Knock-knock and Dreikoenige

MORAVCSIK Edit moravcsik at NYTUD.HU
Tue Nov 24 09:55:11 UTC 1998

Two comments on two topics that have recently been discussed on
the list.

      Marcel Erdal pointed out some time ago that in Turkish, where
numerated nouns are normally in the singular, there are names of commonly
known groups where the plural is used nonetheless. The examples he cited
were the Biblical Three Kings ("die Heiligen Drei Koenige") and
the 40 robbers of Ali Pasha.
      The same is true in Hungarian,. Although the 40 robbers would
be in the singular, the Three Kings must be in the plural.
There is also a Hungarian (folk?)song about the three tailor lads who
went off and wound up meeting a sorry end; they are also
referred to as the "three tailor lads" rather than the "three
tailor lad" as they would in normal discourse. In addition, in very
colloquial and playful speech, the monetary unit - mostly the Hungarian
one: forint - can be in the plural after a numeral when the extreme
highness or extreme lowness of the price of an item is to be highlighted
(such as "You can get this for 600 forints." (rather than "600 forint").

      In the wake of David Gil's "Knock-knock" query, the issue that has
come up is whether in languages where subject
pronouns can be omitted when the predicate is a verb, subject pronouns
can or cannot be omitted when the predicate is nominal (or adjectival).
Hans-Juergen Sasse pointed out that in Hungarian, the subject pronoun can
be dropped equally well with verbal and nominal predicates; thus, both in
sentences such as 'He is waiting.' and in sentences such as 'He is a
teacher.'I think this is not quite so in all cases. Pro-dropped sentences
such as "Teacher." - to mean 'He is a teacher." - or "My father." - to
mean 'He is my father.' - can indeed be used but only in special
situations such as when introducing somebody and the introducer is
providing prominent, characteristic information about the person that is
being introduced. A gesture pointing at the person is also required. But
in normal discourse, a subject would also be used. Thus, if I begin to
talk about Ja'nos ('John'), I cannot put in a sentence like "Teacher." -
to mean 'He/Ja'nos is a teacher.'; a subject ("he" or "Ja'nos") would
be needed. However, a sentence with a verbal predicate - such as "Came
from New York." - to mean 'He came from New York." - would be OK as
a continuation of the discourse about Ja'nos. Thus, in normal discourse,
pro-drop is indeed an option with verbal predicates but with nominal ones
it isn't.

Edith Moravcsik

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