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6.1 Strong and weak pronouns

Subject and non-subject pronouns are distinguished and listed on the basis of their person, number and gender features. Non-subject pronouns are used in all positions where subject pronouns cannot be used, such as the object position of prepositional complements. The following table presents an overview of the paradigm of the subject and non-subject pronouns, strong and weak:

Table 1
1SG Iek ‘k mie
2SG Du de die
3SG MSC Hie er him (e)ne
3SG FEM Ju ze hier ju / ze
3SG NTR Dät ‘t dät ‘t
1PL Wie we uus
2PL Jie jou
3PL Jo ze (do) him ze (do)
REV (=2 PL) Jie Jou
ARB (=3SG) man me (aan)

The basic pronouns discussed here compete with the definite (demonstrative) article used without a following NP. Possibly the definite article used by itself involves topic and focus, information structure, in a way that is different from basic pronouns, although any reference to ‘information structure’ is much like putting a name on a number of unsolved problems. Hence this is a theme for further investigation, not only for Saterland Frisian but for all West Germanic languages, except English, as English lacks topic pronouns.


Instead of referring to the pronouns as subject and non-subject pronouns, we may also refer to them as nominative and non-nominative pronouns. Non-nominative pronouns are also called oblique pronouns. The terms nominative and non-nominative refer to pronouns on the basis of the case they have. But not all languages have case, whereas all languages have the distinction between subject and non-subject. Hence we prefer the use of the terms subject and non-subject, though nothing hinges on this in the case of Saterland Frisian.

The pronouns discussed here are often referred to as personal pronouns to distinguish them, for example, from demonstrative pronouns. Nevertheless, personal pronouns is a misnomer since personal pronouns may refer to non-persons. Hence we will occasionally refer to these pronouns as basic pronouns or ordinary pronouns.

The distinction between strong and weak pronouns is based on criteria which are not hard and fast by themselves, but which taken together suggest that it is real nevertheless. Thus strong and weak pronouns may differ phonologically, semantically and syntactically from each other. Phonologically, the weak pronoun is reduced when compared to the strong pronoun. If the weak pronoun is different alltogether from its corresponding strong pronoun, then the weak pronoun tends to be shorter, and it tends to contain a weak (unstressed, default) vowel: this is clear from the table above, in which all weak pronouns either feature the default vowel or lack a vowel alltogether. In Saterland Frisian, the unstressed schwa is characteristic of weak pronouns.

Semantically, the full pronoun may be restricted to persons whereas the weak pronoun is not thus restricted. Syntactically, the weak pronoun must be found in a designated position, in which it is structurally and linearly adjacent to a designated head such as the subordinate complementiser, the verb or an adposition governed by the verb. As a result, weak pronouns are banned from positions such as a position inside a coordination or disjunction, as shows below:

Mien Mon un iek / * ‘k.
my man and I / * I
My man and I.

Furthermore, weak pronouns are also banned from any position in which a modifier separates the weak pronoun from its governing head. Likewise they are banned from positions to which topics or focus elements are preposed, see Cardinaletti & Starke (1996). This correlates with the fact that weak pronouns tends to be unstressed. Thus weak forms are found adjacent to verbs, complementisers and verbal prepositions. Some examples are given below, in which the governing head and the weak pronoun are set in bold:

Wieruum toankste?
why think.you
Why do you think so?
Moake dät de wächkumst!
make that you away.comes
See to it that you go away!
Do is er waigeen.
then is he away.gone
Then he went away.
Iek wiste al, dat er dät meende.
I knew already that he it meant
I already knew he meant it.
Dät kwede ze.
that say they
That’s what they say.

Following waas ‘was’ and is ‘is’, the weak pronoun er appears as der (just as in West Frisian).

Un deer is-der [ɪzdər] feruunglükt.
and there is-he crashed
And there he had an accident.’
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