'impersonal' second person

Eitan Grossman eitan.grossman at MAIL.HUJI.AC.IL
Wed Dec 21 11:10:45 UTC 2011

Dear all,

Some time ago, I asked about 'impersonal' or 'generic' uses of the second
person. Many people were kind enough to respond, so thanks! I hope to send
a proper summary soon.

One thing that doesn't seem to be prominent in the literature, but which
turns up abundantly in a corpus study of Modern Hebrew, is the use of the
second person for non-generic intrapersonal dialogue (I'll cite the English
translation rather than the Hebrew - if someone is interested I can give
the Hebrew original).

*‘I saw the faces of those kids. I thought to myself: If I could just say
something. Like now, when I walked around in Hebron and saw the kids I
said, you can’t even say anything to them. They hate you, they don’t want
to see you, they think you’re the enemy, and you are wordless. You have
nothing to tell them.’*

Furthermore, it can be used to index the speaker in the course of narrating
events in which the speaker has taken part:
The kids would get us these pistols. You’d give the kid 15 shekels and he’d
be happy and get you such a gun. Bags of 100 pellets would cost us 3
shekels. We had plenty of these pistols in the company, lots. And it was
pretty idiotic of the kids to buy them for us, because many of the soldiers
would then use them on the kids. You’d sit on guard duty and – pop – shoot
a kid, pop – shoot a kid

*Finally, it can be used to index a non-speaker, non-addressee, evidently
to express empathy:

*You saw situations where people went to the bathroom in their pants?** *


*From being beaten, for the most part. Being beaten to death, and
threatened, and screamed at, you are just terrified. Especially if it’s in
front of your kids, they yell and threaten and scare them, so you also fear
for the kids*

Obviously, there is a lot more to say about this. Minimally, it seems that
these functions have to be taken into account in, e.g., semantic maps, such
as the ones that Johan van der Auwera and Volker Gast have been working on.
The first two of these functions were already noted (for English) by
Patricia O'Connor in:

O’Connor, Patricia E., 1994. ‘You could feel it through the skin’: Agency
and positioning in prisoners’ stabbing stories, *Text* 14 (1): 45-75.

I am just finishing up an article on this, which will be published in a
really obscure collection of non-linguistic papers. The gist of the paper
is to discuss how the second person is used as a linguistic strategy to
navigate issues of speaker agency, responsibility, and accountability
(together with, e.g., passives, impersonals, and nominalizations). In a
sense, most of this was already noted by Bolinger, who said ‘The deeper we
go into impersonal you, the more personal it seems.’

Best wishes, and apologies for the long delay,
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/lingtyp/attachments/20111221/314fe2b8/attachment.htm>

More information about the Lingtyp mailing list