Pronouns and agreement: The information status of pronominal affixes



Pronominal affixes are often assumed to represent an intermediate stage of diachronic development between independent pronouns like English he and redundant inflectional markers like English -s. The path of development would involve changes in distribution, form and function. Recently it has been proposed that pronominal affixes are functionally closer to the redundant subject agreement markers of English and German than to independent pronouns, because they cannot distinguish referentiality or definiteness. An examination of the use of pronominal affixes in connected speech in two unrelated polysynthetic languages, Central Alaskan Yup'ik Eskimo and Navajo, indicates that the affixes are actually essentially equivalent in referentiality and definiteness to the independent pronouns of English and German. Reference and definiteness are established in Yup'ik and Navajo in the same ways as in English and other languages, plus one more. Alternative constructions are used for non-referential mentions. In some cases, these systems actually show finer distinctions of referentiality and definiteness than those of English and other European languages.