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That's an interesting question.

With "why" questions in Linguistics, the answer is generally historical. What are the grammaticalization paths that these words follow? There may also be a usage based explanation, that humans speaking languages are more likely to distinguish question words for animacy than pronouns, but I'm not sure why that would be. My instinct here is that pronouns typically develop in parallel from forms marked with whatever (or no) genders or noun classes, while "who" may be more likely to develop from a subject (i.e. nominative) form (as humans are more likely to be actors) and "what" from an object (i.e. accusative) form (as inanimate objects are more likely to be acted upon)*, resulting in a potential different form. Other possibilities for 'who' etymologies would of course include 'which/what person', etc. Third-person pronouns tend to develop from demonstratives, so it's less likely that extra forms would be created during that grammaticalization process. There's also the fact that Wh-words are to some degree inherently emphatic (according to some derivational syntactic theories they're focused or topicalized when fronted), while pronouns are often background information.

(*An interesting pattern in the Indo-European languages is nominative-accusative syncretism [systematic identity] for neuter nouns, because of this same frequency effect, that neuter [typically inanimate] nouns are more likely to be objects than subjects.)

It could be revealing to look at the etymologies of these words in a number of languages (but you'd want to look beyond Indo-European, where etymological dictionaries would be harder to find) to see if there are clear patterns.
It seems to me (though I could be wrong) that the distinction between "who" and "what" is, for some reason, much more common that the distinction between "it" and "he/she". The only language I know about that does not differentiate between "who" and "what" is Lithuanian, while there seem to be plenty of languages that do not differentiate between "it" and "he/she" (Turkish, many dialects of Chinese, many dialects of Finnish...). Is my observation correct? And, if so, what is the reason for it?
Linguistics Links / Re: Leftovers from Older English
« Last post by Rock100 on Today at 08:15:54 AM »
> есть (то)                - нет (Russian)  /  i.e. (id est)
> is (it, there (? ? ?)) - there (it) is not
I probably badly need to brush up my rusty Russian but I cannot agree with wiki that “нет • (net) (impersonal verb)” and “The past tense of нет (net) is не́ было (né bylo), and the future tense is не бу́дет (ne búdet)”. This word belongs to a service/official part of speech (conjunctions, particles and prepositions). Нет can be the particle or the conjunction indeed. They invented another fancy word for such particles – predicatives that probably may make you start thinking about predicates and verbs. But it is like the grammatical gender in English – it is not.

> there is (are) / there is not (are not)   -   Be (English)
> (оно/то) есть / (оно/то) не е(-сть) (ту(да ? ? ?))/there (? ? ?)) = нет   -  Be (Russian)
And again I believe it is just нет (no) and not a Be.
Linguistics Links / Leftovers from Older English
« Last post by waive15 on January 22, 2021, 04:07:07 AM »
Leftovers from Older English


hobnob / hob-nob




есть (то)                - нет (Russian)  /  i.e. (id est)
is (it, there (? ? ?)) - there (it) is not


има - няма (Belarusian, Ukrainian нема́, Bulgarian)
has  - has not


                    there is / there is not

there is (are) / there is not (are not)   -   Be (English)

(оно/то) есть / (оно/то) не е(-сть) (ту(да ? ? ?))/there (? ? ?)) = нет   -  Be (Russian)

(it) има / (it) няма - has / has not (Belarusian, Ukrainian нема́, Bulgarian) - Have (Belarusian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian)

es gibt / es gibt nicht  -  it gives / it gives not  - Give (German)


He says that he is not a professional linguist. He says that he makes mistakes.

Case & Gender in Old English


Phonetics and Phonology / Re: Does the short & long vowels differ only in duration?
« Last post by panini on January 17, 2021, 10:17:08 AM »
Inferring that a pattern is usual based on just Latin and its descendants is invalid. It is invalid to say that stress is usually towards the penult because it is so in Latin and descendants.
As far as I understand it, they usually do differ in quality, not just in duration. In Classical Latin, for example, they differed primarily in duration, but, in most dialects, they also differed slightly in quality. At some point, all Latin dialects lost the distinction in quantity (duration). However, all of them, except in Sardinia and African Romance, preserved some distinction in quality.
Outside of the box / Re: Croatian toponyms
« Last post by FlatAssembler on January 17, 2021, 01:51:26 AM »
What do you think, what is the origin of the river name "Una"? I think it is some sort of an onomatopoeia, as it is a name of numerous rivers all over the world and is also the Etruscan word for stream. However, it escapes me what it would be an onomatopoeia of. I have started this discussion on Reddit as well.
Linguistics Links / Re: By the skin of one’s teeth
« Last post by waive15 on January 12, 2021, 06:38:13 AM »

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)

Director: Tom Stoppard
Writer   : Tom Stoppard
Stars    : Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Richard Dreyfuss, ...

Linguistics Links / Re: By the skin of one’s teeth
« Last post by waive15 on January 12, 2021, 05:13:35 AM »

Midnight Run (1988)/ Chorizo & eggs


Martin Brest (director):

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Midnight Run (1988)

Scent of a Woman (1992)

Meet Joe Black (1998)



Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro): Do you know what time it is?
An airport porter                : 25 to 12:00 (midnight, 1988).
Jack Walsh                        : 25 to 12:00. I would've made it.

Jack Walsh to a taxi driver a few seconds later: You wouldn't have a change for a $ 1'000, would you?
The taxi driver                                             : What are you, a comedian? Get out of here, you bum! 
Jack Walsh                                                  : Looks like I'm walkin'.

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