pronouns etc.

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Sun Oct 18 21:18:09 UTC 1998

A few brief comments on pronouns et al.

First: In response to the direction the thread has taken recently, I
think it is important to make a clear distinction between "basic" /
"derived" (which is what I was originally asking about) and "unamrked" /
"marked".  The two don't necessarily go together.  Take number for
example.  Well to begin with I'm never quite sure which one is marked,
singular or plural.  Probably, at the morphological level singular is
marked (eg. if a language has a non-zero singular marking it also has a
non-zero plural marking but not vice versa), but at the semantic level
plural is marked (though I'm not sure why this seems to me to be
obvious).  Be this as it may, there are pretty robust examples of basic
--> derived going either way, ie. either plural --> singular or singular
--> plural.  For the former, take the polite 2nd person pronouns in
Russian and French; for the latter, consider the generic (ie
semantically plural) usages of 2nd person pronouns in a language that
has a clear unproblematical singular/plural distinction (with no
politeness complications) --- for example, in Hebrew, "ata" (2:SG:M) can
be used generically.  So there isn't any strict relationship between
markedness and basicness; hence I'm not sure I see how markedness will
help sort out basicness.

To another point:  I think Martin is on to something interesting when he
suggests that:

> Another possibility is that certain extensions of uses are both
> *unidirectional* and *natural* [...]
> but so far there is no complete theory of this
> and of synchronic semantic basic-derived relationship, as far as I can

> see.

In fact, I think there might be a body of literature dealing with this
issue: various cognitively oriented approaches to metaphors have pointed
to some interesting instances of unidirectionality, whereby metaphors
and other figures of speech can go in one direction but not the other.
(One example that I recall: there's a hierarchy of senses which goes
vision > hearing > taste/smell > touch, and which governs synaesthetic
metaphors in such a way that the natural direction of extension is UP
the hierarchy, eg. 'cold colour' rather than DOWN it, eg. ?*'pink
texture'.)  Trouble is, I'm not sure that the features of relevance to
pronominal systems (person, number, etc.) exhibit such hierarchic
structure.  And anyway, as the two examples in the previous paragraph
collectively suggest, things can go in either direction, so there may
not be universally valid constraints on what kinds of extended usages
are possible.

Finally, I must comment on Gontzal's ...

> if we leave aside cross-linguistic generalizations and descend to the
> description of individual languages (which is what David is trying to

You really can't do one without doing the other.  In the case at hand,
what got me hung up on the description of Malay / Indonesian pronouns
was -- and still is -- a cross-linguistic typological concern.  Since
there is so much inter-dialectal variation, I thought Malay / Indonesian
pronouns would make a good testing case for certain typological
generalizations that have been made about number marking and its
correlation with various other features, eg. the 'Smith-Stark
hierarchy', which says things such as 'if a language has number marking
on 1st person pronouns it also has it on 2nd person pronouns but not
vice versa'.  My problem is that I can't begin to test such claims until
I can provide a proper description of the languages and dialects I'm
looking at.  Hence the original query.

Best wishes to all,

David Gil

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

tel:  49-341-9952310
fax:  49-341-9952119
email:  gil at

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