Impersonal and generic reference: a cross-linguistic look at Finnish and English narratives

  • Elsi Kaiser Department of Linguistics, University of Southern California
Keywords: impersonal reference, generic reference, Finnish, English

Abstract

In linguistic communication, in addition to referring to specific, known referents, we also need to deal with unknown, generic or non-specific referents. I investigated how the English generic you and impersonal they compare to the Finnish zero person construction and impersonal passive, respectively. In the first part of this paper, I compare the semantic, pragmatic and syntactic properties of these constructions, using examples from a range of sources. In the second part of this paper, I investigate how English generic you and impersonal they are translated into Finnish. As we will see, the differences in the semantic, pragmatic and syntactic properties of these constructions mean that the translator sometimes has to opt for alternative constructions (such as first person expressions or generic nouns). A detailed analysis of these patterns sheds light on our understanding of these typologically different constructions, and contributes to our understanding of how reference to generic and impersonal entities is accomplished in language.
Published
2015-11-18