R-B-B)
  3. Repeated first radical (C1) after the second (C2), e.g. ŻERŻAQ (Ż-R-Ż-Q)
  4. Addition of a fourth radical to a triradical base, e.g. ĦARBAT (Ħ-R-B-T)

They make no reference to weak radicals in quad verbs. They then go on to discuss “strongly-integrated loan verbs”, i.e. verbs of Romance or even possibly English origin which have taken on completely regular Semitic-style morphology. The examples given are KANTA, VINĊA, and SERVA, which correspond to the 3 different verb endings in Italian (cantare, vincere, and servire respectively).

Spagnol agrees with this, but goes farther and actually classifies these verbs as quadriliteral verbs with the weak consonant J as the fourth radical. Here’s a table of some of the most common ones, including ones for which I could find no Romance origin word.

English Romance origin Għerq (Root) Mamma (Perf P3 Sg Masc) Imperative P2 Sg Perfect P1 Sg Perfect P3 Sg Fem
to sing cantare K-N-T-J kanta kanta kantajt kantat
to serve servire S-R-V-J serva servi servejt serviet
to win vincere V-N-Ċ-J vinċa vinċi vinċejt vinċiet
to ask - S-Q-S-J saqsa saqsi saqsejt saqsiet
to draw - P-N-Ġ-J pinġa pinġi pinġejt pinġiet
to enjoy godere G-W-D-J gawda gawdi gawdejt gawdiet
to talk parlare P-R-L-J parla parla parlajt parlat
to complete - L-S-T-J lesta lesti lestejt lestiet
to vary variare V-R-J-J varja varja varjajt varjat

Looking at the vowel patterns, we end up with a very neat division:

Romance ending Mamma (Perf P3 Sg Masc) Imperative P2 Sg Perfect P1 Sg Perfect P3 Sg Fem
-are a a a a
-ire/-ere/- a i e ie

In other words, the vowel patterns are always the same, except for when the verb derives from a Romance -are verb.

16 July, 2012

Vowel-change patterns in the Maltese “hollow” verb (moħfi)

The behaviour of consonant radicals in Maltese morphology is always predictable, but vowel changes are a lot less so. Consider this list of Maltese “hollow verbs”: that is, where the middle root is the weak consonant w or j (of course there are many more hollow verbs than the ones listed here, but I chose the ones which to me are most “common”).

English Mamma (Perf P3 Sg Masc) Għerq (Root) Perfect P1 Sg Imperative P2 Sg
to urinate biel B-W-L bilt bul
to kiss bies B-W-S bist bus
to take long dam D-W-M domt dum
to turn dar D-W-R dort dur
to taste daq D-W-Q doqt duq
to melt dab D-W-B dobt dub
to heal fieq F-J-Q fiqt fiq
to overflow far F-W-R fort fur
to bring ġab Ġ-J-B ġibt ġib
to sew ħiet Ħ-J-T ħitt ħit
to die miet M-W-T mitt mut
to wake up qam Q-W-M qomt qum
to want ried R-J-A ridt rid
to find sab S-J-B sibt sib
to become ready sar S-J-R sirt sir
to fast sam S-W-M somt sum
to drive saq S-W-Q soqt suq
to fly tar T-J-R tirt tir
to increase żied Ż-J-D żidt żid

The following vowel-change patterns emerge:

Long vowel in base form Middle radical Vowel in Perfect Vowel in Imperative/Imperfect Applicable verbs
a W o u dab, dam, dar, daq, far, qam, sam, saq
a J i i ġab, sab, sib, tar
ie J i i fieq, ħiet, ried, żied
ie J i u biel, bies
ie W i u miet

Conclusions from this minor study:

  1. The long vowel in the base form (mamma) does not necessarily determine the middle radical.
  2. Even the base form combined with the root is not enough to determine the vowel changes in the the perfect and imperative forms, as in the cases of fieq and biel. In such cases the imperative must be specified explicitly.

13 July, 2012

More detail than required

Research / , , / 12:04 pm

I consider it a design principle, in the Maltese resource grammar for GF, to choose linguistic correctness over representational efficiency. I think at many points I will be confronted with the possibility to combine certain linguistic subdivisions together, or completely leave out bits of linguistic information, as they would be non-required by the GF RGL API or simply making things more complicated internally. But if I want this project to be a valuable contribution to the body of computational resources for Maltese (ad not just to GF), then I need to include more than just “what is necessary”. This also goes well with the vision of being to extract linguistic information out of the resource grammar and use it elsewhere.

6 July, 2012

Partial tables

Research / / 1:48 pm

Though still in the early stages of the Maltese grammar, my feeling is that it is a language characterised by many partially-filled inflection tables. For example, my understanding so far is that there are 5 distinct number forms for nouns:

  1. Singulative (1 or more than 10)
  2. Collective (non quantifiable)
  3. Dual (exactly 2)
  4. Indeterminate plural (between 2 and 10)
  5. Determinate plural (non quantifiable)

My observations so far seem to indicate that a noun can have almost any combination of the above forms. In other words, when it comes to quantifying a noun to form a noun phrase, for example, one has to basically check which forms are available and then proceed accordingly. These following examples indicate, for me, this apparent lack of regularity in which forms can co-exist within any given noun:

English Singulative Collective Dual Determinate plural Indeterminate plural
leg riġel riġlejn
knee rkoppa rkopptejn rkoppiet
tooth sinna sinniet snien
tree siġra siġar siġriet
stone ġebla ġebel ġebliet ġbiel
leaf werqa weraq werqtejn werqiet

and so on.

This seems to also be the case when it comes to pronominal suffixes. Most nouns referring to body parts or “innate” things take such suffixes, but in many cases these tables seem incomplete, or only valid for certain number forms:

English Singular (+ P3 Sg Masc) Plural (+P3 Pl)
wife mara martu nisa – (in-nisa tagħhom)
tooth sinna – (is-sinna tiegħu) snien snienhom
face wiċċ wiċċu uċuħ uċuħhom

7 April, 2010

Fonts, Keyboards & Layouts – How to correctly type Maltese characters

UPDATE: Thomas Pace kindly pointed out this very helpful link which basically covers everything here, and includes steps for Apple’s OSX: http://www.kunsilltalmalti.gov.mt/filebank/documents/kompjuter.pdf

I’ve been asked many times how to enter Maltese characters on a computer – i.e. ċĊ, ġĠ, ħĦ and żŻ.
It turns out there’s a lot of misconceptions out there, and many people think that typing Maltese and other non-Latin characters requires a special keyboard and/or specially installed fonts. This is completely not true, and all users with a moderately modern computer are able to enter such characters by simply adding a selecting a different keyboard layout from their OS.

Below is a short explanation of the misconceptions, if you just want to see the steps for selecting a different keyboard layout, click here.

“Maltese Fonts” and why they’re such a bad idea

A few years ago, everyone thought these so-called “Maltese Fonts” were the solution to entering Maltese characters into your computer. These fonts are just copies of the usual fonts we all know (Arial, Times etc) but with certain characters redrawn, such that when you type a [ it is displayed as a ġ, } becomes Ħ and so on. Now if all you’re doing is typing into a word processor and printing directly from the same computer, the solution seems to work.

But what happens if you want to send a Maltese document to someone who doesn’t have these fonts installed? Well, they will still be able to open the document, but in place of the proper Maltese characters they would see different punctuation symbols. So the phrase Għażiż Ċali would become something like:

G]a\i\ `ali

People just accepted this, and would say to each other “you need to install the Maltese fonts in order to read the document”. But, it gets worse. What if you’re entering text somewhere which doesn’t allow you to change fonts? I you were filling in a form on  a web page or even writing an email, you would just forget the use of Maltese characters altogether.

To summarise, “Maltese Fonts” are a very short-sighted and inelegant solution. Thankfully, due to a little something called Unicode, all modern computers today will allow you to enter (and read) Maltese and other non-Latin characters, simply by changing your keyboard layout settings (see below).

“Maltese Keyboards” and why you don’t need one (but might still want one)

Another misconception I’ve heard is that in order to enter Maltese characters, you require special hardware — i.e. a “Maltese Keyboard”. This is not true, because all a Maltese keyboard really is is a standard US/UK keyboard with different symbols printed on the keys. Circuitry-wise, everything else is identical. In fact any keyboard can be used to enter any type of character, simply by changing your computer settings.

However, that being said, users may find that having a Maltese keyboard is helpful since they don’t need to remember that they need to press the [ button to produce a ġ and so on.

How to select the Maltese keyboard layout on your computer

The screenshots below are taken in Windows 7. Steps for Windows Vista and Windows XP are very similar, almost identical. Steps vary for Linux because of all the different distributions, for Mac OSX refer to the linked article above.

  1. Start → Control Panel
  2. “Change keyboards or other input methods”
  3. Click “Change Keyboards…”
  4. This shows all your installed keyboard layouts. Click Add.
  5. Choose one of the Maltese keyboard layouts:

    • If on your keyboard, the @ symbol is above the number 2, choose Maltese 47-key
    • Otherwise, if the symbol is above the 2 key, choose Maltese 48-key
  6. You can also preview the keyboard layout:
  7. After clicking OK to everything, you should now notice a new icon in your taskbar next to the time, called the Language bar with this icon:

    Click on it to change the desired input language. After changing it to Maltese, try pressing these keys on your keyboard:

[ { ] } `¬ \ | # ~

You should now see our lovely Maltese characters on your screen 🙂 (The last 4 will vary depending on whether you chose the 47 or 48-key layout).

Note that this setting is per-application. So, if you’re in Microsoft word and change it to Maltese, then switch to your email client, you will need to set the language again for that application. If you always want the Maltese keyboard layout to be the default active layout for all your applications, you can set it from the screen in point 4 above (under default input language).

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