[Lingtyp] Grammatical marking of insults (?)

Françoise Rose francoise.rose at univ-lyon2.fr
Wed Dec 15 11:04:29 UTC 2021

Dear Ricardo,
in Mojeño Trinitario (Arawak), insults are generally expressed though descriptive terms (“s/he-has-white-eyes”, “big-belly” to cite politically correct ones) which are often V-N or Adj-N compounds, used metonymically. They are used vocatively, i.e. without any determiner.
In my corpus, it seems all insults are of this type, but neither the types of compounds nor the vocative construction are dedicated to insults.
There is also a deprecatory suffix, with can be used in vocative constructions, but can also be used on referential expressions, so once again, it is not dedicated.
Because these are not dedicated forms for insults, I am not sure these data fall within the interest of your student. She is welcome to consult me if interested!

Françoise ROSE
Directrice de Recherche 2ème classe, CNRS
Laboratoire Dynamique Du Langage (CNRS/Université Lyon2)
16 avenue Berthelot
69007 Lyon
(33)4 72 72 64 63

De : Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> De la part de Riccardo Giomi
Envoyé : mardi 14 décembre 2021 19:49
À : LINGTYP <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
Objet : [Lingtyp] Grammatical marking of insults (?)

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 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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