Defining the Impersonal Pronoun Category in Igbo: Syntactic and Functional Dimensions

Ihouma I Akinremi


Some recent studies have highlighted the difference between the Igbo
impersonal pronoun and the other pronouns found in the language on the basis
of distributional evidence. This has led to proposals either for the rejection of
the category of impersonal pronoun in Igbo (Nwaozuzu, 2007), or a re-analysis
of the Igbo impersonal pronoun as a clitic (Anyanwu, 2005; 2012). This paper
provides further evidence of the distributional differences between the
impersonal pronouns and the other pronouns, but relates the restriction of the
impersonal pronoun to the subject position to its use as an agent defocusing
strategy, in a construction that is functionally equivalent to the English
agentless passive. Furthermore, the features that differentiate the impersonal
pronoun from the other pronouns in Igbo are shown to characterize elements
used for similar functions in other languages. It is argued that, from a
functional perspective, the Igbo impersonal pronoun exhibits the typical
syntactic and semantic features of impersonal pronouns observed crosslinguistically,
which a purely syntactic approach fails to capture.


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