You could say that : The generic second-person pronoun in modern English

Roger BERRY

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

An examination of a function of the second person pronoun frequently forgotten in pedagogical grammars of English.

A lawyer friend told me the following story about a court case in Hong Kong that he had taken part in. His client was in the witness box and was answering questions in Cantonese while an interpreter relayed his words in English to a judge who was not Chinese. At one point the opposing counsel put a point that was detrimental to the client's case and asked if he agreed with it. The translation of the reply was ‘you could say that’, which was understood by the court as indicating agreement. Of course, what he actually meant was ‘you (the counsel) could say that’ (i.e. ‘not me’), but it was understood as ‘you (people in general) could say that’ (i.e. ‘it is acceptable to say that’). In standard spoken English stress (as shown by the bold type above) and weak forms would normally disambiguate, but it seems the interpreter (a native speaker of Cantonese) gave each word equal stress, thus allowing for the unintended interpretation. I am pleased to report that this misunderstanding had no bearing on the outcome of the case, which was won by my friend's client.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-34
Number of pages6
JournalEnglish Today
Volume25
Issue number3
Early online date30 Jul 2009
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2009

Bibliographical note

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Copyright 2017 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

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