Inclusive/exclusive imperatives

W. Schulze W.Schulze at LRZ.UNI-MUENCHEN.DE
Tue Nov 27 13:54:05 UTC 2001

Dear Colleagues,

[please excuse that I cannot make reference to the earlier postings -
unfortunately enough I did delete these messages]. Perhaps it makes
sense to consider the German type of an 'inclusive imperative' in
connection with the data from Russian and Hebrew mentioned in thes
earlier postings. I found that the following way of establishing an
'inclusive region' with imperatives is rather usual (at least among 'my'

Inclusive:    Komm, wir gehen ins Kino
                  come:IMP:2SG we go:PRES:1PL in:DEF:n:ACC cinema
                 'Let's go to the cinema.'

Non-Inclusive (said: exlusive)

                  Gehen wir ins Kino!
                  go:PRES:1PL>ADH we in:DEF:nACC cinema

In case the number of addressees is more than one, we normally use the
plural _kommt_ (come:IMP:2PL). Some of 'my' people also claimed that the
use of the polite imperative _kommen Sie!_ may have the same effect
though they admitted that the form is ambigue (due to the fact that the
'polite' form does not distinguish a singular from the plural. In
Franconian (for example) this ambiguity is not present, because in this
dialect _Sie_ refers to a singular, only (2Sg:polite)).

_Komm_ seems to have undergone a considerable degree of
grammaticalization. It can be used in any imperative context
disregarding whether this context is characterized by a 'motion event'
or not, cp.:

Komm, wir machen noch eine Hausaufgabe!
come:IMP:2sg we make:PRES:1PL one=more one homework
'Let's make one more homework.'
[Mother sitting with her son at the table.]

It is interesting to note that with the inclusive imperative, the 'main'
verb is normally unmarked for modality (imperative). The following modal
variant seems rather unusual  and based on the literary norm:

Komm, laß uns ins Kino gehen!
come:IMP:2SG LV:IMP:2SG we:ACC in:DEF:n:ACC cinema go:INF

[Note: the form _uns_ poses another problem: It seems to be
'logo-reflexive' (or to represent some kind of broken reflexivity): It
is reflexive with respect to the 'agent' embedded in the imperative
light verb _laß_ and it is (exophorically!) logophoric with respect to
the speaker].

I guess that the use of a ventive form like German _komm_ etc. [cf.
English _come on!_] reflects a rather basic (iconic) strategy to single
out a person (or more) from a group, and to _include_ it in the
(cognitively speaking) 'region' of the speaker (EGO). It combines a
'schema of separation' and a deictic shema (verbal deixis ('towards the
proximal / center' etc.)). In other words: The German 'inclusive' is
semantically (or: cognitively) speaking an iconic 'inclusive'.

The 'neutral' variant (a non-inclusive) is marked by the standard
variants of the imperative/adhortative, normally introduced by 'laßt
uns...' or the like. A separate 'exclusive' (which excludes the
addressee (TU)) must (in my language) be circumscribed (_ohne dich_
'without you' etc.). However, such a 'true' exclusive in an imperative
context would be more than 'unusual': An imperative (or, in our context,
an adhortative) normally presupposes the *presence* of the person(s) who
is/are subjected to the command/wish. Hence, even if I exclude the
immediate addressee, I 'create' a new set of addressees by formulating a
'without-you'- imperative. What follows is that the German inclusive
imperative cannot not be fully compared to the standard notion of
inclusivity/exclusivity which makes sense especially in story telling
etc. It's more like a mechanism of highlighting or spotting, or, as I
said, a mechanism to single out someone from a group and to incorporate
this 'someone' into the sphere of the speaker...


Prof. Dr. Wolfgang M. Schulze
IATS - Institute for General Linguistics and Language Typology
[Institut fuer Allgemeine und Typologische Sprachwissenschaft]
Dept. II [Communication and Languages - Kommunikation und Sprachen]
F 13/14 - Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen
Geschwister-Scholl-Platz 1
D-80539 Muenchen
Tel.:   ++49-(0)89-21802484 (Secretary)
  ++49-(0)89-21805343 (Office)
Fax:  ++49-(0)89-21805345
Email:  W.Schulze at

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