[Lingtyp] Affectionate or sympathy marking

Alex Francois alex.francois.cnrs at gmail.com
Thu Jan 12 15:14:08 UTC 2023

Dear Christian,

Mwotlap, an Oceanic language of Vanuatu, has an adjective *magaysēn*
“sad, miserable”.

As a predicate head, it normally encodes the sadness of the subject:

(1)  Ēntē-n  ne-*mgaysēn*.
      son-3sg    Stative-sad
     “Her son was miserable.”

As a (subjectless) interjection, /ne-mgaysēn/ expresses the sadness of the

(2)  Ne-*mgaysēn*!
     “So sad!” / “Sorry !”  (whether an expression of sympathy “sorry for
you!” or an apology)

Crucially, the same adjective has been conventionalized as a *postverb*,
i.e. a verb modifier, to encode sympathy of the speaker towards one of the
participants, or towards the whole situation.

Sentence (3) could be interpreted literally as (3a) “he was crying sadly
(because he was sad)”;  but it is also a bridging context where you could
have a Sympathy reading (3b):

(3) Kē   me-ten̄   *magaysēn*.
     3sg    Pft-weep    sad/SYMP
     a. “She was crying in sadness.”   [the subject is 'sad']
     b. “She was crying, the poor thing.” [the speaker is 'sad' for the

In (4) the speaker expresses their sympathy for the main participant, which
is not the grammatical subject, but the possessor:

(4) Tateh   no-n haphap   *magaysēn*.
     Neg:Exist  Poss-3sg things    SYMP
     “He didn't have any possession, the poor thing.”

(5) was uttered in a situation of farewell, where both the traveller and
his friends were sad to part. Syntactically, the structure is ambiguous
between a reading where the sad one is the subject or the object:

(5)   Yē   ti-tiok     *magaysēn* nēk?
         who   FUT-see.off   sad              2SG
  [Subject is sad]  ‘Who will have the sad role to see you off?’
  [Object is sad] ‘Who will see you off, you poor fellow…’

I briefly discussed the ambiguity of this example in my paper on Mwotlap
complex predicates  (see here p.123

Finally, a sentence like (6) has no identifiable participant that could be
assigned the predicate {be.sad}:
*magaysēn* here functions more like a Sympathy / Sadness modalizer over the
whole situation:

(6)  Na-lavēt  mal    bah   *magaysēn*.
        Art-party     IAMIT   finish   SYMP
      “The party is over, sadly!”
   ~ “The party is over, poor us!”


Alex François
LaTTiCe <http://www.lattice.cnrs.fr/en/alexandre-francois/> — CNRS–
–Sorbonne nouvelle
Australian National University
Personal homepage <http://alex.francois.online.fr/>

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Christian Döhler <christian.doehler at posteo.de>
Date: Thu, 12 Jan 2023 at 11:10
Subject: [Lingtyp] Affectionate or sympathy marking
To: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>

Dear colleagues,

I am looking for publications that address the difference between (1) and
(2). In (2), the English adjective *poor* is used to signal the speaker's
sympathy or affection towards the dog.

   1. *The dog is waiting for its owner.*
   2. *The poor dog is waiting for its owner.*

While English (and my native German) does this by extending the meaning of
the adjective *poor *(and *arm* in German), other languages have special
words with only that meaning. For example, Komnzo *bana *is a postposed
adjective that only conveys sympathy.

*    ni bananzo namnzr karen.*
    ni           bana=nzo        na\m/nzr                       kar=en
    1NSG    SYMP=only     1PL:NPST:IPFV/stay    village=LOC
    'Only we poor guys stay behind in the village' (subtext: 'while the
others are going to the celebration in the neighbouring village')
    (NSG = non-singular, SYMP = sympathy marker, NPST = nonpast)

Yet other languages seem to have special verb morphology for this. Van
Tongeren describes this for Suki (her PhD grammar will probably be
available later this year).

Pointers to more examples and publications of this are most welcome. I was
googling this with keywords like "sympathy", "empathy", "affection", but
with not much luck. So there might be a whole literature on this phenomenon
under different terminology. If that's the case, then please excuse my

Very Best,

Dr. Christian Döhler
Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ZAS)
Schützenstraße 18
10117 Berlin
Raum: 445
Tel.: +49 30 20192 412https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9659-5920

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