The Lenakel pronoun system


    Singular Dual Trial Plural
1 inc. —- kat-lau kat-hel kat-ar
1 exc. io kam-lau kam-hel kam-ar
2   iik kami-lau kami-hel kami-ar
3   in il-lau il-hel il-ar

The number 1 means “first person” (I/we), 2 means “second person” (you), and 3 means “third person” (he/she/it). The reason there are two 1s is that Lenakel makes a distinction between inclusive and exclusive pronouns (this is more generally known as clusivity). Inclusive pronouns are those that include the addressee in their meaning, while exclusive pronouns are those that exclude the addressee. For example: the word kat-ar is the 1st person plural inclusive, so it means “the group of us including the person I’m talking to”, while kam-ar is the 1st person plural exclusive, and it means “the group of us, but not including the person I’m talking to”.

Lenakel also has multiple number distinctions not made in English. English distinguishes between only singular and plural, so between only 1 person, I, or more than one person, we. Lenakel has words for 1 person (singular), exactly 2 people (dual), exactly 3 people (trial), and more than 3 people (plural).

This combines with the inclusive/exclusive contrast, to make for some really specific meanings. For instance, kat-hel means “the speaker and exactly two other people, one of which is the addressee”, while kam-hel means “the speaker and exactly two other people, neither of which is the addressee”.

Source: Lynch, John. 1978. A grammar of Lenakel. Pacific Linguistics. Series B. No. 55. Australian National University.
Ethnologue entry for Lenakel

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