Article published in:Historical Linguistics 2007: Selected papers from the 18th International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Montreal, 6–11 August 2007
Edited by Monique Dufresne, Fernande Dupuis and Etleva Vocaj
[Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 308] 2009
► pp. 223–232
Change of functions of the first person pronouns in Chinese
In Classical Chinese, there were four first person pronouns: wu2, wo3, yu2, yu3, and a zero-pronoun1 with the following functions: wu2 was the default marking the speaker; wo3 coded contrast between the speaker and others; yu3 was used when talking about the speaker in connection with heaven, kings, or death; yu2 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,2 only wo3 and the zero pronoun are in use. Yu3 has been lost because the domains in which it was used are no longer taboo. Yu2 exists only in modern artists’ speech. Wo3 is retained as the default, while wo3 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.
Published online: 30 November 2009