Knock! Knock! Who's there?

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Tue Nov 17 11:17:38 UTC 1998

Thanks to everybody who's been sending me data on the "Who's there" query.  I
now have lots of data, and hope to get more from those of you who haven't
responded yet.  Interesting patterns are emerging, and I'll post a summary
when the data stop coming in.

In the meantime, it has been pointed out that the 2nd part of the query was
imprecisely worded.  Seth writes:

> One more thought on query 2:
> Note that the respective syntagmata for Hebrew and Italian are:
> 1.      "Ani talmid" [PRO Nom_Pred]; syntactic copula.
> 2       "Sono studente [COP Nom_Pred]; subject pro-drop with formal copula.
> I'm not aware, in my limited knowledge, of any language that in one way or
> another (sub_pro, COP, V, marker) doesn't specify a syntagmatic referent
> with respect to the nom_pred; that is, is there any known language in which
> the nom_pred suffices for its subject referent as well (*"Student", meaning
> "I am a student")?

Right.  What's *is* uncommon -- and, from the results that have been pouring
in, apparently much more uncommon than being able to answer the door with a
simple "Who?" -- is a bare noun functioning as a complete, non-elliptical,
predicate nominal sentence.  That is to say, "Student." meaning "I/you/he etc.
is a  student."  Uncommon, but not impossible:  I have written about this
construction in Singlish (Singaporean English) and in Malay / Indonesian.


David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Inselstrasse 22, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 44-341-9952310
Fax: 44-341-9952119
Email: gil at

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