The Interactional Structure of Nominals: An Investigation of Paranouns

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Pronouns are often thought to be a uniform syntactic class both inside and outside of linguistics. Despite this, comparing languages like Japanese and English reveals striking differences between their pronoun paradigms. English pronouns express contrasting sets of person, number, and gender features (i.e., phi-features), but Japanese pronouns encode far more content like the relative age, gender, and social status of the speaker, addressee, and other referents. Ritter & Wiltschko (2019) propose that the Japanese and Korean so-called pronouns are actually a different type of nominal called paranouns. This thesis takes Ritter & Wiltschko’s conceptual description of paranouns and develops a set of explicit diagnostics for distinguishing pronouns and paranouns and tests a sample of six East and Southeast Asian languages whose so-called pronouns have similar properties to those of Japanese and Korean (namely: Burmese, Khmer, Thai, Vietnamese, Lao, and Malay/Indonesian). It also tests the broader syntactic distribution of paranouns in the context of binding theory. This thesis concludes that five of the six languages tested have paranouns rather than pronouns while one language, Malay/Indonesian, appears to be transitioning from having pronouns to having paranouns. It also determines that the binding theoretic properties of paranouns are distinct from those of pronouns.
Linguistics, Syntax, Pronouns, Japanese, Korean, Burmese, Indonesian, Malay, Thai, Vietnamese, Lao, Nominals, Binding theory, Paranouns
McDonald, B. (2021). The Interactional Structure of Nominals: An Investigation of Paranouns (Master's thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from