Person and number

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Person and number are two ways of determining who exactly is participating in a certain action. Person is a way of keeping track of the relations between people involved - for example, who is speaking, who is listening, and who (or what) else is being talked about. Number is a way of keeping track of how many of each person are involved - for example, if there are one or two or more of each person. In Mi'gmaq, there are 5 different persons and 3 numbers.

[edit] Person

As stated above, person refers to the relations between those who participate in an action. In Mi'gmaq there are 5 such persons, listed below:

PersonTermExamples
1 first person; speaker 'I' or 'me'
2 second person; listener 'you'
3 third person (animate); neither speaker nor listener 'she' or 'her'; 'he' or 'him'; 'it'
4 fourth person (or obviate) 'her daughter '; 'his son '
0 third person (inanimate) 'it'

In English there are only 3 persons: first (I, me), second (you), and third (he, she, it). Mi'gmaq has these, but also two others: the obviate, or 4th person, and the 0th person.

  • The 4th person is a way of referring to a participant that is neither the speaker, listener, or some previously mentioned third person. So, for example, if two people are having a conversation about Robin and Robin's brother, Robin would be the 3rd person and the brother would be the 4th person.
  • The 0th person is a way of referring to things that are inanimate, like doors, chairs, or books.

[edit] Number

Number refers to how many of each person are involved in an action. Mi'gmaq has three numbers, listed below:

NumberExamples
Singular 'I', 'you', 'she', 'it'
Dual 'you two', 'they two'
Plural 'you (more than two)', 'they (more than two)'

In addition to the familiar singular and plural numbers, Mi'gmaq also has a dual number: that is, a way of saying that exactly two of any person are involved in an action. This also means that the meaning of the plural must be changed to mean "more than two" in this case. It may also be noticed that the dual only shows up with animate intransitive verbs (VAI); all other verb types only refer to the singular and plural (where the plural means "more than one").

[edit] Interactions between Person and Number

Person and number are important because they determine which pronouns and verb endings to use. Some of the more common person and number combinations are demonstrated by the pronouns, shown below.

You may notice that there are two pronouns for the first person non-singulars: the first person inclusive (referring to the speaker and the listener or listeners) and the first person exclusive (referring to the speaker and another or others, excluding the listener(s)).

SingularDual & Plural
1&3 (exclusive) ni'n ninen
1&2 (inclusive) ginu
2 gi'l gilew
3 negm negmow

Not all person and number combinations can be shown by the pronouns, however - the 4th and 0th persons are missing, and the dual and plural look identical. A summary of all the possible distinctions made using person and number in conjunction, usually demonstrated by verb endings, are listed below.

Person SingularDualPlural
1 1&3 I we (me & another) we (me & others)
1&2 we (me & you) we (me & you all), we (me, you, & another or others)
2 you you two you all
3 he or she, it (animate) they two (animate) they (animate)
4 another he or she or it (animate) another two (animate) others (animate)
0 it (inanimate) they (inanimate)

Not all of these distinctions may be used outside of the VAI verb class, however. It is more common to eliminate the dual and use only the plural and singular in the other verb classes (this is why the 0th person dual is blank - it is not actually found in Mi'gmaq). It is also rare to see the 4th person without also seeing the 3rd person - it is most common to see it in the transitive animate verbs (VTA) with a 3rd person subject and a 4th person object.

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