A Bit Of An Explanation

I am not a professional. Not anywhere near it. But I like to think that some little observations I have about language and the social construction of it are worthwhile.

Some of these notes were originally written for acquaintances with no linguistic experience whatsoever, so please be patient through the explanations of basic concepts, and the simplistic tone.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

English, Have You Gotten More Partitive-Aware?

*Note: This post deals with a dialect. I will be referring to it as simply "English", because "the English spoken in my region of the world" is way too much of a keyboard-full. I'm not saying you'll be confused, just know that there's no way I'm speaking for all the English everywhere.

Perhaps the hardest thing for me to master in Finnish is the partitive case. Speakers of English might recognize the difference between partitive form and non-partitive in the singular form as the difference between "a dog" and "the dog". We use the singular partitive all the time! But what confused me when translating was the partitive plural. In English, "the *nouns*" is used as both definite and indefinite. I can refer to three dogs as "the dogs" even though those three don't constitute every single dog in the world. So, I was at an initial loss as to how to translate words like "sanoja" - "a select number of the words in existence"?

The textbook I was using then (it wasn't very good, but do you know how hard it is to find Finnish resources in Wisconsin?) suggested I use "some". "Some words." "Some dogs." It didn't sound right to me. I was in middle school at this time, and I had never heard anyone say "I have some dogs." Not even for the division-from-a-whole-substance use of the partitive - people said "a bottle of lotion", not "some lotion".

Now, I've been in high school for a year, and I've noticed something: I'm hearing that partitive "some" being used in casual speech more and more. At least once a day, without fail, I hear someone lean across the aisle and ask "You got some gum?" Instead of "I've got time" being used in response to "It's a long story", I'm now hearing "I've got some time".

So, among my region's youth, the partitive plural form "some" is definitely coming into wider use.

I don't have much of an opinion on whether this is a great thing or not. It's definitely not bad, but what I wonder is: Does English really need this partitive?  Certainly we can already tell that "the chairs" are not the only chairs available to mankind. (Chair shortage! AAAGH! The apocalypse is coming! Sorry....) But, perhaps moving toward a more specific language, one that uses more modifiers, is a good thing. It's really up to you.

I'm seriously dwelling on the idea of a worldwide loss of chairs now...back to Roman lecti?

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