What do(es) you mean? the pragmatics of generic second person pronouns in modern spoken Danish

Torben Juel Jensen and Frans Gregersen


In modern Danish, the most frequently used pronoun for generic reference is man, developed from the noun man(d) ‘man’. Recently, though, the second person singular pronoun du has gained ground, in parallel to similar recent developments in other languages. A large-scale, longitudinal study of the LANCHART corpus of spoken Danish has documented a rise in the use of generic du in Copenhagen (and later in the rest of Denmark) during the period from the early 1970s, where generic du was practically non-existent, till the late 1980s where du comprised around 25% of all pronouns with generic meaning. However, recordings from the 2000s show that the use of du has peaked and is now decreasing or stabilizing at a lower level.This article focuses on intra-individual and intra-conversational variation within the LANCHART corpus with the aim of uncovering the pragmatic effect of using du instead of other generic pronouns. All passages in the recordings have been coded according to macro speech act, activity type, type of interaction and genre as well as enunciation. The results of a statistical analysis using mixed models show a number of correlations as to the use of generic du (in comparison with man), and by and large support the claim that generic du is used as a resource for construing involvement, arguably by exploiting the ambiguity of du between a generic and a specific second person meaning. These quantitative results make up the point of departure for corroborating qualitative analyses of the discourse framing of the use of generic pronouns.

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