Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Detail #348: Finely Grained Reciprocals (and potentially reflexives)

One of the structures English uses for reciprocals is "one another". This, I've always interpreted as a sort of parallel implicit clause that tells us how to interpret the first clause. This is a very naive model, I know, but think of it as
(each) one verbs another
Russian has a rather similar structure, with  друг друг- drug drug(obj/obl case), i.e. other(nom) other(object or oblique case), or even potentially friend friend(object or oblique case). In the case of Russian, I am pretty sure this is understood in terms of other other rather than friend friend – friend and other are homonyms but distinct lexemes despite sharing their etymology, but one could imagine a language where similar structures could be made from a much larger set of nouns or pronouns, possibly also including additional information, e.g. "child child(...)" would tell us that the group who acted reciprocally consisted entirely of children, etc. Of course, not all nouns would fit in there, and maybe there'd be some particular quirks, such as some slight reduction of the case markers or of the root or whatever, so e.g. "child chi's" for "each other's (wrt children)". One could go further with this idea, and for instance mark differences in the reciprocality - does each agent act on one other agent or on multiple ones, etc. (Not that that can't be marked by other strategies as well, and not that that really is all that interesting in most contexts.)


  1. Russian speaker here! In Russian it is "друг друга", and right, "друг" is understood not in modern meaning "friend", but as "other" (but, generally, I do not feel this expression is analyzed by natives down to individual words - it's mostly feels as a single adverb-like construct). Note that the word is in different cases - it is other.NOM other.ACC. Also there are variants with prepositions modifying second "друг", to match which preposition is used with non-reciprocal verb: "друг на друга", "друг против друга", "друг с другом", etc, or with dative instead or accusative: "друг другу". For example:

    Я посмотрел на него "I looked _at_ him"
    Мы посмотрели друг на друга "He and I/We looked at one another"

    Мы помогаем друг другу "We are helping each other"

    I guess it is possible to do in Russian what you propose here, and it will sound only a bit unnatural (e.g. "Мы помогаем брат брату"; but the more natural way is still "Мы помогаем друг другу, _как_ брат брату")

    1. Yeah, my parentheses (obj/obl case) were meant to signify "insert relevant case here" (for the sake of things like
      drug drugu or drug na druga, etc).

      Also, I have questions!
      Do people ever (even accidentally) inflect друг друг___ for feminine or plural case markers, e.g. something like друг друзей, друг с другой? Do neuter nouns ever accidentally get *друг друг? Do people ever accidentally use the pronominal/adjectival suffixes, producing things like друг другого?

    2. But, seriously interesting to her that brat bratu could pass for almost acceptable, I find that a pretty fascinating thing.

    3. No, "друг друзей", "друг с другой" is not ever attested.

      I guess second is unacceptable because "друг" is underlyingly noun, and nouns are not inflected for gender in Russian. Well, it is sometimes possible to form occasionalisms like "тигр" -> *"тигра" (female tiger, instead of proper "тигрица"), but this is understood by natives as a joke or language game. But mostly trying inflect noun for genders results in erroneously-sounding words, as "друг с другой" does.

      Why "друг друзей" is error is harder to explain for me, but "друзей" is clearly interpreted in the meaning "friends", so the expression fall apart. "друг другого" similarly fall apart, but here "другого" is clearly understood as "other's".

      By the way, I found that the whole class of these reciprocal markers is analyzed as pronominal in Russian grammar: https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%92%D0%B7%D0%B0%D0%B8%D0%BC%D0%BD%D1%8B%D0%B5_%D0%BC%D0%B5%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%B8%D0%BC%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%8F

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    5. большое спасибо за ответы!