Personal pronouns in linguistics and stylistics

full name / name of organization: 
Sandrine Sorlin & Laure Gardelle
contact email: 
sandrine.sorlin@univ-montp3.fr

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International Conference
École Normale Supérieure de Lyon (Lyon, France)
3-4 April 2014

‘Personal pronouns in linguistics and stylistics’

Organized by Laure Gardelle (ENS de Lyon, UMR ICAR) and Sandrine Sorlin (EMMA, Institut Universitaire de France)

The aim of this conference is to bring together a cross-section of recent research on personal pronouns in linguistics and stylistics. In the past twenty years or so these functional words, which used to be regarded as mere ‘short-hand devices’ substituting for a noun phrase, have been shown to be central to a number of complex domains, as illustrated by cross-linguistic studies on such topics as agreement (e.g. Corbett 1991, 2000 for gender and number, Siewierska 2004 for person), pronoun typology (Bhat 2004) or pronominal anaphora (e.g. Ariel 1990, Gundel et al. 1993, Huang 1994). Personal pronouns have also been studied more sporadically in Critical Discourse Analysis and literary stylistics with a focus on the construction of subjectivities and addressees.
Contributions bearing on a variety of languages are welcome. For linguistics, topics of interest will include the syntax and functional role of pronouns (anaphoric islands, dummies, pronouns in idioms, clitics, constraints on deflexive pronouns and so on), language acquisition (e.g. of the first-person pronoun), typologies (e.g. on what grounds should all ‘personal pronouns’ be made part of the same paradigm?) or comparisons between so-called standard varieties and dialects. Evolutions in diachrony will also be of particular interest, whether for one given language (e.g. natural evolutions of the paradigm of personal pronouns in English, planned reforms in Mandarin Chinese) or in a cross-linguistic perspective – for instance, Corbett 1991 shows that gendered pronouns are pivotal to the evolution of gender agreement patterns. Another central point is the contents of pronouns: what exactly do they encode? Grammatical categories such as gender and number can be studied in relation to their linguistic features (for instance, number has been shown to prevail over gender) as well as, where relevant, to the view of the world they encode. Contributions on pronominal anaphora, both in syntax and pragmatics, will also be welcome, including constraints on syntactic or semantic agreement with hybrid nouns (such as German das Mädchen) or comparisons between personal pronouns and other anaphors (e.g. ellipses, whether constrained or optional, or full NPs).
In stylistics and pragmatics, one area of interest will be that of gender studies. For instance, how can speakers refer indifferently to males and females when the language does not have an epicene pronoun? Have gender-fair guidelines managed to eradicate sexism in language? In literature, how do personal pronouns fit in the range of stylistic means used by some authors (e.g. Winterson, Wittig) to transcend the male/female distinction?
In literary works, one area of interest could be the use of pronouns when referring to characters. Is it a means to convey familiarity or on the contrary a way of drawing attention away from them’? (see Toolan 1990 and his analysis of pronouns in Faulkner’s work). What are the effects conveyed in terms of empathy and antipathy towards a character? Another interesting domain could be that of in medias res beginnings in which pronouns are preferred over full NPs: what is the overall narratorial aim of such a strategy? Pathos? Suspense? Finally, while first and third-person narratives are the most common types, narration in the second person has appeared in the past decades. One question is, what do they convey that the traditional narratives do not? Do they occupy a position between first and third person narratives (Fludernik 1996)? Besides, second-person narration can sometimes alternate with other pronominal forms within the same novel: what effect does this modulation have in the narrative? Does it generate ironical or humourous effects? Are there narratives in the first person plural? Finally the study of pronouns in (Free) Indirect Speech/Thought would be particularly interesting in a stylistic perspective as such discourse tends to favour pronoun alternation.
As for public discourse, pronouns are pivotal to the construction of speakers and addressees. Resorting to the second person plural is sometimes a means to construct a collective ethos (Amossy 2010) or, in political speeches, to play down divisions (Fairclough 2000). It would be interesting to study further in what way personal pronouns can acquire ideological significance. Besides, if pronouns are a way to convey (or conceal) subjectivity, is the absence of personal pronouns a token of objectivity? Can scientific discourse be said to be 'impersonal' for instance? Advertising, too, resorts to personal pronouns, especially in the second person, exploiting the ambiguity between direct address and generic reference (Bonhomme & Adam 2012): in what way can pronouns be said to 'construct' the consumer?
Finally in conversational analysis, one specific issue is the pragmatic use of a given pronoun to mean another, as when a speaker addresses someone using the third person, for example ‘comment elle va?’ (‘how is she?’) to mean ‘comment tu vas?’ (‘how are you?’) in French. Are there any constraints on such uses? The socio-pragmatics of pronouns is also central, as the social distance or proximity between speakers needs to be taken into account. What different means do languages resort to? In the case of extreme politeness, to what extent do impersonal pronouns avoid face-threatening acts? Conversely in what cases are impersonal pronouns deemed impolite?

Keynote speakers:
Catherine Emmott (University of Glasgow)
Katie Wales (University of Nottingham)

Advisory Board:
Marc Bonhomme (Universität Bern)
Pierre Cotte (Université Paris 4-Sorbonne)
Monique de Mattia-Viviès (Aix-Marseille Université)
Aliyah Morgenstern (Université Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle)
John Payne (University of Manchester)
Sylviane Rémi-Giraud (Université Lumière Lyon 2)
Wilfrid Rotgé (Université Paris 4-Sorbonne)
Horst Simon (Freie Universität Berlin)
Michael Toolan (University of Birmingham)
Nathalie Vincent-Arnaud (Université de Toulouse 2)

Deadline for submission: July 10 2013
Notification of acceptance: September 10 2013
Proposals of around 300 words to be sent to both Laure Gardelle (laure.gardelle@ens-lyon.fr) and Sandrine Sorlin (sandrine.sorlin@univ-montp3.fr)
Language of the conference: English or French
Selected papers will be considered for publication (in English).

cfp categories: 
interdisciplinary
international_conferences