Person (grammar)

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The grammatical category of the person indicates, especially with the parts of speech pronouns and nouns , which role the designated living beings or things play in the speech situation. This participant role in the speaking situation is the only characteristic that is directly identified by the concept of the grammatical person. In many cases, however, it occurs linked to a number characteristic (i.e. singular / plural).

The grammatical person category can have three values ​​in most systems, namely:

  1. Speaker of the utterance: the pronouns "I", "we",
  2. Addressee of the utterance: pronouns “you”, “her”, “you”; or
  3. Third parties who are neither speaker nor addressee: the pronouns "he", "it", "she".

Parts of speech in which various personal characteristics can be distinguished are primarily personal pronouns and possessive pronouns . Other types of pronouns such as indefinite pronouns and nouns are restricted to the 3rd person.

The attribute person can also appear in other parts of speech that do not themselves designate individuals. The occurrence of the personal characteristic is relatively common in affixes that show a characteristic match ( congruence ) with the subject of the sentence in finite verb forms . The category of finiteness does not necessarily have to contain a reference to personal characteristics (e.g. in Danish the finite verb form is person-neutral).

The technical terms for grammatical persons only consist of numbering the named roles as 1st person , 2nd person and 3rd person . This category is represented in all languages ​​of the world , but not all three persons are always completely differentiated by forms. There are also cases in some languages ​​where an extension of the list to “fourth” or even “fifth” people has been suggested; but there is no generally accepted convention for this, and many such proposals are also disputed in linguistics.

Grammatical forms and their interpretation of content can sometimes diverge, as is the case with the person. Often grammatical factors then have priority when choosing the form. In principle, it is possible for a speaker to designate himself with an expression that grammatically belongs to the third person ( Illeism ). For example, a father, directed to his own child, can refer to himself as "the papa" ("the papa goes away for a moment": 3rd person also in the verb form). Likewise, due to rules of courtesy, those addressed can be identified with a third-person expression, e.g. B. the German politeness pronoun "Sie" is historically a third person form.

Origin of the designation

The word " person " comes from the Latin persona (originally: "mask", especially in connection with theater). In everyday language, this word describes beings with whom one can communicate, usually people. In this sense of the word one says, for example, that someone is a (natural) person.

The grammatical term person has a different structure and describes a grammatical feature that certain expressions carry. In this sense, one says that an expression that denotes someone or something is in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd (grammatical) person. This grammatical term is not limited to people, although reference to people is the most normal case with the first and second person. The word personal pronoun refers to the grammatical person, namely a pronoun that expresses a personal characteristic, and therefore also applies to the reference to things and abstracts.

The use as a grammar term and the common numbering come from the ancient grammarist Dionysios Thrax (170/160 to approx. 90 BC), who wrote the oldest grammar that has survived to this day in Europe. He formulated "The first person is the one from whom the speech starts, the second to whom the speech is addressed, and the third who the speech goes about". The word πρόσωπον (prosōpon) used by him means primarily "face", but unlike the German word person, it is not restricted to personal beings, but can also designate the appearance of a thing. The ambiguity of person in German comes about through the translation.

In the Arabic grammar tradition , the first person is called al-mutakallimu , that is, "the one who speaks," the second al-muhâtabu , that is, "the one to whom one turns," and the third al-yâ`ibu , "That is, the one who is absent."

But there is also the case of the reverse order. The following numbering is used in Indian grammar :

  • prathamapurusa means "first person", d. H. the one we're talking about (it corresponds to our third person)
  • madhyamapurusa means "middle person", d. H. the one to whom the speech is addressed (it corresponds to our second person)
  • uttamapurusa means "last person", d. H. the one from which the speech starts (it corresponds to our first person)

Overview: Area of ​​application of the characteristic person

Grammatical person is a trait that can appear in two ways:

  • There is an expression which itself designates individuals: Then the expression shows the speaking situation role of this individual as speaker, addressee or third party. In this case, the personnel characteristic is firmly linked to the expression.
  • An expression is assigned that does not itself designate individuals, but is linked by a congruence rule (characteristic match) to an expression that already bears personal characteristics. Here, person appears as a feature in the inflection (grammatical formation) of a word.

The grammatical category person in this sense always starts from cases where an individual is named in the content of the sentence - it does not extend to cases where only the form of a sentence reflects properties of the utterance situation, such as markings of respect for the addressee or the social status or gender of the actual speaker.

Person as an inflectional feature

This section first presents the second point of the above overview, personal characteristics as inflection. Overall, it can be said that personal inflection of a word is usually triggered by a personal characteristic of its arguments (grammatical additions). The reverse also seems to apply: If a word congruent with one of its arguments, the congruence form very often contains the personal characteristic.

Person in verb forms

The best-known example of person as an inflectional feature is the subject congruence of the verb in many languages. The following table shows personal pronouns as subject and the conjugation of the respective verb for 'do, make' in the languages Danish , German , Russian , Turkish and Swahili . Danish only appears here as a contrast, as an example of a language whose finite verb forms do not express personal characteristics (but still differ from the infinitive). (The hyphens in the verb forms show the decomposition, they are not written):

Danish German Russian Turkish Swahili
1 singular jeg gør I do- e ( yes ) dela- ju yapar- im ni -na-fanya
2 singular you gør du feasible st ( ty ) dela- eš ' yapar- sın u -na-fanya
3 singular han / hun / den / det
he / she / it
feasible t
( On / ona / ono )
dela- et
yapar a- / i- / li- /…
1 plural vi gør We feasible en ( my ) dela- em yapar- ız tu -na-fanya
2 plural I gør it feasible t ( Vy ) dela- ete yapar- sınız m -na-fanya
3 plural de gør it feasible en ( Oni ) dela- jut yapar- lar wa- / zi- / ya- /…

While the personal marking of the verb in most Indo-European languages is done after the verb stem (i.e. using suffixes ), in other languages ​​it can also be done before it (i.e. using prefixes ), as here in Swahili. Another prefix can designate the object there, so that a verb form can indicate the personal characteristics of two additions, e.g. B. u -na- i -fanya (“ you do it ”) with 2nd and 3rd person.

In some languages ​​the division of subject pronouns shown above in the sentence and the verb inflection triggered by it is not found, but only the verb inflection shows the person of the subject or object, and thus identifies the subject or object all by itself. If this mechanism occurs in its pure form, it is called “ cross-reference ” in linguistics ; not to be confused with “switch-reference”, which is addressed below using the example of Greenlandic).

Person in nominal forms: Possessor congruence

A lesser known case of person inflection is a mark on nouns that indicates the person of the owner. This can be found, for example, in Turkish (the table is taken from the article Possessive ):

Singular Plural
1. ev- im my house ev- imiz our house
2. ev- in your house ev- iniz your house
3. ev- i his / her house * EV leri Your House

Personal inflection on prepositions

Occasionally one also finds personal inflection in prepositions (or postpositions ), where it then expresses the personal characteristic of their addition. For an example, see Welsh Language # Prepositions .

special cases

Congruent conjunctions

Rare personal characteristics of subordinating conjunctions, where they congruent with the subject of the sentence (and the finite verb), about in Bavarian: "because you -st ka idea ho st " (more about this in the article complementers ).

Person congruence in attributive constructions

Person congruence in modifying attributive constructions is very rare . Most likely, there is still person congruence, which consists in an extension of the possessor congruence of a noun to an accompanying adjective. This is described, for example, in the Uralic language Nenzisch :

(møny) serako(-myi) te-myi
1SG    weiß-1SG     Rentier-1SG 
„mein weißes Rentier“

The existence of person congruence of an adjective with the person of the noun itself is even more exotic.

Relative pronouns can depend on a first or second person pronoun or on a salutation ( vocative ). So although they should occasionally congruent with first or second person, relative pronouns never seem to show any other personal forms than the third person. In German, the problem is solved by adding a personal pronoun to the relative pronoun:

„O Diener, der du dadurch dien-st, dass du dem Herrn das Bett verminst...“
(aus einem Gedicht von Robert Gernhardt)

The characteristic person in personal pronouns

Personal pronouns primarily express the characteristic person, but usually combine this with singular / plural ( number ), and often with other characteristics such as gender, liveliness, respect, etc. See the article Personal pronouns . The question of the internal structure of personal pronouns therefore often only consists of the question of the separability of the number characteristic.

The way in which the characteristic person itself is expressed can vary. The typical case is the use of fundamentally different forms for each person (or person-number combination), as in the German I - you - he / she ... . However, there are also systematically separable pronominal forms. In the Lakhota language , the personal pronoun has a neutral stem that denotes only the property “pronoun” ( ye ), and the various pronouns come about by connecting this stem with affixes that otherwise also serve as the regular possessive affixes . The same procedure is used here for the formation of the personal pronouns themselves as for person as an inflectional feature in the previous section:

1.Pers.Singular:  mi-ye
1.Pers.Plural:    uki-ye
2.Pers.           ni-ye

The question of personal characteristics beyond the third person

Inclusive and exclusive we

The first person plural is not literally a plural of “I” (i.e. multiple speakers), but a combination of the first person singular with one or more of the other, second and / or third persons. For this reason there are also different we-forms in many languages, which distinguish whether the addressed are included ("inclusive we") or not ("exclusive we"), for example in Indonesian :

  • day care center "we together with you" (1st person plural inclusive)
  • kami "we without you / you" (1st person plural exclusive)

Some languages ​​even distinguish three different forms of the first person plural in their verb affixes. So the Sierra Popoluca has the exclusive we, the “limited” inclusive we (me and the addressee (s) excluding additional third parties) and the “generalized” inclusive we (me, the addressee / corresponds as well as an or several third persons).

A distinction between inclusive and exclusive is also conceivable for the second person plural: an exclusive you (several addressees, without third parties) and an inclusive you (you and third parties). Such a distinction has been described for Abkhazian , but does not seem very robust.

In the literature, the view has been taken that the inclusive and exclusive special forms of the speaker reference do not necessarily have to be assigned to the first person, but could stand as an independent category alongside the simple personal characteristics. One would then get a somewhat larger family of characteristics “directly involved in the speaking situation” (1st person, 2nd person, inclusive), in contrast to “not involved”. For example, the following system has been proposed for the personal pronouns of the North Australian language Rembarrnga (see List of Threatened Languages ​​# Australia ):

person minimal minimally expanded expanded
1 ngunu ("I") yarrbbarrah yarru
1/2 yukku ("me and you") ngakorrbbarrah ngakorru
2 ku ("you") nakorrbbarrah nakorru
3 nawu ("he") / ngadu ("she") barrbbarrah barru

Here the inclusive pronoun with the meaning “I and you” does not appear as a kind of plural of the 1st person (namely as the traditional category “1st person including two numbers”), but as an additional elementary person. Like the simple "1st person singular", this can be "minimally expanded" by a third person (middle column) or expanded as required by several people (right column). (Thus “1st person minimally extended” means the conventional 1st person dual exclusive).

Such additional persons are also occasionally classified as a “4. Person ”. However, this way of speaking hides the actual question of how the number characteristic relates to people. In the table, the “minimum” number of individuals differs from person to person, unlike in a conventional system, which is always based on a fixed division into single individual (singular), group of two (dual), group of three and larger (plural, or even trial vs. . Plural), and the person distinctions are subordinated to this grid.

Further inflection categories

There are a number of other categories that raise the question of whether additional persons beyond the values ​​1, 2, 3 are to be assumed - mainly because additional forms occur in the congruence of the verb.

Impersonal forms

In German, the pronoun man (a so-called generalizing personal pronoun ) is usually not regarded as a representative of an independent personal characteristic. The verb congruence appears with man as a subject in the 3rd person singular, and that is exactly why it stands to reason that grammatically it also counts as itself as a 3rd person. The case would be different if the verb also had a separate form here.

In Irish (and also in Finnish ) there are verb forms that identify the subject as an “impersonal” or “generic” subject. The following table (an excerpt from the Irish Language # Verbs article ) shows this separate impersonal form. In the other cells of the table you can see that the language is in transition and uses partially inflected verb forms, or alternatively uninflected forms together with pronouns. However, there is no pronoun for the impersonal subject.

  • Excerpt from the conjugation of Irish bris- ("break"):
  Present Future tense
1. Sg. brisim brisfead, brisfidh mé
2nd Sg. brisir, briseann tú brisfir, brisfidh tú
3rd Sg. briseann sé / sí brisfidh sé / sí
1st pl. brisimid, brisean muid brisfeam, brisfimid, brisfidh muid
2nd pl. briseann sibh brisfidh sibh
3rd pl. brisid, briseann siad brisfid, brisfidh siad
impersonal bristear brisfear

Such an additional “impersonal person” is not found anywhere else in Irish grammar - it is absent in the forms of personal pronouns for the direct object, in possessive pronouns and also in conjugated prepositions. It is therefore not customary to say that the category “person” in Irish takes on fundamentally different values ​​than the familiar values ​​1, 2, 3.

The “fourth person” in Greenlandic

Some languages ​​have grammatical markings that make it clear whether an individual mentioned in a subordinate clause is identical to one mentioned in the main clause - or different from it. One then speaks of a switch reference system . According to Baker & Souza (2020), the Greenlandic language provides an example of this (although this classification is sometimes disputed in the specialist literature).

The two forms that express the identity or difference of an individual in a subordinate clause with that in the main clause are traditionally referred to as two different personal forms in Greenlandic grammar, namely “third” and “fourth” person. They appear as pronominal affixes of the verb, in addition to which there are full argument expressions in the sentence that do not have these markings. In the following example, the affix -a- is the symbol for the difference in reference between the subordinate clause subject ( ergative ) and the subject of the main clause and -mi- is the symbol for their identity. At the same time, the verb of the subordinate clause also contains the affixes -uk- or -gu- for reference difference between the subordinate clause object and the main clause, and -ni- for its identity. For easier readability, only the forms for identity are printed in bold, marked as "3SG.PROX" ("proximal"):

a.   Juuna-p    Kaali   tatigimm-a-ni           tuqqissimavu-q
     Juuna-ERG  Kaali   vertrauen-3SG-3SG.PROX  ruhigleiben-3SG
     „Weil Juuna Kaali vertraute, blieb er ruhig.“ — „Er“ = Kaali
b.   Juuna-p    Kaali   tatigiga-mi-uk           tuqqissimavu-q
     Juuna-ERG  Kaali   vertrauen-3SG.PROX-3SG   ruhigleiben-3SG
     „Weil Juuna Kaali vertraute, blieb er ruhig.“ — „Er“ = Juuna
c.   Juuna-p    Kaali   tatigiga-a-gu           tuqqissimavu-q
     Juuna-ERG  Kaali   vertrauen-3SG-3SG       ruhigleiben-3SG
     „Weil Juuna Kaali vertraute, blieb er ruhig.“ — „Er“ = ein Dritter, weder Kaali noch Juuna

While the designation of the above “PROX” form as a “fourth person” is broadly anchored in the grammar of Greenlandic, and is also mentioned in more recent linguistic works, it is doubted that the form can literally be used as a further person on a par with 1. , 2nd, 3rd can be seen (and the term fourth person is also tended to be put in quotation marks in recent literature, see Baker & Souza 2020). Gehling (2004) writes with a view to such cases:

"In view of the fact that there are terminological alternatives, the need for the expression" fourth person "can also be denied."

- Thomas Gehling : Me, you and others. A linguistic typological study on the categories »Person« and »Number«, LIT Verlag, Münster 2004.

And more generally:

"All the subdivisions of the third person follow from its place on the deictic scale. There is no room, in our definition, for a fourth person "

- Paul Forchheimer : The Category of Person in Language. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 1953. p. 22

In fact, in the case shown, treatment within the scope of the Switch-Reference category results in an independent characterization according to reference identity, which is also required for the classic cases of interpreting pronouns of the third person (only not displayed in word forms). As can be seen in the example, the “4th Person ”, which is separated from the third, precisely the case that an individual is identical with another third person; it is just not about a demarcation from this 3rd person. Accordingly, we are not dealing here with different participant roles in the speech situation, which was used as a definition at the beginning, but with different references to the grammatical context.

It seems that the way of speaking of a 4th person is not motivated in terms of content (since the function could be understood as a subtype of the 3rd person), but primarily only because the personal inflection distinguishes four different forms of congruence. One would have a divergence of a content definition from a flexion-morphological definition of "person".

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Johanna Nichols: Person as an inflectional category. In: Linguistic Typology, 21-3 (2017), 387-456. See p. 388, there recourse to further literature.
  2. Source for this and the following paragraphs: Thomas Gehling: 'I', 'you' and others. A linguistic typological study on the categories "person" and "number". LIT Verlag, Münster 2004. pp. 1-4.
  3. Wilfried Kürschner: The teachings of the grammarist Dionysios (Dionysios Thrax, Tékhne grammatiké - German with Greek parallel text) . In: Pierre Swiggers and Alfons Wouters (eds.): Ancient grammar: Contents and contexts . Peeters, Löwen, Paris 1996, ISBN 90-6831-881-0 , §13 <F>, p. 198-199 ( [PDF]).
  4. ^ Johanna Nichols: Person as an inflectional category. In: Linguistic Typology, 21-3 (2017), 387-456. See p. 393.
  5. Tundra-Nenzisch, example from Nichols (2017: 393), where it is quoted from a work by Nikolaeva (2005).
  6. Nichols (2017: 393f.) Indicates the isolated existence of such cases. They only seem to arise when an affix, which is used for the gender congruence of the adjective, also compulsorily “carries along” a personal characteristic in a language (which then reads for the 3rd person).
  7. See Michael Daniel: Plurality in Independent Personal Pronouns. In: Matthew Dryer & Martin Haspelmath (eds.): The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig 2013. Online , accessed June 1, 2020.
  8. ^ Johanna Nichols: Person as an inflectional category. In: Linguistic Typology, 21-3 (2017), 387-456. The Lakhota example on p. 391
  9. ^ Arnold M. Zwicky: Hierarchies of Person. In: Chicago Linguistic Society. Vol 13, 1977. pp. 714-733. Quoted from Foster & Foster 1948 on p. 729
  10. Michael Cysouw: The Paradigmatic Structure of Person Marking. Oxford University Press, 2003. p. 75.
  11. ^ Johanna Nichols: Person as an inflectional category. In: Linguistic Typology, 21-3 (2017). - p. 388.
  12. More information also under Maningrida # Culture and in English under en: Rembarrnga_language
  13. ^ Graham McKay: Pronominal Person and Number Categories in Rembarrnga and Djeebbana. In: Oceanic Linguistics, 17-1 (1978), pp. 27-37. online . Data on p. 28. McKay's “unit augmented” category is translated here as “minimally expanded”.
  14. For a parallel case, von McKay (1978) refers to a representation of the Tiwi using a feature “4. Person ”in Osborne (1974).
  15. McKay (1978), p. 28
  16. For this z. E.g .: Mark Baker & Livia Camargo Souza: Switch-Reference in American Languages. In: Daniel Siddiqi et al. (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of North American Languages. Routledge, New York 2020. pp. 210-232. On Greenlandic, see a section on “Category Limits” on p. 227. - Against: Andrew MacKenzie: A survey of switch reference in North America. In: International Journal of American Linguistics, 81 (2015). 409-448. For the exclusion of Greenlandic briefly on p. 420. There MacKenzie refers to a different affix than the one mentioned here, but based on this he denies the existence of switch-reference for Greenlandic in general.
  17. ^ From: Maria Bittner: Case, Scope and Binding . Kluwer, Dordrecht 1994 [today: Springer, Berlin]. See p. 153.
  18. Baker & Souza (2020), p. 228