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Personal Pronouns: Variation and Ambiguity

Nuria Hernández


Personal pronouns are vague and highly versatile. In addition to their canonical functions as deictics and anaphors, they can be used to express meanings that go beyond morphosyntactic mapping and feature matching. Potential ambiguity is minimised by a variety of syntactic and extra-syntactic means, including the conversational context. Disambiguation through categorical morphological distinctions is rarely needed. Different non-canonical uses that may theoretically result in ambiguous utterances are presented to illustrate how speakers embrace variable pronoun choice that eludes prescriptive isomorphism, for the sake of expressivity and pragmatic meaning. An ‘Avoid Ambiguity’ principle is suggested for conversation that takes account of the benefits of linguistic variability, vagueness, and the situatedness of natural talk.

Corresponding author: Nuria Hernández, Department of Anglophone Studies, Universität Duisburg-Essen, Universitätsstr. 12, 45141 Essen, Germany, E-mail:


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