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Personal pronouns

Personal pronouns are free words or clitics that are used to refer to a person, animal, thing, substance or abstract entity. Grammatically, they feature number (singular and plural) and case (nominative and oblique). The second person singular pronouns are marked for politeness, and the third person singular pronouns show a three-way gender distinction.

The main uses are called anaphoric and deictic. Anaphoric pronouns refer to an already introduced discourse entity:

Example 1

Jan is myn freon, ik ken him al jierren
Jan is my friend, I know him already years
Jan is my friend, I've known him for years

In the example above him refers to Jan. Deictic pronouns, on the other hand, introduce a new referent, often by a locational adverb and/or a pointing gesture Hy dêre is myn freon JanHe (over there) is my friend Jan.

Frisian pronouns display quite some peculiarities. To mention a few: pronominal coreference not always strictly obeys the gender demarcations, the polite singular second person pronoun agrees with a plural, and not with a singular finite verb, and as forms of address Frisian may use nouns where pronouns are to be expected.

[+] Form

Frisian personal pronouns show different forms depending on gender (masculine, feminine and neuter), number (singular or plural) and case (nominative and oblique). The subject and object can appear in strong (stressed) and weak (unstressed) forms. They are summarized in the following scheme:

Table 1
Subject: strong Subject: weak Object: strong Object: weak
1SG ik, ikke 'k[k] my [mi]
2SG (familiar) do/ [də] dy [di]
2SG (polite) jo je jo je
3SG (masculine) hy er[ər] him 'm
3SG (feminine) sy, hja se[sə] har se[sə]
3SG (neuter) it 't, [(ə)t] it [(ə)t]/
1PL wy we ús
2PL jim(me) jim(me) [jəm]
3PL sy, hja se har(ren) se[sə]

The weak forms may function as clitics. They are inherently unstressed and are phonologically dependent on a host word.

The standard spelling of the object forms my and dy and the subject forms sy and wy is with <y>, which can represent the sounds /i/ and /ɛi/. In most dialects, /i/ is used for unstressed forms, but in so-called Wâldfrysk, spoken in a part of the eastern region, /i/ is used in all cases. Hence, in the following example the pronunciation is usually [di]:

Example 2

Ik haw dy earder sjoen
I have you earlier seen
I have seen you before

In example (3), the pronoun is in focus, and therefore pronounced as [dɛi] in most dialects. Some writers reflect this in the orthography by using the notation <dij>, although this spelling is not official:

Example 3

Dij haw ik earder sjoen
you.FOC have I earlier seen
I have seen YOU before

In the following three sections the first, the second and the third person singular and plural will be described, respectively. For all persons agreement between the subject pronoun and the verb form is applicable. An example of agreeing verbal forms can be found in the topic on weak verbs.

It should be noted that the pronouns do, jo, it, wy, jimme and hja/se may also be used as impersonal pronouns, rendering an arbitrary (but human) reading. More information is to be found in the topic on indefinite pronouns.

[+] First person (singular and plural)

The first person singular refers to the speaker/writer. As can be seen in the table above, there are two different forms: strong and weak. The weak (unstressed) form is often spelled with an apostrophe, as 'k and clitic. The various uses of the subject form are exemplified below, where (a) is the strong (stressed) form, (b) shows a proclitic and (c) an enclitic form:

Example 4

a. IK bin hjoed net berikber foar kommentaar
I.FOC am today not available for Commonts
Today I am unavailable for Commonts
b. 'k Bin hjoed net berikber foar kommentaar
I am today not available for Commonts
Today I am unavailable for Commonts
c. Hjoed bin 'k [bIŋk] net berikber foar kommentaar
today am I not available for Commonts
Today I am unavailable for Commonts

In the oral language it is even acceptable to omit the personal pronoun in example (b) above entirely:

Example 5

Bin hjoed net berikber foar kommentaar
am today not available for Commonts
Today I am unavailable for Commonts

By contrast, ikI can also be extended to ikkeIHoekstra (1987), but only when it is used independently:

Example 6

a. < Wa hat dat dien? > Ikke
who has that done? I
< Who has done this? > Me
b. *Ikke sil hjoed oan it wurk
I shall today at the work
I will work today

Next to ik(ke), one can use stressed men in a sentence like the following:

Example 7

Men moat altyd it smoarge wurk dwaan
one must always the dirty job do
I (one) always have to do the dirty work

The word men is defined as an "including" indefinite personal pronoun. The corresponding object form is jin.

[hide extra information]
x The use of my as an ethical dative

In constructions like the following, the ethical dativemy adds emotional emphasis to the message:

Example 8

It wie my dochs in moai konsert!
it was me but a lovely concert
Boy, what a lovely concert!

In this use, the pronoun resembles a modal particle and often combines with other particles such as dochs.

The first person plural can refer to 'the speaker and the hearer' (9a) or to 'the speaker and one or more other people' (9b). When unstressed, wy is also written as we[wə].

Example 8

a. Sille wy fan 'e middei nei de stêd ta, Rob?
shall we from the afternoon to the city to, Rob
Shall we go to the city this afternoon, Rob?
b. Ja minsken, wat wy hjir yn dizze grafyk sjogge, liicht der net om
yes people, what we here in this graph see, lies there not to
Yes folks, what we see here in this graph is quite striking
[+] Second person (singular and plural)

The 2SG pronoun refers to the hearer. The singular subject form has the weak form de[də], although this form is usually not written. Nevertheless, an example could be:

Example 10

De moatst net sa eamelje
You should not so nag
do not nag so much

If this weak form occurs as a clitic, it is reduced to [ə], since the initial /d/ always merges with the ending -st. The strong form do, if it follows that ending, is subject to the same process. The sequences -sto or -ste therefore consist of the suffix of the verbal inflection -st followed by the pronoun do or weak de. The pronoun can even be deleted entirely, in which case only the verbal suffix is left. This null clitic can be considered as a case of pro-drop. Hence we have three variants:

Example 11

Doarsto/doarste/doarst fan dy brêge ôf te springen?
dare.2SG from that bridge off to jump
Do you dare to jump from that bridge?

As is generally the case, the clitics do not only occur directly after the verb, but also after subordinating conjunctions:

Example 12

a. Dat is de stêd dêr'tsto/dêr'tste/dêr'tst weikomst
that is the city where.2SG from.come.2SG
That's the city where you come from

Pro-drop may also occur in cases without cliticization, for instance in main clauses like the following, although such examples might also by analyzed as topic-drop (see also the example above):

Example 13

a. Do moatst net ferjitte om dyn húswurk te meitsjen
you.2SG must.2SG not forget PRT your homework to make
You should not forget to do your homework
b. Moatst net ferjitte om dyn húswurk te meitsjen
must.2SG not forget PRT your homework to make
You must not forget to do your homework
[hide extra information]
x Literature

For more information about the syntactic aspects of Frisian pro-drop, see the topic on the 2SG subject pronoun in the syntactic part, and Hoekstra (1987) and references cited there. Information about the second person clitics can also be found in the phonological part of Frisian Taalportaal.

The second person singular Hoekstra (1987) is marked by a politeness distinction: the familiar form is do and the polite form is jo. The latter has a weak form je[jə]. In contrast to weak de, je can be found in the written language to a certain extent, although most writers prefer the strong forms in their orthography.

[hide extra information]
x The case of jo

Nowadays, jo is used for all cases. In the 19th century, however, jo was mainly restricted to the object form, where jy was the form for the subject.

Some people feel less distance to the interlocutor when addressing him/her with the weak form je rather than the strong form jo:

Example 14

a. Ha jo hjoed nei it sikehûs west?
have you.POL today to the hospital been
Have you been to the hospital today?
b. Ha je hjoed nei it sikehûs west?
have you.POL today to the hospital been
Have you been to the hospital today?

What makes the polite form special is the fact that it requires a plural finite verb (see example (15a) versus (15b) below). For this reason, jo is mentioned as a plural pronoun in Popkema (2006:168), although semantically jo belongs to the singular category since it refers to only one person. The polite form cannot be used as a plural, in contrast to Dutch, where the polite form u can serve as both a singular and a plural pronoun. In Frisian, when addressing two or more people, the second person plural pronoun jim(me) has to be used (example (15c)).

Example 15

a. Do bist betiid, dat meist hjir wol efkes wachtsje
you are.2SG early, so can.2SG here just for.a.while wait
You are early, so you can wait here for a while
b. Jo binne betiid, dat jo meie hjir wol efkes wachtsje
you.POL are.PL early, so you can.PL here just for.a.while wait
You are early, so you can wait here for a while
c. Jim(me) binne betiid, dat jim meie hjir wol efkes wachtsje
you.PL are.PL early, so you can.PL here just for.a.while wait
You are early, so you can wait here for a while

De pronoun jimme in (16c) addresses the hearer and some other person or persons.

[hide extra information]
x Jim as a singular form

In a small region in the east where Wâldfrysk is spoken, the plural form jim is also used to address an aged person:

Example 16

Jim binne mar knap yn 'e klean
you.PL are but handsome in the cloths
You are nicely dressed
[hide extra information]
x Literature

More information about dookjen and jookjen, i.e. the process of choosing informal do or formal jo, can be found in Tamminga (1963:70-77).

[+] Avoiding the second person pronoun

Sometimes people tend to avoid the second person pronoun when they address someone by using a bare noun that is a description of the adressee. In terms of politeness, this use must be positioned between familiar do and polite jo. Examples of this phenomenon are:

Example 17

a. Wol mem wat foar my dwaan?
want.3SG mother what for me do.INF
Can you do something for me, mother?
b. Moat dokter hjoed lang wurkje?
must.3SG doctor today long work
Do you have to work long today, doctor?
c. Wol Sytze noch in gleske ranja?
want.3SG Sytze still a glass lemonade
Do you want another glass of lemonade, Sytze?
d. Hat frou Bakker al om postsegels west?
has.3SG miss Bakker already to stamps been
Have you already bought stamps, miss Baker?

Family members are usually not addressed in the second person, but by their 'title' in the third person, see example (17a). The same goes for local worthies, like the school master, doctor or parson (17b), although the latter two are more and more addressed with jo. In case of example (17c) the first name is used to address a child. Tiersma (1999:57) mentions that it is used in order to create some degree of intimacy, while De Boer (1986:8-9) claims that the third person can create more distance as well, for instance when a parent is angry with the child. In example (17d) the third person is used to bridge the coldness of the polite jo.

[hide extra information]
x Literature

More information about the second person vocatives can be found in De Jong (2013), Tiersma (1999:57) and De Boer (1986:8-9).

[+] Third person (singular and plural)

Third person pronouns are used to refer to a conceptual entity mentioned in the previous discourse (anaphoric). This entity can be a person, an object or anything else that can be expressed by a noun. They can also be used to introduce a new discourse referent; this usage is called deictic.

Below, the three pronoun genders (masculine, feminine and neuter) will be described. After that, an overview will be provided of the various uses of the third person pronouns in practice.

[hide extra information]
x Anaphoric vs. Cataphoric

In contrast to anaphoric pronouns, which follow the noun, cataphoric pronouns precede the noun:

Example 18

Doe't er iten hie, gie Jos wer oan it wurk
when he eaten had went Jos again at the work
After he had eaten, Jos went back to work
[+] Male

The Frisian 3SG masculine pronoun hy has the clitic form er, which is comparable to the Dutch ie (see personal pronouns in Dutch), with the difference that ie belongs rather to the oral than to the written language, while er in Frisian occurs in (official) written texts as well. A clitic cannot be stressed. If the situation calls for a stressed pronoun, then the stressed form is involved, even in a typical clitic position after the finite verb (19b):

Example 19

a. Dat hat er juster al dien
that has he yesterday already done
That has he already done yesterday
b. Dat hat hy juster al dien
that has he.FOC yesterday already done
That has HE (and nobody else) already done yesterday

An intermediate /d/ can be added to the preterite stem of verbs like hawweto have, wêzeto be, kinneto can and wolleto want, and some others, when they are followed by the clitic form er:

Example 20

a. Wat hie(d) er dien?
what had he done
What had he done?
b. Wat wie(d) er stil
what was hy quiet
How quiet he was

An overview of the verbs where this intermediate -d can be added, is given in a section of the topic on strong and other irregular verbs.

[+] Female and plural

The forms for the third person singular female and for the third person plural are largely identical. Only the object form of the plural shows the alternative harren next to har. The usual subject forms are sy (strong) and se (weak). The older form hja partly survived in the written language, especially to create distance to the Dutch pronoun ze. Sometimes, hja is mistakenly used as a clitic form:

Example 21

a. Hja is siik
she is ill
She is ill
b. Ik wist net dat se/*hja siik wie
I knew not that she ill was
I did not know that she was ill

Hja, however, has se as its corresponding clitic, as was already the case with Old Frisian hio/hiushe.FEM.SG and hiathey. A descendant of the Old Frisian forms is still in use as hju/jə/ in a small part of eastern Friesland. There as well, the clitic is se. In addition, we find remnants in the peripheral dialects. The dialects of Schiermonnikoog, eastern Terschelling and Hindeloopen have singular [jo], western Terschelling shows [ja]. The latter form is also in use in the plural, except for Hindeloopen with its [jɛ:].

[hide extra information]
x Literature

On the dialectical and written distribution of hja and hju, see Hoekema (1984: 91-94). Detailed information on the geographical occurrence of hju/hja and sy[si/se:] in the so-called Wâlden region can be found in Spahr van der Hoek (1960:107-109). For the situation in Old Frisian, see for instance Steller (1928:53). For the dialects of Terschelling: Knop (1954:176-177). For Hindeloopen: Blom (1981). For Schiermonnikoog: Visser and Dyk (2002).

As noted, the forms sy and se (and hja) are not only used in the singular, but also in the plural: the agreeing verb indicates one or more persons are being referred to:

Example 22

a. Se docht mei oan 'e ferkiezing
she does.PRES.3SG with to the election
She participates in the election
b. Se dogge mei oan 'e ferkiezing
they do.PRES.3PL with to the election
They participate in the election

In the table containing forms the weak form se is also mentioned as an object form. For both singular and plural, har can be replaced by se but there are some exceptions. For instance, har cannot be replaced by se if it is preceded by a preposition (23b) Hoekstra (1994:51) or if used in a dative position (23c) Tiersma (1999:58). Reflexives are not possible either with se (24d) Hoekstra (1994:57):

Example 23

a. Ik ha har/se sjoen
I have her seen / I have them seen
I have seen her/ I've seen them
b. Ik wachtsje op har/*se
I wait on her / I wait on them
I wait for her / I wait for them
c. Dat wie har/*se wat te fier
that was her what too far / that was them what too far
That was a bit too far for her / That was a bit too far for them
d. Se waskje har/*se
they wash.PRES.3PL her.PL
They wash themselves

In addition, when referring to non-persons, se is the only possibility Hoekstra (1994:49):

Example 24

Ik ha de boeken lêzen en *harren/se doe wer weromsetten
I have the books read and her.PL then again back.put
I've read the books and then I've put them back

As noted, har can function as a singular and a plural pronoun as well. However, when the suffix -en is added, it can only be plural. Hence, ik seach har can both mean I saw her and I saw them, while ik seach harren can only mean the latter.

[hide extra information]
x Literature

The classical paper about the distribution of har(ren) and se is Hoekstra (1994).

The plural form hja/se can also function as an indefinite pronoun. Information about this use can be found in the topic on indefinite pronouns.

[+] Neuter

The neuter pronoun itit can refer to a neuter noun:

Example 25

It hûs stie leech omdat it boufallich wie
the house stood empty because it dilapidated was
The house stood empty because it was dilapidated

The neuter pronoun is also used in impersonal constructions such as it reintit rainsit is raining, fixed expressions such as it is tiid it is timeit is time as well as in copular constructions of the type it binne aardige jongesit are nice boysthey are nice boys. Note that the pronoun is always weak and pronounced as [ət] or [t].

[hide extra information]
x Literature

More information about the indefinite use of it can be found in indefinite pronouns and in Hoekstra (1990).

[+] Deviating pronoun use

Frisian personal pronouns display three genders while nouns only have two. In the unmarked case, neuter nouns are referred to by the neuter pronoun it:

Example 26

It muzykstik seach der goed út, dat ik ha it sa litten
the music.piece looked there good out, that I have it so left
The piece of music looked good, so I left it like this

Common nouns, which have the definite article de may have either the masculine or the feminine pronoun if a clear biological gender difference can be distinguished:

Example 27

a. Us baas wie siik, dat ik haw him hjoed ferfongen
our boss was ill, that I have him today replaced
Our boss was ill, so I have replaced him today
b. Us bazinne wie siik, dat ik haw har hjoed ferfongen
our boss.FEM was ill, that I have her today replaced
Our boss was ill, so I've replaced her today

In this example, the biological difference is also brought out by the suffix -inne, which derives female names. This biological gender feature only applies to human beings, however. Animals are referred to by masculine pronouns, even if the animal is biologically female:

Example 28

De ko wie âld; hy koe nei it slachthûs
the cow was old; he could to the abattoir
The cow was old; she could be transported to the abattoir

Objects which have no biological gender at all are likewise referred to by the masculine pronoun:

Example 29

De doar woe net mear ticht, dat ik ha 'm reparearre
the door wanted not more closed, that I have him repaired
The door couldn't close anymore, so I've repaired it
[hide extra information]
x Pronouns can disambiguate

If several referents are active in the discourse, the gender of the pronoun can help to pick out the correct referent. In the following example, both the cup and the bowl are possible antecedents for a pronoun, as can be seen in the ambiguous English translation. In Frisian, however, one noun (it kopkethe cup) is neuter and the other common (de skaalthe bowl), so the gender of the pronoun may disambiguate the sentence. Hence, in this case the cup is broken.

Example 30

It kopke foel yn 'e skaal en doe bruts it
the cup.DIM fell in the bowl and then broke it
The cup fell into the bowl and then it broke

Despite the rather clear system described above, speakers of Frisian (and also Dutch) are not entirely consistent in their use of the pronouns in referring to an earlier-mentioned noun. Dutch corpus research reveals that the distribution is based on two competing systems: on the one hand, there is the earlier-mentioned gender of the noun, on the other hand also semantic associations (see Dutch personal pronouns) play a role. The same seems to apply to Frisian. For instance, speakers may use the masculine pronoun for countable referents such as objects, even though the antecedent is a neuter noun:

Example 30

Hjir hast it apparaat, ik wol 'm graach kwyt
here have.2SG the.N device.N, I want him.MASC gladly lost
Here you've my device, I would like to get rid of it

The feminine personal pronoun is used for female persons, even in the case of an antecedent with neuter gender:

Example 31

It famke giet nei hûs ta, want oars is se moarn sa wurch as wat
the.N girl.DIM.N goes to house to, because otherwise is she tomorrow so tired as what
The girl goes home, because otherwise she will be very tired tomorrow

On the other hand, neuter pronouns can appear with unbounded entities such as substances (for instance de molkethe.C milk.Cthe milk) and uncountable abstracts (for example de freonskipthe.C friendship.Cthe friendship). The example below is a typical instance of such deviating pronoun use, where the common noun molkemilk is referred to by the neuter pronoun it:

Example 32

Molke moatst yn 'e kuolkast sette, want dan bedjert it minder gau
milk.C must.2SG in the fridge put, because then spoils it less quickly
You have to put the milk in the fridge, because then it spoils less quickly
  • Blom, Gosse1981Hylper WurdboekLjouwert/LeeuwardenFryske Akademy
  • Boer, Rienk de1986Ien en oar oer de oansprekfoarmen yn it NijfryskDe Pompeblêden578-9
  • Boer, Rienk de1986Ien en oar oer de oansprekfoarmen yn it NijfryskDe Pompeblêden578-9
  • Hoekema, Teake1984Fan taal en tongslach 5 (h)j-pronomina en har enklityske komponintUs Wurk3391-95
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1987Ikke en syenFriesch Dagblad19-09Taalsnipels 47
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1987Oer it weilitten fan doFriesch Dagblad14 -02Taalsnipels 20
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1987Oer it weilitten fan doFriesch Dagblad14 -02Taalsnipels 20
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1990It sit alFriesch Dagblad19-05Taalsnipels 146
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1994Pronouns and Case. On the distribution of Frisian harren and se 'them'Leuvense bijdragen8347-65
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1994Pronouns and Case. On the distribution of Frisian harren and se 'them'Leuvense bijdragen8347-65
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1994Pronouns and Case. On the distribution of Frisian harren and se 'them'Leuvense bijdragen8347-65
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1994Pronouns and Case. On the distribution of Frisian harren and se 'them'Leuvense bijdragen8347-65
  • Jong, Gerbrich A. de2013Dookje, stookje, jimkje, jookje. Hjoeddeiske Fryske oansprekfoarmenRijksuniversiteit GroningenThesis
  • Knop, Gerrit1954De spraakkunst der Terschellinger dialectenAssenVan Gorcum & Comp.
  • Popkema, Jan2006Grammatica FriesUtrecht/ LjouwertUitgeverij Het Spectrum BV Prisma Woordenboeken en Taaluitgaven/ Fryske Akademy
  • Spahr van der Hoek, J.J1960De heidedorpen in de Noordelijke WoudenLaverman, Drachten
  • Steller, Walther1928Abriss der Altfriesischen Grammatik. Mit Berücksichtigung der westgermanischen Dialecten des Altenglischen, Altsächsischen und AlthochdeutschenHalleMax Niemeyer Verlag
  • Tamminga, Douwe Annes1963Op 'e taelhelling. Losse trochsneden fan Frysk taellibben. IBoalsertA.J. Osinga
  • Tiersma, Pieter M1999Frisian Reference GrammarAfûk, Ljouwert
  • Tiersma, Pieter M1999Frisian Reference GrammarAfûk, Ljouwert
  • Tiersma, Pieter M1999Frisian Reference GrammarAfûk, Ljouwert
  • Visser, Willem & Dyk, Siebren2002Eilander Wezzenbúek: woordenboek van het SchiermonnikoogsFryske Akademy Ljouwert
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