LINGUIST List 5.509

Tue 03 May 1994

Misc: This & that, Go-past

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. John E. Koontz, Re: 5.480 Sum: This & that
  2. Ronan_Collis, Re: 5.480 Sum: This & that
  3. Manuel Perez Saldanya, go-past

Message 1: Re: 5.480 Sum: This & that

Date: Mon, 25 Apr 1994 10:49:42
From: John E. Koontz <>
Subject: Re: 5.480 Sum: This & that

> Finally, David Denison ( posed an interesting question:

> "Why, when responding to an unfamiliar voice on the phone, do Americans
> typically say 'who is this?', British people [always?] 'who is that?'"

> any takers?

Well, my American perspective is, we ask "Who is this?" because "Who is
that?" implies that the answerer detects the presence of a third party,
e.g., an eavesdropper, or somebody in the room with the caller, and wants
the caller to identify them. Alternatively, the caller has somehow already
posed a question concerning the identity of a person (which seems unlikely)
and the answerer wants to know who that person is. "This" is the caller;
"that" is someone else.

I suppose that British speakers suppose a different deictic (social)
context for the caller and answerer.

For what it's worth, while I always say "Who is it?" when calling through a
closed door, "Who is that?" or "Who is there?" might be appropriate, too,
while "Who is this?" or "Who is here?" wouldn't be. I suppose I act as if I
am already face to face with an interlocutor on the phone, but not someone I
can't see through a door.

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

Message 2: Re: 5.480 Sum: This & that

Date: Tue, 26 Apr 1994 09:09:10 -0500 (CDT)
From: Ronan_Collis <>
Subject: Re: 5.480 Sum: This & that

My answer is that for Americans the proximity of the voice conveys the
context of proximate conversation. When you introduce someone you say
"this is Jim" (if Jim is beside you). But "that is Mary" (if she is
further away than the distance between the speakers). In British English,
if you can not see a person but you can hear them you ask "who is there?"
or "who is that?" because if the person is invisible he or she is
considered non-proximate.

Whether this is true or not for people without sight speaking BE or AE is
a matter I have not yet observed. Ronan_CollisMBnet.MB.CA
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: go-past

Date: Tue, 19 Apr 94 12:04:08 +0100
From: Manuel Perez Saldanya <>
Subject: go-past

Modern Catalan has a verbal periphrasis with the
verb "anar" 'go', which has developed a past value
and has substituted the simple past in oral
language in most parts of the territory.

Joan va escriure ahir la carta
John goes write yesterday the letter
'John wrote the letter yesterday'

This construction is quite surprising if we think
that some languages very close to Catalan (i.e.
French, Spanish, etc.) use similar periphrasis as
future: "Juan va a escribir manana la carta"
(Spanish),"Jean va ecrire la lettre demain"
(French) 'John is going to write the letter

Concerning the use of the "go-past" in other
languages, Karen Watson-Gegeo has pointed out that
in Hawai'i Creole English it is possible to use
"wen" (went) as a past marker ("ai wen giv da ki
to Shalin"= 'I gave the key to Charlene') as well
as a go-future ("wi go teik om hom tude" = 'we
will take her home today'). In addition, Steven
Schaufele comments that many Modern Indo-Aryan
languages (Hindi, etc.) use verbs of motion as
auxiliaries for past tense.

On the other hand, John Koontz shows that there
could be a parallelism between the Catalan
"go-past" and the colloquial American English
construction "goes and ..." ("So then he goes and
tells me to get lost." = 'Then he told me to get
lost.') , used in a continuous oral narrative.
I am working on it this same hypothesis. My point
is that the Catalan "go-past" origin is similar
to that of constructions such as "goes/takes and."
frequent in many Western languages. It is true
that this kind of constructions has a paratactic
character which contrasts whith the hypotaxis in
Catalan. Nevertheless, all of them share two
important features: (1) the use of the historic
present (and therefore, the preterite sense); and
(2) the function as markers of unexpected event
subsequences. This narrative function seems to be
the original meaning of the Catalan "go-past", and
probably in the Hawai'i Creole English "wen-past"

I believe that this narrative function could be
considered a "space to sequencing" metaphor: the
meaning of accomplished motion from a source to a
goal that characterizes the use of "go" both in
past (as in Hawai'i Creole) and in historic
present (as in Catalan) is reinterpreted in a
narrative discourse as an emphatic marker of
sequencing. If this is true, the Catalan "go-past"
should have gone through the following evolution
(diachronic path): accomplished motion > narrative
marker of sequencing > past marker.

As Joan Bybee has pointed out, the fact that the
auxiliary "go" in present sometimes adds an "r",
which typically characterizes the past tense
morphology (vas > vares) could have contributed to
the reinterpretation of the narrative marker as a
past marker.

In order to verify the validity of these
hypoteses, I would like to know if anyone has
notice of any other languages which have got a
similar "go-narrative" or "go-past". I will be
very grateful of having any information about it
or any suggestion on the hypothesis formulated

Manuel Perez-Saldanya

Universidad de Valencia
Facultat de Filologia
Avda. Blasco Ibanez, 28
46010, Valencia (Spain)

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