[b-hebrew] We and us

David Kummerow farmerjoeblo at hotmail.com
Tue Nov 14 16:21:57 EST 2006

> On 14/11/2006 03:22, David Kummerow wrote:
>> ... The fact that BH under this account has a uniquely grammaticalised 
>> functional opposition in the first-person pronouns---whether this be 
>> one of politeness as in his first account in his article or one of 
>> (non-)immediacy under his second in his monograph---is extremely 
>> questionable.
> Well, the fact remains that there is a distinction in the first person 
> pronouns. It is the explanation which is perhaps questionable. 

No, I am not questioning that there were two forms of the first person 
pronoun. I am questioning the account under which their use is said to 
be governed by functional politeness distinctions. The 
grammaticalisation of first-person pronouns only occurs in other known 
languages once this grammaticalisation is complete in the second- and 
third-person. Consequently, I take it that another explanation is 
warranted, but I don't have that answer myself. The possibility of 
dialect could be explored.

But are
> there any other languages which make such a distinction for any purpose? 
> If not, then by your argument any explanation is a priori "extremely 
> questionable". Nevertheless, the fact remains, and there must be some 
> explanation of it.

Yes, and that distinction is one of politeness. In the plural we get 
clusivity, as raised in a later post, but this is a different issue.

> Later, David wrote:
>> ... Helmbrecht demonstrates that the grammaticalisation of politeness 
>> distinctions in the first-person is from a number of options: nouns 
>> denoting "servant" and "slave" etc (Japanese, Thai, Burmese, 
>> Vietnamese, Turkish); ...
> If the use of nouns denoting "servant" and "slave" for the first person 
> counts here, then certain registers of English must be considered an 
> exception to Helmbrecht's rule and so potentially similar to Hebrew. For 
> in English there is no politeness distinction in second person pronouns, 
> but in some registers "your humble servant" is used consistently as a 
> politeness related substitute for "I". And in fact precisely the same 
> happens in the Turkic language into which I am working on Bible 
> translation; in the register the translators have chosen to use, second 
> person polite forms are not used (as not appropriate in a historical 
> context, for they are known to be a recent innovation), but a form "your 
> slave" similar to the now obsolete Turkish usage is sometimes used in 
> this translation, especially where the Hebrew offers some support. But 
> then that implies that Hebrew is an exception to Helmbrecht's rule for 
> sometimes using `ABDEKA as a first person form, quite apart from 'ANI 
> and 'ANOKI.

Note that I was referring to the grammaticalisation of first-person 
pronouns. Lexical items denoting "servant" and "slave" etc can be the 
source of polite first-person pronouns. But I hardly see how English 
"your humble servant" is a grammaticalised polite first-person pronoun. 
The same thing could be happening in the Turkish dialect you mention, 
but you would need to supply me with further details. Helmbrecht's 
implicational hierarchy of the grammaticalisation of politeness 
distinctions in pronouns would hypothesis that for English "your humble 
servant" to grammaticalise into a pronoun, a grammaticalised politeness 
distinction would need to be operable in the second- and third-person. 
Since this is not the case, "your humble servant" is hypothesised to 
remain a noun phrase.

David Kummerow.

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