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Let's talk about you and me1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 December 2014

Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Author's address:Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Department for English Philology, Käte-Hamburger-Weg 3, 37073, Göttingen,


A recent development in Dutch concerns the deictic interpretation of the second-person singular pronoun je, which may refer to the speaker only. In such examples the subject refers to the speaker – not the hearer – but at the same time, these examples come along with an implicature stating that the hearer would have done the same thing if s/he were in the speaker's situation. Why is it the case that a second-person singular pronoun may refer to the speaker only? And why is it that when speaker-referring je is used, it always comes along with an implicature of the kind described above? In this article I argue that this behavior of Dutch je is a consequence of its semantically unmarked status with respect to the first-person singular pronoun ik. Along the lines of Sauerland (2008), I propose that Dutch je only carries one feature, [PARTICIPANT], whereas ik carries two features: [SPEAKER] and [PARTICIPANT]. Consequently, je may in principle refer to all participants in the conversation, enabling je to refer to the speaker as well. The fact that je does not normally refer to the speaker but to the hearer only then follows as some kind of blocking effect resulting from application of the principle of Maximize Presupposition. The paper concludes by spelling out the predictions that this analysis makes for the cross-linguistic variation with respect to the readings that participant and other pronouns may yield.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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Earlier versions of this work have been presented at the workshop on Markedness and Underspecification in the Morphology and Semantics of Agreement (Harvard), the 18th International Conference on Linguistics (Seoul), the workshop ‘Between you and me’: Local Pronouns across Modalities (RU Nijmegen), and the workshop Pronouns and Perspective in Language and Literature (NIAS, Wassenaar). I am much indebted to Suzanne Aalberse, Regine Eckardt, Rachael Garcia, Sabine Iatridou, Marije Michel, Sarah Zobel, and three anonymous Journal of Linguistics referees for valuable comments and help. All errors, of course, are mine.



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