Calibrating recipiency through pronominal reference

Josh Dahmen*, Joe Blythe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Participants in conversation have a range of options for referring to co-conversationalists – lexical, grammatical, embodied – regardless of their language. Personal pronouns have been described as the most unmarked way of achieving reference, where little else is accomplished other than the action of referring. We demonstrate that speakers in a multi-party conversation whose language distinguishes between second and third person pronouns, or between inclusive and exclusive pronouns, are constantly attributing and managing participation roles when referring to co-participants, even when using the default reference forms. Grammatical contrasts within pronoun inventories are recruited, often in conjunction with points and gaze, to indicate which co-participants are being addressed and which are being referred to. Address is constantly recalibrated through practices of reference. Speakers also draw on more marked referential expressions in order to emphasise the attribution of participation roles more explicitly. This study is based on a corpus of casual multi-party conversations in Jaru, an endangered Australian language with a dual pronominal system which encodes three grammatical numbers (singular, dual, and plural) and specifies whether the referents of first-person dual and plural pronouns exclude or include the addressee(s).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190–224
Number of pages35
JournalInteractional Linguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright John Benjamins Publishing Company. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • pronouns
  • reference
  • address
  • person
  • clusivity
  • participation frameworks
  • Australian Aboriginal languages
  • morphological contrasts


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