[Lingtyp] Grammatical marking of insults (?)

Riccardo Giomi rgiomi at campus.ul.pt
Tue Dec 14 18:49:02 UTC 2021

Dear all,

A student of mine would like to investigate the linguistic coding of
insults across languages. She is particularly interested in finding out
whether languages can have dedicated (uses of) grammatical
forms/constructions for this specific purpose. The best example I could
come up with so far is the use of the Portuguese third person reflexive
possessive adjective (determiner in Brazilian Portuguese) *seu/sua* with
epithets which are meant as insults. An example would be

*Cala=te, seu burro!*
shut.up.IMP.2.SG=2.SG.OBJ 3.SG.REFL.POSS donkey.M.SG
'Shut up, you idiot!'

(Where, funnily enough, the third person of the adjective/determiner is
presumably the polite form!) This is an interesting case, I think, because
as far as I can see you never use *seu/sua *in 'plain' vocatives, nor with
terms of endearment, nor, for that matter, with NPs which are not used as

I am wondering whether anyone is aware of a language which has some
grammaticalized form or construction that can be used in this specific way.
Note that I am not interested in, say, abusive pronouns or honorifics or
general expressions of the speaker's disappointment ('frustrative' markers)
but only in grammaticalized means of marking the speech act as an insult.

Many thanks in advance and best wishes to all,

Riccardo Giomi, Ph.D.
University of Liège
Département de langues modernes : linguistique, littérature et traduction
Research group *Linguistique contrastive et typologie des langues*
F.R.S.-FNRS Postdoctoral fellow (CR - FC 43095)
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