Wolfgang Schulze W.Schulze at LRZ.UNI-MUENCHEN.DE
Mon Oct 19 13:03:20 UTC 1998

Dear Typologists,

let me briefly comment on two aspects of the current discussion of
"pronouns" etc. 1) I think we cannot really decide whether a pronoun is
"basic" or "derived" (in David's sense) on the abstract level of the
lexicon. Normally, a French informant would have great problems in
telling you whether "vous" is basically singular or plural (though I
guess that (s)he will first refer to 2Pl because it is paradigmatically
embedded (and opposed to "tu")). Pronouns are basically deictic and
pragmatic. Hence, it seems appropriate to assume that their "semantics"
are activated only in the context of a deictic field and/or a
communicative-pragmatic situation. In a prototypical sense a personal
pronoun does nothing but organize speech acts reflecting the given
communicative rituals in the habitus of a speech community. Whether such
a pronoun has to regarded as Basic" or "derived" depends on how
basic/derived speech acts are themselves. I assume that on a cognitive
level that there are no basic concepts in this respect. Even EGO can be
secondary (reflecting on non-"you"). But what IS basic is the experience
of human beings that there is a structural coupling between body
experience and role of an individual in a speech act. This experience
CAN constructed in the sense of EGO, but we cannot infer therefrom that
there is also a TU (2Sg) (just as we cannot claim that EGO is
principally singular: If there is a structural coupling between body
experience, "collectivity hypothesis", and speech act, then EGO might as
well emerge as collective ("plural") concept). As for the second person
("TU") everything depends of how the speech community has ritualized its
communication (if "ritualized" is to "agentive" for you, you can also
say "acquired communicative rituals"). Imagine a community in which such
rituals comprise a taboo to address a single person. Consequently, the
"second person" would become an plural instantiation of the non-EGO
(nEGO); if communication is ritualized in the sense that it has mainly
to take place between two individuals then non-EGO becomes a singular
concept. The same holds for the interaction of second and third person.
Both can be constructed as "one person" (a simple nEGO) because a
community does not accept the notion of "a person not participating in a
speech act" (nSAP), but rather refer to all non-EGO as the "stranger" (I
don't know how to translate German "Fremder" here). The result would be
a EGO-nEGO paradigm, later on perhaps specified according to presence or
absence of nEGO)........

So if we cannot state something like "natural basicness" of pronouns in
neither on a cognitive nor on a communicative level all we can observe
is basicness with respect to communicative rituals. The study of
pronominal paradigms can help to reconstruct the communicative behavior
of people in a speech community, but these paradigms will IMO never
reveal cognitive basicness (in the sense of a human universal). The fact
that people talk is universal, but not the way they do talk.

2) On a pure linguistic level basicness can perhaps be related to
frequency. But this is a very dangerous approach, because it depends on
the kind of documented speech acts, the presence of social deixis, etc.
As Frans demonstrated agreement may be another indicator, but this
argument seems rather weak: it depends on the presence of agreement and
on the co-paradigmatization of agreement patters and personal pronouns.
As we know from many languages such a co-paradigmatization is often

Undirectionality as proposed by Martin cannot be a criterion, according
to my opinion. It presupposes a "natural" basicness which as I said does
not exist. Moreover, assumptions on unidirectionality touch diachrony. I
think we cannot use this criterion on a synchronic level. But if we
enter diachrony the problem becomes much more complex. We are then
confronted with the question on how pronouns become grammaticalized. I
know, there's a high body of literature on this subject (Frans has
mentioned a bit of it), so I won’t go into much detail here. If we claim
the unidirectionality of pronoun > noun then we are in need to explain
what was "before" the pronoun. A popular assumption is that of deictic
particles copying the division of the communicative space (proximal,
medial, distal etc.). But as far as I know such a generalization has
never been substantiated on a topological level up to now. The problem
surely is that deictic elements very often form a diffuse paradigm that
invites people to play combinatory games etc. (cp. the treatment of the
history of personal pronouns in Indo-European). Frans has indicated that
nouns can become pronouns. But does this mean that a language only used
"deictic" nouns for what we call SAP (see Majtinskaja's work on
Indo-European in the 60th)? This reminds me of Stern/Stern's baby talk
and the classical assumption (early this century) that "primitive" men
addressed each other with the help of names or specific nouns....

To conclude: I think there is not anything universally "basic" or
"natural" with respect to personal pronouns. The lexicalization and
grammaticalization of (n)SAP establishes one of the perhaps most
unstable paradigms in language (though this paradigm may become
stabilized for some time, as in Early Indo-European). The only thing we
can do is to reconstruct different types of communicative rituals. They
may tell us whether a given speech community had a specific preference
for the encoding of what they assumed to be characteristic for a speech
act participant.


[BY the way: I always had problems in understanding when and why the
translation of English "you" switched from "sie (2Sg[+honor]) to "du" in
German synchronization. Is there any "linguistic" evidence in English
that indicates the necessity to make such a switch in social deixis to
the translator (such as use of first names etc.?), or are there
(additional?) non-verbal signals (a kiss seems to be very often

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang SCHULZE
Institut für Allgemeine und Indogermanische
Sprachwissenschaft * Universität München
Geschwister-Scholl-Platz 1 * D-80539 München
Tel.: +89-2180 2486

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