Subtle difference between Norwegian "hans" and "sin"

tetsugakusha43

Member
Spanish
With regards to (1), I'd like to know if hans can refer back to (i) Jon, (ii) en politimann, (iii) both or (iv) neither. Same with sin.

(1a) Jon ble arrestert av en politimann i hagen hans
(1b) Jon ble arrestert av en politimann i hagen sin

With regards to (2), I'd like to know if there are any semantic differences between both versions that go beyond who the possessive pronouns pick up. That is, under the assumption that both hans and sin refer back to Jon, would it still make a difference whether we choose to use one over the other? For example, suppose that the police has some specific relative of Jon in mind. Would it then be preferable to use (a) over (b)? Conversely, let's assume the police has no one in mind, but they know that his death was exclusively motivated by the desire to inherit Jon's money. Would it then make more sense to use (b) over (a)?

(2a) Politiet tror at Jon er drept av noen i hans familie
(2b) Politiet tror at Jon er drept av noen i sin familie
 
  • raumar

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    The use of hans/hennes and sin is difficult also for native speakers, and many make mistakes when the sentences are complex. But the rules are simple: "sin" refers to the subject of the sentence.

    In (1), Jon is the subject. (1b) means that Jon was arrested in his own garden, and (1a) means that Jon was arrested in somebody else's garden. It could be the policeman's garden, or a third person's garden.

    under the assumption that both hans and sin refer back to Jon
    You can't assume that. The difference is the same in (2) as in (1). In (2b), the police think Jon was killed by a member of his own family. In (2a), it's a member of somebody else's family.
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I would say that both versions are ambiguous in contemporary Norwegian, an I wouldn't use any of them.
    The reason is that the distinction between "sin" and "hans/hennes" is not understood any longer by the majority of speakers, and the words are used interchangeable. Even worse, the restriction of use of "sin" to be used as a marker of "belonging to the subject of the sentence" has been lost, and now "sin" can be used in relation to any person ocurring in the sentence.
    The sentence "Jon ble arrestert av en politimann i hagen sin" can be interpreted (and often is) as "Jon ble arrestert i politimannens hage".
    That's why I would rather say "Jon ble arrestert i sin egen hage av en politimann", which gives a stronger clue whose garden it was, but still doesn't guarantee avoiding of a misunderstanding.
     
    Last edited:

    myšlenka

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    With regards to (1), I'd like to know if hans can refer back to (i) Jon, (ii) en politimann, (iii) both or (iv) neither. Same with sin.

    (1a) Jon ble arrestert av en politimann i hagen hans
    (1b) Jon ble arrestert av en politimann i hagen sin

    With regards to (2), I'd like to know if there are any semantic differences between both versions that go beyond who the possessive pronouns pick up. That is, under the assumption that both hans and sin refer back to Jon, would it still make a difference whether we choose to use one over the other? For example, suppose that the police has some specific relative of Jon in mind. Would it then be preferable to use (a) over (b)? Conversely, let's assume the police has no one in mind, but they know that his death was exclusively motivated by the desire to inherit Jon's money. Would it then make more sense to use (b) over (a)?

    (2a) Politiet tror at Jon er drept av noen i hans familie
    (2b) Politiet tror at Jon er drept av noen i sin familie
    Some people make errors in this with respect to what is the official rule in grammar. Whether these are actual errors from an I-language point of view or reflect a system is something I don't know. I am not aware of any study on this.

    These are my judgments:
    (1a) hans can refer back to the policman or someone else. Not to Jon.
    (1b) sin can only refer back to Jon. (or alternatively to en politimann if the following PP modifies the agent NP instead of the event itself, but the semantics get really weird then)

    As for the scenario in (2) (apart from the fact that 2b) strikes me as ungrammatical), there is far as I know no semantic difference between the possessives that goes beyond the binding properties.
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    These are my judgments:
    (1a) hans can refer back to the policman or someone else. Not to Jon.
    (1b) sin can only refer back to Jon. (or alternatively to en politimann if the following PP modifies the agent NP instead of the event itself, but the semantics get really weird then)

    As for the scenario in (2) (apart from the fact that 2b) strikes me as ungrammatical), there is far as I know no semantic difference between the possessives that goes beyond the binding properties.
    You are right, from the point of view of prescrpitive grammar. The real life usage has drifted far away from those rules.
     

    tetsugakusha43

    Member
    Spanish
    (1b) sin can only refer back to Jon. (or alternatively to en politimann if the following PP modifies the agent NP instead of the event itself, but the semantics get really weird then)
    So, to recap, the reading in which it refers back to Jon has the bracketing in (i) and refers to the place of the arrest; the reading in which it refers back to en politimann has the bracketing in (ii) and refers to the place the policeman was in at the moment of the arrest (e.g. he might have conducted the arrest through Zoom, by official decree or something). Am I interpreting you correctly?

    (i) Jon [ble arrestert [av en politimann] [i hagen sin]]
    (ii) Jon [ble arrestert [av en politimann i hagen sin]]
     

    tetsugakusha43

    Member
    Spanish
    As for the scenario in (2) (apart from the fact that 2b) strikes me as ungrammatical), there is far as I know no semantic difference between the possessives that goes beyond the binding properties.

    But would you agree that hans can refer back to Jon here? Also, would there be any difference if the possessive was postnominal (3)? A Google search yielded many examples of (2b) so I wonder whether your comment bears on something else about the structure of (2b) beyond choice of pronominal.

    (3a) Politiet tror at Jon er drept av noen i familien hans
    (3b) Politiet tror at Jon er drept av noen i familien sin
     

    tetsugakusha43

    Member
    Spanish
    (1a) means that Jon was arrested in somebody else's garden. It could be the policeman's garden, or a third person's garden.
    What about (4)? Would it be clear that the garden at issue is the policeman's garden then?

    (4) Jon ble arrestert av en politimann i hans egen hage
     

    raumar

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    (apart from the fact that 2b) strikes me as ungrammatical)
    Could you explain why you find 2b ungrammatical? I did not see any problem with it, but even native speakers are confused by hans/hennes/sin, so I may be wrong.

    Also, would there be any difference if the possessive was postnominal (3)?
    No. The choice between "familien hans" and "hans familie" is not related to the difference between "hans" and "sin".

    What about (4)? Would it be clear that the garden at issue is the policeman's garden then?

    (4) Jon ble arrestert av en politimann i hans egen hage
    I believe the answer is: not necessarily - that depends on the context. If the previous sentences have established that a third person is involved, "hans" might refer to this third person.
     

    myšlenka

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    My apologies for a super late reply! Things have been way too busy the last few months.
    So, to recap, the reading in which it refers back to Jon has the bracketing in (i) and refers to the place of the arrest; the reading in which it refers back to en politimann has the bracketing in (ii) and refers to the place the policeman was in at the moment of the arrest (e.g. he might have conducted the arrest through Zoom, by official decree or something). Am I interpreting you correctly?

    (i) Jon [ble arrestert [av en politimann] [i hagen sin]]
    (ii) Jon [ble arrestert [av en politimann i hagen sin]]
    Yes, that is what I had in mind. I need to coerce myself to get the bracketing in ii).
    Could you explain why you find 2b ungrammatical? I did not see any problem with it, but even native speakers are confused by hans/hennes/sin, so I may be wrong.
    I am not sure. Maybe it is grammatical after all? It could be, as tetsugakusha43 alludes to in #8, that there is something about the structure throws me off. I do find that the use of sin in that case is superfluous but if I forced myself to use it, I would probably add focus on it (especially in pre-nominal position) or I would reinforce it with egen.

    So yeah, you are right. It is grammatical. I just need to tweak it a bit with the intonation.
     
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