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6.2 Subject pronouns

The table of the overview of weak and strong subject and object pronouns gives rise to the following observations:

  • 2SG: Saterland Frisian does not have pro-drop like West Frisian has, that is, in declarative utterances rather than in inversion contexts, but this should be further investigated.
  • 3SG MSC: has a morphological distinction between subject and object, just as the paradigms of adjectives and determiners have, if they make agreement distinctions in the first place.
  • 3SG FEM: has a morphological distinction between subject and object only in the strong forms, not in the weak forms. The weak form for objects is homophonous to either the strong subject form or to the weak subject form.
  • 3SG NTR: is the same for subject and object, like in all modern Germanic languages.
  • REV, reverential: is used for semantic singulars and plurals, though it has the form of the 2SG PL pronoun and it triggers plural agreement on the tensed verb.

We will deal with some aspects of pronouns in the sections below.

[+]1. Reference of pronouns to persons, objects and situations

When the 3SG pronouns refer to persons, they refer to the person’s sex. But they are also used to indicate the grammatical gender of an object. Some examples are given below:

Iek häbe nu disse Lieste so ouschrieuwen as ju in't Särkenbouk stoant.
I have now this list.SG.FEM so off.written as 3SG.FEM in.the church.book stands
I copied the list just as it was written in the church book.
Die Disk is wät littik, man hie is goud.
the table.SG.MSC is what small but 3SG.MSC is good
The table is a bit small but it's good.

In case grammatical gender conflicts with sexual gender, the pronoun may refer to either sexual or grammatical gender:

Dän Wai mouten wie aal an, hied dät Wucht tou de Bräid kweden, man ju / dät hied nemens kriegen.
that way must we all in had the girl.NTR to the bride said but 3SG.FEM / 3SG.NTR had nobody gotten
We all have to go that way, the girl told the bride, but she didn't get anyone.

In the sentence above, the 3SG.NTR pronoun refers to the grammatical gender of Wucht ‘girl’, whereas the 3SG.FEM pronoun refers to sexual gender.

The strong 3SG pronoun jo ‘they’ is mostly used to refer to people. The demonstrative pronoun do ‘they’ is used for inanimate things, but it can also be used as a topic pronoun for persons:

Do Wuchtere un Wäänte fon Buuren kregen niks. Do hieden fonsäärm uk jädden mäd uus ieten.
the.PL daughters and sons of farmers got nothing they.PL had of.course also eager with us ate
The daughters and sons of farmers got nothing. Of course, they would have liked to eat with us.

It seems as if do ‘they’ begins to function as the weak form for the strong form jo ‘they’, seeing that weak forms generally may refer to things, whereas strong forms tend to be used for persons. This should be further investigated, while also taking the historical development into account.

The pronoun dät (or ‘t) can be used seemingly meaninglessly when describing a situation in general or a non-specific aspect of a situation. The weakened word 't is pronounced as [ət]. Some examples are given below:

Iek häbe ‘t mäd him uutmoaked.
I have 3.SG.NTR with him out.made
I broke up with him.
’t Waas tjuusterch in Huus.
it was dusky in house
The house was dusky inside.

The pronoun has a weak situational reference. As is clear from the translations, it shows up more often in continental Germanic languages than in English, where it is often avoided (compare the sentence above). It could even be considered as a general placeholder, or also as a cataphor (Duden, p. 836). Such a placeholder pronoun characteristically shows up in existential or presentational clauses. Some examples are given below:

Der waas eens ’n Kärel.
there was once a man
There once was a man.
Fiske wieren der fröier moor as dälich.
fishes were there earlier more than today
There were more fishes then than there are now.

The locative pronoun serves to introduce sentences with indefinite subjects in West Frisian and Dutch, and also in Saterland Frisian. In German it is the 3SG.NTR pronoun (es ‘it’) which fulfilles this functions. Nowadays the pronoun dät ‘it, that’ may also be used in this function, possibly, but not necessarily, under the influence of German. This should be further investigated.

The 1PL and 2PL pronouns can also take the suffix -ljude ‘people’. An example is given below:

Wieljude un jieljude mouten dat Jeeld apbrange.
we.people and you.people must the money up.bring
People like you and me have to pay up the money.

This phenomenon is also present, in a slightly different guise, in older West Frisian and in older Dutch.

[+]2. Agreement crunching by pronouns

With frequent verbs, the pronoun may eat into the verb’s agreement ending (also in West Frisian), indicating how close the connection between the pronoun and its governing head is. We refer to this phenomenon as agreement crunching. Some examples are given below:

Hien-we ... (= hieden we)
Had we ....
Dan kou-we / kowwe ... (= konnen we)
then can-we can-we
Then we can ...
Hä-we de Meelde wier? (= häbe we)
have-we the message again
Do we have the message again?
Wo krie-we dät dan? (= kriege we)
how get-we that then?
Hier hä-ze ze nit moor so koand. (= häbe ze)
here have-they them not more so could
Here they didn’t know them like that anymore.

The weak forms -er ‘he’ and -ze ‘she’ are used less today than they used to be. The last example shows that the weak pronoun ze can be used both for objects and subjects. They are often replaced with the corresponding strong forms hie and ju. In some old so-called wellerisms (humorous sayings), both variants can be found. Instead of ze, the demonstrative pronoun do is often found nowadays. It should be investigated whether the demonstrative pronouns also participate in agreement crunching.

Note that agreement crunching is not just a property of weak pronouns. Strong pronouns can also occur after shortened verbs, see ###Literatuur###Kramer (1982). In this respect, agreement crunching cannot be assimilated to the distinction between strong and weak pronoun, but is a different phenomenon alltogether. Note that the logical outcome of agreement crunching would be the loss of agreement alltogether, as can be found in English and in the Scandinavian languages.

[+]3. Omitting topic and subject pronouns at the beginning of the clause

An unstressed topic pronoun can be omitted at the beginning of a sentence, and so can first and second person subject pronouns. Some examples are given below, with the omitted pronoun in brackets:

(Iek) Bän al hier.
(I) am already here
I’m already here.
(Dät) Mai weze.
(that) can be
That can be the case.

The pronoun du ‘you’ (2SG) can be omitted even in inverted sentences.

(Dät) Koast (du) uus Babe fräigje.
(that) can.2SG (you) our dad ask
You can ask out dad.
Hääst (du) Tied, koast (du) dwo.
have (you) time can (you) do
If you have time, you can do it.

The last example seems to suggest that the pronoun dät ‘that’ has been omitted before dwo ‘do’. However, it is more likely that the reduced pronoun ‘t ‘that’ has been assimilated to the d- of dwo.

The pronouns du / de ‘you’ can have an arbitrary interpretation. An example is given below:

Dan kuust du gauer säddenje.
then could you faster butter.make
Then you could make butter faster.

See also: the arbitrary pronoun (6.4).

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