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Impersonal pronouns

During initial standardisation, Afrikaans lost its inherited Dutch human impersonal pronoun men human. In its place, a new impersonal pronoun developed from the current noun for human, namely ('n) mens (a) human. In its use as pronoun, it can occur with the indefinite article (1a) or without it (1b). The otherwise second person singular pronoun jy/jou you.SG can be used in similar ways (1c).

a. Dit is 'n teks wat 'n mens inkatrol.
it be.PRS a text that.REL a human in.reel
It is a text that reels you in.
b. Hoe kan mens die diens kry?
how can.AUX.MOD human the service get
How can one get the service?
c. Jy kan komplikasies kry van seisoenale griep – en baie mense gaan inderdaad jaarliks daaraan dood.
you.SG can.AUX.MOD complications get from seasonal flu and many people go indeed yearly PN.on dead
You can develop complications from seasonal flu – and many people actually die from it every year.

Another pronoun that can be used in impersonal contexts is the otherwise third person plural hulle they/them as in (2).

U weet dat hulle sê kennis is mag.
you.HON know that.COMP they say knowledge be.PRS power
You know they say that knowledge is power.
[+]Human impersonal pronouns in universal contexts

Human impersonal pronouns, or HIPs, are pronominal expressions of impersonalisation. There are different types of impersonal contexts and uses where HIPs are employed. The first type is universal contexts, where the speaker makes a general statement that can, in principle, apply to everyone relevant to the context and could potentially include the speaker as well (Van Olmen & Breed 2018: 2). In (3a), the context refers to people in London who have a bond with South Africa. In this example, the more grammaticalised variant of ('n) mens (a) human is used, namely without the indefinite article (a remnant from the origin of the pronoun as a NP). In (3b), the variant with the article is used. This impersonal pronoun is a frequent choice for universal contexts. The other pronoun used as a HIP in universal contexts is the otherwise second person singular jy/jou you.SG, as illustrated in (3c). In universal contexts that specifically excludes the speaker, the otherwise third person plural hulle they/them is used (3d).

a. Maar hier in London gryp mens na enige iets wat net ruik na Suid-Afrikaans.
but here in London grasp people to any something that.REL just smell to South-African
But here in London you grasp at anything that even smells South African.
b. Dit maak 'n mens bekommerd!
it make a human worried
It makes one worried!
c. Jy het die reg om inligting te ontvang en ingelig te word oor alle relevante dienste wat diensverskaffers aan jou kan lewer.
you.SG have.PRS the right for.COMP information PTCL.INF receive.INF and inform.PASS PTCL.INF be.AUX.PASS.PRS about all relevant services that.REL serviceproviders to you.SG can.AUX.MOD supply
You have the right to receive information and be informed about all relevant services that service providers can provide you with.
d. In Europa gee hulle nie om hoe rugby gespeel word nie.
in Europe give they not PREP.PTCL how rugby play.PASS be.AUX.PASS.PST PTCL.NEG
In Europe they do not really care how rugby is played.

The HIP('n) mens (a) human is typically used in the subject position of the sentence, and for reflexives (4a) and possessive uses (4b), jou or when applicable jouself yourself (4c) are used. Sometimes, ('n) mens is found in an object use or PP (4d). In a complex clause, rather than repeating ('n) mens as a subject, typically jy you.SG is used, as can be seen in (4c) and (4d). However, instances of mensself also occur (4e), if infrequently in written language.

a. Maar dit voel of mens jou teen 'n muur vas loop hier.
but it feel if human you.SG against a wall against walk here
But it feels like you hit a wall here.
b. Maar hoe verklaar 'n mens jou sesde sintuig of intuïsie?
but how explain a human your.SG sixth sense or intuition
But how do you explain your sixth sense or intuition?
c. In enige krisissituasie vra 'n mens jouself af watter bydrae jy tot die krisis gelewer het.
in any crisis.situation ask a human yourself.SG off what contribution you.SG to the crisis make.PST have.AUX
In any crisis situation, one asks oneself what you contributed to the crisis.
d. Maar daar ís die seldsame kere wanneer 'n wonderbaarlike wending of beeld vanuit die niet op 'n mens afpyl, en jy dink: Hemel, waar kom dít nou vandaan?
but there be.PRS the rare times when a wonderful turn or image from the nothingness on a human to.run and you.SG think heaven where come it now from
But there are the rare cases when a wonderful turn of events or image heads your way from nowhere, and you think: Good heavens, where is this coming from?
e. Dalk lag mens die heel hardste vir mensself.
maybe laugh human the most hardest for human.self
Maybe one laughs the hardest at oneself.
[+]Human impersonal pronouns in existential contexts

The other type of impersonal context that employs HIPs is existential contexts. Existential contexts are used when a speaker wants to make a statement about a particular person or group, but they do not want to specifically identify or cannot identify the person or group (Van Olmen & Breed 2018: 8). The only HIP used in these existential contexts is hulle they/them. One particular use is with a speech act verb (5a), but there are other contexts as well. In (5b) is the the corporate or definite use, where the person or group can be deduced from the predicate to some extent. Other contexts are illustrated in (5c-e).

a. Maar soos hulle sê: "Mens stry seker nie oor mooi en lekker nie."
but as they say human argue probably not about beautiful and nice PTCL.NEG
But as they say: "You don't argue about beaty and good things."
b. Hy sê toe, nee, dit lyk vir hom, hulle neem nou die skaap- en bokgeblêr op band en dan verkoop hulle dit vir rock en rollmusiek.
he say then no it look for him they take now the sheep and goat.bleating on tape and then sell they it for rock and roll.music
He then said, no, it looks to him like they record the sheep and goat bleating on tape and then they sell it as rock and roll music.
c. Hulle het jou rekenaar gevat.
they have.AUX your.SG computer take.PST
They took your computer.
d. Raaltjie sê dat sy na die radio sal luister as hulle dit uitsaai.
Raaltjie say that.COMP she to the radio will.AUX.MOD listen if they it broadcast
Raaltjie says that she will listen to the radio when they broadcast it.
e. Hulle het springmielies hierbinne gemaak.
they have.AUX popcorn here.in make.PST
They made popcorn in here.
Van Olmen & Breed (2018: 13)
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