"To sit" in French: words (verbs) lacking?

ThomasK

Senior Member
Belgium, Dutch
What I like about languages is that they surprise me. And keep surprising me. Simply because I harbour illusions, have too simple a worldview, have presuppositions/.... with regard to languages.

So for instance: French (nor Italian, nor Spanish, I think) has no verb like sitting. être assis, oui, but not sitting as an activity. I wonder how linguists deal with something like that. I suppose the term "lack" is already based on assumptions with regard to universality of language. what is the best "objective" description of this observation.

There is no 1-to-1 translation for "to sit"? You cannot sit in French? ;-)
 
  • Swatters

    Senior Member
    French - Belgium, some Wallo-Picard
    It's just s'asseoir, sedersi and sentarse in French, Italian and Spanish. They can all be used non-reflexively if you sit someone down.

    There's no gap that I can see here.
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    I think there is. But think of this: I sit on a chair/ Je suis assis sur la chaise. I quite agree that the meaning is about the same, but not perfectly, I think. Ours looks like an action or activity but the French "paraphrase" seems more a situation (not sure whether those are the right terms).
     

    pollohispanizado

    Senior Member
    Inglés canadiense
    What about je m'assois sur la chaise...? S'asseoir is a full verb with two forms/roots in most tenses. (assois/assieds)

    Sit down = assoyez-vous/asseyez-vous.
    You sit down = vous vous assoyez/asseyez.
     

    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    Could you not interpret "Je suis assis" as the rather sub-standard (but rapidly growing form in English) "I am sat" ( = state not action)? Similarly, the sub-standard past, "I was sat on the chair", is also gaining ground in English.

    In passing, in my own language of Welsh, we say "eistedd" for ("sitting" - and where appropriate it translates as "to sit", although we don't really have infinitives.) I bring this up, because often people (learners and native speakers alike) use "eistedd i lawr" as a word for word expression from English "to sit/sitting down." Whereas, traditional, correct Welsh insists of the deletion of "i lawr" ( < 'to the floor' = 'down') as the verbal noun already has the idea of 'movement downwards' embedded in it. I mean, what else are you going to do but sit down? (not up, or sideways …)
     

    pollohispanizado

    Senior Member
    Inglés canadiense
    Could you not interpret "Je suis assis" as the rather sub-standard (but rapidly growing form in English) "I am sat" ( = state not action)? Similarly, the sub-standard past, "I was sat on the chair", is also gaining ground in English.

    In passing, in my own language of Welsh, we say "eistedd" for ("sitting" - and where appropriate it translates as "to sit", although we don't really have infinitives.) I bring this up, because often people (learners and native speakers alike) use "eistedd i lawr" as a word for word expression from English "to sit/sitting down." Whereas, traditional, correct Welsh insists of the deletion of "i lawr" ( < 'to the floor' = 'down') as the verbal noun already has the idea of 'movement downwards' embedded in it. I mean, what else are you going to do but sit down? (not up, or sideways …)
    It's interesting how the phrasal verb is interpretted. It is more about tellicity than direction usually (sit down ≈ complete the action of taking a seat).
     

    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    Well … for what it's worth, Welsh tends to eschew phrasal verbs (or verbs with particules - not necessarily the same thing). It's only under the continuous influence of English that often verbal nouns 'attract' particles/adverbials etc., and become slavish imitations of English forms. Given time, I'm sure many of these will embed (for good, for ill) in the language, going forward.
     

    Oddmania

    Senior Member
    French
    I'm not sure I really understand what verb or concept is supposed to be missing in French.

    "Je suis assis" = I'm sitting (OR I'm sat in British English) [STATE]
    "Je m'assois" = I'm sitting down [ACTION]
    I don't think French lacks any particular verb. It's just that English speakers consider that when you're bending your knees, you're in the middle of sitting down; and after you've sat down, you're sitting. In French, first you perform an action (expressed with a verb), then you end up in a sitting position (expressed with an adjective).

    Likewise, when someone is standing, we describe this with an adjective ("debout"). We only use a verb to describe the action of standing up.

    What I would agree is confusing in French, is the way we use the verb mourir ("to die"). "ll est mort" translates both as "He is dead" and "He (has) died". That's because the verb mourir takes the auxiliary être in the Passé Composé tense, and the past participle mort happens to be the same as the adjective mort.
     

    pollohispanizado

    Senior Member
    Inglés canadiense
    Well … for what it's worth, Welsh tends to eschew phrasal verbs (or verbs with particules - not necessarily the same thing). It's only under the continuous influence of English that often verbal nouns 'attract' particles/adverbials etc., and become slavish imitations of English forms. Given time, I'm sure many of these will embed (for good, for ill) in the language, going forward.
    I didn't figure Welsh would have them; I just find the interpretation interesting, especially since I'm sure there's a native way of expressing the same.

    I'm not sure I really understand what verb or concept is supposed to be missing in French.
    Me neither. Even if this verb were missing (which it isn't) it wouldn't mean that it would be impossible to express the same thing. Find a language that is way different than French and English and you'll find that they can say the same thing, even if you can't translate the words 1:1.
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    Please do not worry: "lacking" might be the wrong term.

    But are you sure that those are equivalent? In my view they are not. Or maybe the meaning of for example "sitting down" is ambiguous in English. (Any native speakers around English) I agree it is an action in French, but I think (thought???) "I am sitting down" is not an action. "Do sit down" might be an invitation to the action meant. Am I right??? --- I am sitting is considered some kind of activity in Dutch, English and German (though we may not be moving, whereas indeed you are sayijng: I am in a sit- situation. ;-) It is subtle, I know.
     

    symposium

    Senior Member
    Italian - Italy
    In Italian we do have the verb "sedere" = "to sit": "sedeva silenziosa" = "she sat /was sitting quietly". We also have the reflexive form "sedersi ( = s'asseoir/sentarse)" = "to sit down".
     

    pollohispanizado

    Senior Member
    Inglés canadiense
    You question doesn't make a lot sense. The same things are said basically the same way in French and in English.

    I am sitting. Je suis assis.
    I sit. Je m'assois.

    If the fact that in English we use the gerund "sitting" while in French we use the participle "assis(e)", it's just a grammatical difference: both are semantically saying the exact same thing and expressing the exact same action. Looking for some crumb of difference in meaning based solely on this difference is a little pointless.
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    Well, thanks a lot... "Just a grammatical difference"? Present participle vs. past participle about the same??? Pragmatically, in this case, maybe. I just said at the beginning that I realize it might be about subtleties, etc. I am mainly asking questions, expressing suppositions - while clearly suggesting that I might be mistaken. So do not feel obliged to answer if this "does not make a lot of sense".

    In Italian we do have the verb "sedere" = "to sit": "sedeva silenziosa" = "she sat /was sitting quietly". We also have the reflexive form "sedersi ( = s'asseoir/sentarse)" = "to sit down".
    OK, that makes things different. I was not aware of the existence of "sedere"? Thanks.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    think of this: I sit on a chair/ Je suis assis sur la chaise.
    I see what you mean and I also understand that sense of "lacking", because the same happens to me when translating mentally from Catalan to Spanish. In Catalan, we have seure "be sitting", asseure "sit somebody down" and asseure's "sit down", but in Spanish, as in French, for the first one "estar sentado" is used.

    So a sentence like the one you mention in French would be Estoy sentado en una silla in Spanish too, while in Catalan would be Sec a una cadira (although, in all fairness, Estic assegut a una cadira is also possible and many would say it so, either because of Spanish influence or for a preference for longer clearer structures).
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I'm not sure I really understand what verb or concept is supposed to be missing in French.

    "Je suis assis" = I'm sitting (OR I'm sat in British English) [STATE]"Je m'assois" = I'm sitting down [ACTION]I don't think French lacks any particular verb.
    The issue is not that the language would be missing anything. The issue is that french has only an adjective (=sitting) and, hence, expresses the concept by copula+adjective rather than having a separate verb as most other European languages have.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    You question doesn't make a lot sense. The same things are said basically the same way in French and in English.

    I am sitting. Je suis assis.
    I sit. Je m'assois.
    That makes it look analogous but the comparison is in truth quite distorting. Je suis assis has no progressive aspect but is simple present and je m'assois is I sit down and not I sit. The difference between I sit and I am sitting is aspect (habitual vs. progressive) while the difference between Je suis assis and Je m'assois is state vs. action.
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    expresses the concept by copula+adjective rather than having a separate verb
    So what? :confused:
    Je suis assis has no progressive aspect
    “I am sitting” is not progressive unless you are referring to the actual process of sitting down. Otherwise, it describes a state: “I am [sitting]” and not “I [am sitting]”.
    je m'assois is I sit down and not I sit.
    No, “I sit” is valid for that meaning as well.
    The difference between I sit and I am sitting is aspect (habitual vs. progressive) while the difference between Je suis assis and Je m'assois is state vs. action.
    The difference between the former can definitely be state vs. action.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    The difference between I sit and I am sitting is aspect (habitual vs. progressive) while the difference between Je suis assis and Je m'assois is state vs. action.
    The difference between the former can definitely be state vs. action.
    I hope you mean action vs. state. Otherwise I would be completely lost as to what you wanted to say. if you do, you are probably right. Both English sentences can be interpreted in two ways. In French this is different, s'assoir is only an action verb and a state verb doesn't exist. The reason for this is that the direct etymological descendant of Latin sedere (with both meanings, sit and sit down), French seoir, underwent a shift in meaning in the early 2nd millennium. It retained the action verb meaning of sit down much later but lost the state verb meaning during the Old French period.

    expresses the concept by copula+adjective rather than having a separate verb
    So what? :confused:
    So what what? :confused: It happens to be the topic of the thread.
     
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    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    0. This is not meant to be judgmental. The word "lack" might suggest that but it is meant in a descriptive sense... ;-)

    1. The main question as for me is: does the grammatical difference create some kind of semantic difference, a nuance?
    1.1 Is it a matter of aspect? I am not so sure…
    1.2 I am quite sure one cannot say that the French "miss" sitting, that some "lack" is felt/experienced, but I am just wondering about the subtleties, which now seem to be turning up even in English (sit/ am sitting).
    [Just BTW: I'd be surprised as well if "I sit" can mean "je m'asseois"... ]

    2. The other thing is: sitting is not considered an activity as such, I think, in French. Nor is standing, as a matter of fact: I am not sure of how one could say "he is standing there". Not il est debout for sure. Il est là, I suppose, but...

    Those are of course the pecularities of languages. I remember the distinction between satellite and verb-focused languages: he is dancing into the room (satellite) vs. il entre en dansant (verb focus).
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    The other thing is: sitting is not considered an activity as such, I think, in French. Nor is standing, as a matter of fact
    I am not sure this is so. French lost the meaning of the state verb sit due to a semantic shift of seoir and the descendant of Latin stare merged into être (the direct descendant, ester, exists as well but in a very specialized meaning) and the French probably simply didn't feel the need to replace them as both concepts can be expressed as copula+adjective.
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    Interesting information. I do not blame them, you know, ;-), and indeed, "pragmatically" [I hope that that is the right word here] the different grammatical forms express the same concept, basically. But I think my example (They are standing over there) shows that it might be impossible to render that precise meaning in French but …
    @Yendred: how would you translate that sentence?
     

    Yendred

    Senior Member
    Français - France
    @Yendred: how would you translate that sentence?
    to sit (as an activity) = s'asseoir [s‿aswaʁ], as mentioned by Swatters

    Which sentence do you want me to translate? They are standing over there?
    All depends on the context, but I would say something like Ils sont là-bas / Ils se trouvent là-bas

    I sit on a chair
    can mean two things in English, if I'm not wrong:
    • I was standing, and I put my bottom on the chair (action) :arrow: Je m'asseois [m‿aswa] sur une chaise
    • I am currently sitting on a chair (state) :arrow: Je suis assis [sɥiz‿asi] sur une chaise
     
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    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    I beg to disagree: "to sit down" is "s'asseoir", the activity. But just sitting: "être assis". Think of: he has been sitting there for some time now… I suppose you will not focus on the sitting when you translate as in the sentence you have just translated (thanks!). That is the difference, I suppose, between various lexicons and maybe worldviews: see #19, last line.

    Voilà, c'est ce que je pensais. So it is quite hard to express that standing aspect [aspect in a non-grammatical meaning].
     

    Yendred

    Senior Member
    Français - France
    Voilà, c'est ce que je pensais. So it is quite hard to express that standing aspect [aspect in a non-grammatical meaning].
    If you want to insist on the standing aspect, you can say Ils sont debout là-bas, to denote the fact that they are not sitting.
     

    Yendred

    Senior Member
    Français - France
    Think of: he has been sitting there for some time now… I suppose you will not focus on the sitting when you translate
    He has been sitting there for some time now :arrow: Il est assis là depuis un moment
    He has been standing there for some time now
    :arrow: Il est là depuis un moment, or again if you want to insist on the standing position Il est là debout depuis un moment, but in French the "default" position is considered to be standing.
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    It's surprising that nobody has yet mentioned that French also lacks a verb meaning "to stand".
    Another curiosity is that the native French speakers quite vehemently argued that "s'asseoir" mean the same as "to sit", not seeing the difference.
     

    Yendred

    Senior Member
    Français - France
    It's surprising that nobody has yet mentioned that French also lacks a verb meaning "to stand".
    to stand (up) (action) :arrow: se lever
    to stand
    (state) :arrow: être debout

    Another curiosity is that the native French speakers quite vehemently argued that "s'asseoir" mean the same as "to sit", not seeing the difference.
    As said before, "to sit" can both mean s'asseoir or être assis, so it's not French which lacks a nuance, but English...
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    I think we have arrived at the point where we notice that languages have their own foci, which cannot always be rendered very easily. I have not read Murakami, but I wonder what I miss if only I could compare the Original with the translation.
     

    Oddmania

    Senior Member
    French
    I am not sure of how one could say "he is standing there". Not il est debout for sure. Il est là, I suppose, but...
    Il est là, debout.

    To my mind, using an adjective to describe a position makes a lot more sense. In English, you would say "He was looking out the window, sitting on the desk" (although I think you might use seated, an adjective (hooray!) just as well), and yet you would say "...settled in the armcair / slumped on couch / slouched on his chair, etc.", so I don't really understand why sitting has a different format.

    "Settling into the armchair" would mean the person is still in the middle of doing the action. After the action is done, he "is settled in the armchair". We use the exact same syntax in French with s'asseoir / être assis.

    PS: How would you say "Il est avachi" in English (or in other languages)? This means he is sitting in a slouched position. We only use one adjective to express that in French.

    He is slouching while sitting ? :confused: Using two verbs sound very wordy and overly descriptive to me.​
    He is sitting slouched ? This sounds right to me, but notice that "slouched" is being used as an adjective (because, well, adjectives are convenient to describe positions after all).​
    Something else?​
     
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    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    PS: How would you say "Il est avachi" in English (or in other languages)? This means he is sitting in a slouched position. We only use one adjective to express that in French.

    __________

    From our Geiriadur yr Academi 'slouch':

    eistedd = sitting (verbal-noun)
    yn = PREDICATE
    un = a/one
    swp = a batch (n.m.), a parcel (n.m.)

    _______

    eistedd = sitting (verbal-noun)
    yn = PREDICATE
    swpyn = a little batch (n.m.), a small parcel (n.m.)
    llipa = flabby, limp, slouching (all adjs.)
    (mewn = in (+ indefinite object)
    cadair = chair (n.f.))

    . 1.v.i. gwargrymu, gwn|eud gwar; to ~ (in a chair), eistedd yn un swp, eistedd yn swpyn/llipa (mewn cadair);​
     
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    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    Il est là, debout.

    To my mind, using an adjective to describe a position makes a lot more sense. In English, you would say "He was looking out the window, sitting on the desk" (although I think you might use seated, an adjective (hooray!) just as well), and yet you would say "...settled in the armcair / slumped on couch / slouched on his chair, etc.", so I don't really understand why sitting has a different format.
    "Settling into the armchair" would mean the person is still in the middle of doing the action. After the action is done, he "is settled in the armchair". We use the exact same syntax in French with s'asseoir / être assis.
    Please do not think this is (meant as) a matter of right or wrong, etc.!
    There might be an interesting variation between present and past participle. English has "be seated" as well, but referring to the purpose, a formal way of saying: "(please) sit down". But "sitting" and "assis" refer to the very essence of the issue at stake here. Pragmatically there is no difference, but I think it is a way of viewing: you seem to view it as the result of an action, a "lasting" result or something, whereas English (Dutch, German) would view the sitting as an activity going on... In Dutch both "gezeten" (PastP) and "zittend" (PresentP) would be OK here by the way. But "hij is gezeten" would sound very odd. Maybe it is a calque from French.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I mean why is this worth discussing.
    I think so, yes. It used to puzzle me and led me to researching the history of the reflexes of stare and sedere in French. And I found that very interesting. Behind many peculiarities a language has in relation to its close neighbours, there are interesting stories to discover.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    To my mind, using an adjective to describe a position makes a lot more sense
    I am only a beginner in Irish; but early in your study of Irish you are introduced to a string of forms that suggest that Irish tries to keep verbs for actions, and prefers to use other forms (such as verbal nouns) to indicate categories of inaction.
    Táim i mo sheasamh / shuí / luí / chodladh / dhúiseacht / chonaí / thost
    Literally: I am in my standing / sitting / lying / sleeping / wakefulness / dwelling / silent (state)
    Meaning: I am standing / sitting / lying / sleeping / awake / dwelling / not speaking.
     
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    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    se16teddy,

    Irish of course mirrors what happens in the other Celtic languages of course - including my own of Cymraeg/Welsh.

    For non-linguists I 'translate' the 'in' you refer to in your post as 'in-the-state-of', whereas it is in fact a predicate before, in this case, the verbal-noun. I don't know Irish sufficiently (and am lazy to check the reference books), but in a Welsh context the subsequent verbal-noun does not softly mutate after that 'in' ( = 'yn', often elided to ''n'), whereas a following noun or adjective (often creating an adverbial, so 'yn' could be interpreted as English '-ly') does.

    Dw i'n eistedd
    Am I in-the-state-of sitting
    I am sitting

    Wyt ti'n ddel (< del)
    Art thou in-the-state-of SM pretty
    You're pretty

    Mae hi'n eistedd yn dawel (< tawel)
    Is she in-the-state-of sitting in-the-state-of SM quiet
    She's sitting quietly
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    It's surprising that nobody has yet mentioned that French also lacks a verb meaning "to stand".
    All Romance languages do. In Catalan we would say estar dret. In Spanish, estar de pie.

    But I've always thought that the emphasis of English on the verbs 'stand' and 'lie' are due to the fact of English lacking two verbs for "to be", as there are in most Romance languages. (A verb for 'to lie' exists in the Romance languages, but most have a tendency to prefer the construction "to be lying", parallel to "to be standing". They're simply seen as specifications to the general situational form of "to be", which is generally understood by context)
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Apparently Old French decided to merge the old estre and ester into one at some point.
    ... Like English. In both languages, a verb meaning remain merged into past tense/participle forms of a verb meaning be. Having 'two verbs for "to be"' is a peculiarity of Ibero-Romance languages and is not a general feature of Romance.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    I sit (down) = je m'assieds
    I stand (up) = je me lève
    Sit down! Stand up! = Assieds-toi/ Lève-toi!
    Do sit down / stand up = Veuillez vous asseoir / Veuillez vous lever
    The prepositions are not necessary

    I am sitting (down) = I am seated = Je suis assis. The meaning is the same.
    I sat for hours = je suis resté assis pendant des heures
    I am standing (up) = je suis debout
    I stood for hours = je suis resté debout pendant des heures

    I don't see any sense lacking. You just use different adjectives/verbs
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    You just use different adjectives/verbs
    Yes, that is what this thread is about. It has been explained many times now. French has no verb for expressing the state of sitting but rather uses a copula verb plus an adjective. Nobody has said that French was lacking the ability to express anything.
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    The only thing I could ask more is: where do I find issues of this kind (apparent semantic gaps) treated? See also the thread on tavola, etc.
    In semasiology? Can anyone refer to sites treating such topics?
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Debout can act as an adverb and as an (invariable) adjective but in être debout it is a predicative adjective.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Yes, grammatically an adverb qualifies a verb (or an adjective), while an adjective qualifies a noun.
    In "être debout", debout qualifies être, so it's an adverb.
    Yes, and that why it functions as a predicative adjective here, because it qualifies the subject with être as copula verb (compare: il est grand ~ il est debout). As a word class it is of course an adverb.

    DEBOUT, adv. et adj. invar.
     

    JClaudeK

    Senior Member
    Français France, Deutsch (SW-Dtl.)
    1.2 I am quite sure one cannot say that the French "miss" sitting, that some "lack" is felt/experienced
    This "lack" becomes obvious when French pupils must make the difference between
    "er sitzt, saß" = il est/ était assis"
    and
    "er setzt sich/ setzte sich" = il s'assoit/ s'assit; s'assoyais; (il s'est assis)".

    It's very difficult for them to understand why "il est assis" has to be translated by the present tense "er sitzt".
     
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