LINGUIST List 5.1426

Sat 10 Dec 1994

Misc: +/- animate pronouns, "Mazel tov", Lang and thinking

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Larry Horn, Relative pronouns for the family pet, cont'd
  2. , More on "Mazel tov"
  3. Michael Newman, sapir-whorf

Message 1: Relative pronouns for the family pet, cont'd

Date: Tue, 06 Dec 94 09:30:20 ESRelative pronouns for the family pet, cont'd
From: Larry Horn <>
Subject: Relative pronouns for the family pet, cont'd

In connection with the recent thread--initiated, if memory serves, by Alexis
Manaster-Ramer--on the cross-linguistic patterns of +/-animate pronouns
referring back to higher non-human mammalia, some new data from today's New
York Times (12/6/94, B1) may be of interest.
 A sheepdog intercepted by suspicious customs officials at New York's JFK
Airport was x-rayed and found to be carrying five pounds of cocaine surgically
implanted in her abdomen before she took off from Bogota. A suspect, John Erik
Roa of Paterson, N.J., has admitted that he knew the dog was concealing the
cocaine and has been charged with drug trafficking. (No doubt he plans to
ask for immunity in exchange for testifying against the dog.)
 What's anaphorically relevant about the case is the contrast between the
relative pronouns (emphasis added below) referring back to "Coke" (as she has
been nicknamed by Kennedy Vet Port director Dr. Steven Weinstein) and a fellow
canine mentioned in the write-up in the Times:

 Fortunately for the dog, WHICH is gray and white and about two feet high,
none of the condoms had ruptured, which [Dr. Weinstein] said would have been
 Mr. Roa's brother, Andre, reached at the family home in Paterson last night,
said that his brother had worked in a pizza parlor until about two months ago,
when he moved out of the hous. He said the family had a dog of its own, a
German shepherd, WHICH he described as a "family dog WHO has nothing to do
with drugs".

Larry Horn (
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: More on "Mazel tov"

Date: Wed, 7 Dec 1994 14:45:57 -More on "Mazel tov"
From: <>
Subject: More on "Mazel tov"

As far as I know, Hebrew _mazal_ (-) Yiddish _mazl_) comes close to
meaning something like `lot' or `fortune', and _tov_ means `good'. Thus
Hebrew _mazal tov_ [ma'zal 'tov] and Yiddish _mazl tov_ ['mazltov] seem
to have originally denoted something like "I wish you good fortune" or
"This is good fortune". As has been mentioned, it is used to express
congratulations rather than a wish for the future.

As has been mentioned by others, like many other Yiddish words, _mazl_ has
found its way into languages that had sustained contacts with Yiddish, and
they may have been passed on to yet other languages. To the ones
mentioned in Jeff Allen's summary (e.g., Dutch _de mazzel_, High German
_Massel_ ['masl] ~ ['mazl]) I would like to add the High German verb
_vermasseln_ `to spoil', `to ruin'; e.g., _Sie hat mir meine Arbeit
vermasselt_ `She has ruined my work', `She has screwed up my job'.
_Vermasseln_ is so commonly used that many will not think of it as a slang

Traditionally, borrowing from the Yiddish language into the High German
language is assumed to have occurred by way of underground jargons
(_Gaunersprachen_, _Rotwelsch_). I am not aware of any challenge to this
generalization, but it seems rather sweeping to me. Interestingly,
Yiddish-derived words in the Low German language seem to be fewer in
number and to be mostly High-German-derived (due to a lesser degree of
contact with Yiddish?).

Reinhard (Ron) F. Hahn
University of Washington
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: sapir-whorf

Date: Thu, 8 Dec 1994 10:37:23 -sapir-whorf
From: Michael Newman <>
Subject: sapir-whorf

I'm not sure if I'm beating a dead horse, so to speak, but I don't feel I
can let David Prager Branner's comment below slip by.

)In that form in which it is often articulated, Sapir-Whorf is obvious,
)even trivial - anyone who has tried doing idiomatic translation between
)two radically different languages knows that language positively rules
)the way we think. This is too fully self-evident to justify listing
)examples and testimonials.

I have done translation between English and Spanish, and I don't know if
they count as radically different, but my conclusion from that experience
was hardly the same as Branner's. I would say instead that language
positively rules how we express ourselves, not how we think. Now, I
suspect, along with Branner, that Sapir-Whorf is not really a hypothesis,
and it is certainly not a coherent one as it is stated since "think" can be
construed in many different ways. I suspect that my disagreement with
Branner here is as much a function of how we use that word as substantially
about how language shapes or doesn't shape congitive processes.
Michael Newman
Dept. of Educational Theory & Practice
The Ohio State University

Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue