[Lingtyp] Grammatical marking of insults (?)

Mark Donohue mhdonohue at gmail.com
Tue Dec 14 19:18:39 UTC 2021

There is a small section on imprecatives in the grammar of Tukang Besi that
I wrote 20 years ago. In addition to various unexceptional sentences with
insulting meaning, there is a dedicated grammatical construction found when
insulting people.
Compare the unmarked statement:

'U-pe'i la
2SG.R-stupid MALE
'You're stupid.'

with the insult:

Pa'i-(')u la
stupid-2SG.GEN MALE
'You're an idiot!'

Compare with:

'U-pande la
2SG.R-clever MALE
'You're clever.'


* pande-'u la
clever-2SG.GEN MALE
(ungrammatical, since this isn't an insult)

There are Chinese insults that consist solely of possessed NPs as well,
which are similar in some ways to some Tukang Besi insults.


Donohue, Mark. 1999a. *A Grammar of Tukang Besi*. Berlin: Mouton de
Gruyter. Grammar Library series No. 20.

On Wed, 15 Dec 2021 at 05:49, Riccardo Giomi <rgiomi at campus.ul.pt> 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=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 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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