[b-hebrew] We and us

Peter Kirk peter at qaya.org
Wed Nov 15 05:05:22 EST 2006

On 15/11/2006 00:09, David Kummerow wrote:
> 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)). ...

Indeed. I don't deny that Turkish has a second person singular 
politeness distinction using "siz" (otherwise the plural) as the polite 
alternative to "sen". Indeed "bendeniz" is derived from Persian "banda" 
and so etymologically related to English "bind". (But I am sure that 
most Turks think that "bendeniz" is a suffixed form of "ben", "I", and 
this may well have contributed to its popularity.) My point was that in 
Azerbaijani, the other language I mentioned, although this same 2nd 
person politeness distinction is marginally present, it is actually a 
rather recent phenomenon, whereas if I am not mistaken the use of 
"banda" as a polite form of "I" is a part of the classical language. But 
I would need to check my facts here.

> ... 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. ...

But I have no way of answering this question because I have no idea what 
criteria Helmbrecht has for deciding whether a form is grammaticalised. 
This seems to be an undefined term in this whole discussion, and as such 
is to me a more or less meaningless word, unless it simply means "this 
form agrees with my hypothesis".

> ... 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 did not suggest this for 'anoki, only for `abdeka. Remember that 
derivation from a word for "slave" is only one of a number of possible 
derivations of polite first person plural forms mentioned by Helmbrecht.

> 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, perhaps).
Turkish "bendeniz" is listed in my dictionary as a polite form of "I", 
and so is Azerbaijani "banda". "Your humble servant" is probably not so 
listed in English dictionaries. Is this the kind of criterion you are 
looking for? It seems a rather arbitrary one as it depends on the 
differing policies of different lexicographers and grammarians of 
different language. But on this criterion, what of Hebrew `abdeka? BDB 
actually lists it (sense 6 of `ebed) as "In polite address of equals or 
superiors the Hebrews used עַבְדְּךָ /thy servant/ = 1 pers. sing., /I/". So 
is this evidence that this form is grammaticalised?

> 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. ...

I am not claiming it is a pronoun. I am more using it as an example of 
what is not a pronoun. But if Turkish "bendeniz" is a pronoun and 
English "your humble servant" is not, what are the criteria on which we 
can decide whether Hebrew `abdeka is a pronoun or not? And don't say 
conformity to Helmbrecht's hypothesised hierarchy, because that is 
circular reasoning.

> ... 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. ...

You would be unlikely to hear it because it was used mostly in writing, 
and especially I think in the 19th century. It is obviously not part of 
the form of English which you know, which means that you are not in a 
position to determine its grammatical status.

> ...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. ...

This is a perfectly circular argument! We know that it is not 
grammaticalised because it is not grammaticalised! Really, surely you 
can do better than this!

> ... 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.
This last sentence is to me perfectly meaningless, except for "noun 
phrases like "your humble servant" are rarely even used" with which I 
agree. But if a phrase being rare in the modern form of a language is 
evidence that it is not grammaticalised, Turkish "bendeniz" must be 
rejected as an example, for it is almost obsolete: from my dictionary: 
"formerly used in polite speech when referring to o.s.; today used 
either jocularly or sarcastically", in other words just like English 
"your humble servant" is occasionally used today.

Peter Kirk
E-mail:  peter at qaya.org
Blog:    http://speakertruth.blogspot.com/
Website: http://www.qaya.org/

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list