Human impersonal pronouns in Afrikaans:A double questionnaire-based study

Van Olmen, Daniel and Breed, Adri (2018) Human impersonal pronouns in Afrikaans:A double questionnaire-based study. Language Sciences, 69. pp. 1-29. ISSN 0388-0001

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This paper is the first in-depth study of the main human impersonal pronouns in Afrikaans: jy ‘you’, (’n) mens ‘(a) human’ and hulle ‘they’. It adopts a double questionnaire approach, consisting of an acceptability judgment task for one group of participants and a completion task for another group. On the theoretical side, we test the different dimensions proposed in two of the most recent semantic maps of human impersonal pronouns. The first map features vague, inferred and specific existential uses, which vary in the kind/degree of (un-)knownness. The second one distinguishes existential contexts that only allow a plural interpretation from existential contexts that are neutral with respect to number. The results of our questionnaires indicate not only that the dimensions of number and (un)knownness involve gradual instead of categorical distinctions but also that they interact with one another, with decreasing acceptability and usage of hulle along both of them. More generally, the completion task data suggest that human impersonal pronouns are not the preferred strategy for impersonalization in existential contexts anyway. On the descriptive side, we show that Afrikaans has a division of labor between (’n) mens and jy on the one hand and hulle on the other. The former are restricted to universal-internal uses, the latter to universal-external, speech act verb and existential ones. The data also reveal that speakers may consider the less grammaticalized form ’n mens more acceptable but that they tend to employ more grammaticalized mens. It thus attests to the usefulness of combining the two types of questionnaire.

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Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Language Sciences
Additional Information:
This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Language Sciences. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Language Sciences, 69, 2018 DOI: 10.1016/j.langsci.2018.05.002
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Deposited On:
04 May 2018 10:30
Last Modified:
20 Sep 2023 01:11