Functional Role of Person Reference. Comparing Lezgian, English, German and Russian

Term Paper 2002 12 Pages

Speech Science / Linguistics


Table of contents

1. Lezgian
1.1. The Lezgian language
1.2. An overview of Lezgian grammar
1.2.1. Phonology and morphophonemics
1.1.2. Morphology
1.1.3. Syntax
1.1.4. Verbal inflection
1.1.5. Textual examples

2. English
2.1. Forms of the verb
2.2. Forms of the pronoun

3. German
3.1. Pronoun
3.2. Gender
3.3. Number
3.4. Case
3.5. Verbal categories
3.6. Person

4. Russian
4.1. Personal pronouns
4.2. Use of personal instead of possessive pronouns
4.3. The pronoun Я
4.4. The conjugation of the verb

5. Comparing Lezgian, English, German and Russian
5.1. Verbal inflections
5.2. Personal pronouns

6. References

According to Kremer (1997: 30), reference to people is mostly made by using full, lexical noun phrases, proper names and pronouns. With regard to linguistic gender, nouns and pronouns are closely related. In fact, Greenberg’s implicational universal No. 43 is: ´If a language has gender categories in the noun, it has gender categories in the pronoun` (1966:96).

Pronouns, which are always mentioned as one of the traditional word classes, represent a very heterogeneous collection of `closed-class words with nominal function` (Quirk et al. 1985:335).1

1. Lezgian

1.1. The Lezgian language

The Lezgian is spoken by about 400,000 people in southern Daghestan and northern Azerbaijan in the eastern Caucasus. Lezgian has been written since 1928, first in the Latin alphabet, from 1938 onward in the Cyrillic alphabet. The grammar, which I used describes the standard language, which is based on the lowland Güne dialect.

Lezgian is a member of the Lezgic branch of the Nakho-Daghestanian family of languages. The family tree of Nakho-Daghestanian is shown in (1) (following Hewitt 1981 a:197).

(1) Nakho-Daghestanian languages

Nakh languages

Chechen, Ingush, Tsova-Tush (Bats) Daghestanian languages

Avaric languages


Andic languages

Andi, Botlikh, Godober, Karata, Akhvakh, Bagvalal, Tindi, Chamalal

Tsezic languages

Tsez, Khvarshi, Hinukh, Bezhta, Hunzib Lakic languages

Lak, Dargwa

Lezgic languages

Lezgian, Archi, Tabasaran, Agul, Rutul, Tsakhur, Budukh, Kryz, Khinalug, Udi

Comparative studies of Nakho-Daghestanian languages include Bokarev (1961), Giginejšvili (1977), Kibrik & Kodzarov (1988).

The Nakho-Daghestanian family is also sometimes called “North-East Caucasian” or “East Caucasian”.2

1.2. An overview of Lezgian Grammar

This section is an introduction to the typologically most striking features of Lezgian.

1.2.1. Phonology and morphophonemics

Lezgian has six phonemic vowels which form an asymmetric system which is typologically rather unusual. Distinctive length of /a/ and /æ/ is marginal.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

With its 54 members, the Lezgian consonant inventory is quite rich. There are 34 occlusives, in six places of articulation (labial, dental, dental sibilant, postalveolar sibilant, velar, uvular) and four series (voiced, voiceless unaspirated, voiceless aspirated, voiceless ejective). Dental, velar, and uvular obstruents have a labialised and a non-labialized variant.3

1.2.2. Morphology

Lezgian morphology is overwhelmingly suffixing and agglutinating. Nouns, adjectives, and verbs can be easily distinguished by morphological criteria.

Nouns are inflected for number (Singular, Plural), case and localization (Ad, Sub, Post, Super, In). The locative cases Essive, Elative, and Directive occur in combination with the localizations (Ad-essive, Sub-elative, Super-directive, etc.). All cases other then the Absolutive are based on a special oblique stem whose suffix is idiosyncratic for many nouns.

An example: hül “sea”:

illustration not visible in this excerpt4

The locative cases in combination with the localizations can express various local relations. However, local relations are more often expressed by postpositions, and noun inflections tend to express more abstract relations.

The only inflections of adjectives are the substantivizing suffix di (e.g. c'iji “new”, c'iji-di “newone”) and adverbial suffixes -(di)z / -dakaz (e.g. jawaš “slow”, jawaš-diz “slowly”).

Verbs are inflected for tense-aspect, negation, several mood forms and various non- finite forms. There are no person-number agreement forms. The most important inflected verb forms are:

from gun “give”:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

There is a little derivational morphology in Lezgian. The most important nominal derivational suffix is the abstract suffix -wal ( c'iji-wal “new-ness”). Verbs can be derived from verbs by means of the causative suffix -(a)r (aqwaz-un “stop(intr.)”, aqwaz-ar-un “stop (tr.)”. Some derivational affixes have been borrowed along with loanwords and are so common that they must be considered Lezgian affixes, e.g. nominal -ci (e.g. lawga-ci “proud person”), adjective -lu, -suz (e.g. mešreblu “pleasant”, mešrebsuz “unpleasant”), verbial - lamišun (e.g. leke-lamišun “stain, soil”).5

1.2.3. Syntax

Word order patterns in Lezgian are overwhelmingly head-final. This order is obligatory in noun phrases (Genetive-noun, adjective-noun, numeral-noun, demonstrative-noun, etc.), adjective phrases, and postpositional phrases, and it is preferred for clauses. However, alongside SOV order other orders are also possible, especially in the spoken languages.6

1.2.4. Verbal inflection

The are two morphological verb classes, strong verbs and weak verbs. Strong verbs are stressed on the thematic vowel, e.g. rax-ú-n “talk”, whereas weak verbs are stressed on the base and do not have a thematic vowel, e.g. kís-un “fall silent”.

The verbal inflectional suffixes can be divided into three groups depending on the form of the stem to which they are attached. The three stems, which are called Masdar stem, Imperfective stem, and Aorist stem, are distinguished only in strong verbs. In weak verbs all three coincide with the base.

Verbs are inflected for tense aspect, negation, several mood forms and various non-finite forms.7

1.2.5. Textual examples

Za-z jug hawajda te- fe- j- di cir ze- da.

I-DAT [day in. vain NEG-go-AOP-SBST] teach ANIC-FUT. `I know that the day has not passed in vain.`

Za-waj a kar iji-z ti- ta- z ze -da- j.

I-ADEL [that thing do-INF] NEG-lef-INF] can-FUT-PST.

`I could have prevented it .´ (lit. I could have not allowed to do that thing.)8

2. English

This paragraph outlines some of the main points of English grammar which are necessary for an understanding of this topic.

2.1. Forms of the verb

It is important to distinguish between the base form of a verb, the three tense forms, and the two non-tense suffixed forms. Illustrating for one regular and three sample irregular verbs:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The tense forms are used in main clauses and must be preceded by a subject (at the least, the impersonal subject, it); the only circumstance in which a subject can be omitted is when two clauses with identical subject are coordinated, e.g. John came in and sat down. The base form is used in the imperative, and after to (the so-called ‘infinitive’).9

2.2. Forms of the pronoun

In an earlier stage of English the function of an NP in a clause was shown by its case ending - nominative for subject, and accusative for object; there was then considerable freedom of word order. The case endings on nouns and adjectives have been lost and in modern English the function of an NP is generally shown by its place in order - subject before and object after the predicate in a simple clause.

However, the pronouns - except for you and it - still retain two case forms:

SERIES I (following preposition, and me him her us them When object of clause)

SERIES II (when subject of clause unless I he she we they Following preposition)

Series I provides the ‘unmarked’ form of a pronoun. Series II occurs only in subject function, except following a preposition (in John brought the applicants in for me to interview them, me is subject of interview but also follows the preposition for, and thus takes a series I form); series I occurs in all other positions. If some asks Who wants to go?, one could reply either I do (here using a series II form as subject of the verb do) or else just the series I from Me (but not just the series II from ? I).

There is a fair degree of variation in pronominal use. Some people still say It was I who did it, She is younger than I, It is I, where most speakers would prefer me in place of I in all three sentences. There appears to be a long-term trend towards the replacement of series II by Series I (this has gone all the way with the second person pronoun where you, the original object form, has entirely replaced the old subject from ye).

In some complex constructions an NP may come between two verbs, e.g. I know John took the ball and I saw John take the ball. We may ask whether, in these sentences, John is object of the verb it follows, or subject of the verb it precedes, or both of these simultaneously. On substituting a pronoun for John we get different results: I know he took the ball and I saw him take the ball.10

3. German

3.1. Pronoun

Pronouns have the same function in the sentence as noun phrases (not nouns as such). Semantically, and to some extent syntactically too, they fall into a wide range of subclasses, which traditional grammar rightly identifies. Thus, we find personal, demonstrative, reflexive, possessive, relative, interrogative, and indefinite pronouns, to give only the major types.

Many of these have close morphological and semantic links with noun-qualifiers, giving a partly parallel set of determiners (often treated as adjectives): demonstrative, possessive, interrogative, and indefinite. We may thus have ‘Welches Tier ist das?’ (determiner) or ‘Welches ist das?’ (pronoun); ‘Das ist mein Buch’ (determiner) or ‘Das ist meines’ (pronoun) etc.11

3.2. Gender

Gender in German is a largely arbitrary matter from the semantic point of view: it does not as a rule reflect the sex of what is referred to. There is no sensible semantic reason, therefore, why German windows should be neuter, doors feminine, and gardens masculine. It is also often pointed out that in some cases gender directly contradicts sex, since Mädchen which is clearly reserved for females, is neuter and Mensch is masculine, regardless of the sex of the person concerned.12

3.3. Number

The semantic significance of number in German - unlike that of gender - is clear: it relates to the distinction between one and more than one. Nevertheless, we have already seen, such a distinction is not made in all languages, and some languages make other distinctions. Thus, through the singular/plural distinction appears to be natural and well motivated for speakers of German or English, there is nevertheless a sense in which the embodiment of just this number-difference in the grammars of these languages is arbitrary. Moreover, even in German and English the category of number is not quite as consistent as one would perhaps think.13

3.4. Case

A further category that is of importance in German but only marginally so in English (where it is restricted to pronouns) is case. German noun-phrases and pronouns must be assignable to one of the four cases NOMINATIVE; ACCISATIVE; GENITIVE and DATIVE, though there are not distinct forms for all genders and numbers ( the accusative is only distinct from the nominative in the masculine singular, and the feminine singular does not distinguish genitive from dative).

3.5. Verbal categories

Of the grammatical categories associated with the German verb, number is not instinct to it, and it has in any case been dealt with above. The remaining categories are PERSON, TENSE and ASPECT, MOOD and VOICE.


1 M.Kremer, Person Reference and Gender in Translation (1997:30)

2 M.Haspelmath, A Grammar og Lezgian (1993:1).

3 Haspelmath (1993:3)

4 Haspelmath (1993:4)

5 Haspelmath (1993:4)

6 Haspelmath (1993:5)

7 Haspelmath (1993:122)

8 Haspelmath (1993:134)

9 Dixon, R.M.W., A New Approach to English Grammar. Oxford: Clarendon Press(1991:17)

10 Dixon (1991:19f.)

11 Fox, Anthony: The Structure of German. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990 (p.161)

12 Fox (1990:170)

13 Fox (1990:172) Fox (1990:173) Fox (1990 :175f.)


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functual role person reference comparing lezgian english german russian



Title: Functional Role of Person Reference. Comparing Lezgian, English, German and Russian