[Lingtyp] Grammatical marking of insults (?)

David Gil gil at shh.mpg.de
Tue Dec 14 18:57:48 UTC 2021

Hebrew has the particle /ya/, borrowed from Arabic, whose most common 
use is before a NP containing a derogatory expression, e.g. /ya idiot/ 
(the latter borrowed from English). However, it's not *always* 
derogatory, and I don't know what the conditioning factors are.  And of 
course I suspect that there's a similar pattern in the source language 
Arabic; maybe somebody who knows more can chip in here.


On 14/12/2021 20:49, Riccardo Giomi wrote:
> 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 <http://shut.up.IMP.2.SG>=2.SG.OBJ 3.SG.REFL.POSS 
> donkey.M.SG <http://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 invocations.
> 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
> -- 
> 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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David Gil

Senior Scientist (Associate)
Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6, Leipzig, 04103, Germany

Email:gil at shh.mpg.de
Mobile Phone (Israel): +972-526117713
Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81344082091
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