LINGUIST List 2.794

Sat 16 Nov 1991

Disc: Conventionality of Names

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. David Gil, conventionality and syntax of names
  2. Geoffrey Russom, Re: 2.790 Queries
  3. Herb Stahlke, Productivity of syntax in names

Message 1: conventionality and syntax of names

Date: Fri, 15 Nov 91 12:46:37 IST
From: David Gil <RHLE813HAIFAUVM.bitnet>
Subject: conventionality and syntax of names
In response to Limber's second query, ragarding the syntax of names:
One very obvious respect in which names characteristically (ie.
cross-linguistically) fail to participate in "ordinary" syntactic
processes is with respect to NP-internal constructions involving
articles, determiners, quantifiers, and other similar creatures.
The most salient example of this is the capacity of names to
constitute a full NP in languages that otherwise require the
presence of an article, eg. English "John sang" vs. "*boy sang".
This seems to be a common cross-linguistic pattern. (The closest
thing to a counterexample that I am familiar with is provided by
Philippine languages where there is a separate series of articles
for proper nouns, eg. Tagalog "Umawit si Juan" ("sang PERSONAL:TOPIC:
ARTICLE John") vs. "Umawit ang bata" ("sang ORDINARY:TOPIC:ARTICLE
An interesting problem is posed by constructions involving a
proper noun in construction with a quantifier, eg. English
"There are three Johns in the room". What seems to be happening
in such constructions is that the proper noun is undergoing a
"type shift" from proper to common. However, other languages
appear to be less tolerant of such constructions. For example,
in Hebrew, the corresponding construction with a pluralized
proper noun sounds awkward; most speakers prefer to either
retain the basic non-pluralized form of the name (in spite
of the preceding numeral) or else construct a paraphase such
as "There are three persons in the room whose name is John".
To the best of my knowledge there has been little discussion
of this construction from a cross-linguistic perspective;
I would be interested to hear from other LINGUIST participants
how NPs such as "three Johns" are rendered into typologically
diverse languages.
David Gil
Department of English
University of Haifa
Haifa, 31999, Israel
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Re: 2.790 Queries

Date: Fri, 15 Nov 91 08:45:45 EST
From: Geoffrey Russom <>
Subject: Re: 2.790 Queries
The Icelanders still use patronymics (sometimes matronymics, so to speak)
in which the "surname" has literal force. Thus my graduate school chum
Hrabnhildr Bodhvarsdottir is Hrabnhildr daughter of Bodhvar, and he is
somebody else's son. In Icelandic, you can't call somebody by their last
name; shortening is only to the first name.
 -- Rick
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: Productivity of syntax in names

Date: Fri, 15 Nov 1991 09:10 EST
Subject: Productivity of syntax in names
	John Limber raises the question of productive syntax in names.
Yoruba, as well as a number of other West African languages with which
I am less familiar, has a highly productive naming syntax. Most names
are, in fact, full sentences, with some possible classes of systematic
exceptions, or at least of fossilized forms. There is also no
Western-style surname that passes from generation in the family. In
the data below, I'll use the following conventions:
	S =	ash
	E =	epsilon
	O =	open o
	Tone marks and nasality follow the vowel:
	' = high tone
	` = low tone
	~ = nasalization
	mid tone is not marked
Typical among Yoruba names are the following:
 	ade'wOle' = ade' "crown" wO` "enter" ile' "house"
		given when a chieftancy has recently been awarded to
		the family
	ba`ba'tu'~de' = ba`ba' "father" tu'~ "again" de' "arrive"
		given to a child born shortly after the death of the
		father or of an adult male relative
	o`gu'~SOla' = o`gu'~ "god of war" Se "do" Ola' "honor"
		given to a child born to a hunter or soldier
	iku'ma'`kpayi`' = iku' "death" ma'` "do not" kpa "kill" e`yi'
		"this one"
 given to a child born after a sibling has died in
		early childhood
The examples could go on indefinitely, but you get the idea. An
excellent source of data on this is _A Dictionary of Modern Yoruba_,
by R. C. Abraham, London: University of London Press, 1958. Entries
to begin with are oru'kO "name," ori'ki' "secret name," and a`bi'ku'
(class of names including the last example above).
Herb Stahlke
Ball State University
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue