Query: variation in plural pronouns

Michael Cysouw m.cysouw at LET.KUN.NL
Fri Nov 6 15:22:49 UTC 1998

Dear all,

There are several variations on the notion of 'plurality' found in human
language, like 'associative', 'distributive' or 'collective'. I'm looking
for any language that mark these categories overtly in their pronoun system
(as well inflectionally or free). I will explain this query some more
below. Those who are not interested can delete this message now.

thanks in advance
Michael Cysouw
University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands


Certain pronominal morphemes are classically analysed as 'plural', but it
is questionable whether that is the right charcterisation of their meaning.
'Plural' normally refers to a set of objects that have a common
characteristic, like 'the doctors', which refers to a group of persons
consisting of all doctors.

Form this viewpoint it is rather ackward to analyse 'we' as a first person
plural. A first person plural would be a reference to a group of multiple
speakers, but that is not what normally is intended. The meaning of
plurality would fit, for instance, to a situation of a group of
sport-enthousiast singing together 'we are the champions': then all of them
would be speakers in unisono. Normally though, when someone says 'we', it
is intenden to mean either 'I and you' (i.e. inclusive 'we') or 'I and some
others' (i.e. exclusive 'we'). This exclusive 'we' is probably better
characterised as an 'associative': it means 'the speaker and his
associates', not 'multiple speakers'.

For 'you (pl.)' both readings seem readily possible: 'you (pl.) can refer
to a group of addressees (hence, a real 'second person plural') or it can
refer to an addressee with his/hers associates. I am searching for a
language that distinguishes these two meanings by different morphemes.
Untill now I have not found any (and I have seen several hundreds), and I
am inclined to say that this distinction is not grammaticalised in any
human language. Can somebody prove me wrong, please?

Another part of this query involves 'distributives' and 'collectives'.
Several languages are described with a marking of whether an action is
carried out collectively or seperately by the intended agents. I envisage
the possibility of a language where inflectional pronominal marking is
fused with these distributive/collective markers, resulting, for instance,
in two different forms of 'we': one meaning 'we all together', and the
other 'we all, but seperately'. Again, I have not found this distinction
grammaticalised. Has anybody seen something like this?

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