Philip Newton (pne) wrote,
Philip Newton
pne

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Subjunctives

Recently on lojban-list, people were talking about subjunctives. One person brought up Spanish and how the subjunctive is used there; the example he gave is:

Also, consider the Spanish sentence "Busco una mujer que sea guapa". It means "I'm looking for a woman who is beautiful", but because the subjunctive "sea" is used rather than the indicative "es", it indicates that there is not a specific woman. "Busco una mujer que es guapa" would be a (rather wordy) way of saying that there is a woman I am looking for and that she is beautiful. (Notice how elegantly Spanish handles the old Lojban argument about "Any"!) This is a use of the subjunctive for which there is no parallel in English. We have to guess from context whether "I'm looking for a woman who is beautiful" means that there is a specific woman I seek or not.

That reminded me immediately of this bit from Mark Rosenfelder's grammar of Cadhinor and Cuêzi ("PreCadh.doc"):

In some cases the definiteness of the referent is conveyed by the choice of definite or remote aspect:

Urestu kae coronda emetes [REMOTE] telnai.
I'm looking for a man who speaks Kurundasti (one may not exist).

Urestu kae coronda emes [DEFINITE] telnai.
I'm looking for the (known) man who speaks Kurundasti.

The Native Grammar of Cadhinor that's available on the web has a similar, but not so striking, example:

Various are the uses of the remote mood, including: […] Indefinite references: ELORION PRADE TELNEMET. The king is looking for an honest man.

I presume that Spanish is where he got part of the inspiration for that from.

When I thought about it some more, I'm pretty sure that Greek also conveys the distinction in the same manner:

Ψάχνω μια γυναίκα που να είναι όμορφη
I'm looking for a woman who is beautiful (any woman; not a specific one)

Ψάχνω μια γυναίκα που είναι όμορφη
I'm looking for a woman who is beautiful (and I have a particular woman in mind)

The difference is the να, which is used in subjunctive constructions (which are otherwise indistinguishable in Modern Greek spelling, though slightly older spelling reflects the difference [which is not reflected in pronunciation], e.g. έχει - να έχη, έχομε - να έχωμε).

On the other hand, German, which still has a subjunctive (or does it? I think the Konjunktiv is what is called subjunctive in English, but I could be wrong), probably wouldn't use it like that. I'd always say "Ich suche eine Frau, die hübsch ist" either way, regardless of whether I had a specific woman in mind or not. "Ich suche eine Frau, die hübsch sei" sounds weird; if it is grammatical and has meaning at all, I'd interpret it not as "I'm looking for a woman who is beautiful (any woman)" but rather as "I'm looking for a specific woman who, it is claimed, is beautiful"; that is, the conjunctive is used to express doubt as to whether the attribute applies to her rather than as to whether such a specific woman exists. (The same form used in reported speech: "Er sagte, dass sie hübsch sei", "He said that she is beautiful".)

What about French? Is a distinction made between "Je recherche une femme qui est belle" and "Je recherche une femme qui soit belle"? Are both correct, or only one (which one?)? If both: is the distinction the same as in Spanish and Greek?

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