[b-hebrew] We and us

David Kummerow farmerjoeblo at hotmail.com
Wed Nov 15 17:53:04 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.
OK, sure. Perhaps, then, "bendeniz" may still be on the way of 
grammaticalising. If so, it proves nothing for us to persist in 
discussing it as it neither proves nor disproves Helmbrecht's hierarchy.

> >/ ... 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".
I supplied you with the references for Helmbrecht so you can go and read 
things for yourself. If you don't know what a GRAMMATICALISED polite 
pronoun is, then why suggest that Hebrew `abdeka is one when you're not 
sure of what you are suggesting? If you don't have access to 
Helmbreacht's works, they are easy for me to email them to you.

> >/ ... 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.

No, I know that you did not suggest this. But the whole discussion 
started by way of the possibility of the grammaticalisation of a 
politeness distinction between 'ani and 'anoki. I was trying to tie our 
discussion back to this issue is all. I realise that nouns are only one 
of a number of possibility for the source of polite pronouns (as I 
actually mention in my post!), but what I have yet to see is someone's 
attempt to trace the grammaticalisation of 'anoki to one of these 
souces. Blake 1934 was an attempt to trace both 'ani and 'anoki back to 
a demonstrative base, one particular source for polite pronouns. 
However, BOTH forms are traced to a demonstrative, and there is no 
mention of politeness.
> >/ 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 ????????? /thy servant/ = 1 pers. sing., /I/". So 
> is this evidence that this form is grammaticalised?
As I said before, it depends on how entrenched the form is in the minds 
of speakers as a polite form in and of itself. If the forms are still 
synchronically thought of in their constituent parts, then they are not 
polite pronouns. "Your humble servant" hardly seems to have been 
entrenched as it has not persisted. "You", on the other hand, has 
persisted because the form grammaticalised as a polite pronoun, then 
even grammaticalising further into the form we have today. There's a big 
difference here.

> >/ 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.
I'm sorry, but you seemed to be raising English "your humble servant" as 
further evidence disproving Helmbrecht's hierarchy. If not, then it is 
useless discussing it. Possibly Turkish "bendeniz" may only have 
marginal status as a polite pronoun, but it depends. If so, then it may 
have been used by Helmbrecht imprecisely, ie it is a form on the way of 
grammaticalision rather than a complete grammaticalised pronoun. I do 
think that Hebrew `abdeka does not have the status of a pronoun. I 
continue to suggest that it will not completely grammaticalise to the 
status of a polite pronoun until this process is at least complete in 
the second person, conforming to the development and process of 
grammaticalision of politeness in other known languages.

> >/ ... 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.

Sure, but like I said, I am able to judge that it must not have been as 
an entrenched usage as "you" was, the evidence being that the phrase did 
not persist (see what I said above). This strongly points towards the 
non-grammaticalised nature of the phrase, and, consequently, the 
non-pronoun-status of the phrase.
> >/ ...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!

Personally, I'm not one to entirely go for the rejection of an argument 
that has an element of circularity. How do I know my eyes are green? I 
know because I look in the mirror and see that they're green. Sure, it's 
circular; but it doesn't detract from the fact that they remain green 
even if my arrival at this conclusion was somewhat circular.

So, too, with the grammaticalisation of polite pronouns. For pronouns to 
be considered grammaticalised polite pronouns, they need to have 
undergone a process of grammaticalisation. In the absence of this, the 
phrase is not grammaticalised. "Your humble servant" is not a 
grammaticalised polite pronoun because it appears not to have undergone 
the process. Sure, it fits the context where such forms may arise, but 
the fact that it is non-entrenched and rarely spoken means that the 
process whereby grammaticalisation occurs, namely the repetition and 
entrenchment of a phrase etc., is not met. With "you", for example, it 
is with speaker after speaker choosing to use the word time and again 
that it grammaticalised into a polite pronoun. In time, due to 
overusage, it came to displace "thou", thus grammaticalising futher. 
"You" is a grammaticalised pronoun because it has undergone the process 
of grammaticalisation. A circular statement, but nevertheless true.
> >/ ... 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 <http://lists.ibiblio.org/mailman/listinfo/b-hebrew>
> Blog:    http://speakertruth.blogspot.com/
> Website: http://www.qaya.org/
The last sentence is crucially important and tells me that you have not 
fully appreciated the findings of Helmbrecht. The region of the 
second-person is where politeness is most needed to be expressed and 
functionally useful. This is the region of commands, etc. It is a touchy 
area of language (see my post to Bryan). This is why it is here that 
"please" makes an appearance etc. So too with polite pronouns. This is 
the area they appear most often; indeed, as Helmbrecht has determined, 
this is where they are expressed before any other person. The lack of 
this functional expression in English means that 1st person phrases like 
"your humble servant" will not grammaticalise. Indeed, they are rarely 
uttered (like I said, I haven't even heard it before), pointing to the 
non-entrenched---and thus non-grammaticalised---nature of the phrase.

David Kummerow.

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