January 30, 2007

Pronouns: the early days

Back in the days when men hunted and women gathered, the parts of speech were thin on the ground.  Here's a moment of discovery from Bizarro:

Ok, Oogo is stuck using "woman", having no pronoun "you".  (On other fronts: he's fine on extraction, at least within a clause, though he still doesn't have auxiliary inversion down; but we're talking about pronouns here).

What's notable here is that Oogo DOES use a pronoun -- but it's an interrogative pronoun, "what" (which is grammatically indefinite), rather than an ordinary personal pronoun (all of which are grammatically definite), like Ooga's "you" and "I".  Apparently, "pronoun" here means '(definite) personal pronoun'.

In a tradition going back (at least) to the grammarians of Latin, Pronoun (the exemplars of which are definite personal pronouns) is a part of speech distinct from Noun.  Many modern scholars -- notably Huddleston and Pullum in the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language -- dispute this (correctly, in my view), maintaining that, as far as their syntax goes, pronouns are just one of a number of somewhat idiosyncratic subtypes of the category Noun (they're similar in a number of ways to proper names).  So maybe Ooga, with her adverbial subordinate clauses and progressive aspects and past/present tense distinctions and articles, not to mention discourse markers like "here", is being somewhat unfair to Oogo: he's clearly got nouns, but maybe he just hasn't worked out all the subtypes (proper nouns, count vs. mass, collectives, etc.).

(Surely you can supply here the obvious references back to Brizendine and others on male/female differences.)  Me Tarzan, you Jane.  Why, Tarzan, I'm so delighted that you and I could meet!

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at January 30, 2007 08:42 PM