In describing most languages we can gloss the personal pronouns with English pronouns such as "I," "you," "he," and "we." However, it's not possible to do this with all languages. For example, in many languages, the third person singular pronoun is epicine. Other languages have third person pronouns that convey information about spatial deixis or animacy. Hence glosses such as "s/he/it.ANIMATE.DISTAL," "it.INANIMATE.PROXIMAL," and so on. While glosses like these are possible, they are also a bit clunky and Anglocentric. Would glosses such as the following be acceptable?





or is there a more common way?

I want to avoid using just 1, 2, 3, 3ANIM.PROX because they may resemble glosses for verbal inflections too closely, even if they are easier to read.

Any suggestions would be appreciated!

  • 1
    There's all kinds of ways, and you can abbreviate them as you like -- provided people understand and you're consistent. E.g, 1s, 1p excl/incl, 1s informal/polite, 2s young/unmarked/respectful, etc/
    – jlawler
    Jul 14 '15 at 16:24

I don't understand what would make such a gloss "Anglocentric", especially since "proximal" and "animate" are Latinate terms. I only partially understand "clunky".

You have to distinguish between translations of linguistic material (into English, or whatever language you are writing in), and word/morpheme glosses. A translation would not be "Ego.nominative see.recent-past non-ego--discourse-participant.accusative", it would be an idiomatic English sentence like "I saw you".

The morpheme gloss would be the place for such subtleties. To be useful, such glosses need to be compact (few letters), which usually means abbreviated (which implies a table of abbreviations). If the language has polymorphemic pronouns with independent elements separately marking "animate" vs. "inanimate", "proximal" versus "distal", "visible" vs. "referential" which allows 8 distinct pronoun forms, then abbreviations like "an./inan.", "prox./dist.", "vis./ref." might work. A gloss like "3per.ANIM.PROX" implies that there are three separate morphemes with isolable grammatical functions, and I don't know if that is what you mean.

Sometimes there is a simple split in 3rd person forms between e.g. "animate singular proximal" and "others", where one class has some semantic property but the other is of the category "anything else". A morpheme/word gloss is not the correct place for a discussion of semantic distinctions, and in such a case, you would be better off using an arbitrary distinction "A" vs. "B", where you explain in the relevant section on word classes that A words are all animate singular proximal, and anything else is B.


First of all, lexical items should be glossed as words. That is, you just can't gloss the word meaning he as "3", "3p.MSg", or anything like that. It is "he". All the other stuff is for grammatical markers (e.g., agreement inflection, as you point out).

Second, in languages where gender differences are collapsed in pronouns, there's a good chance that the third person personal pronoun is a demonstrative. Look into this. A gloss like "that" would be you best choice in this case.

Finally, it is good practice to follow Leipzig glossing rules when in doubt.

  • Thanks for the tip - the third person pronoun is not a demonstrative in this language that's for sure. So that leaves me with the he/she/it gloss, which seems kind of bulky. I could just choose one or another in the translation, depending on the context, but it seems to risky to put simply "he" or "she" in the gloss.
    – Teusz
    Jul 15 '15 at 5:49

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