Chapter 15: Inclusive/exclusive distinction in independent personal pronouns

Feature information for this chapter can be found in feature 15.

1. Introduction

Quite a few languages throughout the world have a distinction between inclusive and exclusive person forms, rather than a single nonsingular person form ‘we’. The inclusive form means ‘you (singular or plural) and I’, i.e. it includes the hearer, while the exclusive form means ‘he/she/they and I’, excluding the hearer. Sometimes both inclusive and exclusive forms are called first person forms, but the inclusive is perhaps better described as “1+2 person”, while the exclusive form is “1+3 person”.

As the corresponding WALS chapter (Cysouw 2005) shows, inclusive/exclusive distinctions occur only sporadically in Africa and Eurasia, but are common in Austronesian languages and northern Australian languages, as well as in the Americas. Some examples of the distinction in these languages are given in Table 1.

Table 1. Examples of inclusive and exclusive forms
language inclusive form exclusive form
Austronesian languages
Indonesian kita kami
Tagalog tayo kami
Hawaiian kakou makou
Tolai dat avet
Australian languages
Ungarinjin ŋarun njarun
Bininj Gun-wok ngad ngaye
Jaminjung yurri yirri

For the world-wide typology of inclusive/exclusive distinction (also called clusivity), see also Filimonova (ed.) (2005).

2. The two values

We distinguish just two values, absence and presence of the distinction.

No inclusive/exclusive distinction67
Inclusive and exclusive differentiated9

The great majority of APiCS languages make no distinction between inclusive and exclusive forms, which is not surprising in view of the fact that this distinction is not found at all in European languages, and is hardly found in West African, Bantu and Semitic languages. Thus, in APiCS we primarily find it in the Pacific region, where the Austronesian and Australian languages are spoken. We might have expected the distinction also in Sri Lankan Malay or Sri Lanka Portuguese, because Tamil has the distinction, but neither language adopted it from Tamil.

3. Inclusive/exclusive differentiation due to substrate

In four of our languages, the presence of the distinction is evidently due to Austronesian influence (see Table 2).

Table 2. Inclusive and exclusive forms
language inclusive form exclusive form
Tok Pisin yumi mipela
Bislama yumi mifala
Kriol yunmi, minyu minbala, mindubala
Zamboanga Chabacano kita kame

The case of English-based Melanesian pidgins and creoles is quite well-known (see, e.g., Keesing 1988, Siegel 2008), perhaps because it is so transparent to speakers of English: The exclusive form is yumi, which evidently comes from English you (and) me. The exclusive form mipela (and similar forms in Bislama and Kriol), by contrast, comes from the singular form mi ‘I’ plus the plural-indicating element pela (from fellow). Since Melanesian pidgins/creoles also have dual and trial forms like (yu)mitupela and (yu)mitripela, like the Oceanic (Austronesian) languages that were their main substrates, it has long been clear that the pattern must have been created on the basis of the substrates.

In Zamboanga Chabacano, the forms kita and kame were apparently borrowed from the Philippinic language Hiligaynon. The two other Chabacano varieties do not make the distinction.

Interestingly, the inclusive/exclusive distinction was lost in the three Malay-based varieties in APiCS. While standard Malay has kita vs. kami, Ambon Malay only has katong ‘we’, Singapore Bazaar Malay only has kita(-orang) ‘we’ (with the plural-indicating -orang), and Sri Lankan Malay has kitang or kitam-pəðə ‘we’ (with the plural-indicating -pəðə). The distinction was also given up in Pidgin Hawaiian, where kakou and makou (Table 1) still exist, but are not distinguished, and in Pidgin Fijian (Siegel 2008: 14).

In the two mixed languages Michif and Gurindji Kriol, the distinction is retained from the non-European contributing languages Cree and Gurindji, respectively:

Table 3. Inclusive and exclusive forms
language inclusive form exclusive form
Michif kiyanaan niiyanaan
Gurindji Kriol ngaliwa ngantipa

In Michif, the distinction is even sometimes made with affixal person forms, following Cree.

4. Newly introduced distinctions

In three APiCS languages, there is an inclusive/exclusive distinction that is not (or not clearly) derived from a substrate language, and is not due to the lexifier either.

The first case is the curious case of Sranan, which has the general form wi (which can mean ‘we including you’ or ‘we excluding you’), but also the form unu, which can mean ‘we excluding you’, but also ‘you (plural)’ (see also Chapter 16 on person syncretism in personal pronouns). The syncretism between first and second person might be attributable to West African substrate influence, but the fact that unu in its first person use is restricted to exclusive use is quite unexpected.

For Norf’k, Mühlhäusler (2013) reports a distinction between himii/hamii (dual inclusive, corresponding to the Melanesian form yumi) and the forms miienhem, miienher (dual exclusive, evidently from me and him, me and her). This distinction is said to exist only in the dual, not in the plural. But here it seems somewhat questionable whether miienhem and miienher should be regarded as fully grammaticalized pronoun forms. Likewise, in Tayo it is not quite clear whether nunde ave twa [we.two with you] ‘we (dual) inclusive’ and nunde sa twa [we.two without you] ‘we (dual) exclusive’ are sufficiently grammaticalized to be regarded as exhibiting this distinction (Ehrhart & Revis 2013). But since the substrates of Tayo are Austronesian and do show the distinction, this could be a case of substrate influence.