SPECIAL ISSUE: The referential ambiguity of personal pronouns and its
Barbara De Cock
and Bettina Kluge
Barbara DE COCK and Bettina KLUGE
On the referential ambiguity of personal pronouns and
its pragmatic consequences.
Introduction to the special issue.
Barbara DE COCK
Register, genre and referential ambiguity of personal
pronouns: A cross-linguistic analysis
paper argues for revisiting the traditional adscription of ambiguous readings
of personal pronouns, such as hearer-dominant
pluralis maiestatis and pluralis modestiae to specific genres and/or registers.
Indeed, in many languages these phenomena are considered typical for a certain
genre, register or discourse context. In this paper, I will argue, on the basis
of quantitative data and a qualitative analysis of examples taken from
different genres (including purposefully creative language use in fiction),
that a more accurate account may be formulated in terms of (inter)subjective
effect, viz. the attention to the (inter)locutor (among others Benveniste
1966), as a more suitable explanation for the variation of these phenomena
attested in corpora.
The hearer-oriented uses of
instance, are considered typical for relationships characterized by power
asymmetries such as teacher-student, doctor-patient (Haverkate 1984: 87; Brown
& Levinson 1987), whereas generic and speaker-referring
been considered a feature of (informal) oral language than written discourse (
Hidalgo Navarro 1996)
corpus-based analyses including quantitative and qualitative analyses, however,
call for a more nuanced view (De Cock 2011 on Spanish and English; Tarenskeen
2010 on Dutch). We may, for example, find hearer-oriented or even
person plural forms (
Have we taken our
) in contexts where no power-relationship can be defined, e.g.
It will be shown that these uses have different
intersubjective effects, however. Their distribution is in line with overall
differences as to intersubjectivity according to register and genre, beyond
referential ambiguity. The concept of (inter)subjectivity then allows for a
more comprehensive analysis of these phenomena and their occurrence in specific
registers and genres, addressing the way in which the (inter)locutor is taken
into account in each genre.
Subjectivity; Intersubjectivity; Genre; Personal pronoun.
A pragmatic analysis of German impersonally used first
person singular ‘ich’
The German first and
second person singular pronouns
allow for a
referential use and an impersonal use. In their impersonal use, both pronouns
behave like the impersonal pronoun
) in generic
sentences. I argue that the aspect of impersonally used singular personal
pronouns that distinguishes them (i) from each other, (ii) from impersonal
pronouns, and (iii) from “ordinary” generic sentences is their pragmatic
effects. The semantic contribution of the three pronouns and their containing
utterances is discussed before a comparative analysis of the pragmatic effects
of impersonally used
given. The analyses are illustrated with naturally occurring data from a
self-compiled data collection. Turning to a more practical topic in the second
part of the paper, I discuss a methodological issue regarding corpus-based
analyses of low-frequency phenomena, such as impersonally used
the second part of this paper by reporting a small-scale corpus study.
German 1st person
singular; Non-standard uses of personal pronouns; Impersonal/generic 1st person
singular; Pragmatic effects; Corpus-based analysis; Comparative study.
Torben Juel JENSEN and Frans GREGERSEN
What do(es) you mean? The pragmatics of generic second
person pronouns in modern spoken Danish
In modern Danish, the most frequently used pronoun for generic reference is man, developed from the noun man(d) ‘man’. Recently, though, the
second person singular pronoun du has
gained ground, in parallel to similar recent developments in other languages. A
large-scale, longitudinal study of the LANCHART corpus of spoken Danish has documented
a rise in the use of generic du in
Copenhagen (and later in the rest of Denmark) during the period from the early
1970s, where generic du was
practically non-existent, till the late 1980s where du comprised around 25% of all pronouns with generic meaning.
However, recordings from the 2000s show that the use of du has peaked and is now decreasing or stabilizing at a lower level.
This article focuses on intra-individual and
intra-conversational variation within the LANCHART corpus with the aim of uncovering
the pragmatic effect of using
instead of other generic pronouns. All passages in the recordings have been
coded according to macro speech act, activity type, type of interaction and
genre as well as enunciation. The results of a statistical analysis using mixed
models show a number of correlations as to the use of generic
(in comparison with
), and by and large support the claim
is used as a resource
for construing involvement, arguably by exploiting the ambiguity of
between a generic and a specific
second person meaning. These quantitative results make up the point of
departure for corroborating qualitative analyses of the discourse framing of
the use of generic pronouns.
pronouns; Ambiguity; Danish; Socio-pragmatics; Language variation and change; Real-time
studies; Discourse context analysis.
Pragmatic use of Ancient Greek pronouns in two
This paper deals with the use of personal pronouns
(PPs) in Ancient Greek in two Aristophanes’ comedies (i.e.
The main purpose of this study is to show that Ancient Greek PPs often have a
pragmatic function, in particular linked to the speaker’s communicative goals.
The analysis highlights the presence of
a gender-related distribution and a context-dependent use of personal pronouns.
In particular, male characters prefer 1st person singular pronouns, whereas female
characters use more 1st person plural pronouns with an inclusive value.
Moreover, in two communicative frameworks it is possible to notice how PPs are
used for their value of membership categorization. In this respect PPs can be
considered possible markers of
(see Bravo 1999). Some
peculiar instances of referential ambiguities concern in particular the use of 1st
and 2nd person plural pronouns in both comedies.
The analysis shows that use of Ancient
Greek PPs varies according to gender and context. Moreover, it is clear that in
both comedies this variation should be explained mainly as a pragmatic strategy
of membership categorization, thus showing instances of non-prototypical uses
of PPs similar to other languages (e.g. Spanish, English, Modern Greek).
pronouns; 1st person plural pronouns; Communicative framework; Membership categorization;
Òscar BLADAS and Neus NOGUÉ
!”): An emerging
emphatic use of the second person singular pronoun
) in spoken
The Catalan second person singular (2sg)
) has acquired a wide range of pragmatic values in spoken
registers that have received little or no attention from scholars in the field.
The aim of the present article is to analyse a particular emerging use of the
from a corpus-based
perspective. In the light of Grammaticalisation Theory, it is argued that
whereas in some contexts this pronoun maintains all or part of its referential
function (e.g. as subject or as a vocative, respectively), in other contexts
its use is very similar to that of an emphatic pragmatic marker. Data drawn
from three spoken corpora suggest that the pronoun has consolidated this new
use. Prosodic evidence is also provided to show the semantic and pragmatic
changes undergone by the pronoun.
Spoken corpora; Grammaticalisation; Pragmatic markers.
Generic uses of the second person singular – how
speakers deal with referential ambiguity and misunderstandings
contribution examines how interlocutors resolve reference problems concerning
the second singular person (2sg) in ongoing conversation. Apart from its
‘normal’ reading as a term of address, generic and also speaker-referring uses
have been documented and studied for a variety of languages. However, there are
amazingly few documented cases of interlocutors who openly display having
problems of disambiguation between forms of address and reference to a larger
entity ‘anybody in this particular situation’. A sequential analysis shows that
interlocutors tend not to ask for further specification of reference in a
possibly ambiguous situation, most likely for face reasons: Instead, they tend
to rely on contextualization in later conversational development and on all
available conversational resources. Ambiguous reference that leads to
misunderstandings only becomes a topic once serious conversational problems
arise and the need for disambiguation becomes more important than
interlocutors’ face needs.
: 2nd person pronoun; Terms of
address; Referential ambiguity; Generic reference; Misunderstandings; Turn-taking