Whether, comparative of who

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by muhahaa, Apr 20, 2013.

  1. muhahaa Member

    In Indo-European languages, "which of the two" ("whether") is usually the comparative of "who" (*kwo-tero-). It is also "kumpi" in Finnish, where "ku-" is the interrogative root and "-mpi" is the comparative suffix. Did Finnish calque it from IE languages, and/or is this a more universal phenomenon?
  2. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Hi muhahaa,

    As I understand it, the suffix -mpi (which now expresses adjective comparison in Finnish) is thought to have originally appeared only in pronominal stems such as kumpi and jompikumpi, since only pronominal uses of this suffix are seen in Mordva and Mari, outside the Finnic and Sámi branches of Uralic.

    The earlier sense of the suffix was more contrastive (“here”/”there”, “closer”/”further”) than comparative, but it became generalized (in Finnic/Sámi) to other contrasts such as “high”/”low”, “large”/”small”, etc., and from there it came to be used as a general comparative suffix.

    So, I don’t know whether the use of -mpi in kumpi, jompikumpi etc. is due to Indo-European influence, but it does seem to be a fairly old phenomenon in Finnish and related languages.

    Incidentally, the IE suffix *-tero- (as seen in Eng. whether etc.) is also thought to have been more of a contrastive suffix (“as opposed to”) than comparative (“more than”). In some branches of IE (such as Greek), *-tero- has become the regular comparative suffix for adjectives, but the older comparative suffix is thought to be reflected in English -er (bigger, stronger, etc.), Latin -ior, etc.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2013

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