Edited by Laure Gardelle and Sandrine Sorlin
[Studies in Language Companion Series 171] 2015
► pp. 311–334
Chapter 15. Impersonal uses of the second person singular and generalized empathy
An exploratory corpus study of English, German and Russian
Second person forms of pronouns (e.g. Engl. you, Germ. du) or verbs (e.g. Russian pišeš ‘you write’) have a basically deictic function and refer to the addressee. In uses that have been called “impersonal” or “non-canonical”, the second person forms are used in a generalizing way (e.g. You only live once), often in combination with predicates that are not literally true of the addressee (e.g. As the Pope you have to be righteous, said by the Pope to a reporter). In this contribution we pursue two main goals. First, we propose a taxonomy of non-canonical uses of the second person as a frame of reference for future, especially quantitative, studies. Our second goal is to determine the pragmatic (non-truth-conditional) interpretive effects of impersonal uses of the second person. We argue that all instances of such forms imply, at an interactional level, the establishment of solidarity between the interlocutors, and at an expressive level, the presence of empathy with the members of the category over which a generalization is made. Accordingly, we propose the term “generalized empathy” as the main function of the relevant uses of the second person.
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