Pragmatic relativity: Gender and context affect the use of personal pronouns in discourse differentially across languages


Speakers use differential referring expressions in pragmatically appropriate ways to produce coherent narratives. Languages, however, differ in a) whether REs as arguments can be dropped and b) whether personal pronouns encode gender. We examine two languages that differ from each other in these two aspects and ask whether the co-reference context and the gender encoding options affect the use of REs differentially. We elicited narratives from Dutch and Turkish speakers about two types of three-person events, one including people of the same and the other of mixed-gender. Speakers re-introduced referents into the discourse with fuller forms (NPs) and maintained them with reduced forms (overt or null pronoun). Turkish speakers used pronouns mainly to mark emphasis and only Dutch speakers used pronouns differentially across the two types of videos. We argue that linguistic possibilities available in languages tune speakers into taking different principles into account to produce pragmatically coherent narratives.

Back to Table of Contents