[b-hebrew] We and us

David Kummerow farmerjoeblo at hotmail.com
Tue Nov 14 19:09:33 EST 2006

Hi Peter,

What about "siz"? Isn't this a second-person plural pronoun which is 
used for polite second-person singular address? If so, Turkish has a 
politeness distinction in the second person while also using "bendeniz" 
as a polite first-person pronoun (bendeniz is etymologically related to 
Persian "banda" (slave) + -niz (2pl possessive)). I don't know about a 
third person polite pronoun, and, in the absence of this, the hierarchy 
could be questioned and perhaps modified to: 2 < 3/1 or possibly 2 < 
1/3. Sure, Hebrew can count and is entitled to count. But is `abdeka in 
Hebrew as grammaticalised as "bendeniz" in Turkish? Is "your servant" in 
Hebrew as grammaticalised as "siz" in Turkish? Answers to these 
questions will help to decide how Hebrew speaks to the posited 
politeness hierarchy. Further, I have yet to see anyone try to derive 
'anoki from a lexical word denoting "slave" or something similar (or any 
other known source of polite pronouns for that matter), which is needed 
for the form to grammaticalise into a polite pronoun. (Blake I think was 
had a stab at relating 'anoki from a demonstative, but he did the same 
for 'ani.)

I take it that Helmbrecht judges "bendeniz" to be a polite first-person 
pronoun because his grammatical sources judge it to be such. Further 
confirmation for him would be from the fact that Turkish also has a 
polite second-person pronoun, so conforming to the evidence of other 
known languages. "Bendeniz" may still be judged by some speakers to be a 
noun phrase, so its status as a polite first-person pronoun may be 
considered marginal and not be wholly grammaticalised (as with Hebrew, 

Regarding the status of English "your humble servant", I think the 
burden is on you to prove that it is a pronoun as you are raising it as 
proof that it is and so challenges Helmbrecht's politeness hierarchy. 
You only say that it is used in "some registers of English". Which ones? 
Are these speakers native to English? Are any not, and if so, does their 
native language encode politeness distinctions in pronouns? Personally, 
I am unable to recall hearing anyone use the phrase "your humble 
servant" as a noun phrase even, let alone hearing speakers using this as 
a grammaticalised polite pronoun. The burden rests with you, I think. In 
answer to your question, though, I take it that the reason why we know 
that "your humble servant" isn't a grammaticalised polite pronoun is 
simply that it does not have this grammaticalised function. It is a noun 
phrase that is can be used to denote politeness, but personally I have 
never heard it even uttered. As such, it can hardly be taken to be a 
grammaticalised first-person polite pronoun---or even one on the way of 
grammaticalisation. The typological evidence does not in itself decide 
the matter (English itself must do so on its own terms), but it does 
provide a possible reason why the phrase isn't grammaticalising. English 
has lost its politeness distinction in the second-person. This is the 
region of language where politeness distinctions is most prominent, but 
this has been lost in English. Because this has been lost, much of the 
motivation lying behind the grammaticalisation of a polite first-person 
pronoun is lost, such that noun phrases like "your humble servant" are 
rarely even used let alone grammaticalising.

David Kummerow.

> On 14/11/2006 21:21, David Kummerow wrote:
>>   ...
>> 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. ...
> It is not a dialect but a separate language, related to Turkish, and the 
> national language of an independent country. For various reasons I don't 
> want to specify further. But in both Turkish and in this language the 
> word "bende" meaning "slave" in Turkish, and the same word in a slightly 
> different form in the other language, are sometimes used with second or 
> third person possessive suffixes (rather like the Hebrew ones) as some 
> kind of substitute for the first person pronoun, in fact exactly as 
> `ABDEKA is used in Hebrew. If Turkish counts as an example for 
> Helmbrecht's study, why doesn't Hebrew?
>> ... 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.
> According to what criteria does Helmbrecht judhe Turkish "bendeniz" to 
> be "grammaticalisation" but, I presume, Hebrew `ABDEKA and English "your 
> humble servant" not to be? If the criterion is that there is also a 
> second or third person politeness distinction, then the argument is 
> circular.
> Later you further explained to Bryan:
>> ... That English "your humble servant" HASN'T grammaticalised into a 
>> first-person pronoun could even be taken in support of my claims. Why 
>> hasn't it grammaticalised? The answer from typological research is 
>> that English would need polite second- and third-person pronouns 
>> before such a grammaticalisation could occur (again, see Helmbrecht's 
>> work).
> You present it as a fact that this HASN'T grammaticalised. Now if your 
> answer from typological research is to the question "why has this 
> process not happened?", then the reasoning is not circular, but first 
> you need to demonstrate that it has not happened. If the question is 
> "how do we know that this process has not happened?", then your 
> reasoning is circular. But the latter question is the one to which I 
> seek an answer, even if you are not offering one.

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