Pragmatics 26:3 (September 2016)

SPECIAL ISSUE: The referential ambiguity of personal pronouns and its pragmatic consequences
Edited by 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


This paper argues for revisiting the traditional adscription of ambiguous readings of personal pronouns, such as hearer-dominant we or generic you , 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 we, for 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 you have been considered a feature of (informal) oral language than written discourse ( Hidalgo Navarro 1996) . Recent 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 hearer-dominant 1 st person plural forms ( Have we taken our medicine? ) in contexts where no power-relationship can be defined, e.g. among couples.
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.

  Keywords: Register; Subjectivity; Intersubjectivity; Genre; Personal pronoun.

A pragmatic analysis of German impersonally used first person singular ‘ich’  


The German first and second person singular pronouns ich and du allow for a referential use and an impersonal use. In their impersonal use, both pronouns behave like the impersonal pronoun man (Engl. one ) 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 ich and du and impersonal man is 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 ich in the second part of this paper by reporting a small-scale corpus study.

  Keywords: 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 du 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 du (in comparison with man ), and by and large support the claim that generic du is used as a resource for construing involvement, arguably by exploiting the ambiguity of du 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.

Keywords : Generic pronouns; Ambiguity; Danish; Socio-pragmatics; Language variation and change; Real-time studies; Discourse context analysis.

Pragmatic use of Ancient Greek pronouns in two communicative frameworks  


This paper deals with the use of personal pronouns (PPs) in Ancient Greek in two Aristophanes’ comedies (i.e. Lysistrata and Ecclesiazusae ). 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 autonomía or afiliación (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).

  Keywords: Personal pronouns; 1st person plural pronouns; Communicative framework; Membership categorization; Ancient Greek.

Òscar BLADAS and Neus NOGUÉ
“Que bé, tu !” (“That’s great, you !”): An emerging emphatic use of the second person singular pronoun tu ( you ) in spoken Catalan  


  The Catalan second person singular (2sg) pronoun tu ( you ) 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 2sg pronoun tu 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.

Keywords: Person deixis; Spoken corpora; Grammaticalisation; Pragmatic markers.

Bettina KLUGE
Generic uses of the second person singular – how speakers deal with referential ambiguity and misunderstandings 


  The present 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.

  Keywords : 2nd person pronoun; Terms of address; Referential ambiguity; Generic reference; Misunderstandings; Turn-taking system; Facework.