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Whose is who's? (was: CONLANG Digest - 24 May 2000 to 25 May 2000 (#2000-143))

From:Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>
Date:Friday, May 26, 2000, 18:31
My apologies to Muke for sending my original reply privately instead of to
the list.  I hadn't woken up properly and wasn't warching what the mailer
was doing   :=(

At 1:52 am -0400 26/5/00, Muke Tever wrote:
>the 'him' man. To make it clear in English would want something like: > >"He told him the truth about his (John's) mother." > >but would it be common (or practical?) for a language to mark _his_ to match >the relevant pronoun, like: > >"He1 told him2 the truth about him2's mother." > >... > >I should try that in a conlang.
Latin was doing just that 2000 years ago, cf. ei uera de eius matre dixt. to-him2 the-truth about him2's mother he1-told. ei uera de sua matre dixt. to-him2 the-truth about he1's mother he1-told. Interestingly, "him2's" is expressed by the genitive case, whereas "he1's" is expressed by a possessive adjective. I also added - prehaps, on reflexion, a bit abruptly (sorry, Muke - I'm not at my best when in an early morning state of hypocaffeination) - that AFAIK many modern natlangs also make the distinction. Indeed, posts that have arrived since I sent the original show this to be so. E.g. At 12:56 pm -0400 26/5/00, Vasiliy Chernov wrote: [.....]
>In many languages (including Slavonic and Scandinavian) there is a >reflexive possessive pronoun which always refers to the subject. E. g. >in Russian (morphological info omitted): > >On rasskazal jemu pravdu o jego materi >'He-1 told him-2 the truth about his-2 mother.' >vs. >On rasskazal jemu pravdu o svojej materi >'He-1 told him-2 the truth about his-1 mother.'
This is exactly the same way the Latin pair above work; indeed, just as in the Latin equivalents, 'jego' is a genitive case while 'svojej' is a possessive adjective agreeing grammatically with 'materi'. [....]
> >Besides, in many languages there are expressions like 'the former' - >'the latter'. European langs often use deixis degrees ('this' - 'that') >in this sense. >
Right - Latin did just that. In fact there was strictly no non-reflexive 3rd person pronoun; they used demonstratives instead. In the example I gave above, I used various forms of 'is' which is fairly neutral in meaning. One could also use 'hic' (this) or 'ille' (that); the differences might be compared to French: is = cet homme hic = cet homme-ci ille = cet homme-là hic & ille showed relative nearness or farness from the speaker/writer in either place, time or matter of discourse, i.e. hic = the latter; ille = the former, thus: illi uera de huius matre dixit to-the-latter the-truth about the-former's mother he-told i.e. He [the subject of discourse] told him [the guy I first told you about] the truth about his [this guy I've mentioned prior to the present subject's] mother. [Got it?] huic uera de illius matre dixit to-the-latter the-truth about the-former's mother he-told. [Work that out yourselves :) ] To add to clarity, Latin also had 'iste' to mean 'the guy you're interested in', 'the guy you're with' etc. So: illi uera de istius matre dixit = He [the subject of discourse] told him [the guy I first told you about] the truth about his [this guy you're concerned about's] mother. etc. A lot of permutations possible, giving complete clarity where English is completely ambiguous with its paucity of 3rd person forms. And now I'll really be setting Conlang to nomail. I'll be back on 5th June. Ray. ========================================= A mind which thinks at its own expense will always interfere with language. [J.G. Hamann 1760] =========================================