Author Topic: Couplets  (Read 7949 times)

Offline Guijarro

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Couplets
« on: October 12, 2014, 08:54:42 AM »
In English you have TO DO and TO MAKE, and you must be a native speaker for not mixing them away absent-mindedly. I have taught my students hundreds of times what the differences between one and the other are supposed to be, and still today, I keep doing the mistake (sorry, making the mistake) myself. It's incredible!

In Spanish, we have the difference between SER and ESTAR. With that difference, my grand-mother could make little linguistic puns, when she said:

¡Con lo bellas que éramos y lo feas que estamos!

(We were so beautiful, and now we are so ugly)

Where the first WERE implies that it was a permanent trait of her appearance, while the second means that it is a passing appearance, since SER = permanent and ESTAR = Occasional.

Once you have learned that difference you may run into trouble by saying:

*Baroja es muerto

(Baroja is dead)

for nothing is more permanent than death,

and also:

*Mi hermana que antes estaba española hoy está inglesa
(my sister who formerly was Spanish is now English)

Where things have indeed changed.

Instead, every Spanish native speaker knows that you say

Baroja ESTÁ muerto

and

Mi hermana que antes ERA española hoy ES inglesa

Go and explain that to a non-native!

Offline Daniel

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Re: Couplets
« Reply #1 on: October 12, 2014, 04:46:07 PM »
Language is how we use it :)

The theoretical distinction of "ser" and "estar" seems clear enough to me, but in practice I do find it very confusing. "Ser" is a true copula, while "estar" is more like "become" in English but describing the current moment-- something about having that property, not just equating it with the subject. The trouble is as you said, the actual usage when that doesn't line up.

The English do/make distinction is incredibly straightforward: "Do" refers to doing an action, any action. "Doing your homework" refers to doing the action that involves working on homework. It is even generalized as a nearly vacuous auxiliary-- "I do do that!". "Make" on the other hand always refers to creating something. Even "make a mistake" refers to creating a mistake. There's nothing wrong with "doing a mistake" except that we don't say that often because you're usually creating it for the first time when it happens-- you can, however, naturally say "Stop it! You're doing the same mistake over and over again in that video game!" The draw toward "make" in that context is of course a frequency effect.
But the trouble with do/make is again the actual usage-- some, especially metaphorical, usage isn't as obvious. And those are just frequent collocations in English. I imagine the same holds true for ser/estar in Spanish.


As for some sentences that might help English learners, consider these pairs:

Let's do coffee! (Let's meet to drink coffee together, do the event.)
Let's make coffee! (We'll take some beans, grind them, and make coffee.)

Let's do the project. (Work on it. It already exists as a project.)
Make a project for me! (Create something new, so I can do it!)

Don't do that! (There's something to avoid doing-- e.g., don't swim!)
Don't make that! (I don't want to eat it / see it-- don't create that thing!)


So in short, "do" is almost entirely vacuous semantically. It just refers to "doing an action", so it's like the verb form of "verb"-- "to verb" is "to do". It's a "light verb"! But "make" is a lexical verb-- it actually creates something, changes the world.


But of course, either way, getting these couplets right in a second language is always hard. I know I mix them up all the time in Spanish!
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Offline jkpate

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Re: Couplets
« Reply #2 on: October 12, 2014, 05:35:44 PM »
In Spanish, we have the difference between SER and ESTAR. With that difference, my grand-mother could make little linguistic puns, when she said:

¡Con lo bellas que éramos y lo feas que estamos!

(We were so beautiful, and now we are so ugly)

what a fun rhyme!
All models are wrong, but some are useful - George E P Box

Offline Guijarro

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Re: Couplets
« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2014, 04:31:00 AM »
It is normal, Daniel, that you should think the distinction DO/MAKE is more straightforward than that of SER/ESTAR. But, then, I am a regular moron, because when I speak absent-mindedly in English, i often hear me falling in the same error yet again, although I not only know but have also taught the distinction norms many times.

Offline freknu

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Re: Couplets
« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2014, 06:47:34 AM »
Norse in general seems to have an exaggerated abundance of words and idioms with the meaning 'to be able' — don't ask me why :/ The following words from my mother tongue all translate to 'to be able', in one way or another, and there might be many more words and idioms that I'm not even aware of. The general pattern seems to be a distinction between innate capability and external circumstances.

bark, to be able (to have the toughness) [cf. En. bark (sb.)]
— ti bark hald, to be able to hold
— cf. hit barkar áf, it goes quickly
beit, to be able (to have the effect) [cf. En. bait]
— ti beit leys, to be able to solve
— cf. ti beit fiskan, to bait, provoke the fish
dog, to be able (to have the avail) [cf. En. dow]
— ti dog hjølp, to be able to help
— cf. hit dogr int, it is of no avail
, to be able (to have the means) [cf. En. fang]
— ti fá sof, to be able to sleep
— cf. ti fá gáfur, to receive gifts
ið (íð-i-?), to be able (to have the inclination) [cf. En. (?)]
— ti ið grept, to be able to (manually) till
— ti iðast (mid.) grept, to be able to (manually) till
kunn, to be able (to have the ability) [cf. En. can]
— ti kunn flýg, to be able to fly
, to be able (to have the opportunity) [cf. En. may]
— ti má haf, to be able to have
— cf. ti má dálit, to feel unwell
megt, to be able (to have the might) [cf. En. might]
— ti megt lypt, to be able to lift
, to be able (to have the effort) [cf. En. near (ad.)]
— ti ná bygg, to be able to build
— cf. þei nár stranden, they reach the shore
ork, to be able (to have the strength) [cf. En. work]
— ti ork hleup, to be able to sprint
ráð, to be able (to have the means) [cf. En. rede, read]
— ti ráð hitt, to be able to find
— cf. hit ráðr lugn, tranquillity prevails
reið, to be able (to have the effect) [cf. En. ready]
— ti reið skeyt, to be able to manage
— cf. ti reið upp, to tidy upp, organise

The more common ones are: dog, , , kunn, megt, and ork. Other candidates that might also translate to 'to be able': ann, get (git?), hend, and klar.

I don't know enough about English or German to make any conclusions, but it wouldn't surprise me if at least German had similar words. General English might be more stingy with such words, but dialects might be richer in them.
« Last Edit: October 13, 2014, 07:06:50 AM by freknu »

Offline Daniel

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Re: Couplets
« Reply #5 on: October 13, 2014, 12:48:08 PM »
Quote from: Guijarro
when I speak absent-mindedly in English, i often hear me falling in the same error yet again, although I not only know but have also taught the distinction norms many times.
Some linguists have claimed that in order to have a mental category, we must have a lexical item to label it. It seems that to you, "do" and "make" are the same thing, despite the obvious distinction. And to me "ser" and "estar" are also the same, despite the obvious (to some) distinction :)


Freknu, wow, that's a lot of words-- Norse is able to use many words ;)

(The distinction you mention is between epistemic and deontic (and possible logical) modality.)
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Offline freknu

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Re: Couplets
« Reply #6 on: October 13, 2014, 01:50:20 PM »
(The distinction you mention is between epistemic and deontic (and possible logical) modality.)

Great! I didn't know there were terms for the distinction. Hmm... modality, would that be the same as mood? Indicative, subjunctive, imperative, and so on -- or are they two different things that sound similar?

Offline Daniel

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Re: Couplets
« Reply #7 on: October 13, 2014, 05:37:15 PM »
They do sound similar. And they are in some sense distinct at least for semantics. In classical semantic theory, there is a contrast between epistemically and deontic and between possibility and necessity. This doesn't include mood in most usage.
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Offline freknu

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Re: Couplets
« Reply #8 on: October 15, 2014, 06:48:05 AM »
Just to be sure — looking at wikipedia:

Quote
... epistemic modality concerns an estimation of the likelihood that (some aspect of) a certain state of affairs is/has been/will be true (or false) in the context of the possible world under consideration.

So this would be 'to be able' based on circumstances?

Quote
Deontic modality is a linguistic modality that indicates how the world ought to be, according to certain norms, expectations, speaker desire, etc.

Would this then be based on capability?

Quote
A related type of modality is dynamic modality, which indicates a subject's internal capabilities or willingness as opposed to external factors such as permission or orders given.

This sounds more fitting for being based on capability.

It would also seem that deontic and epistemic are two of the major groups within irrealis, and thus not the actual modalities/moods for the verb?

circumstance — irrealis, epistemic, subjunctive?
capability — irrealis, deontic, dynamic?

Offline Daniel

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Re: Couplets
« Reply #9 on: October 15, 2014, 10:50:08 AM »
Oh, that may be right-- I didn't necessarily mean that it fits exactly that, but just that you'll find the information you need if you look into those terms. Deontic refers to rules, while Epistemic refers to knowledge. So "Can I go to the bathroom?" is said to prescriptively just refer to ability and knowledge of the world (do you know where the bathroom is?), not permission. But in English we rarely make a clear distinction between the two in lexical usage.

If the distinction is truly about whether it's possible internally (capability) or externally (circumstance) then that's something else probably. "Dynamic" might fit. I haven't looked into that distinction much.

Quote
It would also seem that deontic and epistemic are two of the major groups within irrealis, and thus not the actual modalities/moods for the verb?

circumstance — irrealis, epistemic, subjunctive?
capability — irrealis, deontic, dynamic?
As I said, modality is in some sense related to mood, but I wouldn't even try to pursue that categorization at the moment. Mood may operate differently in a language.
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Offline freknu

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Re: Couplets
« Reply #10 on: October 15, 2014, 11:39:07 PM »
Ok, even the wikipedia pages were vague and obtuse, so I wasn't sure which was which. Not that it matters much, internal (capability) and external (circumstance) "ability" is perfectly fine for my needs :)

Offline Guijarro

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Re: Couplets
« Reply #11 on: October 16, 2014, 03:23:46 AM »
Nothing is said about MOOD below, but anyway, what it says about MODALITY seems mighty interesting, to me at least:

(...) Nuances of obligation often originate from verbs of possession. (...) Similar developments from possession to obligation can be observed in languages all over the world, and the image behind them seems to be that one is responsible for the things in one's possession so if an action "belongs" to you, it belongs to your sphere of responsibility, and so, it's your duty to do it.

Markers of obligation can then go further into even subtler domains and become indicators of likelihood. (...)

In English practically all the original markers of obligation and permission have acquired the meaning of likelihood. (...) the logic behind the common shift from obligation to likelihood is simply that in real life, the weight of obligation on you to do something closely relates with the likelyhood that you will do it.

In fact, the development of likelihood markers is a perfect example of one of those long paths of metaphor, which lead from the simplest of physical activities all the way through to the subtlest of grammatical nuances. Markers of likelihood can develop from markers of possession, which in turn originate from the simple physical ability of seizing or getting:

SEIZING ---> POSSESSION ---> OBLIGATION ---> LIKELIHOOD
(get me a beer) (he's got a car)(I've gotta go) (She's gotta be there by now)"


(http://www.amazon.com/The-Unfolding-Language-Evolutionary-Invention/dp/0805080120
pgs. 252-253)

Offline freknu

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Re: Couplets
« Reply #12 on: October 16, 2014, 03:29:55 AM »
Very interesting!