Learn Finnish with Kirikou.

Nothing much to say about this except it’s a fun four-minute video in which a Finnish kid teaches you a little Finnish with a lot of attitude. The sentences he doesn’t translate are transcribed and translated in this MetaFilter post, where I got the link.

Comments

  1. marie-lucie says:

    He goes fast!

    “Kirikou” is the name of a little African boy in a French series of books for small children.

  2. @marie-lucie: Yes, I was just thinking of that! I’ve never read the books, but in French class we watched a movie Kirikou et la Sorcière. To me it sounds kind of like the European “cock-a-doodle-doo” word, but it doesn’t seem to be related.

  3. marie-lucie says:

    Eli, no, I don’t think it is related to “cocorico” which is what French rooosters say. It is probably a made-up name similar to an African one.

  4. On this showing, Finnish has a lot of modal/dispositional/whatever-you-call.it constructions, like (I think) ancient Greek, or various African languages I’ve heard about here.

    “To jump one time”, “to jump repeatedly and wantonly” are said by tacking on signifiers, instead of spreading the signifiers out as words in a sentence, as English does.. Are those really in actual, frequent use ?

  5. Are those really in actual, frequent use ?

    Yep!

    Frequentative
    Momentane

  6. I don’t know about Finnish, but Russian has similar distinctions using pre- and suffixes, and they’re used regularly and frequently, in spoken language as well. What seems to be more complicated and less natural to us can seem simple and natural to speakers of other languages.

  7. Jim (another one) says:

    That’s adorable. It’s particularly cute the way he just rips along. That last bit about “thank you” and I’m sorry’ is also humorously sarcastic, and is adorable too. Thanks for sharing!

    “On this showing, Finnish has a lot of modal/dispositional/whatever-you-call.it constructions, like (I think) ancient Greek, or various African languages I’ve heard about here.”

    Here’s one from the US: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navajo_grammar

    It looks about as complex. English does a lot of the same thing with particles in its phrasal verbs.

  8. David Marjanović says:

    What seems to be more complicated and less natural to us can seem simple and natural to speakers of other languages.

    Case in point: in French, use of the subjonctif is increasing.

  9. marie-lucie says:

    David: in French, use of the subjonctif is increasing.

    Interesting. I wonder if this is a case of hypercorrection? Examples?

  10. David Marjanović says:

    I don’t think it’s a hypercorrection; exceptions are disappearing, like the one with après que.

  11. marie-lucie says:

    I remember at some point while growing up, being surprised to learn that with après que the verb should be in the indicative, unlike with avant que. This even though I grew up in a family of teachers who observed this rule. I remember my mother occasionally correcting us children on this point, but not often enough for us to obsess over it.

    Even now, my own tendency is to use the subjunctive in this particular case.

    The standard (or perhaps now “classical”) use of different moods is justified by the fact that with après que ‘after …’ the fact described by the subordinate clause is considered as having actually happened, hence the indicative, while with avant que ‘before …’ it has not happened yet and is therefore still doubtful, hence the subjunctive. But the average speaker does not react according to this ‘modal’ logic but according to the parallelism between two subordinate clauses differing only in referring to “after” and “before”, which are time expressions also used in other contexts than clause subordination with “que”, as in après la classe ‘after class’ and avant la classe ‘before class’.

  12. David Marjanović says:

    or perhaps now “classical”

    (It’s still taught to foreign learners, for what that’s worth.)

  13. The supposed distinction between “shall” and “will” is still taught to foreign learners.

  14. @Hans: What seems to be more complicated and less natural to us can seem simple and natural to speakers of other languages.

    Yes, and I am convinced it is primarily the traditional Latin/Greek terminology with its built-in ontological framework that make a language seem complicated. I don’t know of a better word than “ontological” here. The appearance of complexity is an effect of being hindered by a world-view in which things can only be cut apart at their “natural” joints, i.e. those that you are familiar with. Since you can’t easily dick around with the way you see the world, the best thing here, I think, is to avoid the terminology altogether and just get on with learning the damn language.

  15. The question is whether learning the language itself will naturally lead you to see the world in a new light.

  16. marie-lucie says:

    Stu: Since you can’t easily dick around with the way you see the world, the best thing here, I think, is to avoid the terminology altogether and just get on with learning the damn language.

    Yes! The old-fashioned, “grammar-translation” school of language teaching relies a lot on terminology and paradigms, including exceptions, rather than on things that are actually useful either for speaking or reading (depending on the student’s most urgent need). Most French verbs, for instance, are much simpler orally than in writing. When I was taught (rather than “I learned”) German by a native Alsatian prof who had no idea of the problems of French students, he kept referring to “les cas R E S E S” (the cases ending in those consonants) as if we should already know what those were and when to use them. I am sure many if not most of us have had similar experiences.

  17. ə de vivre says:

    I am convinced it is primarily the traditional Latin/Greek terminology with its built-in ontological framework that make a language seem complicated

    Are you saying the classical grammar tradition has alienated French to its own native speakers? It seems like most people find learning a second language counter-intuitive regardless of how much classical grammar terminology is involved, heck generalizations about the subjunctive are pretty opaque even to native speakers. The sorts of intensional relations the subjunctive marks are kind of a poster child for Michael Silverstein’s claims about the limits of metalinguistic awareness.

    I think part of the problem with learning a language like French (at least starting from English) is that the terminology is a messy palimpsest of classical grammar (which often isn’t up to the task of describing even classical languages), normative ideas about Good French from various historical contexts, and actual usage-driven generalizations. Good teachers and plenty of practice can cut through a lot of that, but the mass of tradition can weigh down potential learners. Towards the other end of the spectrum, I encountered the exact opposite problem learning Turkish: there weren’t any unhelpful latinate terms, but at the same time not enough work had been done to find better ways to guide second language learners.

    In any event, I don’t think you can “get on with learning the damn language” without any meta-language at all. There’s certainly the practical concern about burdening learners with a bunch of jargon, but from the limited sample size of my own experience, being familiar with some diagnostics for referentiality, specificity, and quantification has been a big help in my everyday understanding of other languages. I think it’s more a less sexy matter of finding usage-based terminology that helps language learners make good generalizations without putting them “in their heads”.

  18. In any event, I don’t think you can “get on with learning the damn language” without any meta-language at all.

    Well, that’s how kids do it (my younger brother, determined to remain English-only while we were living in Argentina, wound up learning Spanish despite himself by watching cartoons on TV and hearing the speech around him). I’m with you in that I need (or at least greatly value) meta-language, but people are different, and of course historically the vast majority of second-language learners have had the benefit of no meta-language other than “That’s not how we say it, imbecile!” or “What kind of gibberish are you talking?”

  19. Jim (another one) says:

    M-L,

    “I remember at some point while growing up, being surprised to learn that with après que the verb should be in the indicative, unlike with avant que.”

    Well that distinction makes sense to me. It’s contrasting a hypothetical situation – the future – with an historical situation that calls for the indicative.

  20. I picked up Spanish, and the feel of it, while growing up in El Paso – but didn’t know that then. No grammar books ! 35 years later it turned out to be very useful. I had to work over several years to get German and the feel of it, but I worked without grammar books. To this day I’m not sure what Futur II is, and couldn’t care less.

    With French “false friends” were my worst enemy, along with my fixation on text. It took me a long time to throw that off.

    @John: The question is whether learning the language itself will naturally lead you to see the world in a new light.

    Not a question for me. Whether naturally or naturally, I am unwilling to be led.

  21. Irma Ghosn says:

    Hei Kirikou!
    Super job! Tosi hieno video. Voisitko laittaa Englanninkieliset versiot lauseista jotka opetat vain Suomeksi niille jotka valitettavasti ovat kielivajaisia 🙂 . Seuraavaksi voisit laittaa esimerkit kaikista 15 sijoista (adessiivi,ablatiivi, etc.) 🙂
    Jatka tosi kivaa juttua!!

  22. ə de vivre says:

    If only there was a way for adults to learn languages like the kids do… In this case I was specifically talking about adult learners. I guess I’m skeptical about how much competency an adult learner attain without using some conscious meta-linguistic terminology. I’m not saying no one can learn anything without the full apparatus of the European language teaching tradition. I was just trying to point out that concepts we may take for granted like “verb” and “noun” are themselves meta-linguistic terms that those of us with basic Western educations acquire and that they help us to make useful generalizations about language. If the traditional definition of the subjunctive isn’t helpful to a learner, it’s not because “artificial” terminology is an impediment, it’s because that particular definition doesn’t help that learner make useful generalizations.

    One of the biggest challenges in teaching ESL to adults was trying to convey meta-linguistic concepts without already having a shared language to talk about them. It worked pretty well with things you can represent visually like the difference between “a little”, “some”, and “a lot”; but less well with things like “adjective”. The lack of meta-language, ironically, led to an increased reliance on paradigm drills.

  23. marie-lucie says:

    Jim (another)

    “… with après que the verb should be in the indicative, unlike with avant que.”
    – Well that distinction makes sense to me. It’s contrasting a hypothetical situation – the future – with an historical situation that calls for the indicative.

    I didn’t say that the distinction did not make sense, I explained the rationale, but also the reason why average native speakers might not perceive it.

    As an adult L2 speaker, your opinion reflects what you have been formally taught, and it will not affect the average L1 speaker’s spontaneous use of the language.

    Actually, I think that I would use quand more often than après que (with the same meaning, as opposed to avant que), and quand does not require the subjunctive.

  24. Jim (another one) says:

    “@John: The question is whether learning the language itself will naturally lead you to see the world in a new light.

    Not a question for me. Whether naturally or naturally, I am unwilling to be led.”

    Whether you want to be led or not, simply having to function in a grammar that is truly different form your familiar one will force you to address questions you don’t have to in your home language. Speaking English forces you to reference verbs and clauses to each other in terms of the relative times in which they happen. That’s a little unusual in the world, and it often is the hardest feature of English for Chinese speakers. Likewise having to reference your relative social position on the end of every finite verb or the sentence won’ be grammatical, requires to acknowledge if not accept the social hierarchy of the culture that language serves. This is one of the hardest features in Japanese or Korean for English speakers.

    I have specifically chosen those examples because they come from large, mainstream, hegemonic languages and not some exotic little language from some hole in a jungle.

  25. simply having to function in a grammar that is truly different form your familiar one will force you to address questions you don’t have to in your home language.

    To address issues, yes. But with prefab questions ? That’s where the trap opens. People always pose questions (to themselves, or others) in terms (all-too) familiar to them.

    Speaking English forces you to reference verbs and clauses to each other in terms of the relative times in which they happen.

    It does not. I am aware of no constraints when I speak English. I am aware of none when I speak German or Spanish or French (except, in this last case, with regard to pronunciation … ).

    You’ve already grabbed the verbs and clauses tar-baby. Of course what you say is a meta-linguistic account by you, here, of what happens. Nothing wrong with that, here, of course. We’re all writing in the same language, and are more or less familiar with the ontology.

    But even when one can do that here, it does not by any means enforce proceeding on those lines elsewhere, say in order to learn Chinese. Sometimes it profits a man to turn his head off.

  26. But not in the company of talking heads, of course …

  27. marie-lucie: Most French verbs, for instance, are much simpler orally than in writing.

    To my astonishment, yes indeed. Talking with French-speaking Africans in Cologne is not as fearful as I had expected. I hear them rush along with their verbs, and I do the same. A snip !

  28. I am aware of no constraints when I speak English.

    Of course you aren’t aware of such constraints, you’re a native speaker! Or have I missed a joke?

  29. I think I remember reading that que plus indicative in French is increasingly not a coherent thing, but a set of exceptional survivals, like the subjunctive in English.

  30. marie-lucie says:

    JC: que plus indicative in French is increasingly not a coherent thing, but a set of exceptional survivals

    ??? I would have to have some examples. It is true that most instances of the subjunctive occur after que, so much so that in a verb chart the word que is listed before a verb phrase, but the opposite is not necessarily true since the use of indicative or subjunctive depends on exactly what comes next to the que.

  31. Of course you aren’t aware of such constraints, you’re a native speaker! Or have I missed a joke?

    Maybe it’s funny that you focussed on only one sentence of two contiguous ones: “I am aware of no constraints when I speak English.”

    The sentence following it makes all the difference: “I am aware of none when I speak German or Spanish or French (except, in this last case, with regard to pronunciation … )”.

    Let me put the point another way: constraints are in your head either as a result of your putting them there, or failing to eliminate those that appeared there “naturally”. Here’s yet another way to put it: there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

  32. Jim (another one) says:

    Stu,
    “It does not. I am aware of no constraints when I speak English.”

    And fish are unaware of water. The other language you mentioned was Spanish, which is structurally substantially the same thing. In both languages a sentence is not grammatical unless the main verb is marked for tense. Those tense markings index the verbs in a discourse to each other, basically either as occurring in series or parallel. And a speaker cannot get around this constraint.

    “it does not by any means enforce proceeding on those lines elsewhere, say in order to learn Chinese. Sometimes it profits a man to turn his head off.”

    In learning Chinese as an English speaker you have to turn off your expectation to see tenses. You have to stop expecting to find tenses relating clauses to each other.

    “Let me put the point another way: constraints are in your head either as a result of your putting them there, or failing to eliminate those that appeared there “naturally”.”

    Not so. Sometimes the system imposes those constraints. There is a constraint in Lushootseed that no third person referent can be the subject of a sentence with either a first or second person object. You can indeed form sentences of the type “The dog bit the man”, the same as in any other language, but they will be malformed.

  33. David Marjanović says:

    The supposed distinction between “shall” and “will” is still taught to foreign learners.

    It was taught to my mom, but not to me anymore.

    I was still taught if I were*, but at some point the teacher said she’d only count if I was as a “slight” error anymore, and not at all if we put it in direct speech.

    * Trivial to learn with a German background: I was : I were :: ich war : ich wäre.

    “les cas R E S E S” (the cases ending in those consonants)

    …Isn’t that all of them? …Oh, except for the chaotic assemblage that ends in N, but those aren’t the same cases for different words!

    Well that distinction makes sense to me. It’s contrasting a hypothetical situation – the future – with an historical situation that calls for the indicative.

    Absolutely. The trick is that everything else with que seems to call for the subjunctive: avant que, bien que, malgré ce que, pour que, il faut que…

    To this day I’m not sure what Futur II is

    That’s the exact same thing as the English “future perfect”: ich werde getan haben = I will have done. Like in English, or perhaps more so, it’s extremely rare in the spoken language and very rare in writing.

    If only there was a way for adults to learn languages like the kids do…

    The main trick is to have nothing else to do.

    You can indeed form sentences of the type “The dog bit the man”, the same as in any other language, but they will be malformed.

    An animacy hierarchy?

  34. marie-lucie says:

    David: “les cas R E S E S” (the cases ending in those consonants) – …Isn’t that all of them? …Oh, except for the chaotic assemblage that ends in N, but those aren’t the same cases for different words!

    It was so long ago I don’t remember the details, but there are three endings to choose from and it is not clear offhand what they stand for.

    everything else with que seems to call for the subjunctive: avant que, bien que, malgré ce que, pour que, il faut que…

    I remember my mother railing against malgré que which at that time was considered illiterate (I don’t know if this has changed). The standard way would have been either bien que (followed by the subjunctive) or en dépit du fait que (followed by the indicative). I was not aware of malgré ce que unless it belongs to a different structure where que is the relative pronoun, as in malgré ce que tu m’as dit ‘in spite of what you told me’.

    ¥ou can indeed form sentences of the type “The dog bit the man”, the same as in any other language, but they will be malformed.

    That’s if *you* are a linguist trying different kinds of sentences.

    Instead, do you use a passive construction: “The man was bitten by the dog” or more likely “The man was bitten, the dog did it”?

    Another way (in some other language family) would be to add a crucial element meaning something like “Believe it or not”.

  35. the opposite is not necessarily true since the use of indicative or subjunctive depends on exactly what comes next to the que.

    Absolutely, but my point is that no principled account like “indicative for realis, subjunctive for irrealis” can be given any more: the default is subjunctive, but there is a (shrinking) laundry list of constructions that (still) take the indicative. Essentially it has become an irregular (= not bound by rule) construction, like irregular verb morphology but at a higher level.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    malgré ce que tu m’as dit ‘in spite of what you told me’.

    Probably just an error on my part, then.

  37. marie-lucie says:

    I will have to read more recent French prose! (assuming it is not too English-like).

  38. ə de vivre says:

    Absolutely, but my point is that no principled account like “indicative for realis, subjunctive for irrealis” can be given any more: the default is subjunctive, but there is a (shrinking) laundry list of constructions that (still) take the indicative.

    That… doesn’t jive with what I see and hear. Do you mean for all uses of “que” as a subordinator, or just in (for lack of a better term) “particle + que” constructions? The CFPQ only has malgré que + indicative and “peut-être que” has a mix with more indicative than subjunctive, following what at a glance looks like what you’d expect given the traditional account. I’m skeptical that things are radically different on the other side of the Atlantic.

    Incidentally, irrealis is maybe a misleading term for the subjunctive, since true counterfactuals and hypotheticals are expressed with either the imperfect or the conditional (si j’aurais des ailes… un tel qui serait arrivé à une certaine heure…). Most of its uses are some subset of semantically opaque contexts, where in [phrase 1 [phrase 2]] the truth value of the whole isn’t straightforwardly dependent on the referential truth value of phrase 2. For example, “J’ai peur qu’une licorne vienne” can be true regardless of how probable it is that unicorns exist.

  39. marie-lucie says:

    ə de vivre:

    I try not to use malgré que in my own speech, but I think I have always heard it with the indicative. Peut-être que definitely with the indicative, although with il se peut que I would use the subjunctive (but this construction seems rather formal and old-fashioned).

    Si j’aurais des ailes … : I would use Si j’avais …. The conditional here sounds illiterate or childish. Un tel qui serait arrivé à une certaine heure… : I suppose this means “if So and So had arrived “, but I am not familiar with this structure.

    When I was a child, among children there was a perhaps similar use of the conditional when play-acting: On serait des princesses … Tu serais la reine … On habiterait dans un château au bord de la mer… etc: ‘Suppose we were princesses … Suppose you were the queen … Suppose we lived in a castle by the seashore …’ I am not sure if this sort of structure is still current as I don’t have much contact with francophone children these days.

  40. just in (for lack of a better term) “particle + que” constructions?

    That’s what I had in mind, yes.

    some subset of semantically opaque contexts

    In general, yes. But in particle + que, it’s the subjunctive that’s normal, and the indicative is used in some subset of semantically opaque contexts.

    On serait des princesses … Tu serais la reine

    In English, this is one of the frozen uses of the subjunctive: “Let’s be princesses … You be the queen.”

  41. ə de vivre says:

    I would use Si j’avais …. The conditional here sounds illiterate or childish.

    So would I, but I hear enough si + conditional in casual speech that I thought it was worth mentioning. It’s at least common enough for there to be a set phrase explaining its use, “les si mangent les -rais”.

    I’d have to go hunting for a good example from the wild, but I’ve noticed that at least newspaper French often uses the conditional to express hypotheticals where it would be, at best, stylistically odd to do so in English.

    The point I was trying to make, though, was that what connects most uses of the subjunctive isn’t how probable something is in and of itself, but rather semantic opacity. Something like “je crois pas qu’elle soit là” may express doubt, but it’s not the doubt that makes it similar to “Il faut qu’elle soit là“.

  42. I was still taught if I were*, but at some point the teacher said she’d only count if I was as a “slight” error anymore, and not at all if we put it in direct speech.

    If I were the king of the world, know just what I’d do.

  43. And if I was the king, I’d construct a special dungeon for those who prescribe against contrary-to-fact if I was.

  44. marie-lucie says:

    ə de vivre: newspaper French often uses the conditional to express hypotheticals where it would be, at best, stylistically odd to do so in English.

    The conditional in such cases indicates that the items being reported are unconfirmed, they may be rumours or gossip, for example, or simply unofficial, as in Le président rencontrerait le pape à telle date ‘The president may meet the Pope on such and such a date’. This use is not restricted to the newspaper register, it can also be used in ordinary conversation, as in Ma belle-soeur attendrait un second bébé ‘My sister-in-law may be expecting a second baby (so I heard)’.

    semantic opacity of the subjunctive

    Quite often the subjunctive is believed to express a variety of attitudes (doubt, wish, and others) which actually come from the preceding verb.

    The subjunctive is used after a number of verbs indicating a variety of speaker’s attitudes: with je crois pas, doubt is indicated by the negated verb, not by the subjunctive itself; with il faut the speaker expresses a sense of obligation, with il faut pas a sense of the unsuitability of the act or situation referred to by the following verb phrase. French-speaking children very early learn the meaning of il faut pas! (when the forbidden act is so obvious that it does not need to be mentioned).

    In each case, the main verb expresses the speaker’s attitude towards the hypothetical or unconfirmed situation indicated by the subjunctive in the subordinate clause. This is why the subjunctive often follows some verbs in a negative statement, as in je ne crois pas que le pape vienne au Canada ‘I don’t believe the Pope will come to Canada’ but the same verb in a positive statement is followed by the indicative, as in je crois que le pape viendra au Canada ‘I believe that the Pope will come to Canada’.

  45. M-L,
    “Instead, do you use a passive construction: “The man was bitten by the dog” or more likely “The man was bitten, the dog did it”?”

    That’s exactly how you do it. The constraint looks suspiciously similar to the inverse construction in Algonkian languages. Kootenai has something similar, if I remember aright. Maybe there really something to that proposal.

  46. J. W. Brewer says:

    The classic defense of “if I were” for hypothetical service as a monarch: http://www.poetryconnection.net/poets/A.A._Milne/14269

  47. Trond Engen says:

    marie-lucie: When I was a child, among children there was a perhaps similar use of the conditional when play-acting: On serait des princesses … Tu serais la reine … On habiterait dans un château au bord de la mer… etc: ‘Suppose we were princesses … Suppose you were the queen … Suppose we lived in a castle by the seashore …’ I am not sure if this sort of structure is still current as I don’t have much contact with francophone children these days.

    A beautiful example of how children learning language from eachother may actually preserve features lost in the language of their parents.

    In Norwegian the preterite is used for this — I think, maybe, as a relic of an old subjunctive that merged with the preterite. In no.fag.spraak.diverse a decade or so ago we dubbed it lekepreteritum “play preterite”. Vi var prinsesser … Du var dronninga … Vi bodde i et slott ved havet … etc.. I remember I had forgotten it since my own days in a castle by the sea, until I noticed my own kids using it.

    Perhaps related, the preterite is also used as a mirative: Dette var godt! “Oh, this is delicious!” Nå var du pen! “Oh, you look stunning!”.

  48. Baumwood von Bladet says:

    My children favour the adverbial “voor nep” (“for fake”) when they need to emphasize they are merely allocating play roles; they don’t do anything with the verbs.

    I don’t like or use “if I were”; it’s not orthodox BrE in any non-risible register available to me.

  49. Trond Engen says:

    “voor nep” (“for fake”)

    Oh right. The play preterite can bi combined with liksom “like if”: Vi var lissom prinsesser … Du var lissom dronninga … Vi bodde lissom i et slott ved havet … etc.

  50. For those willing to take the plunge, here‘s a Finnish reference grammar.
    (I wonder how many grammars—if any—of other modern languages there are online.)

  51. Am I right to feel that sometimes native speakers are more relaxed with the grammar of their own language than lesser mortals who had to learn it later in life? My sister and I were taught the (one and only as we were told) correct form “if I were” and the difference between “I shall” and “I will” and the use of subjunctive in English, etc., and took bad grades every time we failed to follow the rules, only to meet Americans who would say “if I was” as if it were the most natural thing. Between the depressing thought “why did I ever bother?” and utter contempt for the prevalence of illiteracy in the world, we naturally chose the latter.

  52. I was still taught if I were*, but at some point the teacher said she’d only count if I was as a “slight” error anymore, and not at all if we put it in direct speech.

    I still make that distinction, and I don’t remember ever being taught to do so. To me that is natural English and contrary-to-fact “if I was” still sounds like Donald Trump speech to my ears. No doubt I am in a dwindling minority. Maybe “if I were” is more alive in the Northeast US than other parts of the country? I also still distinguish between adverbs and adjectives. So “If I were playing well” rather than “If I was playing good”

  53. I begin to suspect my allusion has been missed:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yf-d-Ka30EY

  54. One thing I definitely won’t ever miss about the 70s is the fashions in clothes…

  55. David Marjanović says:

    “Die Siebzigerjahre, eine Epoche, die von brutaler Hässlichkeit geprägt war”
    “the Seventies, an epoch characterized by brutal ugliness”
    – an issue of profil in the late 90s

    In English, this is one of the frozen uses of the subjunctive: “Let’s be princesses … You be the queen.”

    Could that be an imperative? “You, be the queen”?

    In German, play roles are dealt out in the indicative, as simple statements of fact. The present subjunctive is completely absent from my dialect and quite possibly literally all others; in the standard language, it survives today as a sort of evidential for journalists:

    Der Politiker sagt, er ist kein Lügner und wird die Steuern nicht erhöhen – the politician says he isn’t a liar and won’t raise the taxes, and I believe him (indicative)
    Der Politiker sagt, er sei kein Lügner und werde die Steuern nicht erhöhen – he said it, and I don’t express any opinion on that (Konjunktiv I, “present subjunctive”)
    Der Politiker sagt, er wäre kein Lügner und würde die Steuern nicht erhöhen – he said it, and I believe he’s lying (Konjunktiv II, “past subjunctive” = “conditional”)

    This way, journalistic writing gets by with a lot fewer “, they said” than in English.

    For regular verbs, the “present subjunctive” is identical with the indicative; the problem is solved by resorting to the “past subjunctive” forms instead – their “proper use” as in the example above hardly occurs in real life anyway.

  56. Could that be an imperative?

    No, because the sentence intonation is the same as for You are the queen. It’s possible that it’s an elliptical form of You’ll be the queen, but I don’t think so.

  57. David: in the standard language, it [the present subjunctive] survives today as a sort of evidential for journalists

    If you’re reporting on Austrian usage, I don’t have much to set against your claim, except that I don’t believe it for a moment. In cis-Danube German, the present subjunctive is alive and thriving. You yourself say that “writing gets by with a lot fewer ‘, they said’ than in English” by virture of the pres. subj. This is a marvellously useful thing, and certainly not restricted to newspaper articles reporting what someone said. In novels it can be used to present “indirect speech”.

    Let’s stick to Germany German from here on (I can’t do the other kinds):

    1) Der Politiker sagt, er ist kein Lügner und wird die Steuern nicht erhöhen – the politician says he isn’t a liar and won’t raise the taxes, and I believe him (indicative)
    2) Der Politiker sagt, er sei kein Lügner und werde die Steuern nicht erhöhen – he said it, and I don’t express any opinion on that (Konjunktiv I, “present subjunctive”)
    3) Der Politiker sagt, er wäre kein Lügner und würde die Steuern nicht erhöhen – he said it, and I believe he’s lying (Konjunktiv II, “past subjunctive” = “conditional”)

    How do you find “and I believe him” in 1) ? Your own claim is that the use of the pres. subj. is pretty much restricted to journalism. If that were true, then the indicative would be the only way for a normal, non-journalist person to report what a politician said. But you also say that the indicative implies “I believe him”. Your two claims together thus mean that one can’t report what a politician said with implying that one believes him. Das wäre noch schöner.

    As you say for 2), the pres. subj implies “I don’t express any opinion on that”. Just like the indicative, contrary to what you claim (unless your claim is for Austrian German only, and even then I find that hard to believe). It merely avoids “he said that”. This is a matter of speech register or “education register”, not of gullibleness.

    For me, 3) also is a matter of speech register – plain old people use “wäre” all the time, but “sei” is for serious. 3) by itself has no implication of “I believe he’s lying”. Of course you can say 3) in a sarcastic tone of voice, to achieve the effect of implying “I believe he’s lying” – but there it’s the sarcasm at work, not the mere use of “wäre”.

  58. When I say, on a claim of yours about Austrian German, that “I find that hard to believe”, I mean on the basis of Austrians I hear on TV, for instance in ORF news. It certainly *seems* that they speak like Germans in many respects, if one abstracts away from the accent. As to the content of news reports on Austria, I am continually reminded of Thomas Bernhard, who got called a Nestbeschmutzer merely for telling it like it is, and like you can see on TV.

  59. David Marjanović says:

    In novels it can be used to present “indirect speech”.

    Absolutely; I read practically no novels at all, because there’s so much interesting nonfiction that I can’t keep up with. 🙂 The last novel I have read, though, is Die Vermessung der Welt (contrasting the lives of Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Gauß); it contains no direct speech at all, instead most sentences are in the subjunctive.

    How do you find “and I believe him” in 1) ? Your own claim is that the use of the pres. subj. is pretty much restricted to journalism. If that were true, then the indicative would be the only way for a normal, non-journalist person to report what a politician said. But you also say that the indicative implies “I believe him”. Your two claims together thus mean that one can’t report what a politician said with implying that one believes him.

    I was only talking about journalistic usage. In journalism, it means “I believe him”; in spoken language, it implies nothing at all.

    It merely avoids “he said that”.

    …without expressing an opinion on it, while the otherwise normal choice (the indicative) would express an opinion in journalistic usage.

    As to the content of news reports on Austria, I am continually reminded of Thomas Bernhard, who got called a Nestbeschmutzer merely for telling it like it is, and like you can see on TV.

    Ah, that was back when people were patriots. Things have improved since then. 🙂 There’s no shortage of reports on the great overarching Austrian corruption scandal, which involves a former finance minister and his in-laws, a bank that is now bankrupt along with Carinthia due to, among other things, its dead governor, several other corporations (some private, others less so), insider trading, people being paid large sums for nothing – so blatantly that they actually ask back what the official excuse is, an international arms dealer based in Austria, and a parliamentary enquiry or two that were stopped by a government whose head saved the life of his party by immediately resigning and disappearing from public life when the first accusations became public. Oh, and, the other big party has financed ads for itself with money that was really not intended for that purpose.

    Of course these reports tend to be very cynical, because not much is being done about the scandal.

  60. Let’s stick to Germany German from here on (I can’t do the other kinds):

    I for one am equally interested in Austrian German.

  61. In my own comments I prefer to stick to what I know, if I can possibly help it.

    My conclusion is that the discrepancies between what David and I report are due more to the different kinds of thing we read, and the people we deal with, than to the languages.

  62. @Ariadne: As a native speaker of standard American English, I normally say, “If I were…,” rather than, “If I was….” However, I know that I sometimes use the latter phrasing, and I hear it all the time. In normal speech or casual prose, it generally goes unnoticed. However, when I am reading something that is clearly written in an elevated style, “If I was…” does strike me as out of place; it’s not necessarily an error, but more like an inappropriate colloquialism.

    The situation with “I shall…” versus “I will” is completely different. For me, there is reason to distinguish one from the other (apart from local considerations of prosody, etc.). If there ever really was a distinction between the two verbs in native English, it appears to be entirely gone; I have only ever heard of the distinction from nonnative speakers.

    @John Cowan: I unquestionably interpret “You be the queen” as an imperative. In normal speech (without exaggerated emphasis), I would never process a distinction between, “You, be the queen,” and, “You be the queen.” Moreover, if accompanied by appropriate finger pointing, they both mean exactly the same as bare, “Be the queen.”

    English does not appear to distinguish cleanly between direct address and the optional subject in imperatives. In speech, it is possible to use emphasis to mark a particular instance as direct address, but unless that is done, the situation is ambiguous. If I’m playing with my kids, I can emphasize the direct address aspect of my instructions by saying, “You, run to that tree.” That emphasizes that I am identifying the person who should perform the task. I could also say, “You run to that tree,” or add enough of a pause to make it, “You, run to that tree,” but I don’t think there’s a real difference in meaning between those cases.

  63. In my own comments I prefer to stick to what I know, if I can possibly help it.

    That’s admirable, but you seemed to be suggesting that David should also stick to what you know.

  64. David Marjanović says:

    My conclusion is that the discrepancies between what David and I report are due more to the different kinds of thing we read, and the people we deal with, than to the languages.

    I agree. I haven’t noticed any geographic variation in this, and both journalistic writing/newscasting and literature employ elevated, rather delocalized registers.

  65. Steve: no. From the very start I conceded that what he claimed might be true about Austrian German – but I also said even that is something I find hard to believe.

    It developed that what he said about “the indicative implies ‘I believe that'” was intended to refer only to journalism -. although he had written that “The present subjunctive is completely absent from my dialect and quite possibly literally all others; in the standard language, it survives today as a sort of evidential for journalists”. I countered that it is alive and healthy outside journalism, which he then confirmed by referring to a novel he had read consisting almost entirely of sentences in the “present subjunctive”.

    I hope that the net cash value of our brief exchange, for other people, will be that German speech practice is not weirder, nor more productive of gullibility, on one side of the Danube than on the other. The indicative after “he said that …” is always neutral, in German as in English.

  66. David Marjanović says:

    The indicative after “he said that …” is always neutral, in German as in English.

    Not in journalism, and that’s why it’s so studiously avoided there.

  67. marie-lucie says:

    Tu serais la reine –

    JC: You be the queen – David: Could that be an imperative?

    JC: No, because the sentence intonation is the same as for You are the queen. It’s possible that it’s an elliptical form of You’ll be the queen, but I don’t think so.

    I don’t think so either. Tu serais la reine or “You be the queen” set up conditions within the world of play-acting, of make-believe, while the imperative belongs to the real world of power differentials. Of course power discrepancy could occur within the make-believe world (if the king or queen gives orders), once the roles are distributed, (until they change). There would be a power discrepancy if the roles were distributed by a person outside that world (such as a teacher, who could decide “You’ll be the queen!” as well as “You, be the queen!” and expect compliance), but while the make-believe world is being created and recreated (by a group of children) the imagined roles and also the features of the imagined world (such as the castle by the sea) remain fluid in response to the whims and desires of the group members.

    In any case, the imperative would not be appropriate at all in descriptive sentences such as “On habiterait dans un château ….

  68. George Gibbard says:

    I’m going to vote for imperative, because “You be the queen, and I be the king” is impossible in my dialect, and I think the subjunctive analysis predicts it should be possible. (It would be “… and I’ll be the king”.)

  69. George Gibbard says:

    Compare “They’re demanding that I be fired”, where the subjunctive lives on in US English.

    In the third person, “She be the queen” is likewise not possible for me. If I heard it I would assume it was the AAVE habitual.

  70. George Gibbard says:

    I would consider “Be that as it may…”, “be it ever so adjective” and so forth as idioms containing archaic survivals of the subjunctive that do not generalize to e.g. *Be those reports confirmed, we will (still not) act on them or *Be you ever so competent, you’ll still be fired.

    You be the queen shows we have lost subject-auxiliary inversion with imperatives (older Be thou the queen). However the subject still follows don’t: “Don’t be the queen!” “No, don’t YOU be the queen!”

  71. Trond Engen says:

    A vote for the subjunctive. The comparative evidence from French, English and Norwegian should be enough to settle the question. Diachronically speaking, that is. Whether English I be the queen is perceived, synchronically, as something different than the imperative is another matter, but I think so. It’s never said as an order, always a statement about a hypothetical world. The Norwegian play preterite works the same way. It’s been allowed to keep a part-time job as a kindergarten subjunctive because it’s good at moving statements out of contemporary reality.

  72. A little Scandinavian:

    The subjunctive is dead as a doornail in Danish. The sole survival is han/de/Kongen længe leve (“long may he live”) because of the nice alliteration — otherwise it’s han skal leve or må han leve (modal + infinitive), even in traditional toasts.

    Swedish has vore (preterite subjunctive of the copula) in active use, but restricted to situational predications with dummy subject: Det vore synd om skulle regna — “’twere a pity if it should rain”. Old white men with an inflated sense of self importance may resort to Konjunktiv II in formal styles: Man finge antaga att… — “One would.IRR have to assume …” — but even that is restricted to a few strong verbs, most of the strong preterite plural stems are dead even in that register. (But it’s less than a hundred years ago that the strong preterite plurals themselves were standard in the literary language — since then a lot of the strong verbs have patched over to conjugation 2, originally weak consonant stems. lopp/lupo > löpte, halp/hulpo > hjälpte, for instance).

    In Danish, if I remember correctly, play roles are assigned using the particle — roughly “then”, but here with an implied “if we’re going to play”: Så er du prinsessen, og jeg er dronningen. Og så er lillebror kongen, han er ude og ride. (Little brothers conventionally being assigned non-participatory roles by their sisters).

  73. Trond Engen says:

    As usual Norwegian is inbetween. Subjunctive vore lingers on in archaic or high register Nynorsk and probably still in some dialects. Except from that there’s the formula Leve kongen!.

  74. Whether English I be the queen is perceived, synchronically, as something different than the imperative is another matter

    But George Gibbard is quite right: we don’t say I/she be the queen, but I’ll/she’ll be the queen. The usage is confined to the second person (singular or plural), which does suggest a connection with the imperative. The construction with let’s (which is short for let us, although us otherwise has no short form) plus the plain form of the verb serves as a suppletive for the ordinary imperative in the 1pl inclusive: Let’s go! is the 1pl equivalent of Go! or You go! imperatives. There is an ironic phrase, Let’s you and him fight, indicating the speaker’s desire, or purported desire, to incite a quarrel between two other people while staying out of it.

  75. “Be you ever so competent, you’ll still be fired” sounds fine to me.

  76. Two remarks on the subjunctive in Germany:
    1) The rule for indicative vs. subjunctive I that I learnt is not so much “I believe him” but “it’s a known fact”. Of course, that rule may result in the same choice of mood in a lot of cases.
    2) In everyday speech, subjunctive I is really rare, and my impression is that it also starts to show in educated speech and writing; I’m listening to radio a lot while driving and there’s a lot of indicative or subjunctive II even in what clearly is scripted speech (news reports, radio features) where the norm would require subjunctive I, as if people are avoiding a form that isn’t supported by their everyday speech.

  77. Hebrew doesn’t have a morphological subjunctive, and kids setting up a play-acting scenario will actually use the past tense: ani aiti melekh veat ait malka, lit. “I was a king and you were a queen”. I don’t know if this is because the past tense is the standard narrative tense, or is due to the cross-linguistically common (and mysterious to me) use of (usually imperfective) past tenses for irrealis meanings, or both.

    In any case, I’ve been told that the same is true of French. Would a French kid say something like Moi j’étais le roi et toi t’étais la reine?

  78. sounds fine to me

    That is because, like most Hattics, you may be occasionally overdressed (or not, how should I know?), but you make up for it by being immensely overeducated.

  79. marie-lucie says:

    TR: Would a French kid say something like Moi j’étais le roi et toi t’étais la reine?

    Only if he was relating a story or play they had been acting earlier. In suggesting play-acting, it has to be the conditional: Moi je serais le roi et toi tu serais la reine.

  80. In short, this is probably not an inherited phenomenon, but a matter of repurposing language machinery that can’t be confused with statements of fact; exactly which machinery is used depends on the specific language.

    I also finally got a chance to watch the video. I note that Kirikou says foreigners with penultimate stress, which cannot be L1 interference (all Finnish words have initial stress), so I’d guess it’s a result of someone (maybe not him) internalizing the idea that non-native English words have penultimate stress.

  81. marie-lucie says:

    JC: In short, this is….. a matter of repurposing language machinery that can’t be confused with statements of fact;

    Perfect!

  82. @John Cowan: I think that “Let’s you and him fight” is actually an example of a more general imperative construction that is possible with “let’s” but not possible with “let us.” There is an informal construction in which “let’s” can take an additional agent. My feeling is that this agent needs to 1) be in the objective case, 2) be plural, and 3) start with a pronoun, if it is a compound.

    Let me give some examples. First, consider cases where the agent is the usual us:

    Let’s get out of here.
    Let’s us get out of here.
    *Let us us get out of here.

    The second is seems fine to me as a way of emphasizing “us,” but the third, with the contraction spelled out, is totally ungrammatical.

    Other pronouns can replace us, but they have to be objective case:

    Let’s them go over there.
    *Let’s they go over there.

    I feel that, pragmatically, the first one only works when us and them are all members of a larger group. However, that would be exactly the sort of situation in which you would expect to hear a casual imperative anyway.

    Singular agents do not seem to work in this construction:

    *Let’s him go over there.
    *Let’s Tom punch the wall.

    However, the plural nature can come from a conjunction, but at least the first element of the conjunction needs to be a pronoun. I’m not sure about whether subsequent elements also have to be pronouns.

    Let’s you and him fight.
    *Let’s Tom and him fight.
    *Let’s Tom and Sheila fight.
    ?Let’s you and Tom fight.
    ?Let’s you and the bear fight.

  83. David Marjanović says:

    2) In everyday speech, subjunctive I is really rare, and my impression is that it also starts to show in educated speech and writing; I’m listening to radio a lot while driving and there’s a lot of indicative or subjunctive II even in what clearly is scripted speech (news reports, radio features) where the norm would require subjunctive I, as if people are avoiding a form that isn’t supported by their everyday speech.

    Of course. Witness also the steadily shrinking number of fixed phrases where the dative -e survives.

    I also finally got a chance to watch the video. I note that Kirikou says foreigners with penultimate stress, which cannot be L1 interference (all Finnish words have initial stress), so I’d guess it’s a result of someone (maybe not him) internalizing the idea that non-native English words have penultimate stress.

    I’m familiar with this from native speakers of German (stress somewhat unpredictable, but different from English) and especially French (stress entirely predictable): it’s half confusion, half hypercorrectivism. In this case, the syllable with the most letters ends up attracting the stress, because it’s hard to believe that -eig- could be reduced to the RABBIT vowel.

  84. @David Marjanović: RABBIT has two vowels, and neither one of them is the one I use in the middle syllable of foreigner (which is a schwa).

  85. Hans: 1) The rule for indicative vs. subjunctive I that I learnt is not so much “I believe him” but “it’s a known fact”. Of course, that rule may result in the same choice of mood in a lot of cases.

    I didn’t learn German growing up in Germany, so I was unaware of this “rule”. To advise a person against relating in the indicative what someone else said, might be based on the idea that the person could be regarded as endorsing what was said (“I believe him”), or on the idea that the person could be regarded as incautiously passing on claims without checking them.

    I find both concerns rather silly, but they do seem to exist in Germany, I now find. Nevertheless, I still feel that the indicative, even in German journalism reporting on what someone said, can’t seriously be given an “I believe him” interpretation. And the idea that a journalist using the indicative might be accused of passing on uncorroborated claims is just plain hysterical. But this impression may be due to my English-speaker “feel” of the indicative, where there is no alternative. You don’t cower and glance back over your shoulder, but just say “He said that X is Y”.

    I found this in the tubes:

    (S. 6) In der Regel wird in der indirekten Rede der Konjunktiv 1 verwendet. Durch die Verwendung des Konjunktiv I wird zum einen eindeutig markiert, dass die Aussage nicht von dem Sprecher/Schreiber stammt, sondern die Aussage einer anderen Person ist und es wird gleichzeitig damit ausgedrückt, dass man nicht für die Richtigkeit der Aussage einsteht.

    The pres. subj. has, for me when engaged in non-journalistic reporting of what someone said, two functions only:

    1) the banal function of distinguishing reported speech from my reporting it, without all the English “he said, …, then he said ..” bits

    2) the extra function, mentioned nowhere up to now, of allowing me to condense and paraphrase to a certain extent. Indirect speech is not a tape recording in the subjunctive.

  86. To put it another way, all this worrying about the indicative in indirect speech may be traditional, but it’s superstitious nonsense. Like you shouldn’t walk beneath a ladder after seeing a black cat, or whatever that superstition is. Nevertheless, societies are held together by all kinds of beliefs. In social systems, superstitions are equifinal with scientific statements.

  87. George Gibbard says:

    I’ve certainly never heard Brett’s Let’s them go over there, and can’t think when it might be used. It sounds completely wrong to me. I don’t know if I’ve heard Let’s us go over there, but I understand it and it doesn’t sound wrong, as a way of stressing the 1pl pronoun (whereas I think Let US fight no longer can have the hortative interpretation in the colloquial; it can only mean “allow us to fight”). JC’s Let’s you and him fight is deliberately and humorously playing with the limits of grammaticality.

  88. George Gibbard says:

    In other news, I believe that there are people who say No, don’t let’s (I don’t know who), but this strikes me as odd (unlike Let’s not).

  89. I think Let US fight no longer can have the hortative interpretation in the colloquial; it can only mean “allow us to fight”

    I agree if us has contrastive sentence stress, as suggested by your capitals, but not if it does not: in that case, let us fight is a high-register version of let’s fight. Or maybe by colloquial you already mean ‘low-register’.

  90. George Gibbard says:

    Yes, ‘low-register’ is what I was going for.

  91. “Don’t let’s” sounds very last-century-British to me (as does “do let’s”). It’s the kind of thing people say in the Narnia books.

    “Don’t let’s go to the dogs to-night,
    For mother will be there.
    When I see the ball-room bulging
    With my ancestors indulging
    Then I’ve done with Mirth and Mammon.
    Let’s go home and play backgammon.
    Pushing, shoving,
    Lurching, loving,
    Bless their silvery hair!
    Let the old ones have their fun;
    Some day we’ll be sixty-one.
    But don’t let’s go to the dogs to-night,
    In case my granny’s there.”

    (A. P. Herbert)

Speak Your Mind

*