Volume 42, Issue 4
  • ISSN 0378-4177
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9978
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In this article, we examine and compare the main human impersonal pronouns in Afrikaans, Dutch and English. The second person singular, the third person plural and the ‘man’- and ‘one’-pronouns are studied by means of an acceptability judgment questionnaire and a completion questionnaire. The combination of the two methods reveals interesting descriptive facts about the three West Germanic languages. They include, among other things, the ‘man’-prominence of Afrikaans versus the ‘you’-prominence of Dutch and English for expressing the universal meaning ‘anyone’ and the more prominent position of ‘they’ in Dutch than in the other languages for conveying the existential meaning ‘someone, some people’. Our findings have a number of more theoretical implications too. The two existing semantic maps for human impersonal pronouns make different distinctions in the existential domain, based on type/level of (un)knownness on the one hand and number on the other. Our study tests both sets of distinctions and shows that the two dimensions interact with each other in Afrikaans, Dutch and English. The results thus support a recent proposal in the literature for a combined semantic map. The data from the completion questionnaire, finally, also indicates that existential uses prefer alternative forms of impersonalization to human impersonal pronouns in all three languages.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): acceptability; Afrikaans; completion; Dutch; English; impersonal pronoun; questionnaire; semantic map
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