LINGUIST List 10.978

Wed Jun 23 1999

Sum: Person Marking: Addendum to previous summary

Editor for this issue: Scott Fults <>


  1. mike_maxwell, Person Marking: Addendum to Sum: 10.856

Message 1: Person Marking: Addendum to Sum: 10.856

Date: Wed, 23 Jun 1999 17:08:36 -0400
From: mike_maxwell <>
Subject: Person Marking: Addendum to Sum: 10.856

In Linguist List 10-856, I summarized the messages that I had received
in response to my query on an odd system of person marking in Cubeo
(Tucanoan, Colombia). The oddity was that 1st person declaratives and
2nd person interrogatives shared the person markers in one of the past
tenses, and likewise 1st person interrogatives and 2nd person
declaratives. A number of other languages turned out to have a
similar system.

Since posting that summary, I have received two more responses, which
I now summarize. Inga-Lill Hansson (
writes that in Akha (a Sino-Tibetan languages, subgroup
Tibeto-Burman), "the same sentence particle is used for 2nd person
interrogative and 1st person answer, i.e. the question is formed in
the same way as the answer, apart from the interrogative particle."

And Mark A. Mandel ( recalled

>...seeing something akin in colloquial American English being pointed to me
>in my time in generative semantics (Berkeley, 73-80). The numbers below
>serve to distinguish the participants in each conversation.
>Example 1:
> 1. "Got it?"
> 2. "Got it."
>Example 2:
> 1. "Coming?"
> 2. "In a minute!"
> (several minutes elapse)
> 1. "Hurry up!"
> 2. "Coming!"
>It would seem from this data that the unmarked subject of a question or
>assertion is the one who apparently has the most knowledge about the situation
>in question: the addressee of a question, or the utterer of an assertion.
>(Commands are not about knowledge and so do not figure in this formula.)

>Therefore, the subject pronoun (and auxiliary verb or modal) can be
>dropped iff it is first person in an assertion, or second person in a

It would be interesting to relate this English phenomenon to
evidential marking, which seems to figure prominently in many of the
languages that have this kind of person marking. If we were still
doing generative semantics, someone might propose that English has a
covert evidential system :-).

 Mike Maxwell
 Summer Institute of Linguistics
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