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I've read in a number of places (e.g. Wikipedia) that Proto-Indo-European had first and second-person personal pronouns, but no third-person pronouns. Instead, a system of anaphoric demonstrative pronouns, ancestors of English third-person he/she/it, were used instead.

My question, then, is what methodology can be used to determine whether a set of pronouns are third-person personal pronouns or anaphoric demonstratives?

  • My first guess would be that they are demonstrative pronouns if you can also use then adjectivally, i.e. modifying a noun, which is normally not possible with true personal pronouns. – Cerberus May 25 '13 at 21:08
  • Which I guess produces a second question: is it common for languages to allow you to use demonstratives both as pronouns and adjectives, as in English, or is that more of an anomaly? – Justin Olbrantz May 25 '13 at 21:55
  • It's common among the Indo-European languages: English that v. that house = Dutch dat v. dat huis = German das v. das Haus = Italian questa v. questa casa = Latin haec v. haec domus = Greek houtos v. houtos oikos. The underlying reason is that adjectives and noun have always been interchangeable to some degree in the Indo-European languages, though now less so than in the past: personal pronouns function much like the substantive/noun versions of demonstrative pronouns. There are always restrictions, though: not any demonstrative pronoun can be used as a pers. pr. in any situation. – Cerberus May 25 '13 at 22:34
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    First and second person are Deictic, whereas third person is Referential. This is true in all languages, and it means that referential strategies like demonstratives are possible with third person, while they're not with first and second. – jlawler May 26 '13 at 1:28
  • Then again, there is no sharp boundary between deixis and reference, since deixis is a kind of reference. It also depends on what definitions one uses. Especially pronouns of the 3rd person can often be used both deictically and referentially. And how can one determine whether "I" and "you" are deictic or referential in a text when referring to the writer and his hypothetical reader? There is no actual spatial, sensory, or gestural connection involved. – Cerberus May 26 '13 at 18:12
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For the first question as to what methodology can be used to determine whether a set of pronouns are third-person personal pronouns or anaphoric demonstratives, Cerberus' is right saying that they are demonstrative pronouns if you can also use then adjectivally, i.e. modifying a noun, which is normally not possible with true personal pronouns - though as he also said that difference is quite fuzzy, hence why the third person pronouns were able to develop from demonstratives: according to WALS, more than half of languages got their third person pronouns from demonstratives.

As to your second question, whether it is common for languages to allow you to use demonstratives both as pronouns and adjectives, as in English, or is that more of an anomaly: according to WALS, about 70% of languages permit demonstratives to be used both pronominally and adnominally. Hence it's not at all unusual, yet not universal.

Addendum

Regarding your question in the comment to this answer: since there are two factors (demonstrativeness and personality) to be tested for, there exist four cases depending on the result for either test:

  1. English "he":
    1. is not a demonstrative pronoun because *"I saw him boy" (adjectival use) is not acceptable.
    2. is a personal pronoun because "I saw him" (pronominal use) is acecptable.
  2. English "that" (and 70% of other languages):
    1. is a demonstrative pronoun because "I saw that boy" is acceptable.
    2. is a personal pronoun because "I saw that" is acceptable.
  3. Equivalent of "that" in 30% languages (other than English):
    1. is a demonstrative pronoun because "I saw that boy" is acceptable.
    2. is not a personal pronoun because *"I saw that" is not acceptable in those languages.
  4. English "car":
    1. is not a demonstrative pronoun because *"I saw car boy" is not acceptable.
    2. is not a personal pronoun because *"I saw car" (the point is that it is supposed to be pronominal, not that the article is missing) is not acceptable.
  • Is there any more conclusive test than the one you presented? If 70% of languages allow demonstrative pronouns to be used adnominally, that would mean the test is at most 70% accurate. – Justin Olbrantz Jan 17 '15 at 20:26
  • The test determines whether it is a demonstrative pronoun or not. Whether it is a personal pronoun or not is completely independent from this. The test tells you that "that" is a demonstrative pronoun whereas "he" is not because "I saw that car" is acceptable but *"I saw him car" is not. This is different from 70% of languages permitting both "I saw that" and "I saw him" tell you that both "that" and "he" are personal pronouns, whereas the remaining 30% of languages do not permit "I saw that" but only "I saw him". – user66554 Jan 17 '15 at 20:38
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    I think you're confusing demonstrative pronouns with demonstrative adjectives. A pronoun can by definition be used in place of a noun/determiner phrase (e.g. "I saw that"). In 70% of languages they are the same, but in 30% (according to WALS) demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative adjectives are distinct words (or distinct conjugations of the same root). My question is whether there's a more accurate test for demonstrative pronouns than whether they can ALSO be used as adjectives - a test that works for the other 30% of languages. – Justin Olbrantz Jan 18 '15 at 0:22
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Function words as "he/she/it" can't be there from the beginning. They have to be developed. And the normal way is using the demonstratve adjective + nouns as man/woman/person/thing and then if there are gender-markers using the demonstratives without noun.

The question whether this was seen as a demonstrative or personal pronoun is a question only for us today, it was no question for the speakers of the ancient time. A demonstatrative was a demonstrative. Only when a new form arises as e.g from German dieser to der to er, then one can talk of a personal pronoun.

Latin uses the demonstratives is/ea/id or ille/illa/illud as a substitute for a lacking personal pronoun he/she/it. But this is seen from our modern perspective.

French has developed il (he) from he first syllable of Latin ille (that one there). As long as ille was used it was a demonstrative. When il was developed the French had a personal pronoun.

  • ...why can't he/she/it be there from the beginning but presumably me/you can be? Also, even if that's true, how do you tell the difference between the demonstrative and personal pronoun phases of development? – Justin Olbrantz Jan 18 '15 at 7:46
  • Also function words as me have to be developed from paraphrases as my person. But when it comes to the invention of the first basic words we have no data and can only speculate. - It is easier to invent demonstratives when you have basic words such as here and there. – rogermue Jan 18 '15 at 7:59

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