[b-hebrew] We and us

Peter Kirk peter at qaya.org
Wed Nov 15 05:30:02 EST 2006

On 15/11/2006 05:30, David Kummerow wrote:
> ...
> Perhaps a definition of "grammaticalisation" (American 
> "grammaticalization") may help to clarify matters: "Grammaticalization 
> is a process leading from lexemes to grammatical formatives. ... A sign 
> is grammaticalized to the extent that it is devoid of concrete lexical 
> meaning and takes part in obligatory rules" (Lehmann 1995: viii), the 
> change being irreversible (Haspelmath 1999).
Thank you for offering a definition. The first part doesn't help, 
without more context. The second part does offer some criteria, but are 
they helpful? See below.

> Looking again at the example: to what extent are the phrases 'adoni 
> hammelek and `abdo grammaticalised? 'adoni hammelek will only be used in 
> reference to a king, that is, the politeness expressed by the phrase has 
> not extended past such a context. For it to be a polite pronoun, it 
> would need to have lost much of the reference to "king" such that the 
> phrase could be used more widely of any addressee when the expression of 
> politeness is desired. Sure the phrases expresses politeness in the 
> example; but the phrase isn't grammaticalised. ...

I suspect that the phrase which is a candidate for being a 
grammaticalised second person pronoun is not `adoni hammelek in full, 
but just 'adoni; this would be the logical counterpart of `abdeka. BDB 
does not list this as a polite form of "you", but does list it as 
"general recognition of superiority".

> ... Is this the situation too 
> with `abdo? I'm not sure that the word has lost its lexical meaning of 
> "servant" and instead is a polite pronoun. Note that the suffix is not 
> obligatorily 3ms, but will change depending of the context (3mp, 2ms, 
> 2pl, etc). ...

But the same change is found in Turkish "bendeniz", "your slave", which 
becomes "bendeleri", "their slave" in certain contexts, presumably when 
the person to whom politeness is directed is being referred to in the 
third person. So by this criterion this example of Helmbrecht's is not 

> ... This points to the non-grammaticalised nature of the 
> expression, with `ebed still being a lexical word denoting 
> "servant/slave". It is via the use of this lexical word denoting 
> "servant/slave" that politeness is being expressed, not by the use of a 
> grammaticalised polite pronoun. The issue is where `abdo is situated on 
> the lexical-grammatical cline, with lexical words being used for the 
> expression of politeness on one end of the spectrum, and grammatical 
> items reserved solely for this purpose on the other.
It certainly is a cline, or perhaps a slippery slope; maybe an 
irreversible one, although given the decline in use of the polite form 
of "you" in many European languages might suggest otherwise, with the 
polite form reverting to exclusive use in its previous form e.g. second 
or third person plural.

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

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