15.2243, Review: Typoloby/Syntax: Bhat (2004)

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-15-2243. Fri Aug 6 2004. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 15.2243, Review: Typoloby/Syntax: Bhat (2004)

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Date:  Fri, 6 Aug 2004 11:19:00 -0400 (EDT)
From:  Elsi Kaiser <ekaiser at ling.rochester.edu>
Subject:  Pronouns: A Cross-Linguistic Study

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Fri, 6 Aug 2004 11:19:00 -0400 (EDT)
From:  Elsi Kaiser <ekaiser at ling.rochester.edu>
Subject:  Pronouns: A Cross-Linguistic Study

Author: Darbhe Narayana Shankara Bhat
Title: Pronouns: A Cross-Linguistic Study
Series: Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2004
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-3485.html

Elsi Kaiser, Center for Language Sciences, University of Rochester

[Another review of this book appears in issue 15.2197 -- Eds.]


In this monograph, Bhat provides a detailed typological study of
pronominal elements, focusing primarily on their referential and
morphological properties. He discusses examples from a wide range of
languages and investigates not only personal pronouns but also
demonstrative pronouns, indefinite pronouns, interrogative pronouns
and relative pronouns. The book is divided into two parts called
'Pronouns' and 'Proforms.' This division, introduced in Chapter 1,
reflects the basic claim underlying this monograph, namely that first
and second person pronouns (which Bhat calls ''pronouns'') differ
crucially from other pronouns (he calls them ''proforms'') and
nouns. Bhat argues that the distinguishing characteristics can be
derived from the main function of first and second person pronouns,
namely denoting the speech roles of speaker and addressee, and not the
individuals who carry out these roles. In contrast, proforms are used
in a range of different functions for referring to general concepts
such as location, time and manner. Since Bhat regards pronouns and
proforms as fundamentally different in their functions and
characteristics, he tackles them separately in Parts I and II of the


In Part I, Bhat focuses on first, second and third person pronouns. He
argues that first and second person pronouns share the property of
being dissociated from their referents, and that this dissociation can
be used to explain certain morpho-syntactic and ambiguity patterns. He
also discusses the position of third person pronouns in the
pronoun/proform dichotomy.

Part I starts with Chapter 2, which describes the dissociation of
first and second person pronouns from their referents. Bhat claims
that a number of traits that personal pronouns display - such as the
inability to occur with modifiers or complements - can be derived from
this dissociation. Modifiers and complements make the antecedent of a
referring expression easier to find, but since first and second person
pronouns denote speech roles (not actual individuals), this would lead
to inefficiency. He analyzes apparent counterexamples as involving
apposition. Bhat also attributes the lack of determiners with personal
pronouns to the same dissociation. However, he points out that the
occurrence of numeral modifiers with personal pronouns is not expected
under his dissociation account. He uses data from Kannada to argue
that apparent cases of numeral modification are in fact appositives.
Nevertheless, Bhat concedes that there does not need to be an absolute
dissociation between pronoun and referent for personal pronouns to
function as speech-role denoting elements.

Chapter 3 focuses mainly on the referential ambiguities that arise
with first, second and third person pronouns. Bhat argues that with
first and second person pronouns, we are dealing with ambiguities
between speech contexts. With the help of crosslinguistic examples,
Bhat shows that logophoric pronouns are used to mark non-coreference
of speech roles in different speech contexts, i.e. to distinguish
between the exophoric speaker (the one who actually utters the entire
sentence) and the endophoric speaker (the speaker of the reported
speech). In contrast, with third person pronouns, we are dealing with
linguistic expressions with endophoric or exophoric referents. Bhat
states that ''third person pronouns can have their reference
established either by the speech context, called exophoric reference,
or by an expression occurring in the same sentence (or in one of the
previous sentences), called endophoric reference'' (66). He presents
data from Kannada illustrating the use of a special anaphoric pronoun
to indicate when the antecedent is endophoric and not exophoric. Thus,
according to Bhat, in the domain of first and second person pronouns,
logophoric pronouns mark non-coreference, and in the domain of third-
person pronouns, anaphoric pronouns mark coreference.

In Chapter 4, Bhat returns to his claim that personal pronouns are
dissociated from their referents. He shows that personal pronouns can
- seemingly in violation of their dissociated nature - occur with
number and gender marking. However, Bhat claims these categories have
special functions with personal pronouns, such as gender marking being
used to encode social distinctions and number marking functioning as a
'conjoiner' between contrasting entities (e.g. the pronoun 'we' can
conjoin/refer to multiple speech roles: speaker, addressee, other). In
the last part of Chapter 4, Bhat discusses differences in case marking
patterns between first and second person pronouns in comparison to
proforms and nouns, and shows how the special case marking patterns
for personal pronouns are related to their speech role functions.

Claiming that personal pronouns are distinct from proforms suggests
that personal pronouns form a unified group. Chapter 5 addresses two
conflicts inside the class of personal pronouns: (a) the speaker-
addressee difference which separates first and second person pronouns
and is reflected in the structure of dual pronouns, agreement patterns
and prefix ordering, and (b) the dual requirement of being both
dissociated from and indirectly associated with their referents. In
most languages, personal pronouns are efficient 'shifters' between
speech roles and do not contain information about specific
individuals.  However, as Bhat notes, there are some languages where
pronouns carry information about their referents (e.g. gender, number)
that cannot be related to the speech-role denoting function. This
leads him to conclude that there are cases where markers of both
dissociation from and association with the referent are tolerated.

Chapter 6 focuses on the position of third person pronouns in the
personal pronouns/proforms dichotomy. Bhat suggests that languages can
be divided into two typological groups: (a) three-person languages,
where third person pronouns belong to the system of personal pronouns
and (b) two-person languages, where third person pronouns belong to
the system of proforms and are identical or derivationally related to
demonstrative pronouns. In his typological study of 225 languages, 126
languages seem to be two-person languages (e.g. Hebrew, Hindi and
Malayalam), and 99 can be analyzed as three-person languages (e.g.
Indonesian, Finnish and Japanese; a full classification of all 225
languages is given in the book's appendix). This typological
distinction, Bhat claims, is correlated with gender distinctions in
third person pronouns: in his sample, two-person languages mark gender
three times more often than three-person languages (39% vs. 13%). The
division also correlates with deictic systems: three-person languages
are approximately three times more likely to have person-oriented
deictic systems (as opposed to distance-oriented deictic systems) than
two- person languages. In the last part of this chapter, Bhat provides
a brief summary of how different language families fit into the two-
person/three-person typology.


In Part II, Bhat investigates the internal structure and referential
properties of proforms. He argues that proforms have a two-part
structure consisting of a term that denotes a general concept and a
pronominal element that denotes a specific function, and he
investigates the nature of each part in detail. He also claims that
proforms, in contrast to pronouns and definite nouns, require semantic
- as opposed to pragmatic - identification. In the last section of
Part II, he investigates the associations between indefinite,
interrogative and relative pronouns.

The first chapter of Part II, Chapter 7, presents the claim that
proforms have an internal two-part structure, namely (a) a term
denoting a general concept (e.g. '-one' in 'someone') and (b) a
pronominal element that denotes a specific function (e.g. 'some-' in
'someone', 'somewhere'). The general concepts that languages encode
include person, thing, place and time. The functions encoded by the
pronominal elements include deictic distinctions, interrogation and
indefiniteness. Bhat points out that the existence of complex proforms
and proforms lacking internal structure are not counterexamples for
his dual-structure claim. According to him, complex proforms are
created from two-part structures by the addition of extra morphology
needed for disambiguation, and simplex proforms are the result of
fusing via grammaticalization.

Chapter 8 looks in more depth at the two parts of a proform; the
function-denoting pronominal element and the concept- denoting general
term. Bhat shows that the functions of proforms (and the pronominal
elements in them) can be divided into three groups: (a)
demonstratives, (b) interrogative-indefinites and (c) relative
anaphors. The distinctions made inside these main groups vary across
languages, and there is also crosslinguistic variation in how these
groups relate to each other (e.g. if two are collapsed in the sense of
being represented by the same form). The other half of a proform,
namely the general term, denotes some kind of a general concept
(Chapter 7). Bhat suggests that the terms occurring in proforms can be
grouped in four main categories: nominal, adjectival, verbal and
adverbial, not all of which exist in all languages.

Chapter 9 focuses on the referential functions of proforms. The
identification involved with proforms, Bhat claims, differs from the
identification that occurs with definite nouns and third person
pronouns. For the former, identification on an extra-linguistic level
is required, whereas the latter only need identifiability on a
linguistic level: The minimum requirement for a definite NP is
coreference with a previously mentioned NP, but demonstratives (when
used deictically) require visually uniquely identifiable antecedents.
According to Bhat, linguistic-level identifiability is pragmatic and
extra- linguistic identifiability semantic. An NP can have a
referential or nonreferential interpretation, depending on the
intention of the speaker. However, subsequent reference to this NP is
with a definite NP or third person pronoun - i.e. linguistic-level
identification is sufficient for use of these forms. Semantic
identifiability is more 'substantial'. When a referent is introduced
by a proform, it does not automatically become
identifiable/referential; the addressee needs a sufficient 'basis for
identification' from an extra-linguistic level in order for semantic
reference to take place.

In Chapter 10, Bhat investigates the association that has been
observed to hold between interrogative and indefinite pronouns. In
many languages, these two sets of pronouns are identical
(e.g. Lakhota) or derivationally related (e.g. Kannada). Bhat argues
that the languages that exhibit this affinity do not have any
interrogative pronouns, and that what we think of interrogative
pronouns in constituent questions are actually just unmarked
indefinite pronouns. According to him, these indefinite pronouns
indicate lack of knowledge about that particular constituent. He
suggests that the necessary 'question meaning' for constituent
questions can be derived from other sources such as question particles
(e.g. Lakhota), focus particles (e.g. Mangaranayi), focus structures
(e.g. Kannada) and question intonation (e.g. Chinese, Vietnamese).

In Chapter 11, Bhat investigates how his analysis from Chapter 10
sheds light on three issues related to interrogatives and
indefinites. First, he argues against the common view that indefinite
pronouns are derived from interrogative pronouns, and instead develops
an idea from Haspelmath (1997), namely that unmarked indefinite
pronouns are turned into non-specific indefinites/universal pronouns
by the addition of a conjunctive particle, and adding a disjunctive
particle instead creates a specific indefinite. Second, Bhat notes
that some indirect questions do not seem to involve any real
interrogativity, e.g. ''I know who has gone home.'' In his opinion, if
the interrogative pronouns in these contexts are unmarked indefinite
pronouns, the lack of any interrogativity is not surprising. Thirdly,
he addresses the affinity that exists in many languages between
interrogative, relative and indefinite pronouns. If interrogatives are
unmarked indefinites in these languages, the associations become
simpler: we can just ask why there is a link between relative pronouns
and indefinite pronouns. Bhat shows that this involves no
contradiction, but does not provide a detailed analysis.

The last chapter, Chapter 12, is very brief, and consists of a short
summary of Bhat's main claims. It is divided into four main sections,
the first of which summarizes the pronoun-proform division that Bhat
argues for. The second section concerns the distinction between
conjunction and plurality discussed with respect to number marking in
chapter 4, and the third section summarizes the differences between
pragmatic and semantic identity and reference. The final section is
brief overview of Chapters 10 and 11 on interrogation and


This book is an important contribution to the typological study of
pronouns and related elements. By presenting data from over 200 mostly
non-Indo-European languages, Bhat provides a fascinating tour through
the crosslinguistic complexity of pronominal elements, including
personal, demonstrative, interrogative and relative pronouns. The
breadth of the language sample allows him to discuss different
groupings of languages and to point out a number of interesting
typological dependencies and correlations that would not be apparent
if one were looking at a more typologically homogeneous group of

Of course, one of the drawbacks of such a broad typological study is
the resulting lack of depth for any one particular language; there
simply isn't enough space in a single book to discuss all the
different systems in detail. However, the extensive bibliography
(which is made up mainly of grammars of various languages) is a good
resource for those who want to learn more about a particular
language. In addition, the detailed appendix of the 225 languages and
their positions in the two-person/three-person typology is very
useful. In fact, the monograph is probably best suited for those who
already have some familiarity with the morphological and referential
properties of pronouns and other referring expressions, and who would
like to broaden their crosslinguistic and typological knowledge. It
makes a unique contribution to the field of pronoun research by
bringing together and comparing information from so many different

Since the book performs the dual task of presenting a lot of data in
languages mostly unfamiliar to its readers, as well as Bhat's analysis
of this data, in places it is rather densely written. Having more some
summary charts or diagrams representing the crosslinguistic
correlations and associations would have improved the readability of
these section, especially the interesting but densely written Chapter
3. On the whole, though, most chapters are well- written, and the
structure of the book mirrors the logic of Bhat's argumentation. The
main claims that Bhat puts forth in the book, such as the pronoun-
proform distinction, the speech-role denoting function of pronouns,
and the indefinite-interrogative association, are presented in a very
thorough manner, with a lot of supporting examples and discussion.
However, in some places, such as the discussion of scope in Chapter 9
and the discussions of specific/nonspecific proforms and the semantics
of questions in Chapter 11, more references to current theoretical
linguistic literature would have been helpful in clarifying the
relation between Bhat's claims and theoretical work on related topics.
A few other points would also have benefited from more discussion. For
example, it would have been helpful if, in the discussion of
appositives in Chapter 2, Bhat had said more about his view of the
distinction between appositives and modifiers. In addition, after
reading Bhat's discussion of endophoric/exophoric reference with third
person pronouns in Chapter 3, it was not clear to me whether he
regards deictic gestures as necessary for exophoric reference, and
whether he draws a distinction between nonlinguistic (i.e. not
previously mentioned) referents and 'discourse' referents mentioned at
some point in the preceding discourse.

This monograph raises a number of interesting questions for future
research. For example, as the author himself points out, so-called
bound pronoun languages (i.e. languages where clitics and verb
agreement are used instead of free-standing pronominal forms) are not
discussed in this monograph, but for a full understanding of pronouns,
such languages also need to be investigated. An important avenue for
future work thus consists of testing how bound pronoun languages fit
into his approach. The detailed hypotheses and correlations that he
outlines provide a good starting point.

Another interesting topic for future work is the relation between
Bhat's approach and the existing research on the discourse-referential
properties of pronouns, such as the well-known claims (mainly focusing
on third person reference) that the most reduced referential forms
(e.g. pronouns in English, null pro in languages that permit pro-
drop) are used to refer to the most salient/accessible referents, and
fuller referential forms (e.g. demonstratives, definite NPs, etc) are
used for less accessible referents (Ariel 1990, Givon 1983, Gundel,
Hedberg & Zacharski 1993, inter alia). It would be interesting to see
how these findings relate to Bhat's hypothesis about the existence of
two-person and three- person languages, and the different kinds of
identifiability that he discusses. Another question that often crossed
my mind while reading this monograph concerns historical change. Bhat
discusses diachronic matters briefly in some chapters, but the
typological correlations and associations he discusses raise many
questions about language change that are unfortunately beyond the
scope of this book, but may provide a fruitful direction for further

As a whole, Bhat's monograph represents an interesting and informative
contribution to the typological study of pronouns.


Ariel, M. 1990. Accessing NP antecedents. London: Routledge, Croom

Givon, T. 1983. Topic continuity in discourse: A quantitative cross-
language study. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Gundel, J.K., Hedberg, N. & Zacharski, R. 1993. Cognitive status and
the form of referring expressions in discourse. Language 69:274-307.

Haspelmath, M. 1997. Indefinite Pronouns. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Elsi Kaiser is a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Language
Sciences at the University of Rochester. Her current research
interests include anaphor resolution, the syntax/semantics/pragmatics
interface, human sentence processing and Finnish linguistics. In her
dissertation (2003), she used psycholinguistic experiments and corpus
work to investigate reference resolution in Finnish, Dutch and


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