Ways to Say “There Is”

It might seem like a boring phrase, but it’s absolutely essential for every language. And, when you start learning a language, it’s often among the first phrases you learn.

  • English: There is. In some dialects, It’s as in “It’s an accident on I-90.”
  • German: Es gibt. Literally, “It gives.”
  • French: Il y a. Literally, “He yuh ah.”
  • Spanish: Hay. Pronounced “ay.”
  • Latin: Est. Literally, “is.” And now, for some island Southeast Asian languages …
  • Indonesian: Ada.
  • Ngaju language: Tege.
  • Siang language: Oko.

There, wasn’t that interesting, actually? Those are all the ones I know. Do you know any more? Leave them in the comments.

11 thoughts on “Ways to Say “There Is”

    1. OK, so I just looked up e-prime. Apparently it’s an attempt to completely get rid of the FUNCTION of the copula verb in English, replacing it only with more active verbs.

      It is perfectly possible for a language not to have “to be.” Indonesian, technically, has such a verb (“adalah”), but it’s very rarely used. Usually, they just put the subject and the predicate noun or predicate adjective next to each other and let the listener figure it out, as in “Badan-nya besar” meaning “His-body [is] big.” That’s a grammatical possiblity that Indonesian allows. English does not allow this. If you try to do this in English, you will sound like a cave man (which is also fun, of course).

      However, even languages that represent the copula verb basically with a 0, are still using the function of the copula. I think it’s pretty clear that every language needs a way to express the copula verb, and speakers need to be able to use it when it’s called for.

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      1. Couldn’t argue with any of the above, and yes, some fun can be derived from pretending to be a caveman or cavewoman. I think the notion behind E-prime was to lessen the laziness of a definitive ‘is’ and replace it with something more accurate; an interesting notion, but hard to do consistently…

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      2. Yeah, I do agree that often when we are writing, it can be prove helpful to look twice at the verb “to be” because there might be something more specific that could be said more forcefully. But that has to be happen on a case by case basis because the copula verb does so many different things for us, and sometimes it isremains the only verb that can serve. So I think the attempt to completely eradicate it from our language is based on reveals a misunderstanding of linguistics.

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      3. Agreed. But that case by case basis is an area for development. If I say ‘Chevy Chase is the best actor’, that feels like I’m putting a firm, aggressive statement that I am correct. But if I say “Chevy Chase seems to me the best actor’ then it pins down the meaning in my opinion. Reading political tweets, for example, part of the antagonism seems to come from the writer asserting a meaning as true, rather than just seeming true to them. But it’s not practical, or sensible, to eradicate ‘is’ from our language…

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      4. O.K., this is interesting. It’s hard for me to tell from your comment, but we might be approaching a philosophical difference here.

        You see, I’m working on the assumption that language is used to make truth claims about the outer world, not just about our mental states.

        For example, if I assert that an object (say, Mt. Rainier) is beautiful, then I’m not just saying it has a certain effect on me. I am asserting that it has a certian quality (immaterial but objective nonetheless), and that quality would be present in it whether I recognize it or not.

        Of course, every assertion is a claim about our mental state as well as about the outer world, but that kind of goes without saying. If we want to talk about our perceptions and feelings, we have ways to do that. We can say “it seems,” “I feel,” “I suspect” etc. But many (perhaps most?) statements that people make are actually claims of fact about the outer world. It is really important that we be able to make these, and then if necessary test them against each other.

        If anyone believes, as perhaps the makers of English prime do, that a statement is “more precise” or “more accurate” the less it sounds like an objective claim of fact, then that person must be a subjectivist who thinks there is no real way for anyone to know anything. Down that road lies madness. I’m not saying you believe this. You haven’t said enough for me to be able to tell.

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      5. This all makes sense to me; my understanding was the that eprime originators saw it as a way to raise awareness of how language can limit the way we think rather than expand it. So, if we apply the rules to something more subjective, ‘the election is rigged’ is a more closed statement than ‘it seems to me that elections can be rigged’. The latter says something similar, but opens up room for discussion. As a critic, I don’t believe my statements are the be all and end all of any discussion, just grist to the mill. I’m making claims and inviting comments, and both parties can learn from that, hopefully. For us all to live in an agreed reality might seem utopian, but it’s always worth understanding and trying to be understood.

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      6. OK, that’s cool.

        I am not on Twitter, thank God. One discussion like this, on my blog or someone else’s, about once a quarter is the most I can handle.

        To neaten things up a bit, “the election is rigged” and “it seems to me that the election is rigged” make an identical truth claim. In either case, the next step would be to investigate the evidence, as in, “Who do you think is rigging it? By what methods? What leads you to believe this?” etc. “It seems” just adds a couple of extra words before we get to the same point.

        I agree that “it seems,” “I suspect,” etc. can be used to soften a statement, to indicate that the speaker is not yet 100% sure of his or her postition and is open to contrary evidence. However, such softeners can also be used to dodge having the claim investigated. In your example above, “elections can be rigged” is such a soft claim and so hard to disagree with that it cannot really be proved or disproved.

        People will also couch truth claims in terms of their own mental state, so that you cannot dispute the claim because it depends upon their mental state. In this case, if we spelled out the full implications of this tactic it might go something like, “I do not trust the other side because of a long history of what-I-understand-to-be lies and I have a persecution complex, therefore I feel like the election is rigged. You cannot disprove this because you can’t argue with my persecution complex. Even if you find no hard evidence of rigging, I am actually making an unprovable claim about my past experience with the accused riggers.”

        See also “You are racist because I felt a certain way when we interacted” and “My teenager is actually a girl because he feels a certain way and I support him.”

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      7. All good examples. In a way, twitter is reductive because it limits the users (unless the have a thread) to a short burts of language, and removed opportunity for naunce. But just adding more words doesn’t neccesarily improve the argument. Everyone has the right to feel how they feel, and has their own evidence, but I sometimes fear that the language used on social media entrenches users in their views rather than potentially expanding their horizons.

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  1. Yes, I agree that the medium can restrict us. Twitter seems like it was developed for jokes and bon mots, not painstaking case-building. And Facebook was originally there to help us keep track of our friends, no?

    At the same time, I tend to think that most people’s ability to reason was undermined first by the doctrine that either there is no objective reality, or we have no real way to know it or describe it with any confidence. This has been taught thru my entire lifetime, well before social media came along. When you don’t trust reality, perception, language or logic, it’s hard to be clear or fair.

    Good talk. Funny, I thought this post was just going to be a fun, throwaway tidbit about linguistics.

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