Monday, 28 July 2008

2, 4, 6, 8, How do verbs conjugate?

It ocurred to me when I was going through verb tables in Italian, that though the only verb conjugations I've ever come across (German, Greek, Italian) are in essentially 6 parts (more if you include polite forms), you could potentially have two forms for "we".

In English our "we" is ambiguous. It may or may not include the second person i.e. the person addressed by the speaker. As in so many cases, it's all about context. This got me to thinking - are there languages that have more than one form of the verb, and don't have this ambiguity? You'll be pleased to know that wikipedia says there are:
In linguistics, clusivity is a distinction between inclusive and exclusive first-person pronouns and verbal morphology, also called inclusive "we" and exclusive "we". Inclusive "we" specifically includes the addressees (that is, one of the words for "we" means "you and I"), while exclusive "we" specifically excludes them (that is, another word for "we" means "he/she and I"), regardless of who else may be involved.
The inclusive-exclusive distinction is nearly universal among the Austronesian languages and the languages of northern Australia, but rare in the Papuan languages in between. (Tok Pisin, an English-Melanesian pidgin, generally has the inclusive-exclusive distinction, but this varies with the speaker's language background.) It is widespread in India (among the Dravidian and Munda languages, as well as in the Indo-European languages of Marathi, Rajasthani, and Gujarati), and the languages of eastern Siberia, such as Evenki. In America it is found in about half the languages, with no clear geographic or genealogical pattern. It is also found in a few languages of the Caucasus and Sub-Saharan Africa, such as Fulani and Nama.

No European language makes this distinction grammatically, but some constructions may be semantically inclusive or exclusive[.]