Getting rid of the sg/pl distinction in personal pronouns

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Alessio
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Getting rid of the sg/pl distinction in personal pronouns

Post by Alessio » Mon 20 Nov 2017, 13:43

A conlang I'm currently developing, Simpel, has no distinction between singular and plural in any of its parts of speech, which means that pronouns don't have one either. This seems a big limitation to me, but I really want to go for it. I was therefore looking for some other way to give hints about the number of people included in the group, without explicitly marking the plural.
I've seen how Japanese deals with this, with the suffix -達 -tachi and special pronouns like 我々 wareware; however I would rather not apply any kind of suffix or even use any kind of particle near the pronoun, to underline that, yet again, number is not marked on the pronoun itself, not even via a suffix meaning something else. At the same time, of course, I don't want separate pronouns - that's the way English handles the plural anyway, so it would be nothing "different".

So yeah, I was looking for suggestions. Anything really, I could mix all your ideas and see what works for me. Consider that Simpel is - or I'm trying to make it - an isolating language, with furthermore little to no inflection on anything.
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Re: Getting rid of the sg/pl distinction in personal pronouns

Post by Creyeditor » Mon 20 Nov 2017, 14:03

You could use combinations of pronouns to express plurality. Not that naturalistic but I think some variety of Jamaican English has something similar. Suppose you have three pronouns Me (I), you(sg) (U) and s/he/it (E).
We (inclusive dual) is than just "I and U"
We (exclusive dual) is "I and E"
We (inclusive plural) is "I and U and E"
We (exclusive plural) is "I and E and E"
You (dual) is "U and E"
You (plural) is "U and E and E"
They (dual) is "E and E"
They (plural) is "E and E and E"
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Re: Getting rid of the sg/pl distinction in personal pronouns

Post by Iyionaku » Mon 20 Nov 2017, 15:07

I think the most natural way would be adverbs that indicate the plurality if necessary. Note that those are not suffixes if they can appear somewhere else in the sentence. So:

"I be at shop inside buy food" -> "I'm in the shop to buy food."/"We're in the shop to buy food." (Ambiguous)
"I be at shop alone buy food" -> "I'm in the shop to buy food."
"I be at shop together buy food" -> "We're in the shop to buy food."
"I with he be at shop inside buy food" -> "We're in the shop to buy food."

Of course, you can also go with no marking at all. I don't see a problem with it.
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Re: Getting rid of the sg/pl distinction in personal pronouns

Post by Salmoneus » Mon 20 Nov 2017, 17:27

Alessio wrote:
Mon 20 Nov 2017, 13:43
A conlang I'm currently developing, Simpel, has no distinction between singular and plural in any of its parts of speech, which means that pronouns don't have one either. This seems a big limitation to me, but I really want to go for it. I was therefore looking for some other way to give hints about the number of people included in the group, without explicitly marking the plural.
I've seen how Japanese deals with this, with the suffix -達 -tachi and special pronouns like 我々 wareware; however I would rather not apply any kind of suffix or even use any kind of particle near the pronoun, to underline that, yet again, number is not marked on the pronoun itself, not even via a suffix meaning something else. At the same time, of course, I don't want separate pronouns - that's the way English handles the plural anyway, so it would be nothing "different".

So yeah, I was looking for suggestions. Anything really, I could mix all your ideas and see what works for me. Consider that Simpel is - or I'm trying to make it - an isolating language, with furthermore little to no inflection on anything.
Maybe it would be easier if you clarified what the problem was? Number isn't something that's commonly a major issue with understanding, is it?

But some things that might help disambiguate:
- "a number of". You may say this is just an optional plural marker, but it's also inevitable - no language is going to lack any way to convey that there is more than one of something. Just as you can say "eight fish", "two fish", you can probably say "some number of fish" in most languages. Various routes are possible without 'number' per se: "so many fish", "count them fish", "more than one fish", "a small dozen fish" (where 'dozen' has come to mean 'loads', and 'small dozen' thus means 'some). 'not all fish' (with 'one' pragmatically excluded). Etc.

- verbal pluractionality. So, "I ate cat" (I ate the cat), but "I ate [plur.] cat" (I ate the cats), "I ate [plur.] one cat" (we ate the cat). "I ate [plur.] cat bit by bit" (I ate the cat, in several sittings)

- distributives. "I ate each cat" and "I ate cat one by one" both imply more than one cat.

- collectives. Likewise "I ate cat alltogether"

- qualifiers. Likewise "I ate all cat", "I ate some cat" (can distinguish mass vs count qualifiers, 'all the cats' vs 'all of the cat', etc)

- differential article use. "I ate a cat" implying singular, "I ate cat" being ambiguous.

- inclusive/exclusive distinctions on pronouns. "I-exc ate cat" being either "I" or "I and my mates", against "I-inc ate cat" (I and you ate cat).

- likewise associatives. "I (etc) ate cat" vs "I ate cat"

- "only", "just", "not only", "not just", etc.

- collective nouns/classifiers. "I ate cat" vs "I ate anarchy of cat" vs "a pack of us ate cat".


Remember, "lacking number" doesn't mean you can't mark number. It just means you don't always have to do it. It means there will be some situations (either semantic or syntactic) where number is not marked.
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Re: Getting rid of the sg/pl distinction in personal pronouns

Post by Alessio » Mon 20 Nov 2017, 17:40

I like both the multiple pronouns and the adverb solution. The former don't look that ugly to me, they are aligned with the feeling I'd want for this language.
As for the adverbs, instead, they are more aligned with what I did already for other unmarked things, e.g. tense. I could study a rule to find a use for both solutions.

Salmoneus, no indeed, it isn't a major issue in most cases, but with pronouns it's a bit different in my opinion. I'm a bit uncomfortable with being unable to distinguish, say, "I" from "we". Your examples are mostly about nouns but those are not a problem, because indeed there are lots of ways to refer to several things without using a plural. Still, some of your suggestions (eg. "all of us") could work in some contexts, so I'll note them down.

Thank you all and keep suggesting!
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Tin't inameint ca tót a sàm stê żǒv'n e un po' cajoun, mo s't'armâgn cajoun an vǒl ménga dîr t'armâgn anc żǒven...
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Re: Getting rid of the sg/pl distinction in personal pronouns

Post by Salmoneus » Mon 20 Nov 2017, 18:42

Alessio wrote:
Mon 20 Nov 2017, 17:40
I like both the multiple pronouns and the adverb solution. The former don't look that ugly to me, they are aligned with the feeling I'd want for this language.
As for the adverbs, instead, they are more aligned with what I did already for other unmarked things, e.g. tense. I could study a rule to find a use for both solutions.

Salmoneus, no indeed, it isn't a major issue in most cases, but with pronouns it's a bit different in my opinion. I'm a bit uncomfortable with being unable to distinguish, say, "I" from "we". Your examples are mostly about nouns but those are not a problem, because indeed there are lots of ways to refer to several things without using a plural. Still, some of your suggestions (eg. "all of us") could work in some contexts, so I'll note them down.

Thank you all and keep suggesting!
Well, almost all the things for nouns work just as well for pronouns (except articles, I guess). All of us, a pack of us, just us, some of us, one of us, more than one of us, any of us, each of us, we one by one, etc etc.

But really, why is "we" vs "I" so important, other than it being something SAE does?

In the case of exclusive 'we', the difference between 'we' and 'I' is rarely important. I might care what you've done, but how often do I care whether other people also did it at the same time? If you say "we went to Disneyland", what does that really tell me? That you went to Disneyland, and that someone else did too. But I don't know who that other person is, what they did there, or why it's important! I don't even know if you and they both went to Disneyland at the same time, or whether you each knew the other was there at the time! It's very rare for that tiny skelp of information to actually be something important for me to know, and you can always disambiguate if it is ("I went to Disneyland with someone").
Or "I had dinner at the Italian" vs "we had dinner at the Italian". Both tell me that you had dinner at the Italian, but the latter also says that one or more other people were also there. Well hooray. I don't know how many there were (are we talking romantic dinner for two, or family outing?), or who they were. Indeed, since you're avoiding saying who they were, it's basically saying "I, and some other person not relevent enough to mention by name, had dinner at the Italian" - if they're not worth the effort of specifying, why are they so important for me to know about?

Sometimes, you might say "it's not that they're unimportant, just that they're obvious from context". But the problem is, if they're obvious from context you don't need to mention them at all! If you say "I/we and my/our family were talking about holidays. Last year I/we went to Disneyland", it's pretty clear that you mean "we (I and my family)". If you didn't, you'd say "I went to Disneyland alone". And if you say "My/our wife and I/we bumped into each other at lunch. She works on the fourth floor and I/we work on the third floor, so that's not uncommon", it's pretty clear that the second sentence is talking about 'I', not 'we'.

In general, if there's enough context for it to be clear who "we" is and why we should care, there's ALSO enough context for it to be clear whether you mean 'I' or 'we', and in the rare event that it's not, words like 'alone', 'both', 'together' and so on rapidly disambiguate!


MEANWHILE: inclusive "we" is actually important: if you mean "I and you", I care about that. The problem there is that the difference between inclusive we and plain 'I' is also really obvious to me from context. "I/you-and-I went to Disneyland" - I know immediately whether that's an inclusive or a singular! The only real ambiguity is discussing future events ("you and I both have plane tickets tomorrow" may be both important and surprising). But future events can be handled by a whole other dimension of modal stuff that can usually make the difference clear. [eg commissive "I will pay" vs cohortative "let us both pay" - the mood can be carried on the verb or elsewhere, so the pronoun needn't show it]. Or you can just use double pronouns if necessary, or similar "you have a plane ticket for tomorrow, with me". These situations rarely arise.
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Re: Getting rid of the sg/pl distinction in personal pronouns

Post by shanoxilt » Tue 21 Nov 2017, 21:56

Alessio wrote:
Mon 20 Nov 2017, 13:43
A conlang I'm currently developing, Simpel, has no distinction between singular and plural in any of its parts of speech, which means that pronouns don't have one either. This seems a big limitation to me, but I really want to go for it.
Lojban does this for all of its nouns and pronouns. Plurals are specified with a number or a qualifier like "some".
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