For example, does any natural language have 2nd person pronouns or verb conjugations that vary according to whether ...

a) All of the people for whom the speaker's remarks are intended are present.
b) Some of the people for whom the speaker's remarks are intended are present and others are absent. c) None of the people for whom the speaker's or writer's remarks are intended are present at the delivery of the message?

Condition a) would apply, for example, when a speaker is sharing a secret intended only for those present in the room with her, or when a speaker is addressing all and only the members of a present crowd, such as a graduating class.

Condition b) would apply, for example, when the speaker's remarks are intended for all members of an organization, both those who are listening to the speaker and those who are absent. For example, a CEO might give a speech whose message applies to all company employees both present and absent from the setting of the speech.

Condition c) would apply when the speaker or writer recorded or wrote his message alone, for example, in a last will and testament or in a recording sent to relatives on disc. Some might use such a form to talk to dead relatives.

Is there anything like this in natural languages?

  • 2
    (c) is unlikely enough in practice, let alone built into the grammar of a natural language; forget (c). As for (a) and (b), you're asking about Second-Person Clusivity. And if Bernard Comrie says it's attested in Southeast Ambrym, that's good enough for me.
    – jlawler
    Jul 15, 2013 at 20:45

1 Answer 1


Urdu and possibly Arabic... There are markers in a sentence which make the sentence addressed to the second person also directed to the Silent Observer.

This device is conveniently used to address the absent second person...

'AE duniya ke logon...'

'O the people of the world...'. a generic example.

'Ya Khuda...' 'O God....'. God is only assumed to be present.

  • This is a bad answer. In Arabic at least there is no LINGUISTIC device to distinguish whether or not the "silent observer" is included among the addressees.
    – fdb
    Dec 30, 2015 at 22:31

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