Why "I have" instead of "to me is"?

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by muhahaa, Sep 30, 2010.

  1. muhahaa Member


    Proto-Indo-European lacked a verb for "have". Instead, it used dative+be or genitive+be constructions, like Latin "mihi est", Greek "moi esti" or Sanskrit "mama asti". The "have" verbs in different IE branches are all independent evolutions from unrelated verbs usually meaning "take", "hold", "keep", "win" etc. English "have" (*kap) and Latin "habere" (*ghabh) are similar by coincidence.

    In Schleicher's fable, the genitive is used: (roughly) *owis kwesyo wlna ne est = sheep whose wool was not = a sheep which didn't have wool.

    What made many of the IE branches change from "mihi est" to "have" structure? Is it an European sprachbund (areal) feature like the usage of articles? Note that Sanskrit, which was spoken far away from Europe, lacks the "have" verb completely.

    Why haven't the Finno-Ugric languages picked up the "have" structure yet? By coincidence? The "have" structure clearly has nothing to do with language families (IE, Finno-Ugric), considering the lack of common root of the "have" verbs in IE languages.

    The Baltic-Finnic branch of Finno-Ugric has picked lots of IE (e.g. adjective agreement), European sprachbund (e.g. the perfect tenses formed with auxiliary+past participle) and Germanic grammatical features (e.g. consonant gradation/Verner's law), yet not the "have" structure, although there seems to be a "seed" of development towards "have" in Finnish. The verb "omata" is used marginally.

    I guess the preservation of the "at me is" structure is an areal feature with Russian (which modified the IE dativus possessivus "to me is" structure to "at me is" supposedly due to the same sprachbund).

    The Celtic branch of IE also uses structures similar to Russian and Baltic-Finnic.

    Is there a "have" verb in Basque?

    Could someone make a world map about "mihi est" and "habere" languages?
  2. CapnPrep Senior Member

    Yes, ukan.

    Yes, and someone did: WALS. Lots more information can be found the text of chapter 117 (for example, there are a few other major types besides "mihi est" and "habere"). And I think you will find answers to most of your questions, plus many many others, in the references cited at the beginning of section 2.
  3. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    It might have more to do with the preservation of the case system. Languages which have preserved the dative have also preserved at least some traces of "mihi est". E.g. French has preserved an acc-dat distinction for pronouns (le vs. lui) and hence you find constructs like "La maison est à lui". In dialectal German you find the same: "Das Haus ist ihm".
  4. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    The Basque verb is not of the "take" type however. It means "be" when intransitive, "have" when transitive, and is the auxiliary used to make tenses of most verbs.
  5. Montesacro Senior Member

    An acc-dat distintion for pronouns has been preserved in Italian too (lo vs. gli).*

    Io lo amo------------------------I love him
    Io gli devo dieci sterline----------I owe him ten pounds.

    Yet there are no constructs mirroring "La maison est à lui".

    I might be mistaken of course, because I can't speak French, but I guess that "La maison est à lui" strongly stresses the owner (It is him who owns the house) and not the thing possessed.
    Would the sentence with an indefinite article work all the same?

    "Une maison est à lui".

    I don't think so (once again, I might well be wrong; mine are real questions).
    In this case you would be obliged to say "il a une maison", wouldn't you?

    *Things are a bit more complicated: the "strong" third person singular pronoun lui is indeed not declinable.
    Io amo lui------------------------It is him who I love
    Io devo la mia felicità a lui----------It is to him that I owe my happiness.
  6. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Yes, indeed. If I am not completely mistake this was already so in Latin were you could choose between "domum habet" ("[he] has [a] house") and "domus ei est" ("[the] house is his"). (Side note: "domum habet in XXX" means "he lives in XXX")
  7. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I don't think there is any other way to say "the house is mine" in modern French, actually. (Well, other than a paraphrase of the kind of "the house belongs to me".) Still, the verb used here, in both French and English, is not "to have" but "to be".

    That doesn't sound grammatical to me.
  8. uin New Member

    Most Basque speakers wouldn't know what "ukan" is. I think it is used as a participle in parts of Iparralde, but conjugated it's just the transitive form (nor-nork) of the auxiliary master verb "izan"...
    Right, but there is another very common synthetic verb, "eduki", which means to have, to possess. It's used more in western dialects and gives perhaps a stronger idea of possession than the transitive form of "izan" (or "ukan", if you prefer) which is used with more abstract things. At least in theory anyway, because in practice they are used almost interchangeably (depending on the dialect). So you can say, for example: "arazo bat dut" (transitive form of izan) or "arazo bat daukat" (eduki) and they mean in effect exactly the same thing... I have a problem.
  9. Welshie

    Welshie Senior Member

    England, English
    "C'est ma maison" works as well. (analagous to English "it's my house")
  10. er targyn Senior Member

    Turkic langs use bar "there is".
  11. origumi Senior Member

    Hebrew belongs to the "is to me" group, but a slow shift has started towards "I have". For example, when saying "is to me the key", most people would mistakenly conjugate "the key" as if it was a direct object or accusative. Well, we do not have cases in Hebrew, but there's a preposition before a definite direct object, and it slowly appears in the "is to me" structure.
  12. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Would people who say "yesh li et hamafteakh" also say for "there is the key" "yesh et hamafteakh" or is this phenomenon confined to "yesh l-<oblique suffix>" constructs?
  13. origumi Senior Member

    The construct "is the X" is not so commonly used, maybe because it's even more confusing than "is to me the X". Instead of "yesh et hamafteakh", other alternatives like "hamafteakh yeshno" המפתח ישנו or "hamafteakh nimtza" המפתח נמצא are normally preferred. When used, "is the X" behaves similarly to "is to me the X".

    Why this happens? Could be European (mostly English) influence, but more likely a result of the "is to me" construct peculiarity. Hebrew sentence is usually SVO. "is to me X" is VOS. "is the X" is VS. Trying to figure out (intuitively) what's going on, people take the indirect O as if it was the S, and then must assume the the S is a direct O. The result is a totally wrong sentence in which the apparent indirect object is regarded as subject, the subject becomes direct object, and yet that's how the majority speaks.
  14. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Isn't it ...יש ה "there is the..." which sounds strange? Isn't the more normal to say יש מפתח "there is a key".

    The reason for my question was if יש in itself is starting to be perceived as a transitive verb or if it is only the construct "yesh l-<oblique suffix>".
  15. Angelo di fuoco Senior Member

    Russian & German (GER) bilingual
    Also possible in colloquial speach: C'est ma maison à moi.
  16. origumi Senior Member

    One may want to say "(there) is a X" or "(there) is the X", depending on whether this is a definite X. The former would be "yesh X" יש איקס (where X is perceived as a direct object). The latter would be "the X yeshno" ה-איקס ישנו (where X maintains its subject role). That is, different constructs if the object (hmm... the subject) is definite or not. I am not even sure if "yesh ha-mafteakh" יש המפתח is grammatical at all, most likely it is but rarely used.

    "yesh" יש looks so far from any verb that it hardly can be perceived as one, today or in the future. We are witnessing a transitional phase where a non-intuitive construct is being replaced by another which is as difficult (and also non-grammatical).
  17. I recall being taught a construction which would produce "La maison est la mienne". Have I misunderstood it?
  18. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    That's an emphatic construction. It means something like "that is my house". I maintain that the only neutral, and most straightforward translation of "that house is mine"/"that is my house" is cette maison est à moi. Of course if you allow paraphrases or emphasis all bets are off.

    But it seems to me that constructions like cette maison est à moi are not generally perceived as emphatic. On the contrary, it's the other possibilities (with the possessives ma, la mienne, etc.) that usually convey an emphasis of some kind.
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2010
  19. laurakamesar Member

    i think only in the latter. People will still say corrrectly "Yesh manhig ba'holam" or "iesh kol mine'i dvarim sham le'echol" for example.
  20. Istriano

    Istriano Senior Member

    Well, at least in Brazilian Portuguese there's a distinction:

    estar com algo (''to be with something'') -temporary state-
    Estou com fome. (I'm with hunger) I'm hungry

    ter algo (''to have something'') -permanent state-
    Tenho fome. (I have hunger) I'm starving/I'm a victim of famine.

    For existential ''there to be, exist'' many times TER (have) is used:
    Tem muitas praias bonitas no Rio.
    There are many nice beaches in Rio.

    Paradoxally you can add a subject (você=you) to that existential form
    without the changing of meaning:
    Você tem muitas praias bonitas no Rio.
    You have many nice beaches in Rio.
    Here você/you is used gener(ic)ally, almost impersonally (you have, everyone has, there is)

    In Spanish, dative+be expressions are common, but they sound formal in colloquial Brazilian Portuguese:

    Me duele la cabeza. (''To-me hurts the head'') I have a headache. (Spanish)
    Estou com dor de cabeça (''I'm with headache'') I have a headache. (Brazilian Portuguese).
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2010
  21. jazyk Senior Member

    Brno, Česká republika
    Brazílie, portugalština
    Are you sure? I've never heard this one.
  22. Istriano

    Istriano Senior Member

  23. jazyk Senior Member

    Brno, Česká republika
    Brazílie, portugalština
    Thank you, but I still find it odd.
  24. Erick404 Senior Member

    Rio de Janeiro
    Portuguese - Brazil
    It's unusual but possible. I think it is an extension of using the verb ter (to have) as impersonal.
  25. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    It it is a revelation for me. I've always thought that Russian picked up "u myenya yest" structure from Finnish, and superposed it on the older 'ya imyeyu".
  26. dotancohen New Member

    Be'er Sheva
    English - US
    I'm not sure that I agree with this. Ask a group of people who has a/the key to the cellar "למי יש מפתח למחסן". In my experience most people would say "המפתח אצלי" - "The key is in my possession" if there exists only a single known key, but if there are multiple keys then the answer would be "יש לי ממפתח" - "I have a key". The wording "יש לי את המפחת" - "I have the key" for a single known key sounds cumbersome.

Share This Page