Languages without pronouns?

Scott DeLancey delancey at DARKWING.UOREGON.EDU
Fri Mar 30 20:16:49 UTC 2001

On Fri, 30 Mar 2001, Elizabeth Ritter wrote:

> I've been told that there are languages with NO pronouns.  Does anyone
> know of any...and what does the language do instead?   Could such a
> language have subject agreement for person and/or number and/or gender?

This is often said about Southeast Asian languages (and sometimes about
Japanese) with highly-elaborated systems of honorific reference.  These
typically have an elaborate set of forms, all derived (some pretty
transparently) from nouns, which serve the anaphoric and vocative
functions usually filled by pronouns.  In Thai, for example, there are
25-30 or so of these.  And then kinship terms and various occupational
titles (e.g. 'teacher') are also used in exactly the same ways.  So one
can argue (I would, myself) that such languages don't have pronouns per
se, i.e. a closed set of paradigmatically related anaphoric forms.

None of the examples that I'm familiar with have any kind of verb

Scott DeLancey
Department of Linguistics
1290 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403-1290, USA

delancey at

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