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The functional nature of pronominal change: innovative plural pronouns in English and Dutch

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

At least since Gillieron's seminal work on lexical change, it is well-known that language change may be motivated by factors relating to the meaning and/or function of the elements involved. In more recent times, however, such functional accounts of language change have generally met with criticism. More specifically, there is disagreement as to whether grammar really is subject to processes of homonymy avoidance. This paper discusses examples of pronominal change from English and Dutch, in which new plural forms are formed which are, historically, compounds of a traditional pronoun and an element marking plurality (e. g. you guys in English, jij lieden or jullie in Dutch). Such innovative pronouns typically emerge in contact varieties, as reinforced pronouns or calques, and they appear to spread much more easily wherever they fill a disturbing gap in the pronominal paradigm, viz. in situations of so-called 'horizontal homophony'. Thus, homonymy avoidance has played a crucial role in the processes by which innovative plural pronouns have diffused. This shows that pronominal change qualifies as a clear exception to the alleged rarity of functionally motivated change in grammar.
Journal: Neophilologus
ISSN: 0028-2677
Issue: 1
Volume: 95
Pages: 1 - 26
Publication year:2011