Singular "we"

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linguoboy
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Singular "we"

Postby linguoboy » 2018-02-13, 17:32

I've been poking around for information on if and when first-person plural pronouns are used with singular reference languages other than English and not having much luck.

The Wikipedia article for Nosism discusses three cases: royal "we" (pluralis majestatis), authorial "we" (pluralis modestiae), and editorial "we". But English also has a benefactive "us" (e.g. "Give us a kiss!") and a "we" with singular second-person reference that I've heard most frequently from medical professionals (e.g. "How are we feeling today, Mr Naver?"), which is sometimes called "patronising 'we'".

What usages are common in the languages you know? I'm particularly interested to hear about languages with an inclusive/exclusive distinction.
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Re: Singular "we"

Postby Luís » 2018-02-13, 17:42

All of those usages exist in Portuguese as well except for the benefactive "us".
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Re: Singular "we"

Postby rmanoj » 2018-02-13, 18:26

I've certainly seen the royal and authorial 'we' in Malayalam (both use a slightly archaic inclusive form, which I'm not sure makes much sense for royal 'we'). I'm unsure about editorial 'we' because I don't really read Malayalam newspapers―I'll have to check. This benefactive 'we' doesn't really exist, but there is something similar to the second-person patronising 'we'. Actually, I'd prefer to call it the stand-offish 'we' in Malayalam 's case, although it can certainly be patronising in the right context. This one uses the modern inclusive form.

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Re: Singular "we"

Postby linguoboy » 2018-02-13, 18:36

rmanoj wrote:I've certainly seen the royal and authorial 'we' in Malayalam (both use a slightly archaic inclusive form, which I'm not sure makes much sense for royal 'we').

I thought the logic behind the pluralis majestatis is that the sovereign is speaking on behalf of the entire polity. Like, "We have decided to invade." And if you're not on board with that decision, well, maybe it's time to find another country to live in. So I can understand the use of the inclusive here.
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Re: Singular "we"

Postby rmanoj » 2018-02-13, 18:45

linguoboy wrote:
rmanoj wrote:I've certainly seen the royal and authorial 'we' in Malayalam (both use a slightly archaic inclusive form, which I'm not sure makes much sense for royal 'we').

I thought the logic behind the pluralis majestatis is that the sovereign is speaking on behalf of the entire polity. Like, "We have decided to invade." And if you're not on board with that decision, well, maybe it's time to find another country to live in. So I can understand the use of the inclusive here.

That makes sense, but then you can get things like "We (inclusive) will wait here while you go after him."
And it was (in feudal times) used by a lot of high-ranking people, not just actual rulers.

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Re: Singular "we"

Postby linguoboy » 2018-02-13, 18:53

rmanoj wrote:That makes sense, but then you can get things like "We (inclusive) will wait here while you go after him."
And it was (in feudal times) used by a lot of high-ranking people, not just actual rulers.

As I was typing the above, it also occurred to me that the same form is used whether a sovereign is addressing their own people or another people or nation. So it could be that explanation is faulty.
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Re: Singular "we"

Postby rmanoj » 2018-02-13, 19:01

Interestingly, Malayalam's ancestor Old Tamil did use an exclusive form for the royal 'we'. But I don't think any reflex of this was ever attested in Malayalam. The language just has archaic and modern inclusive forms, and a modern exclusive form. Either of the modern forms would probably sound a bit absurd if used as a royal 'we'.

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Re: Singular "we"

Postby Car » 2018-02-13, 19:08

Luís wrote:All of those usages exist in Portuguese as well except for the benefactive "us".

The same in German.

duden.de explains it with some nice examples how it's used in German.
Please correct my mistakes!

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Re: Singular "we"

Postby linguoboy » 2018-02-13, 19:23

Here's another usage in English which I'm not sure fits under the patronising "we" or represents its own category: When scolding a child, an authority figure will often say something like, "We don't leave our shoes in the middle of the hall" or "We keep our hands to ourselves". Although this looks like a first-person usage, in context it functions as a second-person imperative: Don't leave your shoes in the middle of the hall. Keep your hands to yourself.
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Re: Singular "we"

Postby vijayjohn » 2018-02-22, 3:16

rmanoj wrote:Interestingly, Malayalam's ancestor Old Tamil did use an exclusive form for the royal 'we'. But I don't think any reflex of this was ever attested in Malayalam. The language just has archaic and modern inclusive forms, and a modern exclusive form. Either of the modern forms would probably sound a bit absurd if used as a royal 'we'.

What's the equivalent of royal "we" in Malayalam? നാം?

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Re: Singular "we"

Postby rmanoj » 2018-02-22, 3:20

vijayjohn wrote:
rmanoj wrote:Interestingly, Malayalam's ancestor Old Tamil did use an exclusive form for the royal 'we'. But I don't think any reflex of this was ever attested in Malayalam. The language just has archaic and modern inclusive forms, and a modern exclusive form. Either of the modern forms would probably sound a bit absurd if used as a royal 'we'.

What's the equivalent of royal "we" in Malayalam? നാം?

Yes. In Tamil it's (exclusive) யாம்.


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