Knock! Knock! Who's there?

H.-J. Sasse Hj.Sasse at UNI-KOELN.DE
Wed Nov 18 18:03:12 UTC 1998

Seth Jerchower, Ph.D. wrote:

> Thanks for the data, which I find interesting 1) from a deictic perspective,
> and 2) from a pragmatics one (any distinctions in use between declarative
> and interrogative, et altera?).
> Btw, does this same syntagma occur (nom_pre exclusively) where the speaker
> coincides with the referent, i.e. a first person case (I seem to recall the
> "Tarzan/Jane" caricature paradigm)

No, the bare predicate noun occurs only in the third person. In the first and
second person (and in tenses other than the present) there is an overt copula
(e.g. 1sg vagyok 'I am'). Thus, you cannot say simply "Tana´r." in the sense of
'I'm a teacher.', you have to say "Tana´r vagyok."In the third person there is
no segmental difference between declarative and interrogative, just a difference
in intonation, so you say "Tana´r." (He/She is a teacher) with the falling
terminal declarative intonation and "Tana´r?" with the rising (high pitch on the
final syllable) intonation for 'Is he/she a teacher?' (the same holds for
adjectives: "Barna. 'He/She/It is brown.' Barna? 'Is he/she/it brown?').
A general remark: the "pro-drop" concept is extremely misleading if taken
literally because it suggests that something is dropped which should be there.
The "system architecture" of Hungarian (and many other so-called "pro-drop"
languages) is such that the opposite is true: free pronouns can be added to
signalize certain functions. It is certainly not ungrammatical to say "O´´
tana´r." (lit. 'he teacher') or "E´n tana´r vagyok." (lit. 'I teacher am'), but
this would be a different kind of statement involving a different
discourse-pragmatic structure (focus, contrast, etc.). There is no differernce
between nouns and verbs in this respect: "Va´r. 'He is waiting.'" and "O´´ va´r.
'HE is waiting.' " display the same discourse-pragmatic contrast as "Tana´r."
and "O´´ tana´r.".
It may well be that we must distinguish between languages such as Hebrew and
perhaps also Arabic (huwa mu'allim 'he is a teacher', lit. 'he teacher') where
the predicate noun needs a pronominal "prop" in order to conform to the
bipartite subject-predicate structure of the Semitic "nominal sentence" and
languages such as Hungarian where the bare predicate noun is treated like a
third person verb form with the addition of pronouns being used for
discourse-pragmatic purposes.
By the way, "Who's there" is not normally expressed by just saying "Ki? 'Who?' "
in Hungarian, you would say "Ki az? 'Who's that?' ".

Hans-Juergen Sasse

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