LINGUIST List 6.707

Sat 20 May 1995

Disc: Indefinite/Interrogative Pronouns, Language and Religion

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  1. Martin Haspelmath, indefinite/interrogative pronoun
  2. , Re: 6.664, Language and Religion

Message 1: indefinite/interrogative pronoun

Date: Mon, 15 May 1995 22:19:32 +0000 (GMT)
From: Martin Haspelmath <>
Subject: indefinite/interrogative pronoun
Benji Wald suggests that "the necessary condition for the development of
interrogative/relative formal identity is simply the existence of formal
identity between the interrogative and the corresponding indefinite
non-specific pronoun".
I don't think that's correct. Christian Lehmann has dealt with these
questions in his monumental "Der Relativsatz" (Tuebingen, Narr, 1984),
which was unfortunately written in German but is an absolute must for
anyone who is interested in relative clauses. He notes (p. 325) that
there is a closer relationhip between relative pronouns and interrogative
pronouns than between relatives and indefinites. Thus, it seems that
relative pronouns are based on interroagatives rather than on indefinites
where these differ.
It is true that in very many languages, indefinite pronouns are
based on interrogative pronouns (to be precise, in 55 of the 100
languages of a balanced world-wide sample, see my forthcoming book
"Indefinite pronouns", Oxford University Press). But it is only in a
minority of these that indefinites and interrogatives are *identical*.
The situation in English (some-where, some-how, etc.) is actually quite
typical: The base is an interrogative pronoun, the indefinite is formed
by adding something to it.
Relative pronouns are also sometimes formed by adding some element to the
interrogative pronoun (e.g. Latin qui-cumque, Bulgarian kakvo-to,
Georgian vin-c). Interestingly, when indefinites share the same root with
interrogatives and relatives, they also sometimes contain this element
(e.g. Bulgarian kakvo-to i da e 'anyone'), so indefinites may also be
derived from relatives.
Thus, in addition to Wald's path "interrog = indef) rel" (a possibility
that I do not deny), more commonly we find "interrog) indef, interrog >
rel" (independent developments) and "interrog) rel > indef". Again I
refer to my forthcoming book for detailed documentation.
Martin Haspelmath (Free University of Berlin)
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Message 2: Re: 6.664, Language and Religion

Date: Wed, 17 May 1995 09:50:08 -0400
From: <>
Subject: Re: 6.664, Language and Religion
Recently on the list, David Bellusci wrote:
>An Irish friend of mine visiting Cape Town commented:
>"There's not a Soul on the beach." It was the first time I heard >any such
expression in English, but then he came from a
>Catholic culture.
This expression "not a soul" is, of course, rather common in the United
States as well.
I cannot agree with Mr. Bellusci's assertion that English in general has been
effectively purged of Christian expressions. In fact, I never realized how
full of religious-derived expressions it really was until I began translating
from Czech. Czech is the language of a relatively secular people (even
before communism there was a certain historically derived wariness of
religious authority, as evidenced in my own grandfather, who emigrated before
WW I), but it is nonetheless shot full of religious expressions, almost every
one of which seems to be the exact equivalent of some common religious
expression in English. Examples:
buhvi "God knows" "God only knows"
buhvico "God knows what"
proboha "for God's sake"
pozdrav panbuh (after sneezing) "God bless you" (often as not replaced in the
U.S. by German "Gesundheit")
bohudik "Thank God" "Thank Heaven" (These English expressions are only lately
being replaced in the United States by a new use of the word "thankfully", as
in, "Thankfully, nothing bad happened," instead of, "Thank God nothing bad
happened." Before 1991 I had heard this "thankfully" only twice in my whole
life. Upon returning home in late 1994 I was hearing it everywhere. I'll
let others speculate on the reasons.)
jezismaria! (lit. "Jesus Mary") appoximately equivalent to "Oh my God!" or
"Jesus Christ!"
chran buh "God forbid"
da-li buh "God willing"
The list could go on. When you hear even non-religious Americans using
further expressions like, "I swear to God" [swrdagad] (or "as God is my
witness" or "it's the God's truth") and "Jesus Christ!" along with its still
more emphatic equivalent "Jesus K. Reist!" and its contraction "Jeez!" (I do
not accept the common claim that this is derived from "Gee whiz".) you can
see that at least American English is far from being purged of religiously
based expressions. Then there are all the "holy" interjections, like "holy
cow!", "holy shit!" (ESL teachers, translate these expressions for your
students, and watch the hilarity.) There are still people who say, "Jumpin'
Judas!" or "Judas priest!" or "Jumpin' Gee-hosophat!" And "act of God" for
an unpreventable disaster is still an official term in the U.S. There must
have been some Catholic influence in all this, but the conspicuous absence of
references to the Virgin Mary tells me that Protestantism played a role.
Anyway, the religious saturation of English is much greater than many people
James Kirchner
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