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15249Re: Slovak grammar strikes again

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  • Martin Votruba
    Mar 1, 2006
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      > "Toto su milac~ikovia Mariana Hossu"
      > "Toto su kandidatky na Divoku kartu"

      > Why "toto"????

      I know that to/toto ("that"/"this") is clear, Helen, just a note: I'll
      use _to_ in the examples, but they apply to _toto_ as well.


      Unlike English, Slovak handles the "pointing subject" as genderless
      and numberless.


      On the one hand, English and Slovak do the same thing in:

      Eva is a waitress.
      Eva je casnicka.

      The subject, _Eva_, is a feminine *noun* in the singular, and that is
      copied in _waitress/casnicka_ (the subject complement).


      But English and Slovak differ when the subject in such sentences
      (subject + byt~ + subject complement) is a "pointing" *pronoun*:

      He is a waiter.
      She is a waitress.
      It is a car.
      They are waiters.
      These are cars.

      As we begin to say such a sentence, we don't have a noun yet. English
      anticipates the gender of the subject complement and assigns the
      subject=pronoun that gender in advance.

      Slovak takes the opening pronoun as an act of pointing your finger --
      stretch your arm and touch the book in order to point at it, to single
      it out. There's no gender in this act, the object, book has no
      grammatical gender. Only nouns have gender and we don't have a noun
      yet as we begin the statement. Without a noun (= without grammatical
      gender and number) Slovak defaults to _to_:

      To je casnik.
      To je casnicka.
      To je auto.
      To su casnici.
      To su auta.

      Imagine the opening as not uttering anything -- just silently pointing
      your finger at the object/person you're going to name. The gender and
      number then kick in with the verb:

      To je ten casnik. To bol casnik. To bol ten casnik.
      To je ta casnicka. To bola casnicka. To bola ta casnicka.
      To boli ti casnici.
      Etc.

      It happens in English, too, in statements like "It's that man, call
      the police!" Here _it_ is also like pointing your finger. And _it_
      is the rule in the English "It's me," or in the ultra-correct "It is
      I," -- it would be amusing to say "I am I," in such instances.

      But the pointing, gender/number-insensitive _to_ is the rule in Slovak
      sentences of the type "pointing pronominal subject + byt~ + subject
      complement."


      Martin

      votruba "at" pitt "dot" edu
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