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Are there any languages that make a distinction between the following:

  1. We (you and I)
  2. We (them and I, but not you)
  3. We (all of us)

I don't think any of the Germanic languages do.

Also, what is this distinction called? If I knew that I think I may have been able to Google this answer.

An example of this ambiguity in English would be a group of people, where one person says to another "we are going for dinner".

Is she telling you that the two of you are going to dinner? Is she saying her and her friends are going to dinner but you are not invited? Or is the plan that everyone is going?

Obviously you can infer this most of the time with context, but I hope the example does show that there is some ambiguity.

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    It's called "clusivity". I don't know if there are languages with a three-way distinction though.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 13 at 14:57
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    Languages that exhibit clusivity in the first person and also have a dual number in personal pronouns can actually have up to a four-way distinction, see e.g. Hawaiian.
    – Miztli
    Jan 13 at 17:54
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    @Sarke (1) first person inclusive dual = me and you (singular) (2) first person exclusive dual = me and him/her but not you (singular) (3) first person inclusive plural = me and you (either singular or plural) and possibly others (4) first person exclusive plural = me and them but not you (either singular or plural)
    – Miztli
    Jan 13 at 22:24
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    Obligatory tom scott video: youtube.com/watch?v=QYlVJlmjLEc
    – stan
    Jan 14 at 12:46
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    @AravindSuresh In Malayalam, that's really only a two-way distinction since "iruvarum" is just a modifier of the personal pronoun "nammal" - "nammal iruvarum" is not a personal pronoun in its own right. As for Sanskrit, I'm not sure it actually does make a distinction in clusivity.
    – Miztli
    Jan 14 at 13:22
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This distinction is called clusivity and as far as I know no language has a three-way distinction here, having at most a two way inclusive (1 & 3 in your list), exclusive (2 in your list) distinction

The relevant chapters on WALS (a very useful resource for checking things like this) can be found from the corresponding maps here (for independent pronouns) & here (for verbal inflection)

In both maps, the red dots have a clear inclusive/exclusive distinction, whilst the pink dots treat exclusive 1st person plural & 1st person singular to some extent the same (with independent pronouns this means that I only say "we" if I'm including you, otherwise I say "I" even though multiple people are meant, but with verbs it may also include languages with clearly separate number and person affixes). The dark blue dots have no inclusive/exclusive distinction exactly as in English. The light blue dots also lack this distinction, but treat 1st person plural & 1st person singular to some extent the same (as with the pink dots, for verbal inflection this can include languages with separate person and number marking). The white dots fail to fit any of these, either lacking any 1st person plural pronoun (requiring constructions like "you & I" or "him & I", or lacking any person marking

There is also a subchapter to the first of these dealing specifically with the Pama-Nyungan languages of Australia which are famous for having such a distinction. Here only whether a distinction exists (red) or does not (blue) is marked, as the other options are not relevant

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  • Perfect, thank you! Those are some great resources too, I have some reading to do.
    – Sarke
    Jan 13 at 22:05
  • How about Tok Pisin? From memory, it uses 'yumi' for 'we' in general, but also has 'yumitupela and 'yumitripela' for 'we two' and 'we three'; originally from English 'you me', 'you me two fellows' rsp 'you me three fellows'.
    – j4nd3r53n
    Jan 14 at 15:53
  • @j4nd3r53n that sounds like a dual/trial/plural distinction, not a three-way clusivity distinction
    – Tristan
    Jan 14 at 15:55
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    Tok Pisin does have a clusivity distinction though - the base mi 'I/me' is used to form the exclusive pronouns and the base yumi 'you+me' is used for the inclusive ones. Both the exclusive and inclusive pronouns then have dual, trial and plural forms (all very transparently derived): mitupela, mitripela, mipela and yumitupela, yumitripela, yumipela.
    – Miztli
    Jan 14 at 16:59
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    Just to add to what @Miztli said, heres a list of the Tok Pisin pronouns. Jan 14 at 22:13
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I'm from the Philippines and we have different kinds of "we" in Tagalog/Filipino language.

  1. We (you and I) = "Tayo"
  2. We (them and I, but not you) = "Kami"
  3. We (all of us) = "Tayo" or "Lahat tayo"
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    In Texas you don't say "you all" you say "y'all" which means, "you all," unless there's a lot of y'all then it's "all y'all" which means "all you all." Isn't that amazing?
    – Oleg_S
    Jan 14 at 10:03
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    @Oleg_S That's just basic troll counting though ("one, two, many, lots").
    – Graham
    Jan 14 at 10:37
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    Interestingly, of the examples given by you and others in this question, they all (except for ASL which is kind of its own thing being non-verbal) seem to come from southeast Asia (and nearby Australia), suggesting a common root. Jan 14 at 20:44
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    @Tristan Hi! "lahat" means "all" in English
    – jjeoneun
    Jan 15 at 2:24
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    @JulesLamers there are multiple distinct language areas characterised by clusivity contrasts. In addition to Insular Southeast Asia & the Pacific (likely due to Austronesian inheritance/influence), and Australia (where it is particularly common amongst the Pama-Nyungan languages), it's also pretty common in some parts of the Americas wals.info/feature/39A#2/5.6/149.2
    – Tristan
    Jan 15 at 10:34
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In American Sign Language, pronouns are indicated spatially, so it is very easy to make a clear distinction between the three cases:

  1. 2- or K-handshape back and forth for "you and I" or "two of us"
  2. 1-handshape from side to side of chest, pointing to the speaker, for "we" meaning "they and I, but not you"
  3. 1-handshape in a circle including me and you, for "we" meaning "all of us"

One can even concisely indicate "three of us" to the exclusion of a fourth person present by circling 3-handshape among the three people spatially avoiding the fourth, and so on.

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The Malayalam language (of which I am a native speaker) makes a distinction, as does Sanskrit.

E.g., in Malayalam, "nammal" (us, you included), "nammal iruvarum" (the two of us), "njangal" (us, you excluded). The second of these is a bit of a long shot; since it literally means "us two".

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  • "Nammal iruvarum" is not seperate from "nammal". Its like saying "Us two"
    – ASWIN VENU
    Jan 16 at 8:26
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Malay (Malaysian/Singaporean, Brunei & Indonesian) differentiates two "we":

  1. Kami - them and I but not you

  2. Kita - all of us

The case of just you and I can be covered by "kita berdua" which is literally "we two" or "the two of us" but that is kind of a cheat and is not literally a word.

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Spanish language has distinction by gender(wiki) for the pronoun "we"(nosotros/nosotras):

... also inflect for gender: nosotros and vosotros are used to refer to groups of men (as well as men and women), and nosotras and vosotras are used exclusively to refer to groups of women.

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Tongan allows for this (and I suspect other Polynesian languages as well). Each pronoun has a singular, duo, and trio+ form, and each of the first-person plural pronouns have both inclusive and exclusive forms (for including or excluding the listener).

Thus:

Pronoun Singular Duo Inclusive Duo Exclusive Trio Inclusive Trio Exclusive
First-person au (me) kitaua (me and you) kimaua (me and him) kitautolu (all of us) kimautolu (me and them but not you)
Second-person koe (you) - kimoua (you two) - kimoutolu (y'all)
Third-person ia (him/her) - kinaua (those two) - kinautolu (them)

Anecdotally, when I learned Tongan, myself and other native English speakers would in English conversation occasionally feel the need to clarify intent using Tongan.

"So turns out they want us at the meetup by 7."

"Us...as in kitautolu or kimoua?"

"Oh, nah, kimaua, just me and Lauti."

Definitely one of the convenient grammatical quirks I wish English had.

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  • That’s still only a two-way distinction, as far as I can tell. The three-way distinction is only possible in the plural (since it requires at least three people), and as far as I can tell from your table, there is no distinction between ‘me and you two’ and ‘me and you and him/her’. Jan 16 at 11:17
  • @JanusBahsJacquet there's no way to distinguish between the two cases you list, but those are not the cases listed in the OP, which are covered with a combination of dual/plural and inclusive/exclusive variants: 1- We (you and I): kitaua; 2- We (them and I, but not you): kimautolu; 3- We (all of us): kitautolu. Granted, if the "you" there was intended to be plural "you", then in that case it's not covered (but then it should have been specified).
    – Ketura
    Jan 17 at 17:09
  • I assumed the ‘you’ was meant to be plural, both because a three-way distinction is only possible in the plural and because it’s paired with ‘them’ (not ‘him/her’). If it’s singular, then any language which has both dual and clusivity would fit the bill. Jan 17 at 17:15
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Hawaiian allows for all three of these uses to be distinguished. This is because it has not only clusivity but also a dual number (so that plural implies at least three). 1 would be inclusive dual, 2 exclusive plural, and 3 inclusive plural. (Exclusive dual would be “me and one other person who isn’t you”.)

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  • That’s a different distinction. The plural distinction here (for three people) would be ‘me and you two’ vs ‘me and two other people’ vs ‘me and you and one other person’. Obviously the ‘all’ option is not available in the dual. Jan 16 at 11:13
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Mandarin Chinese has "我们" ("wǒmen" can be inclusive but not necessarily) and "咱们" (" zánmen" almost always inclusive), though there are additional register and regional differences ("zánmen" is mainly used in conversation and in the north). More info on Chinese Stackexchange.

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