[Lingtyp] Grammatical marking of insults (?)

tangzhengda tangzhengda at 126.com
Wed Dec 15 02:37:32 UTC 2021

Chinese has a construction specific for insulting, derogating, or cursing the addressee, i.e 
         ni     ge    baichi 
         2      CL     idiot
         'You idiot!'
What are special of this construction are:  the numeral-free CL-N construction never occurs as the nominal predicate unless the N is an epithet and the whole thing is a speech act of insult.

When the numeral occurs, the Num-CL-N predicate tolerate no epithets at all.  And the speaker must commit himself to the truth stated by the predication. But then the whole clause cannot standalone as to constitute a speech act. It is often used adverbially.

          ni    yi-ge    bingren,   *(bu       yinggai    chi   bingjiling)
          2    one-CL   patient     NEG    should     eat   icecream
         'As a patient you should not eat icecream'



Institute of Linguistics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences,
No.5 Jianguomennei Dajie, Beijing, China; 100732

At 2021-12-15 02:49:02, "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 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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