Monday, January 20, 2020

Real Language Examples II: Germanic Reflexives and some Issues in Swedish

So, welcome back to this, the least didactically structured Swedish course ever, where we start out looking at the deep end of complex structures and never ever progress to anything basic like introducing yourself or saying that the house over there is red with white corners. And for convenience, some of this will be carried out using English vocabulary anyway so no need to worry.

No, I admit there will be a lot of Swedish here right now - when I've exhausted that particular ore deposit of interesting nuggets I'll go on to Finnish or some other language that happens to catch my fancy.

Let's get on with it. The preamble sets out the basic grammar that is of interest, and has indentation for clarity:
Swedish, unlike English, in first and second person usually doesn't use its cognate to 'self' in reflexives:
"I see me in the mirror" rather than "I see myself in the mirror" is the normal. "Själv" can be used to emphasize this, however. When used reflexively, själv (no points for guessing what that's cognate to) is not suffixed to the possessive forms, but is in apposition with the accusative forms.

So, with reflexives, the correspondences between subjects and objects is:
I: jag - mig (själv)
yousg: du - dig (själv)

he: han - sig (själv)
she: hon - sig (själv)
itc: den - sig (själv)
itn: det - sig (själv(t))

we: vi - oss (själva)
youpl: ni - er (själva)
they: de - sig (själva)
itc is common gender, is itn is neuter.
Analogously to swe: mig, eng: me, I will use se in some English sample sentences as a reflexive third person pronoun. See the parallel: mig:me::sig:se.

Han, hon, den, det (he, she, itc, itn) have accusative forms that are distinct from the reflexive forms:
han - honom
(but the accusative is 'han' in most dialects and several urban regiolects as well. Historically, 'han' was both the nominative and accusative, but the dative 'honom' replaced the accusative in the dialects the standard language is based on before datives vanished.)

hon - henne
den - den
det - det
Some verbs that can be used intransitively in English require reflexive marking in Swedish:
I wash up → I wash me

Some verbs change meaning when having a reflexive indirect object:
han tänker på X → he thinks of X
han tänker sig Y  ≃ he thinks se Y → he imagines Y

han ger något → he gives something
han ger sig  ≃  he gives se → he gives in, he concedes

det ter sig   ≃ it appears se → it appears (to be ....)

han ser → he sees
han ser sig om  ≃ he sees se about → he looks around
In these, the first and second persons would take the regular first and second person object forms instead, e.g. jag tänker mig, du ger dig, du ter dig, jag ser mig om, ...

Now, let's start working towards the tricky bits!

Coordination with 'and' generally leads to plural object pronouns, and you thus get
du och jag ser oss om ≃ you and I see us about ≃ we look around (us)
du och han ter er reformvänliga
≃ you<sg> and he appear you<pl, obj> reform-friendly ≃you<sg> and he seem to be reform-minded
hon och han ger sig
≃ he and she give se ≃ he and she give in
There's a person hierarchy: 1>2>3. If a 1st person pronoun is involved, the reflexive element is 1st person, and likewise, 2nd person beats 3rd.

However, what if there's a disjunction instead?
I or he has to give ...  se? us? me?
Different speakers seem to be of different opinion here, and some even avoid this kind of construction altogether. One can of course also take the things I discussed in the previous post (on than/än), and find even more complicated issues with these over comparisons:
?jag ger mig mer sällan än han
I give me (≃in) more seldom than he ?(gives se)
"Varken du eller han gav sig" - "Neither you or he gave se" - "Neither you or he gave in" seems to work for slightly more speakers.

In a language like Russian or Polish, where the reflexive pronoun is invariant for all persons, issues like these would not appear. But in those particular languages, the reflexive verbs generally use a reflexive suffix instead.
So, again, my hope with these posts is to highlights some parts of natural language where things get convoluted due to the very way the things are structured. I hope to inspire conlangers to come up with similar, well, "incomplete" and "awkward" parts for their grammars.

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