Or, what’s in a name?
A recent visitor was looking for information about pronouns in Sicilian, a subject which gets very few hits via Google, although there seems to be some information out there. I was tempted to give a brief outline of the matter, but Bonner’s (2001:80, 81) section on indefinite pronouns is not only long, but also complicated. Take the following sentences, for example.
Are anticchia and assai really pronouns? They’re really behaving like adverbs. However, consider the the phrase “every day” in the following sentence:
In the old parlance, “every day” is a noun phrase (NP), but it has an adverbial function. Therefore, the pronouns above are still pronouns, but have an adverbial function in those sentences. I might conclude that a pronoun is a very compact NP which is, therefore, likely to have the same sort of functions as NPs of the more familiar kind.
But just to play around with language a little, I’d expect that if you asked someone with a modest amount of linguistic knowledge what a pronoun is, they might split the word into pro+noun and paraphrase it as “something that stands for a noun”. (All right, in my mind that seems to be a reasonable hypothesis.) But in English we say
The pronoun replaces “the man”, and not just “man” alone. I can’t say *The he was reading the paper, although there might be a language in which that’s possible. In other words, pronouns don’t stand for nouns alone, but rather the whole phrase starting with the determiner.
Suddenly, it seems, pronouns should probably be lumped together with determiners and shouldn’t even be regarded as a distinct word class. After all, the number of pronouns which can’t function as specifiers is probably quite small; and vice versa.
Getting back to Sicilian, what might we say about anticchia when it’s used in conjunction with some noun?
At least in languages like Sicilian, there are certain specifiers which can’t take complements directly. It may be a historical thing. In English, I’d say a lot (of) is really a quantifier, but because it’s derived from a noun, it still demands what is required by one noun when joined with another. But in the example above, a little in English modifies the noun without any intervening element, although the language isn’t as big on partitives as the Romance languages are.
I assume I’m not the first person (well, really I am the 1st person, but that’s another matter) to come to this conclusion. If you’re a member of Save the Pronoun, you should blame the person who was looking for pronouns in Sicilian and got me thinking about all this.
1. I’m racking my brains to think of any unequivocal examples. Even (some) personal pronouns can be used as specifiers (e.g. You robots are a bunch of idiots; We robots aren’t going to tolerate you anti-robotism any longer). Perhaps the relative pronoun who and certain indefinite pronouns such as anyone, someone, somebody etc. But this latter set isn’t that surprising since they’re derived from compounds. You can’t, of course, say *some body woman because the position containing a noun is already occupied. I suppose “body woman” is a potential compound, but can’t think what it might mean.
2. The articles a(n) and the instantly spring to mind, followed by every. I suppose the possessive specifiers (not forgetting that his goes both ways because the two forms are identical) fall into this group. I’ll leave the business of classifying these things to those who really care.