LINGUIST List 26.3838

Mon Aug 31 2015

Confs: Semantics, Typology/Germany

Editor for this issue: Anna White <>

Date: 29-Aug-2015
From: Volker Gast <>
Subject: Impersonals in Comparative Perspective
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Impersonals in Comparative Perspective

Date: 09-Sep-2015 - 09-Sep-2015
Location: Jena, Germany
Contact: Volker Gast
Contact Email: < click here to access email >
Meeting URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Semantics; Typology

Meeting Description:

The workshop deals with impersonals such as Germanic 'man'-pronouns, impersonal middles and impersonally used pronouns (e.g. third personal plurals) in comparative perspective.

Human impersonal pronouns such as German and Norwegian man (e.g. Man lebt nur einmal, Man lever bare en gang. 'One only lives once') pose a number of challenges to descriptive linguistics as well as contemporary syntactic and semantic theories. They generalize over (sets of) human referents and background the argument position that they fill, thus having a semantic effect similar to that of relevant operations on argument structure like impersonal passives (e.g. Ge. Es wurde getanzt 'People danced') and impersonal middles (e.g. Sp. Se habla español 'Spanish spoken'). A subset of the human impersonal pronouns can be interpreted more or less like existential indefinite pronouns such as Sp. alguien and Ge. jemand, though they differ systematically from the latter in their semantic and syntactic properties.

In a bilateral cooperation project (ANR/DFG) on impersonals, we have investigated the syntactic and semantic properties of human impersonal pronouns such as Ge. man and Engl. one and compared them with impersonal uses of second person singular (tu/du/you) and third person plural pronouns (ils/sie/they), or the corresponding forms of verbs (e.g. Russian Zhiveš' tol'ko raz 'One only lives once', V Gollandii často provodât vystavki cvetov 'They often hold flower exhibitions in Holland'). The project combines a crosslinguistic overview with detailed semantic and syntactic investigations to bridge the gap between accurate empirical research and contemporary theorizing in the domain of impersonals. More generally, the project aims to make a contribution to our understanding of the interaction between lexically and grammatically encoded information on the one hand, and information contributed by the context, on the other.

In this workshop we aim to present some of our results and discuss recent developments in the analysis of R-impersonals with international specialists working on this domain.

Venue: Friedrich-Schiller-University of Jena


Project on Towards a typology of human impersonal pronouns, jointly funded by the ANR and the DFG.

- Volker Gast
- Patricia Cabredo Hofherr

Page Updated: 31-Aug-2015