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How can I talk about weather without expletives?

Constructed Languages Asked on August 20, 2021

In English, it is necessary to use a syntactic expletive (“it”) when talking about weather:

It   is     sun-ny.
EXPL COP.3S sun-ADJ

Pro-drop languages can easily avoid the explicit expletive by excluding it (Spanish):

Hac-e sol.
do-3S sun

But in this Spanish example, there’s still an implicit expletive subject. How can I completely avoid using expletive subject when talking about the weather?

4 Answers

Here are some ideas haven't been listed yet

  • Allow nouns denoting weather phenomena to form clauses by themselves
  • Use an existential construction
  • Make the subject a location
  • Use an all-purpose weather verb

Weather noun clauses

If a normal transitive clause looks something like the following, then a weather clause can just be a noun by itself.

student-NOM book-ACC read-past-3sg
the student read the book

Here, the noun appears in the nominative case, which tends to be unmarked cross-linguistically.

rain-NOM
It's raining/was raining/will rain

This way, it can be modified with adjectives just as it normally would be.

many/much rain-NOM
It's raining a lot/It's pouring/It was raining a lot/...

Use an existential construction

Ceqli, or at least an old version of Ceqli from years ago, uses an existential construction.

baran hay
rain  exist

Make the subject a location

I think this is similar to Circeus' example, but I can't tell whether it's identical or not. If it's identical, I'll remove it.

Locative subjects are perhaps uncommon or unattested cross-linguistically, but in principle nothing stops you from making the weather verbs intransitive verbs whose subject is the location where the weather is happening.

Here-NOM rain-past-3sg
It was raining here.

Spain-NOM principally plain-LOC rain-pres-3sg.
The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.
Lit: Spain rains mainly at the plain.

So the few references I can find to locative subjects are mainly things like this, which describe locations moving to or appearing in the first position in a clause rather than verbs whose subject position has a locative flavor.

All-purpose weather verb

Have a verb that means to be the weather, and use it with the name of the weather phenomenon.

Rain-NOM weather-pres-3sg
It's raining.

Snow-NOM weather-pres-3sg
It's snowing.

Cloud-NOM weather-pres-3sg
It's cloudy.

Cloud-NOM weather-pres-3sg-NEG
It's not cloudy.

This has the advantage of making questions about the weather resemble their declarative counterparts.

what-NOM weather-pres-3sg
How is the weather?

how-much cloud-NOM weather-pres-3sg
How cloudy is it?

Correct answer by Gregory Nisbet on August 20, 2021

In russian:

  • The sun is shining — Солнц-е свет-ит. (Sun lights)
  • It is raining — Ид-ет дождь-ø. ("Goes rain"≈"The rain is going"

Answered by Victor VosMottor on August 20, 2021

There are also language with impersonal verb conjugation, and of course, nothing prevents a verb from being used only in the impersonal. Nahuatl has an impersonal voice, but because it's only used with verbs that normally have animate subjects, its weather verbs function much like Spanish's, ironically enough.

In my own conlang Mfalen, weather verbs function as descriptors, so one says the equivalent of "X is raining" (i.e. It's raining on/in X) the same way one says "X is cold" or "X is windy" (or indeed, "X is red").

Answered by Circeus on August 20, 2021

Hungarian avoids expletive subject when talking about weather by using an appropriate non-expletive subject. To say that it's sunny in Hungarian, you say

Süt     a   nap.
bake.3S the sun
"The sun is baking."

To say that it's raining, you say:

Es-ik   az  es-ő.
fall-3S the fall-N
"The rain is falling"

In this sentence, eső is used as the word for rain, but is in fact transparently derived from the verb esni, to fall, thus the sentence could actually be translated as "The falling thing is falling!"

Of note, however, this latter example can be shortened to just esik, "it falls," though the implicit subject here is az eső, "the rain," and could therefore still be considered non-expletive.

Answered by Andrew Ray on August 20, 2021

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