Change of functions of the first person pronouns in Chinese

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In Classical Chinese, there were four first person pronouns: <i>wu2, wo3, yu2, yu3,</i> and a zero-pronoun<sup>1</sup> with the following functions: <i>wu2</i> was the default marking the speaker; <i>wo3</i> coded contrast between the speaker and others; <i>yu3</i> was used when talking about the speaker in connection with heaven, kings, or death; <i>yu2</i> was used exclusively by kings and by speakers with high social status. The zero pronoun is primarily used in the second situation. Various social changes have motivated the reduction of pronouns. In Mandarin,<sup>2</sup> only <i>wo3</i> and the zero pronoun are in use. <i>Yu3</i> has been lost because the domains in which it was used are no longer taboo. <i>Yu2</i> exists only in modern artists&#8217; speech. <i>Wo3</i> is retained as the default, while <i>wo3</i> with a longer vowel and full fall-rise tone codes contrastive function. The zero pronoun is also retained. The findings imply that the lack of functional motivation for a form leads to its loss.


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