I haven't seen any natlang or conlang precedents for it, although at first glance it might look a bit like a T-V distinction and in some ways, there is some similarity to stance in
Nominals are a closed class of word, equivalent to the pronouns and articles of other languages. The only other word classes are verbals (open), particles (closed) and interjections (closed-ish). Nominals are inflected for grammatical ...
- • Person: 1st / 2nd / 3rd
• Number: singular / plural
• Definiteness and specificity: definite / specific indefinite / non-specific indefinite (only in 3rd person)
• Gender: animate / inanimate (only in 3rd person)
• Accessibility/Status: accessible / inaccessible (only in animate gender)
• Case: nominative / accusative / dative / ablative / locative / genitive / possessive / vocative / causal / benefactive / instrumental / comitative / topical / essive
At first glance, it looks like a T-V distinction extended to include the 1st and 3rd persons. Strangers and acquaintances generally use the inaccessible nominals nu NOM.1s.ICS and vu NOM.2s.ICS when speaking to each other. (Similarity to French nous and vous is completely coincidental!) Close friends and lovers generally use the accessible nominals na NOM.1s.ACS and ua NOM.2s.ACS. Third persons are referred to with either ju NOM.3s.DEF.ICS or ja NOM.3s.DEF. depending on the speaker's relationship to them.
- So that I don't have to keep glossing, in the nominative, accessible nominals have the stem vowel a while inaccessible nominals have u. First person is with N, second person with V or U.
Completely coincidental mnemonics: accessible, "unaccessible", noi/nous/nosotros, voi/vous/vosotros.
To boil it down to what accessibility basically means, it's about whether physical bodily contact is allowed. Accessible basically means touchable and inaccessible means untouchable. This does not mean that close friends who use accessible nominals with each other are necessarily all over each other all the time - physical contact may well be at a higher level than in Western cultures, but accessibility really just means that contact is allowed. It is chiefly a means of indicating one's attitude and openness (thus accessibility) to the other person, whether or not there is actual physical contact. Ngolu speakers are forced, in virtually every sentence, to affirm their closeness to or distance from those with whom and about whom they communicate.
By referring to myself with the inaccessible nu, I am saying "We are not close. Do not touch me! That would be weird and totes inappropes." Calling you vu means "I respect your space and am not going to touch you." Totally normal when talking to strangers. Na means "I consider you a close friend. Physical contact is OK, or even welcome." Ua means "I assume we are close enough for me to touch you (but, by all means, correct me if this assumption is wrong)." In this context, the submissive and dominant stances are basically affirming the right of the dominant person to touch the subordinate person if he or she so pleases, while the subordinate person may not touch the dominant person.
Another interesting thing is that it can be changed at a moment's notice to suit the situation and your current feelings. Deeply offended by what your friend or partner has just said to you? Just call yourself nu in the next sentence. Maybe it sounds like a grammatical tool for passive aggression, but it's an overt way of signalling a change in attitude while simultaneously being able to discuss other content. It's not "passive". Want to make it clear that you are flirting with a stranger or acquaintance? Respectfully continue to address them as vu, but indicate your openness by referring to yourself as na. Earlier, I called this the submissive stance, but it doesn't amount to grovelling. (In fact, I can imagine this being used rather aggressively as well as respectfully.) If they respond with na - ua, you're in! If it's nu - ua, they've followed your lead and adopted the dominant stance - they're not giving you an answer yet. Nu - vu is basically them telling you "Back off. I'm NOT going to touch you." Are you ill and don't think it's wise for anyone to get to close? Got a headache? Feeling tense wound up like a coiled spring? Just don't want to be touched for whatever reason? Quarantine yourself from people with inaccessible nominals. If someone's about to cross your boundaries, simply scream this at them:
Don't touch me! / I'm here and I'm not up for being touched / There exists "untouchable me".
Occasionally, overt talking about accessibility may be needed. If there's a misunderstanding, it needs to be made clear, to whom one is accessible, the dative case is used.
- nnu eui - nnas eje
g-nu eui | n-nas eje
COP-NOM.1s.ICS DAT.2s.ICS | COP-NOM.1s.ACS DAT.3s.ACS
I'm untouchable to you. I'm touchable to him/her.
- mvu (ene) texi mo?
g-vu (ene) texi mo
COP-NOM.2s.ICS DAT.1s.ACS CAU.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.what
Why are you untouchable (to me)?
- nnu teni
I'm untouchable for my own reason (ie. not because of anything you did).
I think this feature in a language would have a number of interesting effects. I'd love to speak a language that has this in it. Maybe I'm reading too much into it and I don't want to get too Sapir-Whorfian, but I think it'd be handy. I'm not saying that people wouldn't still pretend to be OK with something they're not - consent would still be given under duress (as I've illustrated with the dominance and submissive stances), but it may sharpen the blurred lines a little.
I read an interesting take on the Sapir-Whorf effect. A language doesn't constrain its speakers in the ways it handles things grammatically, but if there is anything that is obligatorily marked all the time, it does force the speakers to be aware of this. For example, languages that use compass directions instead of left, right, front, back are spoken by people who are aware of the compass directions all or most of the time.
I would not say that accessibility would make people more aware of how close they feel to other people - of course we are aware of our own feelings towards other people. However, forcing accessibility to be marked grammatically would take interpersonal openness out of the realm of the subtle, the nuanced - body language, inflection and communication style - and put it on display unmistakably present in almost every utterance whether spoken or written down.
I grew up surrounded by people with Asperger's syndrome and I have a feeling that obligatory accessibility marking would go some way towards making the invisible, hard to interpret subtext in communication a bit more easy to get a hold of and help make other people's intentions clearer (and get your own intentions across). Also, for anyone hypersensitive to touch (as I am, but for different reasons) simply speaking would be a constant reminder to others to respect that person's boundaries.
In any case, even if these things turn out to be not very helpful, for whatever reason - I still like having doubles of every pronoun and article that get used in different circumstances. I like the idea of a non-conlanger taking a very casual interest in my language and just asking how do you say "blah" and me saying "That depends. Would you be comfortable if I were to touch you right now?" "What?" "Well, if you would, it's blah blah blah na blah blah, and if not, it's blah blah blah nu blah blah."