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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


BREED, Adri; VAN OLMEN, Daniel  and  CHAN, Jo-Ann. Impersonalisation strategies in Afrikaans. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2021, vol.61, n.4-1, pp.1079-1111. ISSN 2224-7912.

In this article, we examine impersonal constructions in Afrikaans, i.e. constructions without a referential subject or, put differently, constructions where the (implicit) subject can be paraphrased as "people in general", "someone" or "somepeople". This topic has already received considerable attention in the literature but the focus has generally been on a limited number of strategies, such as human impersonal pronouns (e.g. mens leef net een keer "one only lives once") and the passive construction (e.g. my kar is gesteel "my car has been stolen"). In our view, this narrow focus in the literature is at least partly due to the limitations of the language-based methods (e.g. corpus studies and questionnaires) currently used in the research. These methods essentially facilitate a deductive approach by investigating a predetermined set of more or less established impersonal constructions. The present study, by contrast, adopts a more open-ended approach in order to get a better sense of the range of possible strategies that speakers of Afrikaans can use in different impersonal contexts and of the constructions that they prefer to employ in those various impersonal uses. We therefore draw on a visual questionnaire with few linguistic cues. Each scene in this questionnaire depicts a particular impersonal context - based on the distinguishing criteria found in the existing semantic maps of the domain of impersonalisation (such as quantification, perspective and veridicality) and respondents are encouraged to provide a sentence that captures the situation. The questionnaire was published online, promoted via social media and completed by more than 400 respondents. The findings show first of all that there exist numerous alternatives to the well-known strategies of impersonalisation. In addition to pronouns (e.g. jy "you" in wat gebeur as jy die knoppie druk? "what happens when you press that button?") and passives (e.g. is gepluk "were picked" in terwyl jy geslaap het, is al die appels gepluk "while you were asleep, all the apples were picked"), the types of constructions identified in our study include but are not restricted to: nouns with the meaning "people" and an extra evaluative connotation (e.g. morsjorse "litterbugs" in morsjorse het gister hier gesit en drink "litterbugs were drinking here yesterday"), the generic use of the imperative (e.g. onthou "remember" in onthou om altyd jou sitplekgordel vas te maak! "remember always to fasten your seat belt!"), nominalisations (e.g. koud kry "getting cold" in die winter is vir koud kry gemaak "winter is made for getting cold") and free-choice constructions (e.g. wie ook al "whoever" in wie ook al gister hier sokker gespeel het, het hul bal vergeet "whoever played soccer here yesterday forgot their ball"). Our results are furthermore suggestive of the impersonal constructions that are clearly favoured by speakers of Afrikaans. They indicate, for instance, that the established but still comparatively under-researched strategy of passivisation is used across all impersonal contexts and is even regularly preferred to the better-studied pronouns in certain uses (e.g. daar is al weer terreuraanvalle uitgevoer "terror attacks have again been carried out" instead of hulle het al weer terreuraanvalle uitgevoer "they have again carried out terror attacks"). Indefinite pronouns too are found to be among the most common constructions - especially, though not only, in contexts assuming the existence of a particular unidentified person responsible for some event (e.g. iemand "someone" in iemand het al die appels gepluk "someone has picked all the apples"). Nouns with the meaning "people", finally, also appear to be quite favoured by speakers of Afrikaans and they occur in a variety of impersonal uses, such as statements about people in general that do not, however, include the speaker or the addressee (e.g. mense "people" in in China eet mense rys "in China, people eat rice").

Keywords : impersonal; impersonalisation; agensless passive; human impersonal pronouns; universal; existential; impersonalisation strategy.

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