personal space

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Wed Sep 22 20:25:54 UTC 1999

Here are some comments on pronouns and spatial expressions in
Indonesian.  The comments are an abridged version of a personal message
I sent to Susan a few days ago, in response to a message from her making
reference to a conversation we had in Amsterdam at the ALT meeting last


Here are my comments on your notes.

> Here are my loosely reconstructed notes from our brief chat:
> 1. In Indonesian, (Jakarta dialect) pronouns are often avoided for
> politeness.  Instead, locatives are used for pronominal reference:

I would rather say:  locatives are one of  number of strategies that are
instead of pronouns:

> 1st sing        sini    (here - proxmimal)
> 2nd sing        situ    (there - medial)
> --              sana    (there - distal)

Yup.  But I think sini can also be used for 2nd singular, if, for
the speaker grasps the hearer's hand while saying this.

> My understanding is that these are only used for 1st and 2nd person
> singular, not 3rd person,

I THINK that's right.

> and that these locatives are not used for plural
> pronominal reference.

Don't know.

> What factors influence whether or not these forms
> are used?

Sorry, again I don't know enough.

> 2.  Pronouns can occur with demonstratives:
> pronoun + demonstratrative
> Questions:
> In what contexts deos this occur?

Again, I really couldn't say.

> What is the morpho-syntactic status of these constructions?

I would argue that in most colloquial varieties of Indonesian, neither
pronouns nor demonstratives constitute a well-defined grammatical class;

hence, a two-word construction glossed as "you this" is grammatically
identical to almost any other two-word construction, eg. "book this" or

> What meaning do these constructions hold?

I would say, simply the sum of the meanings of the constituent parts.
"you this" means, simply, "speaker that is proximate".

> Is there a complete paradigm of these forms (persons, numbers etc..?)

Yes.  (This follows from the preceding two claims, to the effect that
are simple collocations of the respective items.)

> Could you please provide examples?

kamu ini "2[sg/pl] proximal-demonstrative"
mereka itu "3[pl] distal-demonstrative"

> Actually, it would be helpful to have data covering the entire
> system.

It's actually a more-or-less open class (which is another way of saying
there isn't really a pronominal system at all).

> Have you published on this?

No.  The only reference I can think of is a very recent article in
Linguistics about pronouns in some dialects of Indonesian, but I'm not
whether it deals with the issues you're interested in.

> 3. In Indonesian, a wide range of referential terms serve as pronouns
> (pronouns, names, kinship terms, titles...).  The choice is influenced
> sociolinguistic factors.
> I'm curious about this.  How does one know these terms are functioning
> pronouns?

Well, as I've suggested above, I don't think there is a category of
in the usual sense in Indonesian.  A more accurate statement would be:
Indonesian, a wide range of referential terms may be used to refer to
speaker and/or hearer of an utterance.


David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Inselstrasse 22, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 49-341-9952310
Fax: 49-341-9952119
Email: gil at

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