demonstrative or pronoun?

Gideon Goldenberg msgidgol at MSCC.HUJI.AC.IL
Sat Aug 8 05:53:10 UTC 2009

Dear typologists,
The relevant question has been discussed in the boader context of a  
person, whether unknown, unrecognized or unseen, who needs to identify  
him/herself. Situations may differ. Consider, e.g., (a) a person  
knocking the door and asked "Who is it?" or "Who are you?"; (b) a  
person sitting in your company, whom you have not seen for a long time  
and you cannot recognize and you ask about, who wishes to tell that it  
is she; (c) Joseph presenting himself to his brothers; (d) a person  
calling you on the telephone and has the (not uncommon) habit of  
opening by self identification; (e) a radio station opening by  
announcing which it is, like “it is London calling”,  
“говорит Москва”, or just the name; (f) people  
presenting themselves to foreigners, etc. etc. Some pertinent comments  
will be found in descriptions of German concerning Ích bin es (ích as  
“emphatic predicate”) / Ich bín es (ich subject), in comments  
about the difference in French between je le suis and c’est moi, and  
elsewhere. Usage also differs according to the degree of expectation  
of the person that he should have been recognized. For special  
syntactic structures cf. among others Elfriede Adelberg, Die Sätze des  
Typus “Ih bin ez Ioseph” im Mittelhochdeutchen, Berlin: Akademie- 
Verlag, 1960.
Generally speaking, one might recommend recording diligently actual  
usage rather than relying on intuitive offhand responses. In my native  
Hebrew I am not sure I can answer the question; it depends.

On 7 Aug 2009, at 5:9, David Gil wrote:

> Dear all,
> Consider the following very similar contexts;
> Context A:
> John and Bill are friends.  John calls Bill on a landphone; it's a  
> bad line, Bill doesn't know who is speaking; John tries to identify  
> himself (using a predicate nominal construction)...
> Context B:
> John and Bill are friends.  John sends Bill a text message from a  
> new number that Bill is unfamiliar with; John identifies himself  
> (using a predicate nominal construction)...
> My question:
> In languages that you are familiar with, in the above contexts, is  
> the subject of the predicate nominal construction a demonstrative or  
> a 1st pronoun pronoun?
> In English, the subject is a demonstrative; the pronoun is  
> infelicitous in the given context:
> This is John
> #I am John
> But in Indonesian, the subject is most commonly a pronoun, though a  
> demonstrative is also possible:
> Ini John [less common]
> Aku John
> I am curious to know what happens in other languages.  (I have a  
> hunch that the availability of the "pronominal subject" option in  
> Indonesian is correlated with the questionable status of pronouns as  
> a discrete grammatical category in Indonesian, but this hunch is  
> easily testable with a bit of cross-linguistic data.)
> Note: I don't expect to find differences between the two contexts; I  
> provided both just in order to make the situation more natural to as  
> many respondents as possible.
> Thanks,
> David
> -- 
> David Gil
> Department of Linguistics
> Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
> Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany
> Telephone: 49-341-3550321 Fax: 49-341-3550119
> Email: gil at
> Webpage:

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