5 Theoretical Approaches to the Functions of Indefinite Pronouns

This chapter will review and discuss various theoretical approaches to the semantic and syntactic functions that are found in different indefinite pronoun series. These approaches generally concern only a small subset of the functions distinguished in Chapter 3. Thus, the approaches dealt with in this chapter are not necessarily to be seen as alternatives, and some of them could and should be regarded as complementary (though others are indeed incompatible). Most of these theoretical approaches are based on a much narrower range of data than this study, often only data from a single language. My discussion will highlight the points illuminated by the broad cross-linguistic data assembled in this study. In § 5.6 I attempt to show how the various functions of indefinite pronouns fit together and how the implicational map of Chapter 4 is motivated. Finally, § 5.7 deals with focusing and sentence accent.


5.1. Structuralist Semantics

My discussion begins with structuralist semantics, the study of meaning in the spirit of Ferdinand de Saussure's foundational work. (While linguists in the nineteenth century developed theoretical perspectives in many areas of semantics, pragmatics, and syntax, the functions of indefinite pronouns were not among them. The descriptions of indefinite pronouns in pre-structuralist reference grammars are too sketchy to warrant discussion here.)

The fundamental assumption of structuralist linguistics is that language is a system whose parts must be defined and described on the basis of their place in the system and their relation to each other, not on the basis of their own intrinsic properties (as the opposing view, which might be called 'substantivist', would maintain). A typical structuralist analysis of a class of linguistic units classifies them on the basis of several binary distinctions (or 'oppositions'). These binary distinctions are often written in the form '[+α] vs. [-α]' and are called features ('semantic features' in the case of a semantic analysis).

Structuralist semantics, especially in application to grammatical meaning, was pioneered by Roman Jakobson (especially 1936; 1957) and was widely adopted by linguists in the following decades, particularly in Europe. There are a substantial number of studies on indefinite pronouns that came from this tradition ( Greimas 1963; Veyrenc 1964; Manoliu-Manea 1966; Křížková 1971; Levin 1973; Dausendschön-Gay

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