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Constructional restrictions on the use of the weak pronoun sethem
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The strong pronoun harthem must refer to animate entities, whereas the weak pronoun sethem can refer to either animate or inanimate entities. Furthermore, the strong pronoun can be used as an inherently reflexive pronoun, whereas the weak pronoun cannot, see (see 3SG and 3PL strong subject and object pronouns must refer to persons). In addition, several constructions do not seem to tolerate the use of the weak pronoun sethem. An example is given below:

Example 1

a. Trouwe eksterspantsjes binne it net, polygamy is by har gjin sûnde
faithful magpie.couples are it not polygamy is with them no sin
Faithful, these magpie couples are not, polygamy is no sin with them
b. *Trouwe eksterspantsjes binne it net, polygamy is by se gjin sûnde
faithful magpie.couples are it not polygamy is with them no sin
Faithful, these magpie couples are not, polygamy is no sin with them
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Both the weak pronoun and the strong pronoun are grammatical in the direct object position of verbs:

Example 2

a. Hy narre se
he pestered them
He pestered them
b. Hy narre har
he pestered them
He pestered them

The same applies to cases in which the object functions as the subject of an embedded predicate:

Example 3

a. Wy lieten se de papierren skiftsje
we let them the papers sort
We let them sort the papers
b. Wy lieten har de papierren skiftsje
we let them the papers sort
We let them sort the papers

Prepositional complements, however, tend to strongly prefer the strong pronoun over the weak pronoun, as shown in the example below:

Example 4

a. ?*Ik wachtsje op se
I wait for them
I am waiting for them
b. Ik wachtsje op har
I wait for them
I am waiting for them

However, the Frisian Language Corpus contains instances of the weak pronoun in the position of the prepositional complement:

Example 5

Ik soe se slaan wolle en op se spuie
I would them hit want and on them spit
I would like to hit them and spit on them

It would be interesting to know more about the frequencies of examples such as the example above, which are reported in the literature as neither quite grammatical nor quite ungrammatical. It is also possible that stress considerations play a role in the examples involving Adposition Phrase (PP), seeing that the attested use of the weak pronoun in a PP involves an example in which the PP is not clause-final.

What further complicates the issue is that the 3PL pronoun, both the weak and the strong form, is homophonous with the the third person singular feminine. This may be relevant since the third person singular feminine almost always refers to persons, unlike the third person plural. So there may be semantic confusion.

Furthermore, a similar distinction exists between Dutch hunthem and zethem except that in Dutch zethem seems to be more frequent than Frisian sethem. So, what confounds the issue of the Frisian data is the possibility of interference from Dutch, seeing that the weak pronoun has a similar distribution in both language and often has the same pronunciation.

Furthermore, the Dutch strong 3SG pronoun hunthem is well-accepted into spoken Frisian, although written Frisian (still) features harthem. In Dutch, the informally used weak form d'rher is used alongside weak zeher. Dutch d'rher cannot refer to the 3PL. Strong Frisian harher, them, however, can refer both to the 3PL and the 3SG.FEM. So the relevant Dutch data are sufficiently similar, yet slightly different, for them to be a further source of possible complexity.

Finally, construction type is relevant. Psychological verbs resist the use of the weak form sethem:

Example 6

a. *Myn wurden sille se grif net noaske ha
my words shall them surely not pleased have
My words surely do not have pleased them
b. Myn wurden sille har grif net noaske ha
my words shall them surely not pleased have
My words surely do not have pleased them

Various free dative constructions similarly resist the use of the weak object pronoun. Consider for example the possessive dative in the following example:

Example 7

a. ?*De holle die se sear
the head did them hurt
Their heads hurt
b. De holle die har sear
the head did them hurt
Their heads hurt

Consider also the excessive degree construction (also referred to as dativus iudicantis) in the example below:

Example 8

a. *Jimme praten se te lûd
you talked them too loud
You talked too loud for them
b. Jimme praten har te lûd
you talked them too loud
You talked too loud for them

Other datives, however, freely allow the use of the weak pronoun: it is allowed in the prototypical dative position of double object verbs:

Example 9

a. Hy joech se in presintsje
he gave them a present
He gave them a present
b. Hy joech har in presintsje
he gave them a present
He gave them a present

However, the passive equivalent does not tolerate the weak pronoun:

Example 10

a. ?*Omdat se in presintsje jûn waard
because them a present given was
Because a present was given to them
b. Omdat har in presintsje jûn waard
because them a present given was
Because a present was given to them

It is suggested in the literature that the distinction between structural and inherent case plays a role as well. Clearly, this subject merits further investigation.

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x Literature

More details can be found in Hoekstra, J. (1994).

References:
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1994Pronouns and Case. On the distribution of Frisian harren and se 'them'Leuvense bijdragen8347-65
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