The verb "to be"

Irregular in every language?

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The verb "to be"

#1  Postby Calilasseia » Nov 13, 2017 3:21 pm

Here's a question that's been puzzling me for some time.

In languages I've encountered, the verb "to be" is an irregular verb. This is the case in English, French, German, Latin, Classical Greek and Russian. As I don't know anything about Asian or African languages, I was wondering, if those who did have some familiarity therewith, could answer whether or not this situation is replicated in those languages too.

Only the thought occurred to me, that if an irregular "to be" is a universal feature of human languages, this phenomenon would be very interesting indeed.
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Re: The verb "to be"

#2  Postby Blackadder » Nov 13, 2017 9:35 pm

Calilasseia wrote:Here's a question that's been puzzling me for some time.

In languages I've encountered, the verb "to be" is an irregular verb. This is the case in English, French, German, Latin, Classical Greek and Russian. As I don't know anything about Asian or African languages, I was wondering, if those who did have some familiarity therewith, could answer whether or not this situation is replicated in those languages too.

Only the thought occurred to me, that if an irregular "to be" is a universal feature of human languages, this phenomenon would be very interesting indeed.


I can vouch for the fact that "to be" is irregular in Hindi and in Arabic.

In Hindi, it's also heavily used as an auxiliary verb, similar to the present continuous in English, e.g. "I am going". The present simple tense ("I go") doesn't really exist in Hindi.

In Arabic, "to be" is a really weird irregular verb altogether, with completely different forms in the positive and negative.
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Re: The verb "to be"

#3  Postby Papa Smurf » Nov 13, 2017 10:38 pm

Calilasseia wrote:I was wondering, if those who did have some familiarity therewith, could answer whether or not this situation is replicated in those languages too.


My personal knowledge of Chinese is very limited, but:

https://www.fluentu.com/blog/chinese/20 ... i-chinese/
https://www.fluentu.com/blog/chinese/2015/07/09/shi-chinese/ wrote:The good news is that the Chinese verb for “to be,” 是 (shì), isn’t irregular like it is in so many European languages.
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Re: The verb "to be"

#4  Postby Papa Smurf » Nov 13, 2017 10:45 pm

Google says:

https://linguistics.stackexchange.com/q ... side-quech
https://linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/1380/are-there-languages-with-a-totally-regular-conjugation-for-to-be-outside-quech wrote:So far, I found only one language that fulfills the requirement, Quechua, with the verb "Kay":


Some of the comments are interesting, seems like there might be some other cases.
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Re: The verb "to be"

#5  Postby aban57 » Nov 14, 2017 11:04 am

It's also irregular in Spanish and Italian.
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Re: The verb "to be"

#6  Postby rplatell » Nov 14, 2017 12:22 pm

There are no irregular verbs in Esperanto, including "to be" ("esti").
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Re: The verb "to be"

#7  Postby Clive Durdle » Nov 14, 2017 12:40 pm

OK, so what on earth does I am that I am mean, or is it gobbledegook?
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Re: The verb "to be"

#8  Postby Clive Durdle » Nov 14, 2017 12:46 pm

And should it read I am that I art or beest?

The English copular verb be has eight forms (more than any other English verb): be, am, is, are, being, was, were, been. Additional archaic forms include art, wast, wert, and occasionally beest (as a subjunctive).
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Re: The verb "to be"

#9  Postby Clive Durdle » Nov 14, 2017 12:49 pm

Which makes me wonder if all this god bothering is actually linguistic artefacts, with heavy weight versions being heavily into books and words of god.
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Re: The verb "to be"

#10  Postby Tero » Nov 14, 2017 2:15 pm

Finnish has no regular verbs. Verbs are of six types. To be is very much like the others in its group.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finnish_verb_conjugation
minä olen
sinä olet
hän on
me olemme
te olette
he ovat

The hint of irregularity is in the they are with the v. But it is the same as the verb pesee, to wash
minä pesen..I wash
hän pesee ..he washes
he pesevät..they wash
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Re: The verb "to be"

#11  Postby Tero » Nov 16, 2017 4:46 am

(Finnish past tenses are rather regular. From minä olen to minä olin. I is the paste tense marker.)

The Swedish verb is all är, related to ”are” of English.
Jag är..I am
Vi är..we are
The past tense is like was: vi var
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Re: The verb "to be"

#12  Postby don't get me started » Nov 26, 2017 12:38 am

In Japanese there are a variety of different ways to talk about things where 'be' or any of its forms would be used in English.
There is a copula desu です which basically affirms existence.

Hon desu (本です。)That is a book. (In answer, perhaps, to the question 'What is that?'.)
Desu is the basic polite form. The plain for is 'da'. (だ)

Hon da 本だ That is a book.

Past forms are deshita (でした)and datta (だった) respectively.

There is another class of verbs that cover the same area as English be.
These are iru (いる)and aru (ある)
These two make a distinction between animate things and inanimate things.
So,
Hito ga iru (人がいる) There is a person
Inu ga iru (犬がいる) There is a dog
Tori ga iru (鳥がいる) There is a bird

But
Hon ga aru (本がある) There is a book
Kuruma ga aru (車がある)There is a car
Ie ga aru ( 家がある) There is a house

The iru/aru verbs use used to indicate not just existence but presence.
Compare:
1) Tokyo wa hito ga oi desu (東京は人が多いです) There are a lot of people in Tokyo
Anno heya no naka ni dareka ga iru ( あの部屋の中に誰かがいる)(There is somebody in that room.)

The first sentence indicates the existence of a lot of people in Tokyo.
The second one indicates the presence of someone in the room, with existence being implied as necessary by presence.

English 'be' is used in all of these examples whereas Japanese has the choice of desu, iru, and aru.

Although the animate/inanimate distinction seems a bit weird to English speakers, there is a faint mapping of this in English possessives.
Japanese uses the particle 'no' (の) to indicate possession.

John no hon (ジョンの本) = John's book.
haha no boushi ( 母の帽子) My mother's hat
inu no shippo (犬のしっぽ) The dog's tail

Ie no yane ( 家の屋根) The roof of the house
nihon no shyuto ( 日本の首都) The capital of Japan
eiga no owari ( 映画の終わり) The end of the movie

You'll notice here that although the Japanese particle 'no' appears in all of the sentences, in English an animate possessor tends to go with the 'apostrophe plus s pattern', inanimate possessors tend to go with the 'Noun of Noun pattern'. Now, this is a tendency rather than an iron rule. It is not impossible to say 'The house of my father', but the most common way to express this relationship of animate possessor to the possessed thing is ' My father's house.'

The animate/inanimate distinction seems to be one of the underlying binary categorization systems of human cognition, bubbling up here and there in different ways in different languages, as a hard distinction in Japanese 'be' verbs and as a weak distinction in English possessives.
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