A pragmatic analysis of german impersonally used first person singular ‘ICH’

Sarah Zobel

Abstract

The German first and second person singular pronouns ich and du allow for a referential use and an impersonal use. In their impersonal use, both pronouns behave like the impersonal pronoun man (Engl. one) in generic sentences. I argue that the aspect of impersonally used singular personal pronouns that distinguishes them (i) from each other, (ii) from impersonal pronouns, and (iii) from “ordinary” generic sentences is their pragmatic effects. The semantic contribution of the three pronouns and their containing utterances is discussed before a comparative analysis of the pragmatic effects of impersonally used ich and du and impersonal man is given. The analyses are illustrated with naturally occurring data from a self-compiled data collection. Turning to a more practical topic in the second part of the paper, I discuss a methodological issue regarding corpus-based analyses of low-frequency phenomena, such as impersonally used ich in the second part of this paper by reporting a small-scale corpus study.

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