Common traits in syntax between close distant relatives (German, Italian and French)

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by ampurdan, Jun 10, 2007.

  1. ampurdan

    ampurdan Senior Member

    jiā tàiluó ní yà
    Català & español (Spain)
    I've noticed that French, Italian and German share the trait of having two different modals for the perfect tense: "haben/avoir/avere + pp" and "sein/être/essere + pp". Moreover, many times these three languages will make the difference exactly in the same way:

    "Ich bin angekommen" <> "Ich habe viel gegessen"
    "Je suis arrivé(e)". <> "J'ai mangé beaucoup".
    "Sono arrivato/a". <> "Ho mangiato molto".

    A well known Germanic language, English, doesn't make this difference and neither does other well known Romance language, Spanish. They share the common trait that the places were these languages originated is slightly peripheral or outlying vis-à-vis the other three mentioned languages.

    I don't know about ancient Germanic languages but this difference did not exist in Latin, at least in Classical Latin (in fact, they used "essere" with the perfect, but only to make the perfect of the passive voice tenses, they did not use "habere" as a modal). Therefore, I'd say that the difference could not come from a common Indoeuropean origin.

    I know I lack many relevant information, so I'd like to know if it's possible that German, French and Italian imitated one another in such a constituent trait of a language as is the syntax of the perfect variants of their verb tenses.
  2. Joannes Senior Member

    Belgian Dutch
    They’re no modals but regular auxiliaries, aren’t they? Anyway, this is a very interesting question!

    On the whole, Dutch makes the same auxiliary choices for the perfect tense as German. Oversimplifying, you could say the choice is based on an interaction between two parameters: transitive versus intransitive verbs and stative versus non-stative (or dynamic) verbs.
    transitive, stative => hebben ‘to have’
    transitive, non-stative (dynamic) => hebben (some exceptions with zijn ‘to be’)
    intransitive, stative => hebben
    intransitive, non-stative (dynamic) => zijn

    I believe the development of ‘have’-forms as auxiliaries for the perfect tense has been explained in terms of areal typology before. But indeed the distinction ‘be’ - ‘have’ should be involved too. Maybe it was in some study?

    In the supposedly largest dictionary of the world, the WNT :cool:, I found an explanation on how hebben evolved as an auxiliary. The free translation below is my own:
    One of the given examples of such a sentence is hij heeft zijn zwaard getrokken ('he has his sword drawn'), originally meaning ‘he has, is holding, his sword in ‘the state of ‘unsheathedness’’, but eventually interpreted as ‘he drew his sword’. (Note that in the Dutch version, there is no different word order to indicate the semantic distinction, and that the 'have'-perfect is a real past tense in Dutch, hence the translation ‘drew’.)

    I didn’t find anything on the emergence of zijn as an auxiliary, but I suppose a development from its function as a copula would not be far-fetched. Maybe someone else has access a good source.
  3. modus.irrealis Senior Member

    English, Canada
    I'd add that English once did have this distinction and it still shows up in relics like "The Lord is come", or maybe "I'm gone." And also something like "je suis mort" seems to go back directly to Latin "mortuus sum" so I'd suspect that the Romance languages like Spanish had this distinction and lost it. I agree with you that it's not common Indo-european, also because the compound perfect tense is something that we can watch develop and does not go all the way back. I would guess this is probably something that developed in Vulgar Latin and spread to other languages but that's just a guess and I wonder if anyone knows the details.

    It's certainly possible and it's basically the idea behind sprachbunds, although I'm not sure what the main mechanism is for this kind of convergence (bilingualism? one language being more prestigious?). The Balkan languages have various things in common with each other that they don't have with more closely related languages from outside the Balkans, and Western Europe seems similar to me, and there is the concept of Standard Average European.
  4. Joannes Senior Member

    Belgian Dutch
    Found this. Pages 7-17 may be of interest.
  5. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Yes, that's one thing many students of German, French, and Italian have to struggle with. But I think if you have once understood the way and why they are used, it is quite simple. However, one must say that they function differently sometimes. I only want to compare German and French here:

    Je me suis blessé. - Ich habe mich verletzt.

    Reflexive verbs are always formed by être in French and by haben in German in the compound past tenses. ;)

    As already mentioned, Old English did have such a distinction. I think it worked like in German today:

    Ich bin gegangen. - Ic wese gegân
    Ihr habt mich gerufen. - Gê habbaþ mê gehrôpen.

    Indeed, Old High German looks quite similar to Old English:

    Ic wese gegân. - Ic bim gigangan.
    Gê habbaþ mê gehrôpen. - Ir habêt mih gihruofan.

    However, this would go too far here. :)

    I'm not very convinced of my examples, because in Old/Middle High German poetry the auxiliary was very often left out; to be honest, I have never encountered any. ;)

    Indo-European tenses were formed like in Latin (well, not really, but kind of):

    I laud. - (Ego) laudo.
    I lauded. - (Ego) laudabam.
    I will laud. - (Ego) laudabo.
    I have lauded. - (Ego) laudavi.
    I had lauded. - (Ego) laudaveram.
    I will have lauded. (Ego) laudavero.

    The first four examples tell us that the stem laud- is extended by different suffixes to form a respective tense. So far, so good. The last two, however, are formed by the perfect stem laudav- plus the past and future tense of esse (= eram and ero, respectively). This is the first indicator for an auxiliary.

    I think that's very unlikely.

    That should go into another thread. ;)
  6. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    You're right :).
    As asked by Ampurdan himself, that part of the original post has indeed been moved to a new thread. In the course of moving that part, I turned this thread in a temporary but rather profound mess :). My apologies to Ampurdan and to the posters in this thread.


    Moderator EHL
  7. domangelo Senior Member

    United States English
    I vote for the forms coming from Vulgate Latin, for one reason: the "essere + participle" construction seems to be far more prevalent in Italian than in either German or French, and I imagine that Italian is also more directly descended from Vulgate than French. I find it difficult to say j'ai été in French because I always have to stop myself from saying je suis été* all'italiano. Joannes' Santiago link is also interesting.
  8. Joannes Senior Member

    Belgian Dutch
    The direction of such a development (Germanic > Romance), or the development itself? You’ll probably be right if you mean the first, but I entirely disagree if you mean the second.
  9. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    By the way, the criterion to choose between the two auxiliaries normally has to do with whether the verb is unaccusative or not.
  10. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    The same happens in German. :)

    What I mean is that some (I'm not entirely sure about all of them) Germanic and Italic (better than Romance, I think) languages developed the auxiliary verbs independently and didn't copy each other. That's just an assumption, though. I'm sure, however, that auxiliary verbs as such exist in non-Indo-European languages, too.

    Not necessarily, at leats not in German. Compare these:

    Ich habe dir geholfen. (I have helped you.)
    Ich habe dich gekannt. (I have known you.)

    dir is the dative (unaccusative, indirect) and dich is the accusative (direct) pronoun of du.

    What I find a helpful tip for chosing between avoir and être in French is whether the verbs are dynamic verbs (one could say unaccusative/indirect, but I'm not sure if there are some exceptions; in German begegnen + dat. and helfen + dat. are exceptions). If you choose the auxiliary être for accusative (stative) verbs, they become passive. Dynamic verbs can't be used in the passive.
  11. ampurdan

    ampurdan Senior Member

    jiā tàiluó ní yà
    Català & español (Spain)
    Right, auxiliaries, not modals. I don't know what I was thinking about.

    Very interesting, Joannes. I had also thought about adding the common Perfekt-Präteritum confusion in French, German and Italian to the be-have auxiliary distinction.

    Ayer vine.

    I came yesterday.

    Oral German:
    Gestern bin ich angekommen.

    Oral French:
    Je suis venu(e) hier.

    Oral Italian:
    Sono venuto/a ieri (I guess).
  12. Joannes Senior Member

    Belgian Dutch
    Yes, that's indeed a better way to put it, although non-stative + dynamic comes pretty close to unaccusative.

    Obviously they do. As for the have-perfect, the source I linked to earlier says an independent development is not very likely:
    Sprachbunds are very real!

    Unaccusative verbs are always intransitive.
  13. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    I still don't think they copied each other. Those auxiliaries must come from a common origin.

    That's clear by defintion. But what does that have to do with my examples? Please compare these again:

    Ich habe dir geholfen.
    Ich habe dich erkannt.

    Ich bin dir begegnet.
    Ich bin dich ... whatever :cross:

    What I meant was that haben (to have) can be used for both transitive and intransitive verbs. Sein (to be) cannot be used for transitive verbs. So, if you encounter an intransitive verb, you don't know for sure which auxiliary must be chosen. Here are two examples:

    gefallen (to please) - intransitive with haben
    folgen (to follow) - intransitive with sein
  14. Joannes Senior Member

    Belgian Dutch
    I’m sorry to say so, but you didn’t put it very well, then.

    Sein (and the equivalents in French, Dutch, Italian) can be used with transitive verbs, but that’s not quite common. With intransitive verbs, you could predict the auxiliary: unaccusative verbs (no volitional agent) will take the ‘be’-form, other intransitives the ‘have’-form. Exceptions do exist, however, certainly if we consider the whole 'have'-perfect area. This is more of a (strong but) oversimplifying tendency than a rigid rule. I’m pretty convinced that, more often than not, you will be able to find an historical explanation for verbs that deviate from this tendency, though. That offers little comfort to learners of present day languages, but it is an argument in favour of the system behind the auxiliary choice.

    This is sheer speculating now, but I would guess your begegnen example has its origin in a passive, which would account for sein as an auxiliary. French and Dutch don’t deviate: je t’ai rencontré; ik heb jou ontmoet.

    Note that your examples gefallen and folgen both have transitive and intransitive meanings. I’m pretty sure that gefallen as an intransitive verb derives from its transitive use, hence the auxiliary haben. (The Dutch transitive version offers a counterexample, by the way: dat is mij bevallen. I'm pretty sure (but stil guessing) that this use derives from a passive construction again.)

    The transitive version of folgen also takes sein as an auxiliary, doesn’t it? Ich bin ihm gefolgt. Anyway, in Dutch it does: ik ben hem gevolgd. In some cases you could say ik heb hem gevolgd, however (maybe in German as well?). Although the transitive use of volgen is by far the most common in Dutch, the word was originally intransitive, but still that doesn’t account for the ‘be’-auxiliary; to analyse intransitive volgen / folgen as having an ergative meaning would still be objectionable.
  15. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    I suppose so. And I must agree with your statement after I have reread it. :)

    I'll think about it. I'm going to ask a profound German student after all. :)

    I'm sorry, but this is simply not true for German. They are both only intransitive and I can't think of any exceptions. Es gefällt mich and Ich folge dich are wrong in standard German (they are used in some dialects as such where the dative and genitive are nearly extinct). However, the word verfolgen (to trace) is transitive!

    I don't want to agree nor would I venture to disagree, since I have no clue of or evidence for that.

    Google gives me 5 hits for "... hat mir gefolgt", of which one is a mutiple choice test. "... ist mir gefolgt" is definitely more common and the only correct expression. If you Google for "habe ihm gefolgt", you'll encounter many Dutch sites - not very surprising after all. :)

    I will check the use of folgen later in an etymological dictuionary. I hope Grimm's can help me. :)
  16. Joannes Senior Member

    Belgian Dutch
    But es gefällt mir and ich folge dir are correct, aren't they? Case doesn't matter here. When the verb takes an object, it's transitive, regardless of whether it's a direct or an indirect object and what case it takes.
  17. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    They are.

    No, that's not true. Transitive is defined as (in German, at least) being able to form the personal passive, whereas intrasitive verbs are not able to form the personal passive. Examples follow:

    Es gefällt mir. (It pleases me)
    --> no passive possible

    Ich folge dir. (I follow you)
    --> passive: Dir wird gefolgt. (You are followed)
    --> you can't include the information who follows you in German, because "folgen" is intransitive

    Ich helfe dir. (I help you)
    --> passive: Dir wird geholfen. (You are helped)
    --> you could technically add "von mir" (by me), but it would sound forced

    Wir schenken ihm ein Buch.
    --> Ihm wird ein Buch geschenkt. (He's given a book)
    --> "a book" is the object in English, but must become the subject in the German passive sentence

    Intransitive passive construction or either avoided in spoken German or paraphrased by "bekommen/kriegen" (which is very colloquial and doesn't belong here).

    Transitive passive constructions are very common:

    Ich bewache die Tür.
    --> passive: Die Tür wird von mir bewacht. (The door is guarded by me)

    Wir werden sie untersuchen.
    --> passive: Sie wird von uns untersucht werden. (She will be examined by us)
  18. Joannes Senior Member

    Belgian Dutch
    Ok, but then I need to ask you, do gefallen and folgen occur with no grammatical arguments (apart from the subject) at all? Because that's how I was using 'intransitive' here. And so I thought that was what you were saying. Can er gefällt and / or er folgt be grammatical sentences, just like that, without any object? (And what would be their perfective equivalents, then?)

    If they can, my point remains the same, but I’ll adapt the terminology (although German is the special case in this comparative story ;) -- actually German should comply :D:p): both verbs have another use in which they take more grammatical arguments.

    The meaning in which I used (in)transitive in all the above posts was in terms of (grammatical) valency, regarding all verbs that take more than one argument as transitive. Sorry for the misunderstanding.
  19. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Es gefällt and er folgt are no sentences. They do not mean anything, sorry. :) You always need an indirect object.

    Nevertheless, one can say Erklärung folgt (explanation will follow), if you want to mention that an explanation will come later in the same text. If you wanted to say "explanation will follow the text", you need an indirect/dative object, though: Erklärung folgt dem Text. This does not work with gefallen.
  20. Reigh Senior Member

    Germany, Frankfurt
    German, Germany

    It could just be me, but I consider sentences like "Wenn es gefällt, können Sie es kaufen" or "Schau Dich mal um! Er folgt" correct. I wouldn't neccessarily need an additional "Ihnen" after "es" in the first or a "uns" after "folgt" in the second sentence...
  21. vince Senior Member

    Los Angeles, CA
    I have heard that Germanic haben and Romance *habere are unrelated, despite looking similar.

    With regards to verbs of possession being used as auxilaries, how about Portuguese's use of "ter" (tenere) where other Romance languages use habere? Unless habere was used originally and changed to ter sometime in the language's development.
  22. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    That was indeed what happened. The derivative of habere is still used sometimes.
  23. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    I'm sorry, but that is not correct. It is dialectal like Er folgte mich, so that we can't count that. If you like, we can continue this discussion in the German forum. :)

    Yes, Latin habere has something to do with to give (IE *ghabh-), whereas German haben (EN to have) is a derivative of heben (EN: to heave), which in turn is a congnate of Latin capere (= to grasp). So, you're right that habere and haben are a mere coincidence. :)

    Spanish and Italian use tenere, too. I don't know the Spanish equivalent of habere, but in French it's avoir and in Italian avere. However, I'm not sure if the latter can be used for possession other than as an auxiliary, too.
  24. ampurdan

    ampurdan Senior Member

    jiā tàiluó ní yà
    Català & español (Spain)
    If this is so, then it's even more likely that one language modelled herself on the other.

    This could be the story:

    - Vulgar Latin begins to use "habere" as an auxiliary to convey perfect tenses, intead of suffixes ("-avi", etc.).
    - Old Germanic languages begin to use the *ghabh- cognate, which resembles the Latin "habere", to convey perfect tenses.

    Anyway, it's just a very wild guess. Now I realize that for this to have happened this way, Vulgar Latin would have had to influence the root of both German and English in a time when the speakers of both languages were still in the same area (perhaps the Saxon connection?). If Germanic Nordic languages, with no historic intense contact with Vulgar Latin speakers, also use the "have" auxiliary, then this story is less likely to be true, I guess.

    Spanish uses "tener" only in the meaning of "to have got", not as an auxiliary. I'm not sure about the meanings of "tenere" in Italian, I'd say it means "to hold", but, whatever their meanings might be, I'd say that it's not used as an auxiliary either. I'd say that "avere" is the normal way to say "to have got".

    I'd say that the Portuguese use of "ter" as an auxiliary is a rather modern peculiar evolution of Portuguese.
  25. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    It's also used in certain periphrases such as tengo entendido or tengo que ir.
  26. ampurdan

    ampurdan Senior Member

    jiā tàiluó ní yà
    Català & español (Spain)
    Right, that does not make it a auxiliary to build up perfect tenses, though.
  27. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    It's not the specific auxiliary. However, I think that tengo entendido is a perfective construction, in a broader sense...
  28. ampurdan

    ampurdan Senior Member

    jiā tàiluó ní yà
    Català & español (Spain)
    I guess. I've read it in Joannes's link. It makes sense.

    However, "tengo entendido" is very residual in Spanish, it has nuances that "he entendido" does not have and it matches the DO.

    You say "tengo entendido" when you oppose a pre-conceived idea to some new contradicting information given by someone else.

    I guess you could use "tengo" with the past participle of many transitive verbs in Spanish, but it's not usual at all.
  29. avok

    avok Banned

    Sprachbund?? Between French and English, of course. And Italian, just because it is related to French.
  30. vince Senior Member

    Los Angeles, CA
    French also uses tenere as "to hold": "Je tiens mon portable dans la main"
  31. Joannes Senior Member

    Belgian Dutch
    But it's an interesting development, which could (again) have happened under the influence of surrounding languages. It would be interesting to get to know more about the emergence of this construction.
  32. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)

    Could you please elaborate on this and explain us how the concept of a Sprachbund can help us in explaining the common traits?


  33. avok

    avok Banned

    Well, I once read a writing about a possible Atlantic Sprachbund amongst French, Dutch, English, and even Spanish etc..the loss of declension and some common traits that I can't remember right now but it seemed rather interesting.
    Now I've re-read the question and ampurdan asks about the common traits among French, Italian and German !!! I thought it was French, Italian and ENGLISH:eek:
  34. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    I don't doubt that it was interesting, but what exactly? It's not that productive to mention something you once read without giving further details on the authors and the contents.
    If you'd find the source, please open a new thread.

    No problem, this can happen :).


    Moderator EHL
  35. avok

    avok Banned

    hi Frank,

    ok...........I 'll be productive and give you some further details on "Atlantic Sprachbund" don't be mad at me :mad:

    I tried to remember where I'd once read it and ... I have finally found it, here you can find something and don't forget to read the answers too :idea:

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