This post is about a particle of uncertain function in the language we’ve been studying in ‘Field Methods’. It was observed both as a sentence-particle, as well as part of some verbs, and also as a noun-suffix. The question is about whether these are related, and what the relation might be.

In Parts I – III, I survey some of the relevant data. In Parts IV and V, I propose two hypotheses about the particle. In Part VI, I conclude that there may be two distinct ‘so’ elements, and that each may give rise to an unexpected relationship between data-points, but that neither unexpected relationship may have to do with directionality.

I. ‘sɔ’ in a verb

Doing a quick ctrl+F of ‘sɔ’ in the Swadesh list main sheet, we see it come up in the verbs ‘walk’ and ‘flow’. ‘walk’ is given as [sɔʔɔd], but in the sentences it is changed to [usʌɔte]:

[ħælimo wʔheɪ usʌɔte sɪ dɔχsehɔ] (Halimo walked quickly, [dɔχsehɔ] meaning quickly.)
[ħælimo wʔheɪ usʌɔte sɪ tartibə] (Halimo walked slowly, [tartibə] meaning slowly.)

For ‘flow’, it comes up as:

[ħælimo di:keɾɑ wu: sɔdea] (Halimo’s blood flows, [di:keɾɑ] meaning ‘her blood’.)

One interesting point about the verbs for ‘flow’ and ‘walk’ is their superficial similarity in terms of consonants and vowels, as well as meaning; it was noted in the spreadsheet that the consultant said that the word she supplied for ‘flow’ was an inexact translation of ‘walk’.

II. ‘walk’ and ‘flow’

We have two sentences for ‘walk’ in the spreadsheet and one from Moodle.

a. [ħælimo wʔheɪ usʌɔte sɪ dɔχsehɔ/tartibə] – Halimo walked quickly/slowly.
b. [wəhħɐ̃n dʊl soʔəde kɛɪmɐhɐ] – I was walking in the woods.
c. [wuhħɐn kʌsi/ku soɜdeɪ dukaːnkə] – I walk from/to the store.

From our study of verbal inflection, it seems to me that the ‘-adə-‘  suffix/infix seems to indicate progressive tense or aspect. In (a), the irregular form there might be due to the verb inflection reflecting gender.

At the same time, we have a sentence for ‘flow’ from the spreadsheet.

d. [ħælimo di:keɾɑ wu: sɔdea]

Here the consultant observed that [sɔdea] was an inexact translation of ‘flow’, and that it was also used to mean ‘walk’.

These two data-points suggest that if ‘sɔ’ isn’t a morphological root, it might be an etymological one. On the broadest level of meaning, it could encode something like change in general (of position, flux). 

III. ‘so’ in verbs, conjugations, and sentences

ctrl+F for ‘so’ turns up more results, as part of a verb, conjugation, or in a sentence as an apparently separate morpheme.

One tendency is for it to turn up in sentences which involve a change in position: going in the house (sentence), walking in the woods (verb), or falling down (sentence).

A second trend is in sentences with the word ‘will’, e.g. ‘will wash the dog’, ‘will see the snake’. This is similar to the sentence with ‘so’ about swimming in the immediate future which we elicited in class.

A third interesting sentence is about the bag that Farah brings with him to school:

[fɐɾɐħ ʃɪndʌdiso wəhe lɐkħɐbte skul]

[ʃɪndʌdiso] here was glossed as ‘his bag’ in the spreadsheet, but from some other tests to do with possession, I think probably means something more like ‘with his bag’.

The fourth instance was also interesting, this being a sentence about Farah never fearing snakes:

[fɐɾɐħ wɐlʌgis mʌ kɐʕɐbsodo mʌs.so]

[wɐlʌgis] probably means ‘never’, while [kɐʕɐbso] was glossed as ‘to fear’ in the spreadsheet. We actually see ‘so’ twice in this sentence, the other being in [mʌs.so]

IV. Anticipation, fear of snakes

One hypothesis that I am considering is simply that ‘so’ as a sentence-particle encodes the anticipation of change. This is related to the conjecture about its etymological significance.

We see ‘so’ in sentence referring to the expectation of change (‘will wash the dog’, ‘will swim’ in the immediate future, etc.)

If ‘to fear’ was given as the translation of [kɐʕɐbso] (rather than written as a gloss), then this would seem to be a nice dovetail as far as etymological meaning is concerned. 

Generalizing this to the verbs for ‘walk’ and ‘flow’, I might say that there is an etymological relation for ‘so’ as a sentence particle and ‘so’ in some movement-verbs.

V. Noun-suffix, and a particle for subjective perspective

‘so’ in the sentence about the bag ([ʃɪndʌdiso]) and the second instance of ‘so’ in the sentence about the snake ([mʌs.so]) seem to be related to each other at the level of being noun-suffixes, indicating a noun in a specific kind of subsidiary relation to the subject. An interesting test might be to see if the word-order is flexible in either sentence, as this might lend support to the hypothesis that the suffix indicates some theta relation. Might we be able to say [fɐɾɐħ mʌs.so wɐlʌgis  mʌ kɐʕɐbsodo], for instance?

On the other hand, this suffix wouldn’t seem to be related to anticipation of change.

At the same time, if it indicates some kind of relation between subjects, then its appearance in the sentences about going into a house might be explicable in that way. The sentences about going into a house are as follows:

[gorigɐ be so gælijɛn] – They went into the house.
[gorigɐ be so gʌlɐ:n] – They go into the house.

In section III I observed one trend  about ‘so’ turning up in sentences about movement or a change in position, but this would appear to be a false lead, in light of the conjectures made so far. Whereas the sentence-particle in the sentences about falling and going into the house would be related, the ‘so’ element in the verb for ‘walk’ would be distinct.

VI. Summary 

I have speculated that ‘so’ might operate syntactically to indicate some specific relation between subjects. The relevant tests here might be about flexible word order between clauses, for example in sentences that would have to employ relative clauses in English.

At the same time, I suggest that this operation of ‘so’ might be distinct from the ‘so’ indicating anticipatory tense/aspect/modality (e.g. ‘will swim’), and that this anticipatory ‘so’ might be etymologically related to some basic verbs. Something that suggests this relation was the ambiguity about the translation of the word ‘flow’.

It might be the case, then, that despite appearances ‘so’ isn’t related to directionality or movement, but rather to the anticipation of change, while there is a distinct ‘so’ that is a syntactic marker having to do with subjective perspective.



I digress, here, but as I was conversing via keyboard with someone, the word ‘self-depredation’ was used instead of ‘self-deprecation’. Unsure about whether my interlocutor was referencing physically self-destructive behavior or not, I replied with a link to a dictionary entry, as a way of asking for clarification – probably not the best way to clarify, but I happened to be writing this at the same time…

At the same time, I came across the following argument about the relation between ‘self-deprecation’ and ‘self-depreciation’:

Self-deprecation is the act of reprimanding oneself. The term is almost always used incorrectly, to refer to self-depreciation, which means belittling oneself.

I’m not sure I buy this anonymous Wikipedia editor’s argument here; by this argument, how do we know when a self-deprecating is self-depreciating, rather than merely verbally self-deprecating?

Etymology is not a useful guide here either, in that the sense of modern words based on precari (‘prayer’) may have changed quite a bit. Etymologically, ‘deprecation’ means to pray away, in advance, some evil. Dictionaries now give the meaning of ‘deprecate’ as to criticize. Compare this to ‘imprecation’, which, now as ever, refers to a kind of curse; fashions are quite different, however, in that prayer isn’t promoted as a vehicle for cursing very much anymore.

All in all, the superficial and semantic similarity between ‘self-depredation’, ‘self-deprecation’, and ‘self-depreciation’ might be suggestive of some relation, but one would be hard put to supply a serious analysis of it. One would be liable to be far wrong in most cases, or so I imagine.