Chapter published in:Diachronic Corpora, Genre, and Language Change
Edited by Richard J. Whitt
[Studies in Corpus Linguistics 85] 2018
► pp. 171–194
“You can’t control a thing like that”
Genres and changes in Modern English human impersonal pronouns
While there is ample evidence showing that the impersonal use of second-person singular pronouns has increased in several languages, the recent history of impersonal you in English has not yet received much attention in the literature. The present investigation presents corpus evidence from Modern English indicating that this strategy has indeed gained in frequency, independently of changes in the general frequency of second-person pronouns and the evolution of genres. Tracing specific functions of impersonal you diachronically reveals that you simulating the hearer’s membership in the set generalized over and encoding hidden self-reference are relatively new uses, supporting the view that this impersonal strategy has undergone semantic extensions comparable to developments found in other languages.
Published online: 08 November 2018
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