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Why do the singular first person pronouns 俺{おい}等{ら} and 俺{お}等{ら} involve the plural affix 等?

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Interesting. EDICT shows 「おら」 as 「己」. –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Aug 5 '12 at 1:28
    
That is probably ateji. And that source is highly unreliable. –  user458 Aug 5 '12 at 1:35
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このサイト見てる大半の人は写真の意味わからないんだろうな、きっと。 –  user458 Aug 5 '12 at 18:43
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Well, even if you learn the language, a lot of cultural references will go over your head. –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Aug 5 '12 at 18:48
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@Axioplase I am assuming that in present (Tohoku) Japanese, semantically, it is used as singular, but etymologically, it involves the plural affix. It is not rare in languages that a morpheme loses its original meaning and later require another morpheme to further add the same meaning. So I do not think that おらたづ is an evidence that ら was not plural originally (although it may be that it lost the plural meaning by now). –  user458 Aug 6 '12 at 6:13

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

First, I am not sure that /ora/ really belongs in this category. Most dictionaries simply list it as a variant of /ore/. But /oira/ is pretty unanimously agreed to derive from /orera/, 俺 + 等 as you say, so I will stick to discussion of that one. (In any case, presumably whatever applies to /oira/ would also apply to /ora/ if indeed they were the same /-ra/.)

So, the key point is that 等 does not necessarily mean "[+plural]" in a literal sense. In the case of /oira/ it was originally a way of expressing non-specificness and therefore humbleness. Contemporary first-person singular usages like /watakusi.domo/ and /watakusi nado/ are, I think, an example of the same phenomenon: they don't mean "myself and others", but rather "(a lowly) one such as myself". You can find this usage attached to other pronouns too in historical documents; the Kojien has an example of first-person singular /ware.ra/ for example. And of course it has also been attached to second- or third-person pronouns to express contempt (something like the contemporary /omae nado/).

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