Monday, July 07, 2008

One word, two masters: demonstrative agreement with addressee

In Qur'anic Arabic (this is hardly ever applied in Modern Standard), at least in presentative contexts, the word "that" agrees in number and gender not only with the noun it refers to, but also with the addressee. (A YouTube video lecture on this by some shaykh is available for Arabic-speakers.) "That" is morphologically composed of two elements. The first bit agrees with the referent:

đā-li-masculine singular
ti-l-feminine singular
đāni-masculine dual
tāni-feminine dual
'ulā'i-masculine/feminine animate plural

The second bit agrees with the addressee:
-kamasculine/feminine singular
-kumāmasculine/feminine dual
-kummasculine plural
-kunnafeminine animate plural

(In modern standard Arabic, only -ka is normally used here; even in Qur'anic contexts, the other forms' usage seems to be limited.)

Thus in Surat Yusuf, verse 32, Pharaoh's wife, addressing her women friends, says:
فَذَلِكُنَّ الَّذِي لُمْتُنَّنِي فِيهِ
fa-đālikunna llađī lumtunnanī fīhi
That is the man about whom you blamed me!

Then in verse 37, Yūsuf/Joseph, addressing his two cellmates, says:
ذَلِكُمَا مِمَّا عَلَّمَنِي رَبِّي
đālikumā mimmā `allamanī rabbī
That is (part) of what my Lord has taught me.

Likewise, in Surat al-A`rāf 22, God tells Adam and Eve:
أَلَمْ أَنْهَكُمَا عَن تِلْكُمَا الشَّجَرَةِ
'a-lam 'anhākumā `an tilkumā ššajarati?
Did I not forbid you from that tree?

It's not hard to come up with a story for how this grammatical phenomenon could have emerged: li in Arabic means "to" or "for", and the endings it takes are (with one exception) the same as those above, so it could easily have either conveyed a presentative meaning (compare English expressions like "That's London for you!") or, less probably in this case, indicated proximity to the addressee ("Get me that book next to you"). But I have a question for all you wonderful readers who have gotten this far: do you know of any other language that does something like this?


Anonymous said...

Allocutivity of Basque verbs?

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Interesting comparison - I hadn't heard of that, but looking at it I can see your point. It in turn reminds me of Japanese politeness morphology.

jdm said...

wow, that's fascinating... I hadn't really ever payed so close attention to those alternative demonstratives, since usually I can't keep track of all the different variations in Qur'anic Arabic. It took the wild gesticulations of our beloved Shaykh (that was Sha'rawi wasn't it?) to hammer the point home, though. As for comparisons, I can't think of any weird demonstratives except a vague recollection of some strange Late Latin agreement issues, but that was probably just because of proximity...

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Languagehat said...

I posted this yesterday; nothing exciting in the comments so far, but I thought I'd let you know.


iwsfutcmd said...

Wow, I've been studying Arabic for years and I never knew about this system. They don't teach it in standard Arabic classes.