Basque Pronouns: En-'Gendering' Basque Ethnic 'Authenticity'

Women and Language, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Basque Pronouns: En-'Gendering' Basque Ethnic 'Authenticity'


Basque pronouns: En-'gendering' Basque ethnic 'authenticity'. Begona Echeverria, University of California at San Diego

Since Brown & Gilman's classic study, pronouns have been considered key markers of identity and stance (i.e. power and solidarity), yet my research is the first study of the pragmatics of Basque pronoun use. Basque nouns have no gender, except for the familiar second person pronoun, hi. The formal second-person pronoun, zu, can be used by either gender to address either gender. But the use of hi requires a gender marker on its accompanying verb forms: toka forms encode a male addressee with a 'k', while noka forms encode a female addressee with an 'n.' The addressee is encoded in the verb forms even when the addressee is not an argument in the sentence. Like other TV pronoun systems, zu indexes respect and distance, while hi indexes solidarity and intimacy. Unlike surrounding languages, Basque pronominal usage is not shifting towards solidarity: zi is the normal, unmarked pronoun used in everyday discourse. However, loss of familiar female address forms noka is much more pronounced than of corresponding male forms toka. Some of this loss can be accounted for by gendered politeness conventions; like other western European societies, Basque men were historically expected to be more polite than Basque women, so that noka forms would have been used less frequently than toka forms. Already in the first book written in Basque (Etxepare 1545), men address women in zu, but women answer in hi. However, I show that politeness conventions do not fully explain the greater loss of noka forms.

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Basque Pronouns: En-'Gendering' Basque Ethnic 'Authenticity'
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