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On May 5, 2010, at 1◊58 AM, Peter Bleackley wrote:

> Suppose we have a language with a system of noun classes that includes
> I. Member of the tribe
> II. Foreigner
> III. Domestic animal
> IV. Wild animal
> ...amongst others. How could we talk about humans in general, or animals in general?

In addition to an "other" class which many noun class languages
have, there are often metaphorical extensions based on semantics
or further incorporation based on phonological similarity. For the
latter, there are certainly thousands of examples in Spanish (nothing
feminine about "pantalla", screen, but it's in the feminine class
because of the /-a/ ending). As for the former, that's the whole
"women, fire and dangerous things" example (in some language
[Dyirbal?], women are in the feminine class; the sun, by lore, is
a woman, and so the sun is in the feminine class; the sun produces
heat, as does fire, so fire is in the feminine class; fire is a dangerous
thing, and so other dangerous things are in the feminine class).

By such reasoning, a word for a generic human might be in the
"wild animal" class. Personally, it seems more likely to me that
"person" would be in Class I (it's probably an old word in any
language, and may have pre-dated the noun classes--or, by another
line of reasoning, one is likely to know one's friends or tribesmen
before one knows foreigners). By that reasoning, "animal" would
likely be in class IV (one encounters wild animals before domestic
ones, in the grand scheme of things).

Of course, another way to do it would be to have a "basic" word
for each class. Just as Japanese has a word for "cold water" and a
word for "hot water" but no basic word for "water"*, this language
may have a word for "known person" and "foreign person", but
no word "person" which subsumes both (either that, or one will
be used to refer to both, just as masculine animate nouns are used
to refer to groups of men and women in Spanish). The same might
then be true of "wild animal" and "domesticated animal".

> Maybe there could be a process that when applied to a noun X from a certain class Y, produced a noun that meant "something like an X, but does not necessarily belong strictly to class Y". The noun thus formed would thus still belong morphologically to class Y, but would semantically be seen as a member of a broader superset of class Y.
> 
> Anyone know of anything similar?


It happens in Zhyler, but I'd think of it a little differently--namely,
taking a noun of class x, and deriving a new word of class y by
adding the class suffix right after it.

But even if you had this process, how would you solve the initial
dilemma? Would this process pick out a class II "human" word and
say it was more like class I, or a class I "human" word and say it was
more like class II (or that it doesn't quite belong)? That is, does the
word for a generic human not quite fit into class I or II--or which
does it not quite fit into better?

*Note: Yes, I'm repeating second-hand information. I wouldn't
be surprised to learn that Japanese does, in fact, have some
unified term for "water", or that one is used to refer to both
types.

-David
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