LINGUIST List 8.209

Tue Feb 11 1997

Sum: Pronoun usage

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Larry Rosenwald, Pronoun usage

Message 1: Pronoun usage

Date: Sun, 09 Feb 1997 12:24:03 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Pronoun usage

	To all LINGUIST readers: several months back - last
October, I fear - I posted the following query about a
pattern of pronoun usage in James Fenimore Cooper's
Leatherstocking Tales:

	"Hi - I'm trying to comment on a trait in James
Fenimore Cooper's representations of Native American
speech, and would like some help. The trait in question
is this: fairly often in speech said to be Native
American, and still more often in conversations between
Native Americans and European-Americans in English, the
third person "replaces" the first person and still more
often the second person. For example, in _The Last of
the Mohicans_, in a conversation between the the Native
American Magua and the European-American Cora Munro,
Cora says, 	
	"What would le Renard [Magua's French-Canadian
epithet is le Renard Subtil] say to the daughter of
	And Magua answers, "Magua was born a chief and a
warrior among the red Hurons of the lakes; he saw the
suns of twenty summers 	. . before he ever saw a
pale-face etc."
	I'm trying to understand the effect of this, and
trying to understand it both linguistically and
literarily. Pretty clearly Cooper didn't get the idea
for this trait from any of his proximate sources about
Native American languages, and it's not characteristic,
I think, of what writers contemporary with Cooper do in
representing Native American speech. What I've read
that's been most useful to me in understanding the
effect of this trait is some essays of Benveniste's,
namely "La nature des pronoms" and "De la subjectivite
dans le langage," but I'd be grateful for other
suggestions, and would of course post a summary if there
were enough material. Thanks in advance, Larry Rosenwald
	P.S. I'm noticing more and more an analogous trait
in political and athletic oratory - e.g., Bob Dole
saying, "anyone who knows Bob Dole knows that he's a
fighter," or Shawn Kemp saying, "Shawn Kemp has got his
game face on tonight." So whatever is going on in
Cooper isn't going on in Cooper alone. LR"

 Well, I got some very interesting responses - and, as
some of you know, there was some parallel discussion of
this in the SSILA bulletin. I kept thinking that I'd
arrange the responses into a sort of catalogue raisonne,
but it's now so shamefully late that I'm just giving the
responses as they came in. I thank everyone who
responded from the bottom of my heart, and I think that
the richness and variety of ideas here suggests
something about the possibilities of what happens when
linguists look at literary questions.
	Best, Larry Rosenwald

From:	IN%""

I would suggest that there are two reasons for the use
of the third personin place of the first. For Cooper
(and others, as I have seen it inattempts to represent
'asian' English), it acts as a device that
impliesotherness, a different grammatical system and
world view, that does notimpede the narrative. We still
understand it, but we immediately know that this guy
ain't a native speaker. If you ever go to books that try
to represent foreigner English accurately, they often
resemble cryptography.You know he/she is saying
something, but you're not sure what it is.

On the other hand, the use of this by native speakers,
is, I think, an attempt to convey more objectivity. I
think that it's no accident that Bob Dole used it so
much, because he is trying to draw out the character
issue between him and Clinton. "Not only do I say that I
trust you', but any person who observed me would say 'he
trusts you'"

Of course, I think you can use this to show someone what
the objective situation really is. We can easily imagine
a teacher saying:'You come in here and say, 'Mr. Smith,
don't fail me' Well, Mr. Smith is going to fail you, no
matter what you say.'

Just my 2 cents.

Joseph Tomei
Institute of Language and Culture Studies
Hokkaido University
N17 W8 Kita-ku, Sapporo 001 JAPAN(81) (0)11-716-2111
x5387fax (81) (0)11-736-2861

From:	IN%""
"Peter Daniels" 12-OCT-1996 03:52:24.55To:
	Cooper's pronominals

Maybe using nouns instead of personal pronouns is a way
for a non-nativespeaker to avoid making mistakes in the
pronouns, given that his language doesn't use such


From:	IN%"" 12-OCT-1996
	Subj:	pronouns

Is it supposed to sound regal? That is, it may not be an
attribution tonative americans but to kings.

Susan M. Ervin-Tripp


From:	IN%"" 12-OCT-1996
	Subj:	Pronouns

Hello Larry,

You've got a good, and I think interesting problem. On
one level, you're looking at pronoun switches, as you
say. Things like the "royal we" or"editorial we", the
nurses' "how are we feeling today", the generic
"you"(you can't fight city hall), etc. Also things like
polite and intimate"you" in many European languages.
This is a large and general problem, and there are a
couple of classic references:

Brown, R. et A. Gilman. The pronouns of power and
solidarity. In Fishman, J. (dir.) 1968. Readings in the
sociology of language. La Haye., 252-276. Deals with
the evolution in several European languages from an
older system(powerful "vous" and powerless "tu") to the
modern system of "someone unknown = vous" and "someone
known = tu".

Paul Friedrich has a long study of pronoun usage in 19th
century Russian novels, which might be closer to your
interest in Cooper. I don't have the exact reference
handy, but I think it may have been an article in
thejournal Language, dating possibly in the 1970's.

Good luck,

John Reighard
Departement de linguistique et de traduction
CP 6128, Succ. Centre-ville
Montreal, Quebec H3C 3J7


From:	IN%""
"Waruno Mahdi" 13-OCT-1996 10:36:10.77To:
	IN%""Subj:	RE: a
query about pronoun usage in life and literature


I haven't read the Beneviste works you cite, so I
apologize in advanceif anything of what follows is well
known to you.

To begin with, of course, there is the use of
(originally) plural _you_in place of singular _thou_ for
the second person in English. In French,the same (_vous_
in place of _tu_ "thou") is limited to polite
reference,as is also the case in Russian (_vy_ in place
of _ty_ "thou").Dutch _U_ and Spanish _usted_, which are
similarly used in place of_jij_ "thou" and _tu_ "thou"
respectively, are corruptions of expressions of the
"your grace" or "your mercy" type (Spanish: _vuestra
mercedes_).In German, _du_ "thou" is analogically
replaced by _Sie_, deriving from _sie_ "they" (3rd
person plural). Some centuries ago, this wasparalleled
by the replacement of _du_ by _er_ "he" in formal (i.e.
not casual/familiar) speech when referring to a person
of lower rank, but this is no longer a feature of the
contemporary language.

The use of pluralis majestatis (_we_ in place of _I_ in
the speech of royalty) is a general feature all over
Europe (probably a result of cultural contact). In
Indonesian, on the contrary, it is usually impolite to
refer to oneself by the 1st person singular
pronoun(_aku_, to a lesser degree _saya_, which are
presently synonyms,though the latter historically
derives from a word meaning "servant,slave"), except in
very informal speech among peers. The use of the plural,
_kami_ (1st person plural exclusive, that is "we not
including you"), is one of the options for avoiding
reference to oneself as "I".It is mainly used in formal
speech, but there is dialectal variation.In the Jakartan
dialect, one even uses _kita_ (1st person plural
inclusive, i.e. "we including you").

In Indonesian it is also impolite to use _engkau_
"thou", and _kamu_"you" (which, as in English, has
become a synonym of the former, but has not quite
displaced it altogether yet).

In informal speech, often even also among peers, it is
normal to replace both "I" and "thou/you" by the
respective name. The Fenimore Cooper conversation would
then go like this:

 CORA: What would Magua say to Cora [the daughter
of Munro]? MAGUA: Magua was born a chief and....

The correct English translation (conveying only that
which is in the original, without adding any exotic
flavouring, existing only in the perception of the text
by a foreigner) would be:

 CORA: What would you say to me [the daughter of
Munro]? MAGUA: I was born a chief and....

It is a particular feature of Indonesian grammar, that
personal proper names and personal pronouns do not share
the same grammatical categories as the substantives
("normal" nouns), but form a class of their
own.Demonstrative pronouns, on the other hand, share the
categories of the noun, and not those of the personal
pronouns and proper names. Strictly speaking, therefore,
one cannot speak of "pronouns" as a word class("part of
speech") in Indonesian.

A more universal procedure, applicable in formal as well
as in informal speech, is the use of words deriving from
nouns denoting kinship relations such as _ibu_ "mother",
_bapak_ "father", _anak_ "child", _kakak_ "elder
sibling" (in some areas "elder sister"), _abang_ "elder
brother" (mainly used in areas where _kakak_ means
"elder sister"). _adik_ "younger sibling",etc. The use
is not restricted to the actual relatives indicated by
the literal meaning of the terms, but to anyone with
respective gender and age (or social) contrast. Thus,
for the above conversation we would have:

 CORA: What would elder-brother say to younger-
sibling [the daughter of Munro)? MAGUA: Elder-
brother was born a chief and....

The translation would be as before. Note that "elder-
brother" means "thou"(Cora speaking) as well as "I"
(Magua speaking).

Whereas the original kinship terms are normal nouns,
they become "grammatically transformed" or are converted
into the same grammatical word class as personal
pronouns when used as such (i.e. they then share the
grammatical categories of the latter).The same thing
also happens with some titulary terms, such as
_tuan_"mister", _nyonya_ "misses", etc. except that
these can only be used for the second person (i.e. for

The feature I described above for Indonesian is rather
widespread in languages of Southeast Asia (with
variations, of course), e.g. in Vietnamese, Thai
("Siamese"), Khmer, etc. It is important that these
features do not represent prototypical stages of
development of personal pronouns, but are the result of
culturally induced sophistications of speech resulting
from the historical development of (particularly
"feudal") social stratification. Thus, the following
points are general for all the language groups and
families represented in Southeast Asia, in which
languages with the decribed features occur:(1) Words for
"normal" personal pronouns can be traced back to roots
from the proto-language of the group or family.(2)
Languages of the same group or family, spoken by
economically less developed communities, generally
exhibit lower degrees of sophistication in this respect,
and in some of these languages it is even the normal
thing to use the original personal pronouns for "I" and

Hope this gives you a rough idea about the situation in
languages of Southeast Asia on this point.
Unfortunately, grammar books and descritpions of the
respective languages are mostly rather vague with
respect to exactly this feature. But consulting native
speakers(usually not too difficult to find in a student
environment) will probably bring you a long way.

Regards, Waruno

- ------------------------------------------------------
- -------------Waruno Mahdi tel: +49
30 8413 5408Faradayweg 4-6 fax: +49 30
8413 315514195 Berlin email:


From:	IN%"" 13-OCT-1996
12:51:23.30To:	IN%"lrosenwaldWELLESLEY.EDU"CC:
	Subj:	Pronoun usage

The usage you mention is quite common in journalism in
Spain. In an interview somebody might ask: "Who is the
real Jose Perez?" To which Jose Perez might reply "He is
a man who lives life to the full and believes that .....
". I think the implication of such a usage is usually
one or both of the following:

1. Impartiality, something on the lines of "what would
an impartial observer say"

2. Sincerity and seriousness, "now let's get to the
really important questions..."

I think this may be similar to your Dole quote.


Colin Whiteley Barcelona, Spain


From:	IN%"" 13-OCT-1996
	Subj:	pronouns

Hi, Larry
	So you are back on the list.In French cartons and
comics "primitive" speakers (American Indians or
Africans) always speak and are spoken to in the third
person so there is very clearly a stereotype of the
underdeveloped language that doesn't have shifters.
These speakers are like small children who have not
learnt yet to"shift" from 1st to 2nd person. A child
called Philippe for example will say something like
"tombe Fifi" for "je suis tombe". The Dole example
would be quite the reverse and to me connotes an
inflated ego.


From:	IN%"" 13-OCT-
"Larry Rosenwald"CC:	Subj:	More stuff on
Pronoun Usage

I just noticed this yesterday, so I thought that I would
pass it on. Here in Japan, children often use their name
instead of the first person pronoun when referring to
themselves. I don't know if this happens with English
speaking children, but if it does, it gives a second
reason for using the third person, which is that the
Indian people are still immature, reflected by their
speech. Given that Cooper's book has an underlying
subtext of the'noble savage' of Rousseau, it could be.
The question is whether this is a universal of child
langauge acquisition.


Joseph Tomei

From:	IN%"" 14-OCT-1996
06:30:29.35To:	IN%"lrosenwaldWELLESLEY.EDU"CC:
	Subj:	pronouns

Hi,I happened to come across Helmut Stimm's Medium und
Reflexivkonstruktionen in Surselvischen (Bayerische
Akademie der Wissenschaften, Muenchen), which is in
German. His idea is simple, namely the following. We
observe that in languages the third person form can be
used for 2nd and 1st person and the reverse is not
found. The semantics of 1st person plural is such that
it optionally includes 2nd and 3rd person. So if you say
`we' you might also refer to the person you address, or
to a person not present (We might for instance refer to
all mankind, which will probably never be the audience
you address.)

Stimm's suggestion is that, if neutralization of pronoun
forms in the paradigm takes place, it is understandable
that the 3rd person form is neutralized, since the
semantics of third person is already optionally included
in the semantics of 1st and 2nd person. This explanation
is used by him to explain that 3rd person reflexive is
generalized to other person.

Perhaps you should also look at Noyer's MIT dissertation
(1992) and the reference to Zwicky he makes. Both argue
for the existence of a person hierarchy that may be of
some use in understanding the phenomenon you're
interested in. It's not limited to pronouns in the
languages you mentioned.

Hope to have been of any use.

Best wishes,


Olaf Koeneman **
Research Institute for Language and Speech (OTS) **
Utrecht University **
Trans 10, (room 0.22,) 3512 JK, Utrecht, Holland **
E-mail: **
Phone: +31 30 2536040

From:	IN%"" "Stavros Macrakis" 14-
OCT-1996 12:38:03.96To:
person in direct speech

The use of third person for direct address was
widespread in formal/polite European speech and if I'm
not mistaken is ubiquitous in Japanese (I'm no expert,
but my understanding is that the second-person pronouns
in Japanese are diachronically and
_perhaps_synchronically simple nouns). In English, we
have kept it only for feudal titles ("What would His
Lordship prefer?"). I don't know if current practice is
to use it for first person as well ("Her Majesty decrees
the divorce final."). In Italian, the polite second
person (Lei) is identical to the third person singular
feminine (lei),representing something like "excellency".
Particularly relevant is the French case, which is still
used today in many settings, many more than English
((waiter) "Monsieur prendra-t-il un cafe?" -- Will the
gentleman (i.e. you) have a coffee?; "Je prie monsieur
le president de remettre la question." -- I ask the
chairman (i.e. you) to table thequestion.) Using third
person for first person nowadays must, however, be
facetious: "Oui, monsieur prendra un cafe" cannot, as
far as I know, be said "straight". So one possibility
is that Cooper is calquing not Mohican, but French.

Another explanation is that pidgins _stereotypically_
collapse morphology, e.g. "John go to house yesterday".
I no nothing of any such pidgin (and perhaps Cooper
didn't either), but using this feature does evoke the
idea that they are speaking in pidgin.


From:	IN%"" 14-OCT-1996
13:09:33.37To:	IN%"lrosenwaldWELLESLEY.EDU"CC:
	Subj:	Pronouns

Dear Larry,

If I remember correctly, even the German Author Karl May
made "his" native Americans use their name instead of
pronouns. My mother would always get mad, if we as
children playing "cowboys and indians" imitated this,
because she thought it ridiculed the languages of native
Americans. She said, that they surely don't talk like
children. So for her, it had definetely a negative
connotation. I don't know if this helps you


From:	IN%"" 14-OCT-1996 15:38:09.79To:
	IN%"lrosenwaldWELLESLEY.EDU"CC:	Subj:

The term "self-mythologizing" springs readily to mind.
Also, there are languages where the formal second person
springs from the third person--the third person has an
inherent "distance from speaker" component.
Pragmatically, this might be exploited to create effects
such as high degree of authority or the attempt to
create the illustion of removal of the subjectivity of
the first person. Perhaps P. Brown and S. Levinson's
book on the cross-linguistic study of politeness would
be helpful in considering these issues. (The title
doesn't spring to mind, but I'm pretty sure it's CUP.)

Lynne Hewitt

15-OCT-1996 05:40:59.19To:
	IN%"lrosenwaldWELLESLEY.EDU"CC:	Subj:
	Pronoun usage (Linguist query)

If I remember my pre-teenage reading correctly, the
feature you mentioned from J.F. Cooper's representation
of "Native American" speech also occurs in Karl May's
"Wild West" Novels (written during the second half of
the nineteenth century, in German), i.e. the avoidance
of 1st, and also 2nd person pronouns in speech put into
the mouths of Native Americans. I'm not sure whether
this is of any help. Could it have something to do with
"distance" between speaker and addressee (compare also
the use of 3rd pl. Sie in German as a polite / formal
address form)?

I've also noticed (though I can't think of a possible
connection just yet) that 1st person / 2nd person
pronoun avoidance is a feature of "motherese", certainly
in German, and quite possibly in other languages as
well. I think here it may have to do with an instinctive
avoidance of deictic terms in favour of terms which have
specific reference, independent of context.

Best wishes,

Nicole Mueller


Dr Nicole Mueller
Centre for Language & Communication Research
University of Wales Cardiff
PO Box 94
Cardiff CF1 3XBUK
Tel: +44 1222 874000 x6324
Fax: +44 1222 874242


From:	IN%"" 15-OCT-1996
16:51:11.77To:	IN%"lrosenwaldWELLESLEY.EDU"CC:
	Subj:	Pronouns

This isn't characteristic of any Omaha-Ponca (or other
Siouan) style that I'm aware of. In general, names are
avoided, except in addressing non-relatives, or people
before crowds. First and second person (and inclusive)
and kin terms would be preferred among speech act
participants. Kinterms, ethnonyms, ranks, etc., would
be preferred with third person references.

JFC may have well have had some model in mind, not
necessarily Native American. Or he may have wished to
use something odd-sounding without using what amounted
to a pidgin.

Any Huron Magua in the time frame of the Seven Years War
would have had to have worked hard at it to avoid seeing
a European until he was 20.

John E. KoontzNIST:CAML:DCISD 887.01 (Devaney); Boulder,


From:	IN%"" "Rosa Graciela
Montes" 21-OCT-1996 09:44:08.74To:
	IN%"lrosenwaldWELLESLEY.EDU"CC:	Subj:

Re your recent query on pronoun use, or lack of it...The
phenomenon you mention is often observed in adult speech
to infants. In my data on mother-child interaction (in
Spanish) the mother continually refers to herself as "la
mama' " and to the child by her first name "Koki".

You get utterances like: " Koki, la mama' no quiere que
Koki dibuje en los libritos" ("Koki, mommy doesn't want
Koki to draw/scribble in books"). This usage gets picked
up by the child and is extended to possessives: "librito
de la mama' ", "biyito Toti".

It seems to reflect an idea by the adult that the
constantly shifting reference for first and second
person (see Benveniste and Jakobson) is difficult for
the child. This use stops when the child begins using
personal pronouns consistently.

What I'm reporting here is based on my Spanish data but
the same has been noted in mother/child interaction in
other languages esp. English.

The native/non-native interactions you mention might
respond to a similar perception of "difficulty", however
the "Bob Dole/Jack Kemp" examples seem to respond to a
different speaker strategy.

Rosa Montes, U. Puebla, MEXICO


From:	IN%"" 14-NOV-1996
	Subj:	Pronoun usage in literature


this is a late answer to your query posted on the
Linguist list last week,dealing with pronouns used by
American Indians.

I have noticed the same feature in many western movies :
usually the chiefof a tribe (or someone important), when
speaking in English to Pale Faces,uses the third person
singular (and also his name) when refering to himself.
At first, I thought this was another device used by
Hollywood to stereotype Indian speech (I especially
found this feature in classical western movies : I've
got to check which ones, and also if "pro-Indians"
movies also represent Indian speech in this way). What
is interesting is that Cooper's Indians are dwelling up
north, while the examples that I have noticed all belong
to the South-West (i.e. Comanches, Apaches,... : I have
to check the tribes concerned).

Also, this feature of Indian speech seems to be
persistent in White representations of Indians, since it
seems to begin in Cooper's books, and still can be
noticed in 20th century works about Indians.

 I've also wondered for a while if this use of third
person sg pronouns could be attributed to the native
American Indian languages : i. e. is this a prominent
feature of Amerind pronoun systems to use the third
person sg as a kind of "emphatic" pronoun ? This kind of
structure could then be projected onto the English
usage, hence the trait you have noticed inCooper's
literature. But this is just a thought, I'm not familiar
with Amerind languages and this has to be checked. This
hypothesis doesn't seem very good to me, since different
tribes use this feature in different movies, and it
would have to be assumed that in each of their
languages,the pronominal system works the same way.
That's why I'm more inclined to think that this is a
stereotypical way of depicting Indians used by White
writers and movie-makers, that has nothing to do with
reality (or does it?).

I fear all my talking will not be very useful to you,
but since this is a subject that interests me, I deliver
some remarks made on the same subject in the last few
years. I'd be happy to know if you have had other
answers,or could come up with an explanation.

Jerome Serme.
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