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Review of  Pronouns

Reviewer: Elsi Kaiser
Book Title: Pronouns
Book Author: Darbhe Narayana Shankara Bhat
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Issue Number: 15.2243

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Date: Thu, 5 Aug 2004 20:55:59 -0400 (EDT)
From: Elsi Kaiser
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

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 monograph.

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

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,

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 languages.

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 research.

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 Estonian.

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