A satisfyingly comprehensive page on the first Lithuanian book, Martynas Mažvydas‘s 1547 Catechism, or to be more precise Catechismusa prasty Szadei, Makslas skaitima raschta yr giesmes del kriksczianistes bei del berneliu iaunu nauiey sugulditas… At this page you can read the Foreword (in verse) and even hear the first two lines read aloud, and here is a lengthy discussion of the book (by Leonardas Vytautas Gerulaitis, from Lituanus). All this comes via the ever-industrious Mithridates, who has also put up some excellent links on Kyrgyz in two posts (1, 2).


  1. also of note:
    The Polish national epic poem
    Pan Tadeusz
    (which takes place in Lithuania,
    not surprisingly, given the meander of borders between the two countries)
    by Adam Mickiewicz
    I found it whilst searching for,
    and acquiring, epic poems
    (currently about 6 running feet
    of bookshelf space)
    a romance;
    feuding families;
    life among the Lithuanian and Polish gentry
    in 1811-1812
    and though it is in praise of Poland
    in its nearly 10,000 lines
    there’s only on sentence of direct glorification
    about Poland
    to the effect that
    Polish coffee is the best
    there is !
    first American edition 1992
    from Hippocrene Press

  2. Jagiello’s real name was Jogaila, you know, and the Jagiellonian University should really be called the Jogaillonian University.

  3. “Litwo, ojczyzno moja, ty jesteś jak zdrowie”
    Lithuania, my homeland, you are like health…
    The first line of Pan Tadeusz. By another irony of history, Mickiewicz’s home town is now in Belarus, not Lithuania or Poland. Lithuanian nationalists call him “Adomas Mickevicius”, though as far as I know he never spoke the language.
    Some other Polish epics:
    Waclaw Potocki (1621-1696): Wojna Chocimska (“The War of Chocim”) about Polish battles with the Ottoman Turks
    Ignacy Krasicki (1735-1801): Myszeis (“The Mousiad”)
    Ignacy Krasicki: Monachomachia (“The Battles of the Monks”). Both mock epics.
    Juliusz Slowacki (1809-1849): Beniowski. Unfinished “digressive poem” about the nobleman who took part in an 18th century uprising against Russian influence in Poland, was exiled to Kamchatka, escaped by seducing the governor’s daughter, and became pirate-king of Madagascar. Influenced by Byron’s Don Juan

  4. “Lithuanian nationalists call him “Adomas Mickevicius”, though as far as I know he never spoke the language.”
    Kinda like Franz Liszt being called Liszt Ferenc in Hungary and being held as one of the greatest proponents of the Hungarian ethnicity, even though he didn’t speak Hungarian and kept a German-language circle of friends.

  5. my Lithuanian grndmother
    did this with anyone she liked:
    made them Lithuanian
    with a few changes in their name
    She loved to listen to Tom Mix on the radio
    “He’s Lithuanian you know.” She would say confidently
    “Tomas Michskas”
    (this is probably not
    how she would have spelled it
    but I’m sure you get the drift)

  6. And Hungary’s great national poet, Sandor Petofi (Petőfi Sándor), was the son of a Serb father (named Petrovics) and a Slovak mother, although they did speak Hungarian at home. Incidentally, I’ve just learned (while refreshing my memory about his parentage) that Petofi, long thought to have died in the battle of Segesvár in 1849, apparently was taken with other Hungarian prisoners of war to Siberia, where he may have died of tuberculosis in 1856. A Hungarian News Agency (MTI) story from October 20, 2003 (item 12 in pdf, HTML cache) says:
    In Hungary, the National Reverence Committee has denied a request to open the crypt of the Petofi family. The committee believes the request to open the crypt is scientifically unfounded and runs against the piety of the nation. Sandor Petofi (1823-1849) was one of the greatest Hungarian poets, who died during the 1848/49 Hungarian freedom fight. His body was never found, and in 1998 a theory surfaced that the poet had been taken to Barguzin, near Lake Baikal in Siberia. Researchers have discovered a skeleton there which could be that of the poet. They had hoped to take DNA samples from the remains of the poet’s mother for comparison.
    The 1998 date must be a misprint, because according to this detailed discusion (in Russian) of the case, the announcement was made in 1983 of the discovery of documents from the First World War attesting to Petofi’s death in Siberia, a 1989 international expedition to Barguzin discovered remains thought to be Petofi’s, and a group of experts assembled in New York (where for some reason the remains were sent) decided they were in fact his. But the whole thing is still in dispute.
    Incidentally, the WWI materials included the text of a poem allegedly signed by Petofi and dated 1853. I wonder if literary analysts have dissected it for likelihood of attribution?

  7. “Lithuania” can be used in more than one sense, which causes confusion. Narrowly speaking, “Lithuania” is the area roughly corresponding to that of the Republic of Lithuania, where Lithuanian has always been at least the most common rural vernacular. Broadly speaking, the term refers to the lands of, and conquered by, the Grandduchy of Lithuania from the 13th to 15th century — roughly speaking, Lithuania proper, the would-be Belarus and a large segment of the would-be Ukraine. Most of the Grandduchy’s population was Slavic-speaking and Orthodox Cristian — often referred to as “Ruthenian,” from Rus’. The Grandduchy joined Poland through the Union of Lublin in 1569, losing its independence and Ukrainian lands but retaining a separate administration and army. “Lithuania” continued to denote both Lithuania and Belarus. The Lithuanian nobility gradually assumed a Polish identity. Annexed by imperial Russia during the partitions of Poland, the Grandduchy’s land was often referred to as Severo-zapadny kray.
    In pre-1917 Russian usage, “Lithuania” normally referred to these areas, especially the Ruthenian part. Moreover, Litva was often used to denote all non-Muscovite Ruthenia except perhaps the Ukraine. The Litwa of Mickiewicz was, I believe, the same Great Lithuania descended from the Grandduchy. (Likewise, Austria used to mean the whole deal, not a small German-speaking piece of the Alps.) The language of its educated classes was certainly Polish, while Lithuanian, Belarusan and Yiddish were in use among the non-privileged. That old Lithuania no longer exists, although some Belarusan nationalists turn to it as the genuine source of Belarusan identity. (Yes, Mickiewicz was a Belarusan poet, they would tell you.)
    That modern Lithuanians call the poet Adomas Mickevičus is an indication not of nationalism but of the logic of the Lithuanian language. It needs endings in the nominative to make inflexion possible. Thus the president of the USA is Džordžas Bušas and his Russian counterpart, Vladimiras Putinas. (Ms. Rice is Kondoliza Rais.) Russian does the same, only it adds zero endings.
    Liszt is Ференц Лист in Russia — Ferenc Liszt, that is. Never Franz Liszt.

  8. Michael Farris says

    And of course Czesław Miłosz (I’m not sure what his name in Lithuanian would be) came from the Polish speaking Lithuanian nobility and his later self-identification as Polish (to the extent that he self-identified as Polish) was language-based. After his death a handful farrightwing nutjobs did themselves no credit by protesting his interment in Wawel partly on that basis.

  9. There’s a good illustration of these conflicts in “Lithuanian” identity in Milosz’s novel The Issa Valley (translated by Louis Iribarne), set in Lithuania in the first decades of the last century around the time of independence. The hero of the book, young Thomas Surkont, from a Polonized Lithuanian landowning family, is sent by his grandfather to be taught by Joseph “the Black”, a Lithuanian villager:
    “[Joseph] belonged to that tribe on which our chroniclers of today have bestowed the name of ‘nationalists’; that is, he was dedicated to serving the glory of the Cause. And that was his downfall, the root of his undoing. For while his sympathies were clearly on the side of Lithuania, he was nonetheless obliged to teach Thomas how to read and write in Polish. That the Surkonts – the name could hardly be more Lithuanian – regarded themselves as Poles he took to be an act of treason. His hatred for Polish landowners (because they were landowners, because they had switched languages to distinguish themselves from the people), coupled with his inability to hate the man who had entrusted his grandson to him, and all that combined with his hope of opening Thomas’s eyes to the splendour of the Cause – such was the tangle of emotion implicit in the fit of coughing that overtook him every time the boy opened his reader in front of him.
    “Grandmother was not at all happy with these lessons, with this fraternizing with ‘country bumpkins’ (she had never accepted the Lithuanians, although her photograph might have served to illustrate a book on the country’s original inhabitants). But since hiring a tutor would have been too uppity, she finally consented to Joseph, grumbling they were bound to make a yokel of him. Thomas was ignorant of all these complexities and antagonisms, and when at last he did understand, he thought of it as something exceptional. Had he crossed paths with a young Englishman brought up in Ireland or with a young Swede raised in Finland, he might have found many analogies. But those lands beyond the Issa were enveloped by fog, and what little he knew came from his grandmother’s stories – how the English ate compote for breakfast (which may have explained his attraction to them), how the Russians had exiled Grandfather Arthur to Siberia, how one should love the Polish kings whose tombs were located in Cracow. To Grandmother, Cracow – ‘When you’re a big boy, you’ll go there’ – was the most beautiful city in the world. His grandmother’s patriotism for something so distant; the tolerance practised by his grandfather, so unconcerned with nationality; and Joseph’s constant invoking of the words ‘we’ and ‘our country’ nurtured in Thomas his later distrust whenever heated reference was made in his presence to any flags or emblems.”

  10. More, from Norman Davies’s God’s Playground: A History of Poland Volume 2, on the history of Lithuanian linguistic and political nationalism in the nineteenth century (I particularly like the conversation at the end):
    “For five hundred years, the Lithuanians had lived in political union with the Poles in a situation closely analogous to that of the Scots and English. Until 1793, their Grand Duchy had formed part of the united Republic of Poland-Lithuania. In the course of this long union, the Polish language had been almost universally adopted by the ruling and educated classes. The Lithuanian language, like the Gaelic language of the Scots in Scotland, had only survived in remoter rural areas, and in certain segments of the peasantry. It was not normally spoken by any significant group in the country’s capital Vilnius (Wilno), whose Lithuanian population at the last Tsarist Census in 1897 reached only 2 per cent. It had no settled written form, and no literature of note. Its only centres of study and publication lay across the frontier in East Prussia, in so-called ‘Little Lithuania’, where the districts of Klajpeda (Memel) and Tilża (Tilsit) were inhabited by a Protestant Lithuanian minority. Lithuanian nationalism developed in reaction on the one hand against the Polish assumption that Lithuania belonged to Poland, and on the other hand against the attempts of the Tsarist Government to impose Russian culture and Orthodox religion. The cultural revival was promoted in the first instance by the Catholic clergy, especially by successive bishops of Samogitia, Joseph Giedroyć (1745-1838) and Matthias Valancius (1801-75). The publication in 1841 in Polish, of a multi-volume ‘History of Lithuania’ by Teodor Narbutt (1784-1864), and later translations into Lithuanian of works by that famous Lithuanian poet ‘Adomas Mickievičius’, set the pace for native literary talent. Important cultural advances were provoked by the emancipation of the peasantry in 1861 and by the establishment of a Lithuanian orthography which, to spite the Poles, was based on the Czech alphabet. In the late nineteenth century, the Lithuanian national movement assumed an overtly political character, with its own loyalist, conciliatory and revolutionary trends, its own parties and its own emigré fundraisers. As a result, the scope for Polish-oriented politics was confined to the Polish-speaking section of the population, in particular to important segments of the land-owning class and of the urban bourgeoisie in Wilno, Grodno, Nowogródek, and elsewhere. The social and cultural situation was far more complex than either Polish or Lithuanian nationalists were willing to admit. Ethnographers who tried to investigate the area in a scientific manner encountered many baffling contradictions. An oral researcher, interviewing the local shoemaker in a village near Kaunas (Kowno) in 1885, recorded a most revealing conversation:
    -What tribe do you belong to?
    -I am a Catholic.
    -That’s not what I mean. I’m asking you whether you are a Pole or a Lithuanian.
    -I am a Pole, and a Lithuanian as well.
    -That is impossible. You have to be either one or the other.
    -I speak Polish, the shoemaker said, and I also speak Lithuanian.
    And that was the end of the interview.”

  11. Wonderful quotes — thank you very much!

  12. Roger Maris was Lithuanian-American. Also Johnny Podres, won the final game of the 1956 world series.
    As far as I can tell, the Lithuanians remained pagan as long as they did for similiar reasons — to spite the Poles and the Russians. Jagiello finally converted in 1386, not really very long before the beginning of the Reformation.
    It was a mistake, of course. After having ruled an empire reaching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, Lithuania dwindled into obscurity.

  13. Ethnic Lithuanians were outnumbered in their own grandduchy, which was predominantly Slavic and Orthodox Christian; Jogaila’s mother was a Tver princess called Yuliania. Lithuanians would have converted anyway, whether to Orthodox Christianity — which would have been the most natural as Lithuania competed with Moscow for dominance over Eastern Slavdom, or Ruthenia — or to Roman Catholicism via Poland or the Teutonic Order. It was the 1569 union with Poland that permanently weakened Lithuania, much more than Jogaila’s marriage and conversion.

  14. I think the general consensus is that the Lithuanians overextended their empire and would probably have gone under had they not allied with the Poles. Here’s Adam Mickiewicz himself in the preface to his poem Konrad Wallenrod (in my rough translation):
    “History has not yet adequately explained how a people once so weak and a vassal to others were suddenly able to offer resistance and threaten all their enemies, on the one hand waging a long drawn out and murderous war with the Crusader Order, on the other raiding Poland, receiving tribute from Novgorod the Great and stretching as far as the banks of the Volga and the Crimean Peninsula. Lithuania’s most glorious era falls in the time of Olgierd [Algirdas] and Witold [Vytautas], whose power stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. But this enormous state, by growing too quickly, was unable to develop the internal strength which might have fused and animated its disparate parts. The Lithuanian nation, spread over too extensive territories, lost its own particular character. The Lithuanians conquered many Ruthenian [ruskich] tribes and entered into political relations with Poland. The Slavs, long since Christians, stood at a higher level of civilisation; and although beaten or threatened by Lithuania, by their slow influence they won a moral preponderance over their strong but barbaric oppressor and absorbed him, just as the Chinese did their Tatar conquerors. The Jagiellons and the most powerful of their vassals became Polish; many Lithuanian princes in Ruthenia [na Rusi] adopted the Ruthenian [ruski] religion, language and nationality. In this way, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania stopped being Lithuanian and the actual Lithuanian people was confined to its ancient borders; its language ceased to be the language of the court and the powerful and only survived among the common people. Lithuania presents the strange image of a people who vanished into the immensity of its own conquests, like a stream after being in spate which drops and flows along a narrower bed than before.”
    And Milosz’s Issa Valley again:
    “He asked no more questions, and they moved onto politics; that is, to the age-old debate of whether, given the choice of siding with the Poles against the Knights, or with the Knights against the Poles, the Grand Duke could have saved the country. A controversy not without relevance when one stopped to consider the consequences of the first alternative. Take only the case of Misia, who would have died rather than admit to being Lithuanian. Or Grandfather Surkont and the thousands of others like him. Such were the ripples of history, still spreading outwards centuries later.”

  15. theloniouszen says

    Random question – Does everyone’s first and last name in lithuania culture end in an s? Is there some sort of noun-case reason for this?

  16. Yes, it’s the nominative singular ending. For masculine nouns, that is; female names often end in -a (Marija) or -ė (Angelė).

  17. Edward J. Schumann says

    Adam Mickevicius was nighter Polish or Lithuanian but Jewish -Litvaks ,his family ancestry coverted to fit into Catholic Poland And Lithuania and came to lithuania from a Jewish area of Warsaw Poland . He was a lithuanian Jew that wanted to fit into the Polish culture of the times ,just like the Lithuanian nobility became Polish in language and cuture to fit in.

  18. Any evidence for this theory? The name certainly speaks against it; it’s neither Jewish nor Lithuanian but Belorussian, from Mitska, the diminutive of Zmitser (the Belorussian equivalent of Russian Dmitrii). Unbegaun, in his great book on Russian family names, says that “the name of the Polish poet Mickiewicz is undoubtedly of Belorussian origin.”

  19. David L. Gold says

    “That modern Lithuanians call the poet Adomas Mickevičus is an indication not of nationalism but of the logic of the Lithuanian language. It needs endings in the nominative to make inflexion possible. Thus the president of the USA is Džordžas Bušas and his Russian counterpart, Vladimiras Putinas. (Ms. Rice is Kondoliza Rais.) Russian does the same, only it adds zero endings.”

    Likewise with respect to all place names. Wherever the places may be in the world, their names get endings in the nominative case in Lithuanian to make inflection possible, as in Honkongas and Rio de Žaneiras.

    Nothing political or ideological should be read into that convention.

    Sąrašas:Jungtinių Tautų valstybės narės ( = the Lithuanian names of the member countries of the United Nations.

  20. Bušas

    Latvian is more extreme: Džordžs V. Bušs and Lora Buša, respectively.

    P.S., I wonder why not Laura Bušienė in Lithuanian.

  21. (All the links in the post were dead, so I’ve replaced them with archived versions.)

  22. January First-of-May says

    Random question – Does everyone’s first and last name in lithuania culture end in an s? Is there some sort of noun-case reason for this?

    “There is another peculiarity, which the Persians themselves have never noticed, but which has not escaped my observation. Their names, which are expressive of some bodily or mental excellence, all end with the same letter- the letter which is called San by the Dorians, and Sigma by the Ionians. Any one who examines will find that the Persian names, one and all without exception, end with this letter.”

    – The History of Herodotus, 1.139 (Rawlinson translation)

    (Herodotus apparently did not recognize the Greek nominative ending. Nine sections later he reports, with as much apparent surprise, that the names of all the Greek festivals also end with the same letter [probably a different one in this case], which as far as I can tell is probably some kind of suffix.)

    [EDIT: on an unrelated note, does anyone else here think that suzanne’s comments totally feel like they’re excellent free verse and, if not for the context tie-ins, would have belonged right at home in a book of poetry?]

  23. I’m not sure about Lithuanian last names: (Virgilijus) Noreika, or Nuniava, at least.

  24. does anyone else here think that suzanne’s comments totally feel like they’re excellent free verse and, if not for the context tie-ins, would have belonged right at home in a book of poetry?

    I agree!

  25. Rodger C says

    It’s a bit hilarious, and yet not surprising on reflection, to learn that Herodotus apparently didn’t realize that his own language had a grammar.

  26. (Cue Monsieur Jourdain: “il y a plus de quarante ans que je dis de la prose sans que j’en susse rien.”)

  27. Likely Ἡρόδοτος means all names without exception.

    6.98.3 (mentioned in “Notes” to 1.139)

  28. John Emerson says

    1. There were “Ruthenians” in Austria-Hungarian Galicia, which was dominated by Poles, and they sided with Austria when the Poles revolted in 1847 (a year early in world-historical terms).

  29. John Emerson says

    2. Mickiewicz was a close friend and rival of Pushkin, who envied his fluency. In Pushkin’s “Mozart and Salieri” Pushkin identified with Salieri, and identified Mickiewicz with Mozart. Rimsky Korsakoff, who wrote the opera, also identified with Salieri, and identified Musorgsky with Mozart, And Mandelstam also jumped into this controversy,

  30. free verse

    i have a vivid memory
    of anna deveare smith writing somewhere
    (about her method as a playwright / performer)
    that everyday speech
    is best notated
    with linebreaks and stanzas
    not as prose

    plus gertrude stein on paragraphs
    and archy & mehitabel
    i guess
    helped innoculate me
    against the idea
    that people talk in sentences
    which is useful
    for ignoring chomskyites
    among other things

    may write
    in sentences

    if they’re taught to

    but i don’t think
    speaks that way
    unless they do a lot of formal writing
    (pace m. jourdain*)

    *except fictional characters, who mostly have no choice unless their authors are “experimental”.

  31. David Marjanović says

    i have a vivid memory of anna deveare smith writing somewhere (about her method as a playwright / performer) that everyday speech is best notated with linebreaks and stanzas, not as prose. this, plus gertrude stein on paragraphs (and archy & mehitabel, i guess) helped inoculate me against the idea that people talk in sentences – which is useful for ignoring chomskyites, among other things. people may write in sentences, if they’re taught to, but i don’t think anyone (except fictional characters, who mostly have no choice unless their authors are “experimental”) speaks that way, unless they do a lot of formal writing (pace m. jourdain [except fictional characters, who mostly have no choice unless their authors are “experimental”]).

    People may not talk in sentences in a grammatical (let alone Chomskyan) sense, but they do talk with intonation that is more easily represented as punctuation and emphasis than by line breaks. There are just more pileups and more nested parentheticals than in edited prose, plus of course the false starts & stuff.

    The great underlying crime here is that the relationship between punctuation and intonation is barely explained in elementary schools. (“Oh, it’s a pause” – the fuck it is.) Some voracious readers get it anyway, most people never do – and that includes some accomplished academic linguists.

  32. Former British parliament speaker John Berkow spoke, extemporaneously, “in paragraphs” and he claims to do so even in his private life.

  33. David L. Gold says

    @ drasvi

    Latvian and Lithuanian seem to show the same degree of integration of names:

    Latvian Džordžs Volkers Bušs = Lithuanian Džordžas Volkeris Bušas.

  34. In my brief stints copy-editing other people’s writing, the most challenging thing was judging if commas should be present or not, especially in transcribed speech, like interviews. The rule of thumb I came up with was that commas should be present at the end of an intonational phrase, if the text was to be read slowly and carefully. It’s still open to different interpretations, but it yields punctuation that is useful and inoffensive.
    (Hat, I’d like your take on that.)

  35. Esperanto used to attach the nominal -o to any and all names, but seems not to so much. Esperanto Wikipedia has just George Bush and likewise all US presidents other than Georgo Vaŝingtono, but “William Shakespeare, esperante Vilhelmo Ŝekspiro” and “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Esperantigite: Volfgango Amadeo Mozarto, laŭ la franceca PIV-formo Mozarto; aŭ laŭprononce Mocarto”.

  36. Hat, I’d like your take on that.

    Works for me.

  37. David L. Gold says

    “In my brief stints copy-editing other people’s writing, the most challenging thing was judging if commas should be present or not, especially in transcribed speech, like interviews.”

    One thing I would always want is commas for non-restrictive clauses and their absence for restrictive ones:

    “My wife, who is a pianist, can tell you much about Mozart = Since I have just one wife, the clause is non-restrictive; it merely adds information about her.

    My wife who is a pianist can tell you much about Mozart = Since I have more than one wife, the clause must be restrictive if I am to identify which of them knows much about Mozart.

  38. ktschwarz says

    Textbooks say there’s a black-and-white distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive clauses. The reality is much more subtle, as discussed in CGEL and many times here and at Language Log, for example: “Often more [difficulty] than in this chosen pair”.

    Possibly the clauses that aren’t set apart by intonation structure (which is what commas represent)—integrated clauses, as CGEL calls them—are better described as information essential to understanding the noun that they modify. This is not necessarily the same as distinguishing one wife from other wives. It’s easy to find examples if you look. Within a minute or so of searching in an Alice Munro collection:

    She rinses her mouth and washes herself, using the bar of soap that is about the size of two thin squares of chocolate and firm as stone. (From “The Children Stay”. That’s not a restrictive clause: it’s a cheap motel, she doesn’t have a choice of soap!)

    Bud Salter had two older sisters who never did anything useful unless his mother made them. And they never confined their hair arranging, nail polishing, shoe cleaning, making up, or even dressing activities to their bedrooms or the bathroom. (From “The Love of a Good Woman”. That’s not restrictive: he has only two sisters.)

    And many more. If you’re a fluent speaker, trust your ear, it knows more than a textbook.

  39. David L. Gold, yes.

    But Latvian adds -a to female surnames.

  40. @ktschwarz: My native-speaker ear actually tells me that in your second example the does needs to be a pause/comma before the who if the passage is not to be misunderstood. I have no opinion about the first example, since it is plain present tense narration, which is weird enough on its own to throw off my grammatical intuition.

  41. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    I cannot compete with a native speaker, but the second example works for me even in the over-simplified restrictive/non-restrictive dichotomy. You could say that Bud had two sisters, both of whom happened to do nothing useful. But Munro says instead that Bud had two sisters who did nothing useful — and he just happened to have no others.

    I also read the first example as akin to “using the bar of soap that a cheap motel provides.” I’m not sure if a native speaker can rephrase that non-restrictively, but I cannot. I can say “using a bar of soap, which even a cheap motel provides;” but then I feel the need to make extra changes and I perceive a rather different meaning.

  42. PlasticPaddy says

    A sentence beginning “Bud had two elder/older sisters” excludes the possibility of a third elder/older sister (although he may have any number of younger sisters) except in deliberately comic prose and some kind of enumeration or grouping (e.g. Bud had two elder sisters who were teachers, an elder brother who was a pharmacist, and another elder sister who was always changing job). In the ktschwarz example, I am ok without comma before the who, but I would say the sentence is a “run-on” sentence which would sound better if read with a pause there (or a full stop before “unless”).

  43. J.W. Brewer says

    PlasPad: I don’t see anything wrong with a sentence like “Bud had two older sisters who X but also had another older sister who, by contrast, Y” You allow for that with your “enumeration/grouping” point, but that suggests that if all you’ve done is begin a sentence “Bud had two older sisters …” you haven’t yet committed yourself to any position on the total number of older sisters. The beginning maybe creates some sort of mild rebuttable presumption that the two mentioned are the only ones, which then becomes an increasingly strong implicature the longer the discourse continues without mentioning a third older sister?

    OTOH, I’m not sure what’s going on with this example, because if I say (truthfully) “I have two uncles who have served in the U.S. Navy” I don’t think there’s any implicature at all that I don’t have a third (or fourth etc.) uncle who didn’t serve in the U.S. Navy even if I don’t list or allude to them in the same discourse. Is is that with “core” family members we expect a complete catalog whereas with more distant relations we don’t make that assumption? Maybe with intonation and/or commas we can try to make the “who have served” more clearly restrictive or non-restrictive, but I think there are ways to make the statement that don’t really take a side. And I don’t even think that makes the statement ambiguous — it’s just like speaking about someone using a construction that avoids (via some construction permissible in the language) specifying whether the person referred to is male or female. That’s not an ambiguous statement; it’s just one that is not getting into a level of detail the speaker doesn’t think is salient to the point being made. And surely there are also statements one might make about a specific pair of older sisters where it’s not salient whether or not that’s the entire roster of the relevant person’s older sisters, and it would seem like there ought to be a way to avoid syntactic rules that would force you make that detail explicit.

  44. PlasticPaddy says

    I think the sentence “I have two uncles (elder sisters) who have served in the army.” even strongly implies there is a third. Otherwise the speaker could say “both of my / my two uncles (elder sisters) have…”, or “…uncles (elder sisters), both of whom have…”

  45. I would be more than surprised if pauses and intonation patterns in a language were predictable from bare semantics and syntax (unless it is a tonal language). They tend to interact with the information structure.

    Telling you that the [hotel] soap [she used] is firm as stone and that the character is enjoying a holistic experience of having nail-polishing-hair-combing-two-sisters around all the time seems to be the author’s purpose. Or a part of it.

    It is her comment, the “new information” about the topic she wants to share with you.

  46. J.W. Brewer says

    Well, let’s swap out the “served in the army/navy” phrase for something more parallel to the earlier example. “I have two uncles who never did anything useful unless their mother made them.” How many uncles (or, if context requires, how many uncles on whichever side of the family the relevant grandmother was part of) do I have? Exactly two? Definitely more than two? Or just “at least two,” which merges the two prior possibilities without distinguishing between them? My theory or at least hope, consistent with the LL post linked by ktschwarz, is that just as there are other phrasings (“both of my uncles” v. “two of my uncles”) that can make either of the first two possibilities more explicit to the exclusion of the other, there ought to be some syntactic approach that doesn’t take a position and lets you talk about two particular uncles without conveying any signal about whether or not those two are the only uncles you have.

  47. I agree (and it seems drasvi does too), and the sentence about the uncles who never did anything useful is exactly such an approach. For the speaker’s purposes, it doesn’t matter whether there were other uncles, so there’s no need to provide the information.

  48. J.W. Brewer says

    I am of course happy to have hat’s concurrence, but if Plastic Paddy continues to have different native-speaker intuitions than we do, I’d like to understand why. Obviously there *can* be situations in which the grammar makes it obligatory to provide some detail that the speaker might not think salient and would omit if permissible, so the question is whether or not there is some such situation here.

  49. PlasticPaddy’s reference to a “run-on sentence” makes me suspect that (as with David L. Gold) there is interference from ideas about grammar deriving from style guides and similar sources that place emphasis on “logic” and consistency rather than how language actually works.

  50. PlasticPaddy says

    @hat, jwb
    My reference to “run-on” sentence is likely to derive from shortness of breath rather than a secret prescriptivism. I was really trying to understand why Brett particularly needed a comma before who in “sisters who never did anything useful”, I would agree that “Bud had two (elder) sisters who worked in the nearby bank branch” really does not imply whether or not there were more sisters (to imply there were none would require the comma). This is what I meant by ‘grouping/enumeration’. However “Bud had two elder sisters who never were on time for dinner unless Bud’s other elder sister Laetitia had one of her headaches” sounds like something from Wodehouse (even if the name were Jane instead of Laetitia). Somehow for me there is no grouping force in “never late for dinner”.

  51. Sisters in the nearby bank branch sounds like a part of a bigger story, not as a self-sufficient interesting fact.

    In Russian I would maybe use differnet grammar for two cases:
    (1) I mean that “Bud has someone in the bank”
    (2) I am going to say “…they get up early and disturb Bud”

  52. I mean there is this confusing point for learners. The difference between:
    By me [there] are 3 roubles
    By me 3 roubles
    The former somehow makes possession more explicit, but the extended versions are:

    By me [there] are two sisters, who(!!!) work in the… – “I have/possess two…” with emphasized having (at your disposal or some other way).
    By me two sisters work in the – ~”I have two… / my two…”

    “By me” in the latter is the topic, it informs you that the following is going to be somethign new about my life and what is happening there. A comparable English word would be “here” (“here are two sisters, who…”, “here, two sisters…”) but it attaches events to places rather than people:)

  53. …rather than people’s lives.

  54. David Marjanović says

    unless it is a tonal language

    Even if it is a tonal language. The tonal languages of China, at least, modulate intonation on top of the tones (or rather vice versa), to the point of making it possible to mark a question by intonation only rather than by the question particle.

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