LINGUIST List 7.1541

Sat Nov 2 1996

Sum: Pronominal imperatives

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Kate Gladstone & Andrew Haber, Re: Pronominal imperatives -- & some questions

Message 1: Re: Pronominal imperatives -- & some questions

Date: Wed, 30 Oct 1996 22:56:29 EST
From: Kate Gladstone & Andrew Haber <>
Subject: Re: Pronominal imperatives -- & some questions
-A- This is a summary of answers to my request for info on natural
languages using pronominal imperatives.

"Daniel L. Everett" <> writes:

>Piraha, an Amazonian language isolate, uses pronouns for imperatives.
>This is discussed in my grammar of Piraha (Handbook of Amazonian
>Languages, vol1, ed. by D. Derbyshire and G. Pullum).
>(1) gi?ai kahapii
> you (indic) go
> 'You go.'
>(2) ?ogiaagao kahapii
> everyone go
> 'Everyone/all go.'
>(3) goi kahapii
> you (imperative) go
> 'Go!'
>(4) ka?ao kahapii
> imp. go
> 'Let's go.'
>First person pl. doesn't really exist. But the preverbal pronounis the
>only way to get across the idea of hortatory, not a verbal mood.

Miguel Carrasquer Vidal <> writes:

Hausa comes to mind:

i`n zoo "let me come" I = nii
ka` zoo "come!" (masc.) you (m.) = kai
ki` zoo "come!" (fem.) you (f.) = kee
ya` zoo "let him come" he = shii
ta` zoo "let her come" she = ita
a` zoo "let someone come"
mu` zoo "let us come" we = muu
ku` zoo "come!" (pl.) you (pl.) = kuu
su` zoo "let them come" they = suu

It should be noted, however, that in Hausa, changing the pronoun is
the normal way of encoding tense, aspect and mood. The verb is not
inflected, except that there *is* a special 2nd person imperative,
without pronoun, where the verb is given a different intonation

ka` zoo zoo` "come!"
ka` zaunaa` za`una "sit down!"
ka` shigoo shi`go "come in!"
ka` kara`ntaa ka`ra`nta "read it!"

[Source: Kraft & Kirk-Greene "Teach Yourself Hausa"

Johannes Helmbrecht <> writes:

it is probably not difficult to find languages in which there is an
alternative form of the pronoun for the formation of an imperative. I
am working on North American Indian languages and i have the feeling
that there are many languages which have alternative sets of personal
pronouns for imperatives. I can give at least one explicit example. In
Quileute a Chimakum-Wakash language spoken at the Pacific coast in
Washington (Olympic Peninsula) there are six different sets of subject
pronouns, on set for indicative, one for interrogative, one for
subjunctive, one for conditional, one for vocative and one for
imperative. The 2.person sg and pl forms are different from all other
2 person forms. You can find the exact forms in Boas's Handbook of
American Indian languages vol. 3 - there is a grammatical sketch of
Quileute written by M. Andrade.]

And Carsten Peust <> writes:

Coptic comes close to what you are looking for. Here, pronouns are
fused with tense/mood marking into one unit, while the verb does not
change according to tense/mood categories.

So you have:
ti sotm "I am hearing"
ta sotm "I want to hear"
mari sotm "I may hear"


se sotm "they are hearing"
au sotm "they heard"

k sotm means "you are hearing", there is an imperative which is
formed by omitting the pronoun, so: sotm "hear!", but there are also
modal forms such as
eke sotm "you shall hear"

You might also have a look into the African language Hausa; it behaves
quite similar to Coptic. But I cannot give you the forms from my
memory. (Marcia Haag) wrote:

The Muskogean lg Choctaw has a partial pronouns substitution as you
describe it. Taking first person plural (let's), second person
singular, and second person plural as the command sets (affirmative
and negative), Choctaw uses a different pronoun for the second person
plural affirmative and first person plural, both affirmative and

Hash-mintih. `You pl. are coming'.
Ho-mintih. `Come!' (2pl)
il-iah `We are going'
Kil-iah! `Let's go!'
Kil-io-nna! `Let's not go'

That's an outline; things are somewhat more complicated than this if
you need a full analysis.
Marcia Haag

Thank you all! (I asked because I heard that the conlang Lojban uses
pronominal imperatives.)

-B- Now -- a new question or two:

I am sure that, from time to time, most of us have observed layfolk
making the unconscious assumption that important
grammatical/phonological structures cannot differ substantially
between their native language(s) (or whatever languages they are
already familiar with from school, etc.) and some other language with
features markedly different from what they have been enculturated to
think of as belonging to a "normal" language -- and that therefore
they need not attend to the target-language way of doing things.

I am NOT referring to the age-related decline in ease/completeness of
2nd-language acquisition-by-immersion, but to the resistance that many
people manifest to believing/applying what they are told of the
language in an academic setting (e.g., the student who "knows"
intellectually that the target language uses SOV word order, but who
cannot decide that this is a "real" word order which s/he needs to use
in his speech/writing in the target language.)

Of course, this usually comes up in the early stages of trying to
learn/teach a foreign language.

It probably would manifest in later stages as well, except that the
students who cannot accept -- on some level -- that (for example) the
target language really DOES have SOV word-order (or four genders or
pronominal imperatives or 15 cases or postposed articles) probably do
not make it very far into their studies.

So I wonder:

-1- Since this "linguistic xenophobia" tends to increase with age, is
it a function of physical maturation, or is it a function of
schooling? After all, at least in the USA, people's exposure to
language tends to be either monolingual or confined to one or two of
the Indo-European languages -- and, at that, those whose structures
are not all that different from that of English.

So there is a possibility that layfolk are being "set" to consider
only certain linguistic structures as "real" or "acquirable"

(For instance -- not too long ago, I heard a monolingual American
layperson state that ASL was "not really a language".

Hers was not the usual naive-layperson's objection that "real"
languages are spoken, not signed, but the objection that (according to
what she had been told) subject pronouns were often not expressed.

I do not know ASL either, but I told her, "You know -- to go by your
statement, Russian and Spanish are not really languages either, as
they also do not require stating the subject pronoun."

This was quite a shock to her -- not the "logic trap", but the
revelation that English grammar was not a universal. She still didn't
entirely believe me when last we met -- years ago -- even after she
checked with bi-lingual native informants.)

-2- If this "linguistic jingoism" is a product of education (in whole
or in part), what could be done to prevent the mind from "freezing" in
this fashion? -- require all Americans to learn a language as
different as can be from English? -- and... once we have an idea of
what can be done, how do we persuade people to do it?


In general, what knowledge would it be desirable to have the ordinary
lay adult or child acquire re "how to learn a language" -- BEFORE s/he
is ever made to do so at school -- that will make it easier for
him/her to learn a language? Could some very basic lingustics
information/exercises (the sort of thing most of us remember from our
first term's course in introduction to Linguistics) be introduced with
advantage at this level?

I am not thinking of such things as highly detailed contrastive
analyses -- unless this proves feasible & interesting for 9- or
10-year-olds! -- I am thinking more of such things as: learning a
small corpus of a constructed or otherwise "exotic" language, the
trying to deduce how to say futher things in that language, learning
some of a language from an informant, learning about language change
over time, etc. -- These tools would then be used to attain
beginning-/intermediate-level mastery of some currently-important but
"difficult" language like Japanese.


Another question:

Speakers of English usually have ideas on the history of English which
are quite different from the facts, even where quite recent stages of
the language (e.g., early modern English) are concerned.

For instance, a businessman in my city has a sign that reads "Ye Ole
Locksmith" -- he sincerely believes that this is what he calls "olden
English" for "The Old Locksmith."

Such "mis-knowledge" of earlier stages of grammar & phonology
(believing that Shakespeare's phonology was that of a modern
upper-class Briton, for instance -- or that Chaucer's grammar differed
from ours largely in sticking -est & -eth everywhere) is, in a sense,
part of the speakers' body of "knowledge" (true or false) about their

Does this phenomenon apply to other languages? In other words, do
ordinary Germans -- for example -- have ideas about Luther's (or von
Eschenbach's) German that are quite different from how early-modern or
medieval German really was? ... but ideas that are part of the
cultural inheritance of things that "everybody knows about our
language" (just as "Ye" for "The" is part of "what everybody knows
[but isn't so]" about English)?

What about non-literate cultures? Do they have any idea that their
languages have changed over time-- especially if what is believed to
be "the old language" is used today for ceremony or ritual -- and, if
so, are their ideas on the changes anywhere near accurate?

(I realize that the accuracy bit would be hard to check up on, but it
seems to me that there are circumstances in which it could be

E.g., suppose our first corpus of some Native American language were
to date from 1500, with successive corpora being compiled at various
dates between then and the present (as might have been done, e.g., by

Someone in, say, 1996 might record an informant who said, "We speak
this way *now*, but in olden times, people said it *this* way ... "
- then he could see if this was consistent with the earlier records.

Suppose a linguist, thus working with (say) Native American
informants, is directly asked by one or more of the informants: "We
know or can guess that you are looking at your culture's earlier
records of our language, as well as at what we are telling you -- do
your culture's records happen to match up with what our culture
accepts was our 'olden language'?"

And ... suppose(as is likely) the answer happens to be NO -- that the
language as recorded at first contact was quite different (even
allowing for bad data) from what the people *believe* to have been
their "pure" language as it existed pre-contact? ... but suppose also
that both the linguist & the informants KNOW that this culture has a
lot "invested" in their culural assumption that what they believe
about the "olden days/ways" (including the "olden language") really IS

Should the linguist tell his people the truth (presumably, after the
research is done!) -- knowing that this will probably close off
opportunities for further research (I can think of several ways in
which this might happen!) OR should the linguist withhold the truth
s/he's been asked for, in the name of "non-interference" (which might
also mean "patronizing paternalism" -- after all, people who ask a
question about themselves have a right to know the answer.)

Suppose -- to make my point about paternalism clearer -- that the
Native American informant who asked the question is applying to
college (or has been accepted) and wants to major in linguistics --
his/her special interest is, expectably, the history of native
American languages including especially his/her own language.

Is it really right to withhold from him/her this information simply
because you know that -- if s/he is given it -- s/he will know
something that is at odds with his/her culture's beliefs about their

Yours for better letters,

Kate Gladstone
Handwriting Repair
325 South Manning Boulevard
Albany, NY 12208-1731

Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue