As in Haspelmath (2005b), in this chapter we ask how indefinite pronouns are formed, i.e. the translational equivalents of ‘somebody’ and ‘something’. In many languages, there are special expressions for these concepts, which are undeniably pronouns (e.g. Spanish algo ‘something’). In other languages, one simply says ‘a person’ or ‘a thing’, using a generic noun, as in (1)-(2).
Nevertheless, the expressions corresponding to ‘something’ and ‘somebody’ here are considered as “indefinite pronouns” for the purposes of this chapter, because it is very difficult to draw a line between fully compositional noun phrases with generic nouns and special pronouns. In English, there is a stress contrast, and also a semantic difference, between the noun phrase sòme thíng and the pronoun sómething, and syntactically they behave differently, too (cf. some nice things vs. something nice). But these differences are very subtle and we cannot base our major classifications on them.
The question here is thus how ‘something’ and ‘somebody’ are expressed. The three main types are: (i) based on interrogative pronouns (‘what’, ‘who’), (ii) based on generic nouns (‘thing’, ‘person’), and (iii) special forms that are not synchronically based on anything. In addition, there is an intermediate type between (ii) and (iii), and languages may use existential constructions instead of indefinite pronouns.
|Old generic-noun-based indefinites continuing somebody/something||17||4||21|
When the ‘somebody’ expression in a language belongs to a different type than the ‘something’ expression, or when there are several different ways of expressing both indefinites, a language is shown as having multiple types.
Indefinite pronouns may also express ontological categories other than thing and person: place (‘somewhere’), time (‘sometime’), manner (‘somehow’), and others. These typically behave in the same way (cf. Haspelmath 1997), but in this chapter, we consider only the most frequent categories, thing and person.
Languages often have several different series of indefinite pronouns expressing different referential and modal types of indefiniteness, e.g. something vs. anything in English, or special negative indefinites, e.g. nothing in English. In this chapter, we consider only indefinites that correspond to English something and somebody (but see Chapter 102 for negative indefinites).
Throughout North America, Australia, and Eurasia (with the exception of Western Europe), most languages have interrogative-based indefinites (e.g. Polish kto ‘who’, kto-ś ‘someone’, Japanese nani ‘what’, nani-ka ‘something’, see Haspelmath 1997). However, in the APiCS languages this type is not widespread and is found only in a few languages of North America and southern and eastern Asia. An example is (3).
In the Malay-based languages and in Michif and Chinuk Wawa, the pattern comes from the lexifier, but in Chinese Pidgin Russian, Ternate Chabacano, and Sri Lanka Portuguese, it must be due to the substrate.
Generic-noun-based indefinites are found throughout Africa (with the exception of an area in northeastern Africa, Haspelmath 2005b), so it is not surprising that this is the dominant type in the Atlantic creoles. Moreover, English and the Romance languages also have many generic-noun-based indefinites. In English, some-thing is a clear case (based on thing), and some-body is a somewhat less clear case (but body must have meant ‘person’ originally here). In French, quelque chose [some thing] is clearly generic-noun-based, as is Portuguese alguma coisa [some thing]. But Spanish has special forms (alguien ‘someone’, algo ‘something’), which are only diachronically analyzable (from Latin ali-quem, ali-quod).
In the creoles based on English, French, and Portuguese, generic-noun forms may thus simply be inherited from the lexifiers, e.g. Batavia Creole alung kudja ‘something’ < Portuguese alguma coisa, Louisiana Creole kekchoz < French quelque chose. In the English-based languages, forms directly derived from somebody and something are extremely common, but it is usually not clear whether these are still synchronically based on thing and body, so they are given special treatment (see §4).
In the Romance-based creoles, it is more common for generic-noun-based forms to be newly created. For example, in the Gulf of Guinea creoles, the generic noun kwa ‘thing’ (< Portuguese coisa) is used with the indefinite article rather than with alguma (Principense kwa ũa ‘something’). In Cape Verdean Creole of Brava, ‘somebody’ is algun djenti [some person], not a form derived from Portuguese alguem. In French-based creoles, ‘somebody’ often comes from monde ‘people’ rather than from French quelqu’un, e.g. Reunion Creole en moun, Martinican Creole an moun. And in (2) above we saw yon bagay ‘something’ in Haitian Creole, which is unrelated to French chose ‘thing’.
Some English-based creoles, too, have forms that are clearly innovated and do not continue somebody/something. Thus, Pichi has sɔ̀n pɔsin ‘somebody’, and some of the Surinamese creoles have forms based on sama ‘person’ and sani ‘thing’, often with the indefinite article or numeral ‘one’:
The form sani is said to derive from something, and sama from somebody, but they have become ordinary nouns.
As we saw, many English-based languages have forms that go back directly to somebody (or sometimes someone) and something and that are still more or less transparently segmentable. These are assigned to an intermediate type here, because it is neither completely clear that they are analyzable nor that they are unanalyzable. Some examples are given in (6).
|from somebody||from something|
|Cameroon Pidgin English||sombodi||somtin(g)|
A few languages have special forms for ‘somebody’ and ‘something’ that are neither derived from interrogatives nor form generic nouns. Sometimes they are inherited from special forms of the lexifier (e.g. Afrikaans iets ‘something’, Pidgin Hindustani koi ‘something, somebody’, Michif awiyak ‘someone’, Papiamentu algo ‘something’, Diu Indo-Portuguese aŋe ‘somebody’ < Portuguese alguem).
In other cases, the special forms have arisen from transparent forms of the lexifier which have become completely unanalyzable. English somebody and something have thus turned into special forms in Jamaican (smadi/sitn) and Saramaccan (sɛmbɛ/sɔndi).
Occasionally, languages do not use pronominal expressions to render ‘someone’ and ‘something’, but existential constructions with free relative clauses (lit. ‘There exists who came’, i.e. ‘Someone came’). This is found especially in some Austronesian languages, and in the APiCS languages where it occurs it is clearly due to the Austronesian influence.