plural subjects of transitive clauses

Discussion in 'Suomi (Finnish)' started by Gavril, Jan 26, 2013.

  1. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Hyvää lauantaiiltaa (meilläpäin on vielä aamu),

    I know that the nominative plural (as opposed to the partitive) has to be used for the subject of a transitive clause, whether the subject is indefinite or definite:

    A) Varkaat varastivat hopeat kodista viime viikolla.

    As I understand it, this could mean either

    "Thieves [indefinite] stole the silverware from the house last week."
    "The thieves [definite] stole the silverware from the house last week."

    If you wanted to, though, you could alter the structure and wording of the first sentence to make it clearer that the subject is indefinite:

    B) Kotiini tuli varkaita, jotka varastivat hopeat. "Thieves came to my house and stole the silverware."

    Here, if I'm not mistaken, varkaita can only be interpreted as indefinite (= new information).

    My question is, what would motivate the choice of a sentence like A, where the subject could (without further context) be definite or indefinite, versus a sentence like B, where the subject is clearly indefinite?

    For example, what would be a possible context where sentence A above would be preferable, and what would be a context where sentence B is the better option?

  2. Määränpää

    Määränpää Senior Member

    I'm not able to answer your question, but here's a hypothesis I thought of:

    The nominative plural is used for indefinite subjects when the subjects do something that can be expected from members of a certain group.

    Varkaat [indefinite/definite] varastivat hopeat kodista.
    Lääkärit [indefinite/definite] pitivät minua luulosairaana.

    :warning: Lääkärit [indefinite] varastivat hopeat kodista. (?) [Maybe in a headline, but not in the middle of text.]
    :warning: Varkaat [indefinite] pitivät minua luulosairaana. (?)

    Lääkärit [definite] varastivat hopeat kodista.
    Varkaat [definite] pitivät minua luulosairaana.
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2013
  3. akana Senior Member

    English - USA
    An interesting hypothesis!
  4. Määränpää

    Määränpää Senior Member

    This might be obvious but I'd like to add that using it can reveal the speaker's own prejudice.
  5. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Päivää Määränpää,

    It's interesting that you mention this, because news headlines are the main contexts where I recall seeing the -t plural (varkaat, lääkärit) used with an indefinite meaning.

    Do you think that this pattern (where the subject is not "expected") can apply at the beginning of any new topic or narrative, not just in a headline?

    For example, does the following example sound acceptable?

    "Kuulitkohan, että tuulitakkiin pukeutuneet miehet ryöstivät eilen elintarvikeliikkeen Tehtaankadulla?", kysyi Pirjo käydessään kananleivän kimppuun.
  6. Määränpää

    Määränpää Senior Member

    The example sounds acceptable. I hadn't thought about complex noun phrases yet.

    But were Pirjo to say "[ethnicity] ryöstivät", she would actually blame the entire group, so in a way the subject would be definite. (Writers who do it tend to be writing anonymously...)
  7. Määränpää

    Määränpää Senior Member

    In headlines, it's possible to see expressions that could never be used in the middle of text, such as "Miehet [indefinite] huijasivat Sampo Pankkia". Because it's a headline, it's clear that 50% of humanity are not blamed. (However, using ethnicities this way would sound unfriendly even in a headline.)

    In normal text, I would ask "Kuulitko, että jotkut (or eräät/yhdet, if I knew them) miehet huijasivat..."
  8. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Since verbs like ryöstää and varastaa have somewhat "loaded" connotations, let's try more neutral examples:

    Kävelin Alpinkatua etsimässä suosikkileipomoani, kun ihmiset pysäyttivät minut ja kysyivät minulta tietä Ruskeasuohon.

    Pyöräillessäni Harjulla älypuhelimeni putoasi taskusta, mutta rähjäiset nuoret löysivät ja palauttivat sen minulle.

    Do these sound OK?
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2013
  9. Määränpää

    Määränpää Senior Member

    To me, ihmiset sounds wrong here. Second opinion, other Finns? :)

    This would be more acceptable: Kun kävelin Alppikatua etsimässä suosikkileipomoani, ihmiset pysäyttivät minut monta kertaa ja kysyivät minulta tietä jonnekin [=this happened several times with different people]. In this sentence, ihmiset is more generalizing. I think it could refer to everyone who was on the street, even to those who didn't stop the speaker.

    This would also be acceptable: Kävelin Alppikatua etsimässä suosikkileipomoani, kun poliisit pysäyttivät minut. In this sentence, poliisit are doing something that police officers typically do.
  10. kirahvi Senior Member

    To me, ihmiset sounds fine. I might say jotkut ihmiset in that context myself.
  11. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    I agree with Määränpää.

    I could never say "kun ihmiset pysäyttivät minut" without defining the number or the type of the people who stopped me. I'd say "kun eräät / muutamat / jotkut / maalaisilta näyttävät / mustiin pukeutuneet ihmiset pysäyttivät minut".
  12. akana Senior Member

    English - USA
    Could you just say jotkut, as is sometimes done with joku?
    "Kun kävelin Alpinkatua etsimässä suosikkileipomoani, jotkut pysäyttivät minut..."

    Compare to:
    Kun kävelin Alpinkatua etsimässä suosikkileipomoani, joku pysäytti minut...
  13. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    In fact, we seldom use the word ihminen in contexts like this.
  14. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    I added another example sentence to message #8 just as Määränpää was responding:

    Is this sentence any more acceptable than the other sentence (with ihmiset)?

    In what sense could the subject of "Ihmiset pysäyttivät minut monta kertaa" refer to people who didn't stop the speaker?

    (I can think of a possible answer to this question, but I want to hear from the native speakers first.)
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2013
  15. Määränpää

    Määränpää Senior Member

    I meant that in the speaker's mind, the people who were on the street are represented by those of them who did something noticeable (stopped him).
    Remember that this is not something I'm sure of! I'm just making up ideas. Often ihmiset is very vague and can be replaced by a passive verb.

    I'm sorry but this sentence is so imaginary that I almost can't test its syntax. Why would anyone criticize so harshly the appearance of someone who helped them? Anyway, I think rähjäiset nuoret and kauniisti pukeutuneet nuoret both sound wrong.

    The only modifiers that sound acceptable are related to the context: avuliaat nuoret (praising their helpfulness), paikalliset nuoret (explaining why they were there)... Maybe you could say goottinuoret or hopparinuoret to prove to someone that subcultures aren't dangerous. :D
  16. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    But you're also drawing on your experience/intuitions as a Finnish speaker, right?

    Sorry for the word choice -- I didn't realize that rähjäinen was necessarily a mean/critical adjective. WSOY translates rähjäinen as "ragged", which is often used critically in English, but can also be used in a more neutral or sympathetic sense (e.g., if I said "a poor, raggedly-dressed man", I'm not necessarily criticizing the man for being poor and ragged).

    Since you said (message #6) that it sounds acceptable to say,

    Tuulitakkiin pukeutuneet miehet ryöstivät elintarvikeliikkeen

    did it seem to you that the description "tuulitakkiin pukeutuneet" fits the context of the above sentence, in the same sense that "avuliaat/paikalliset nuoret" fits the context of the other sentence?
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2013
  17. Määränpää

    Määränpää Senior Member

    I guess the appearance of robbers seems contextually relevant in the context of a robbery. Maybe because eyewitnesses are still needed, or because the disguise was part of the plan.

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