LINGUIST List 9.1286

Wed Sep 16 1998

Sum: Summary of 'I am hungry'

Editor for this issue: Scott Fults <>


  1. Sren Harder, Summary of 'I am hungry' (long!)

Message 1: Summary of 'I am hungry' (long!)

Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 16:31:31 +0200 (CEST)
From: Sren Harder <>
Subject: Summary of 'I am hungry' (long!)

Thanks to everyone (all 57!) who answered my query on the semantics of
'hungry'. First I reprint the original query, then I will give a
summary and an analysis of the results, and finally I
will give a list of the people who replied to my message.


In connection with my thesis on adjectival (formal) semantics, I want
to exemplify the many possible ways of expressing 'adjectival'
concepts; especially stage-level 'human propensity' adjectives. The
concept I use as an example is 'hungry'.

Many languages use an adjective just as English, some languages uses
other strategies, but I have problems finding examples. 

Please send translations (with interlinear word-for-word translation)
to for the sentence 'I am hungry' for as many
languages as possible, especially languages that do not use a
predicative adjective. (I will of course let the list know of my

One example I am especially interested in would be a language that use
an abstract noun as 'acting' subject and has the perceiver as object
(no preposition) (paraphrase: 'Hunger takes me').

The types I have found until now are (please let me know of corrections):

adjective: English, Danish, Czech, Lithuanian, Urdu, (Norwegian)
Romany, Turkish, Welsh (?! 'newynawl' or 'newynawg').

verb ('He hungers'): Plains Miwok (California)

abstract noun as object ('I have hunger'): Romance (French, Italian,
Spanish), German, Albanian, 
('I feel hunger'): Hausa

prepositional phrase (abstract noun subject, perceiver in 'locational'
PP) ('Hunger is on me'): Celtic (Irish, Breton, but not Welsh?).

Thank you very much,
Soren Harder


I first give a list of different strategies (with examples) of
representing the concept of 'hungry' as in 'I am hungry'. It is my
impression that for all languages, the construction given for 'hungry'
is not a 'singleton', but repeated for a (small) set of other concept,
e.g. 'thirsty', 'sleepy', 'scared' or 'ashamed'. For each language I
have selected the one strategy that it appears to me from your answers
is the most used (sometimes more than one strategy for a language is
noted, if I have the impression that they are both 'natural'). Most of
the results I have referred to in my original posting are not included
below, as I discovered from the replies I got, that some of them were
in error. This just show the danger of the
dictionary-and-grammar-reading methodology of typological studies in
unexperienced hands as mine.

As I may not have made explicit in my original message, this study is
made more out of curiousity than as part of a systematic research
project. (Actually it was meant to support some claims I'm making
in the preface to my thesis on formal semantics of adjectives in
Danish and English). I do not (as of now) plan to publish these
results in any other form than this. But if my material can be of any
help to people doing 'real research' in this area, please do not
hesitate to contact me.


AS ADJECTIVES: ~"I am hungry"

1) 1sg-pron COP 'hungry'
English: I am hungry
Swedish: Jeg r hungrig
Dialectal Swedish (Skna, SW-Sweden): Jeg r sulten
Danish: Jeg er sulten
Afrikaans: Ek is honger (Note! This is different from Dutch)

2) Copular-drop languages: 1sg-pron 'hungry'
Arabic: 'ana jauCaan (C is a voiced pharyngeal fricative; Arabic also uses verbal
Russian: ja goloden (the adj. is declinated for gender, here masc;
the so-called 'short form' of the adjective is used)
Rusyn: Ya holoden

3) Pro-drop
Hungarian: ehes vagyok (hungry I-am)
Polish: Jestem glodny (COP-1sg hungry-masc-sg) (but: 'Chce mi sie pic'
"It is wanted for me to drink" for 'I'm thirsty')

4) Others
Ako'y gutom na gutom na.
1SG:REF:INV hungry LIG hungry ASP
I am already famished.
 REF=referential, INV=inverse, LIG=ligature, linker, ASP=aspect

Larry Trask ( writes:

 You could hardly have picked a more complicated example from the
 Basque point of view, since `I'm hungry' is expressed in quite
 different ways in the several regional varieties of Basque.

 Basque <gose> is both a noun meaning `hunger' and an adjective
 meaning `hungry'; this is one of about two dozen ancient words
 which function like this. Normally, nouns and adjectives are
 rather sharply distinct in Basque.

 Eastern Basque usually has this: <Gose naiz.> Here <naiz> is `I
 am', a form of the ordinary copular verb <izan> `be'. This is
 slightly unusual, in that a predicate adjective usually bears
 the article <-a> (singular) or <-ak> (plural), and hence we
 might have expected <Gosea naiz.> But this is not usual, and
 Lafitte, in his famous grammar of French Basque, reports that
 this form has the specialized sense of `I'm starving', `I'm
 famished'. Unusual.

 A standard reference source reports another possibility in
 French Basque: <Gosez nago>. Here the ending <-z> is the
 ordinary instrumental case-ending, which often has assorted
 adverbial functions, and <nago> is a form of the second copular
 verb <egon>, which typically expresses `be (in a temporary

 But western Basque has a very different construction: <Goseak
 nago>. Here <gose> takes the singular article <-a> followed by
 the ergative case-suffix <-k> (Basque is morphologically
 ergative), but the verb is again the intransitive <nago>. I
 believe that <gose> is the only word in the language that
 behaves in this strange manner: normally the ergative functions
 *only* as the subject of a transitive verb. Grammarians
 routinely explain this odd form by suggesting that it is a
 contraction of something like *<Goseak hartuta nago> `I am taken
 by hunger', more literally `I am having-been-taken by hunger',
 still more literally `I am hunger-taken'. Here <hartu> is the
 transitive verb `take'; <goseak> is its subject and hence
 ergative; and the ending <-ta> converts the whole thing into an
 adverbial participle phrase. (It is characteristic of <egon>
 that it takes complements which are formerly adverbial, not
 adjectival, in contrast to <izan>, which takes adjectival

 In support of this, note that western Basque also has <Lokartuta
 nago> `I'm sleepy', which is transparently from *<Loak hartuta
 nago> `I am taken by sleep', with <lo> `sleep' (noun).

To complicate this Iraide Ibarretxe ( gives the
form 'gose nago' for Basque.

Welsh and Czech do not (normally) use adjectives, as I claimed in my
original mail.

AS VERBUM HABEO + OBJECT(hunger): ~"I have hunger"

German: Ich habe hunger
Dutch: Ik heb honger
French: J'ai faim
Italian: Ho fame 
Portuguese: (Eu) tenho fome
Catalan: Tinc gana
Czech: (J) mm hlad


1) I gave Irish Gaelic as an example of this. The thing I forgot was
that IG does not have a verbum habeo (the verb 'have'); 'I have a car'
is translated into 'T carr agam' or literally "There is a car at
me". You could therefore see the IG expression as an 'underlying'
habeo+object, as the ones above. (Apart from the difference between
the preposition used: 'ag' in owning and 'ar' in perceiving). Exactly
the same goes for Finnish. (Finnish have exactly the same construction
for having and perceiving though.) Both languages have open adjective
classes. (Thanks to the many Finns who reminded me of this).

T ocras orm. 
Is hunger on-me ("There is hunger on me")

Taa accyrys orrym (same analysis as Irish, but see AS VERB below)

Minulla	on nlk
1sg-adessive be-3sg hunger-nom

2) The same construction is seen in Romanian, which _do_ have a verbum
 habeo, but here the construction uses a dative, not a PP, for the
 perceiver. (Thanks to Eva Remberger and Simona Herdan for this
 information, and Matti Miestamo)

Mi-e foame 
1sg-dat hunger "To me is hunger"

AS SUBJECT(hunger) + "ACTIVE" VERB + OBJECT(perceiver)

Somali (Cushitic, Afro-asiatic):
gaajo baa i haysa `I am hungry' lit. hunger holds/possesses you 
 gaajo = hunger (fem.), indefinite
 baa = focus marker (declarative `root' sentence)
 i = personal object pronoun, 1st person singular
 hay = to hold, possess + -s-a, feminine agreement, 3rd person
 singular, present general.

Yoruba (Bene-Kwa, West Africa):
Ebi n(H) pa mi(H)
hunger PROG kill/beat me (I am hungry)

Ndyuka (a Surinamese Creole): 
I quote George Huttar ( as I do not quite know
how to analyse these data:
" In Ndyuka, a creole of Suriname, the usual way to express the notion
 of 'I am hungry' is as follows:

 Angii moo mi.
 hunger more 1s

 moo is a verb, though derived < Eng. more; it occurs after other,
 including adjectival, verbs in comparative constructions:

 A langa moo mi. 'He is taller than I.'
 3s long more 1s

 Another way to express hunger, perhaps with a bit more intenity, uses
 the same pattern with hunger as S, experiencer as O:

 Angii kii mi. 'I am really hungry.' (lit. hunger kill me)
 hunger kill 1s

 George Huttar

 P.S. For thirst, change the first word in the above sentences to
 wataa 'water'--there is no lexeme for 'thirst' corresponding to angii
 'hunger'. Another example is:

 Pisi moo mi. 'I need to urinate.'
 urin(at)e more 1s				"

Akan (Twi-Fante, Africa)
Rich Campbell ( notes a construction like the one
in Ndyuka, but does not believe it is the verb, that occurs in
this construction, is the same as the serial verb:

 "The normal way of saying 'I'm hungry' in Akan is as in (1):

 (1)	Okom de me.
		hunger ? me

 The first NP is clearly the grammatical subject, so it seems to be
 of the type you're looking for. The only question I have concerns
 the gloss of the verb: it's clearly not the same "de" that occurs
 in serial verb constructions (see R. Campbell (1996) 'Serial verbs
 and shared arguments', The LInguistic Review 13, 83-118; see
 esp. note 10), so this may be an idiomatic usage of some kind; I
 don't really know (though you might check Christaller's grammar,
 which I don't have handy).

 Rich Campbell
 Dept. of Linguistics
 Oakland University
 Rochester, MI 48309-4401

AS VERB ~"I hunger" 
Some of the languages below (OEngl, Greek) has adjectives, and for
those I believe this is the correct analysis. But for a language like
Chinese, I believe the proper analysis would be to treat it as an
adjective, as there is a sub-class of verbs, adjectives, that may be
distinguished from the superclass; in Chinese by the possibility to
co-occur with 'hen' (and being mono-transitive). I have decided to
keep it in this class though as I do not know which other languages
are also of the same type.



Micmac (East Algonkian, Canada):

Old English:
me hyngrede
1sg-dat V	This is a very interesting construction with an
impersonal verb, cp. the Romanian above, which also uses a dative, but
with 'hunger' as subject.

V-1ps_direct_object	"It hungers me". This is like Old English
above, but as direct, and not indirect, object.

Greek (Modern and Ancient):
no example, but Phoevos Panagiotidis <> writes: 
"I am hungry" is rendered as a verb ("I hunger") in both Ancient 
and Modern Greek, unlike the rest of Balkan languages or Romance.

phom hiw (both lexemes rising tone)
I hunger(V)


Old Babylonian (Akkadian):
(I am not certain of my classification of this example)

Chinese (Mandarin):
wo3 e4 le
I be-hungry change_of_state-part 
(another reply tags 'le' as 'currently relevant marker')
or: wo3 hen3 e4
I very be_hungry

Ta mee g'accyrys 
Is I -ing hunger "I am hungering" 
We see here that the N 'accyrys' is used as a verbal noun (and it is a
VN, I believe, etymologically). This makes the analysis of 'Ta accyrys
orrym' above a bit shaky. The, structural and etymological identical,
Irish 'T ocras orm' cannot be analysed as a verbal expression though,
as (I believe!) neither 'ocras' nor any other of the Ns that go into
this construction (e.g. 'bron' "sorrow/sorry") can be used as VNs in
Modern Irish (and I'm not sure whether they are all VNs originally).

by 'paraphrase' I mean that the language does not normally use a noun,
verb or adjective 'hunger' or 'hungry' (i.e. if the language has one
it is stylistically marked). Instead the language uses another concept
to express the feeling of hunger.

1) 'stomach empty'


(Boku wa) onaka ga sui-te i-ru
I TOP stomach NOM become.empty-PART be-PRES
(Boku wa) hara ga het-te i-ru
 stomach decrease-PART

Notes: 1) I believe 'hara' and 'onaka' are synonymous and both occur
with both verbs, but 'hara', as 'het-te' is a bit more
colloquial/male-language. 2) This sentences are past tense form, but
present tense meaning: it _has_ emptied = it _is_ empty (I _am_ hungry)

Mul on kht thi
I:adessive be:pres:3sg stomach:NOM empty:NOM
= "I have an empty stomach"

ngo5 tou5 ngo6
I(topic) stomach hungry
="as for me, my stomach is hungry" 
(Note! Adj is subtype of V as for Mandarin)

To ddo
1ps-nonkin be-hungry stomach	(I do not know what the tag 'nonkin'

Both the Cantonese and the Vietnamese may be better described as
verbal or adjectival, as they _do_ contain a root 'hungry', but I have
put them together with Japanese, because of their reference to the

2) 'want to eat'
Plains Cree:

'Ua 'ou fia 'ai
PERF I want eat

Sayula Popoluca (Eastern Mixe, Southern Vera Cruz):
ta ky7jk+p
ta kay=7o7k-j+-p
1ps eat=want-REFL-CONT
or with a dependent clause:
tan wmp ta kyw7n
tan wa:7n-p [ta kay-wa:7n]
1-3 want-CONT [1ps eat-DEP_FUT]
I want it [that I shall eat]

3) 'need of food'
Mae eisiau bwyd arnaf (South Welsh: Mae chwant bwyd arnaf)
Is need(-of-)food on-me
This parallels the Irish and Manx above, but without a lexeme for
'hunger'. (W. arnaf = Ir. orm, and for possessives W. gan = Ir. ag) 

Awara (Trans-New Guinea, Finisterre-Huon, Wantoat):
Nakngale tikaying they.are.being

Arop-Sissano (Papua New Guinea)
Otouw tak'aw yia
food INCOMPLETIVE-grip me
I think the way to make sense of this as a speaker of 'Standard
Average European' is that there is some kind of metonymy 'food' for
'lack of food' (as in 'risk death' = 'risk ones life'). This makes it
comparable to hunger-as-subject

Plains Indian Sign Language:
Dan Alford Moonhawk ( writes:
"In PISL, it's a horizontal slice across the belly, indicating that
hunger is cutting you in half."


The constructions above are not the only one used in the
languages. But the others are either highly marked, mostly used
metaphorical, or have other meanings, like to starve, to diet or to be
extremely hungry. I have tried to sort the examples, so that those
that are the normal have been mentioned above, but I cannot guarantee
that I haven't deleted important data in this process. Generally, I
can say, there is none of the replies, that I have sorted out, that
does not fall under the categories established above.

1) dieting
Czech: Hladovim (Verb-1sg) (eq. in Russian) 

2) starving
Danish: Jeg sulter. (1sg-pron V)
French: Je suis affam (adj) (Note French and Danish are mirror-images)
Estonian: Mul on nlg (I-adess be-PRS-3sg hunger-NOM)

3) metaphorical
English: I hunger

4) Poetical
English: Hunger raged among the citizens

5) just less common or more formal:
Russian: mnye khochetsya yest' (to-me wants-itself to-eat)
	 or: mne golodno (to-me hungry-short_form-neuter/adverb)
Swedish: Jeg knner mig hungrig (I feel myself hungry) (eq. in Danish)
Portuguese: Estou com fome (I-am with hunger)
Finnish: (min) olen nlissni (I am in my hungers; nllissni is
	 plural, inessive, 1sg-possesive)
Finnish: nlk ("hunger!") Jarno Rauko writes: "It's more probable
	 than "Hunger!" or "Hungry!" (but cf. "Food!") although it's
	 not of course complete syntax"
Italian: Sono affamato, or Ho appetito (both formal)
Japanese: (Boku wa) kuuhuku de-aru (empty-stomach COP; kuuhuku is a
	 borrowing from Chinese; formal)
Japanese: onaka ga pekopeko da (stomach is hungry; very colloquial)


Jarno Raukko, Arika Okrent, Scott Hersey, Emily Bender, Douglas Wulf,
Bertinetto, Takae Tsujioka, Phoevos Panagiotidis, Yiwola Awoyale, 
Bert Peeters, Dan Moonhawk Alford, John Phillips, Mark Irwin, 
Keiko Unedaya, Asya Pereltsvaig, SHINOHARA Kazuko, Gary B. Palmer, 
Robert R. Ratcliff, Yo Matsumoto, Hiroaki Tanaka, Irmeli Helin, 
Jaakko Leino, Esme Jansen van Vuuren, Colin Whiteley, Henrik Rahm, 
Jacqueline Lecarme, Gao Hong, minne g. de boer, Michael Moss, 
Jan Kuper, Larry Trask, Robert Whiting, Kirsten Beissner, Renate Krist, 
Simona Herdan, Mari Siiroinen, Ans van Kemenade, Stephen Matthews,
Anna Strom, Kenneth Holmqvist, Philip Franz Seitz, George Huttar, 
Eva Remberger, Judy Dick, Iraide Ibarretxe, James E. Lavine, 
John Hewson, Colin Harrison, Richard Rhodes, John Nystrom, 
Victor Pekar, Ken Cook, Helle Metslang, Jana Holsanova, Ed and
Susan Quigley, Rich Campbell, Bingfu Lu, John Mackin, Richard Laurent
Baruch Podolsky and Matti Miestamo.

Stud. mag. (Ling & Filos) 	e-mail:
Soren Harder, 
Dept. of Linguistics,		phone: + (45) 89 42 21 60
University of Aarhus

He who would not sacrifice his own soul to save the whole world is, it
seems to me, illogical in all his inferences collectively -- Peirce 
(If this is not an exageration, it is just plunk crazy -- C. Hookway)
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