Pronoun: Grammatical meaning

June 23rd, 20121:44 am


Pronoun: Grammatical meaning

Pronouns are characterized by an extremely generalizing meaning: they point out objects, entities, abstract notions and their qualities without nam­ing them. This generalizing part of speech is actualized contextually, and is deprived of any meaning outside a particular context. In other words, pro­nouns never name an object or its quality, pronouns only point them out and interpretations of this object and this quality depend entirely on a situation. The grammatical meaning of pronouns is not treated as contradictory to the grammatical meanings ascribed to other lexical parts of speech. The gram­matical meaning of pronouns is seen as an absolutely different representa­tion of the world.

Therefore, pronouns may be regarded as a specific lin­guistic unit, different from all other lexical words. As a result, some scholars believe that the pronoun is opposed to the rest of lexical words. Others, on the contrary, do not recognize pronouns as a separate part of speech, since there are no specific pronominal syntactic functions as well as grammatical categories peculiar to pronouns alone. In other words, certain classes of pro­nouns may share syntactic features and grammatical categories with nouns, adjectives and adverbs, which enables some linguists to distinguish between pronominal nouns, pronominal adjectives and pronominal adverbs. Howev­er, their opponents believe the specific lexical meaning of the pronoun to be a sufficient ground to establish pronouns as a separate part of speech. Taking into account all the above-mentioned reservations, we will support the tradi­tional point of view on pronouns as one of the classes of lexical words.

Another disputable issue is related with the borderline between the pro­noun and other parts of speech. Some linguists are inclined to tighten this borderline, whereas others are prone stretch it.

Those scholars who put first the grammatical (or rather morphologi­cal) criterion, treat exclusively declinable words as pronouns, namely per­sonal pronouns with the interrogative who, for it is only these pronouns that distinguish between cases. However, the morphological criterion, used in many Indo-European languages, may not be completely reliable for English pronouns.

The supremacy of the semantic criterion leads to the opposite tendency, i.e. to expansion of the pronominal class. For example, Jespersen suggests treating the so-called pronominal adverbs then, there, thence, when, whence and others as pronouns. Indeed, if the semantic criterion is the basis of the part-of-speech classification, then adverbial words, pointing out manner, lo­cation and time of an action (e.g. then, how, there, here, so, when, where, etc.), should be referred to pronouns. Semantically, these words have much in com­mon with demonstrative and interrogative pronouns; including these words in the class of pronouns would, however, mean ignoring the syntactic criterion.

Besides, some linguists cut down the number of pronouns in correspond­ence with lexico-grammatical classes of words substituted. Here, again, there is no unanimity, since these scholars insist on pronouns replacing only nouns (as the very term pro-noun means “instead of the noun”); their op­ponents claim that pronouns are all the words capable of replacing both the noun and the adjective.

Syntactically pronouns share their functions with the noun and the ad­jective.

Recognizing pronouns as a part of speech, it is necessary to emphasize that their main function is deixis. Pronouns take part in nomination only indirectly, pointing out a certain thing, person, quality, named before, and in doing so pronouns do not convey any new information. It is this deictic meaning that gives the ground to unite pronominal groups, diverse morpho­logically and syntactically, into a separate part of speech.