Generic uses of the second person singular – how speakers deal with referential ambiguity and misunderstandings

Bettina Kluge

Abstract

The present contribution examines how interlocutors resolve reference problems concerning the second singular person (2sg) in ongoing conversation. Apart from its ‘normal’ reading as a term of address, generic and also speaker-referring uses have been documented and studied for a variety of languages. However, there are amazingly few documented cases of interlocutors who openly display having problems of disambiguation between forms of address and reference to a larger entity ‘anybody in this particular situation’. A sequential analysis shows that interlocutors tend not to ask for further specification of reference in a possibly ambiguous situation, most likely for face reasons: Instead, they tend to rely on contextualization in later conversational development and on all available conversational resources. Ambiguous reference that leads to misunderstandings only becomes a topic once serious conversational problems arise and the need for disambiguation becomes more important than interlocutors’ face needs.

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