I would like to investigate the validity of the theoretical framework put forward in my PhD thesis for the Germanic language to other languages, with the aim of establishing a broader theory of pronoun systems, and to examine the relatedness of the world’s languages in part on the basis of pronominal data (something that Joseph Greenberg had worked on) as words for ‘I’ and ‘you’ are probably found in all languages.

Although some preliminary research has been undertaken on pronoun systems in a global perspective, there is considerable variation of pronoun systems in languages of the world, and while it may well be a general property of natural languages that they possess devices for referring to entities mentioned elsewhere in or involved in the discourse (Radford), pronoun forms, their usage and meaning vary considerably in the world’s languages, so universal characteristics still require a great deal of further research.


Work in progress

Howe, Stephen (1995) The Personal Pronouns in the Germanic Languages: A Study of Personal Pronoun Morphology and Change in the Germanic Languages from the First Records to the Present Day, PhD thesis, University of London.

Howe, Stephen (1996, reprinted 2013) The Personal Pronouns in the Germanic Languages, Berlin and New York: De Gruyter (= Studia Linguistica Germanica 43).

This book for the first time examines the forms and development of the personal pronouns in all the Germanic languages over the whole recorded development. Chapters include Gothic, Older runic, English, Frisian, Dutch, Afrikaans, Langobardic, High German, Low German, Yiddish, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Faroese and Icelandic. Theoretical chapters examine pronouns inflectional systems in detail, and put forward a comprehensive theory of how and why pronouns change. A number of the conclusions may have wider validity to the study of language change and pronoun systems.

Reviewed in Language March 1998 (74:1, pp. 189–192) (Katz, Harvard University):

‘…an important and original work that historical linguists, theoretical morphologists, and Germanicists will rely on for years to come’

‘Howe has provided a model “comprehensive investigation” for others to emulate’

‘H[owe] has produced a work of lasting value, for which all linguists should be grateful’

Also reviewed in:

Studies in Language (2001) 25(2): 357-361

Kratylos (2000) 45: 226-229

Journal of Indo-European Studies (1999) 27 (1-2): 230-231

Journal of English and Germanic Philology (1999) July, 396-398

Zeitschrift für Dialektologie und Linguistik (1999) 66 (2): 220-221

Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur (1999) 121 (1): 109-113

Germanistik (1998) 39 (1): 37

Arkiv för nordisk filologi (1997) 112: 184

Leuvense Bijdragen (1997) 86: 233-236

Tijdschrift voor nederlandse taal en letterkunde (1997) 113 (1): 95

De Gruyter New Publications 1996:

‘…with this Howe makes an important contribution to the theory of language change. The fluent depiction and the overarching character of the study make the book an essential work for study and teaching’

Howe, Stephen (2009a) ‘Pronoun morphology’, The Bulletin of the Central Research Institute, Fukuoka University, series A, vol. 9, no. 7, pp. 1–13.

Howe, Stephen (2009b) ‘Irregularity in pronouns’, Paper presented at the conference Irregularity in Morphology (and Beyond), Bremen, Germany, October 2009.

This paper examines the degree of regularity–irregularity and the complex morphology of personal pronouns. Theoretically, the morphology of the personal pronouns is analysed as representing two different systematic types: either systematic in terms of marking property connections or systematic in terms of marking property differences. The morphology of personal pronouns is in many cases grammatically, semantically and formally complex. Further, the paper discusses how accented and unaccented forms of the same pronoun can vary in their connection to one another. Not only can the personal pronouns show suppletive or suppletive-like distinctions between separate pronouns, i.e. not derivable by general synchronic rule, but also non-synchronically-derivable variants of the same pronoun can occur.

Finally, the author examines to what extent the factors discussed can be applied to comparable paradigms in other languages – the ‘irregularity’ of the personal pronouns and of comparable forms in many languages suggesting some common factors.

Howe, Stephen (2010a) ‘Personal pronouns in English and Japanese: A preliminary comparison’, Fukuoka University Review of Literature and Humanities, vol. XLI, no. IV (no. 163), pp. 1473–1504 (= Essays dedicated to Professors Ryutaro Ikegami, Atsumi Takada and Hiroaki Mizusaki in Honour of their Seventieth Birthday).

The first question to be asked in a study such as this is of course whether Japanese actually has personal pronouns in the sense of English and other European languages. Many Japanese specialists, for instance Suzuki (1978, see e.g. p.112), do not treat pronouns as a separate class. Smith terms them ‘personal referents’ and goes as far as saying that a ‘characteristic of the language is the absence in Japanese of anything remotely resembling the personal pronoun’ (1983: 74, my emphasis). Takeuchi (1999: 1) refers to forms such as watakusi, watasi, boku and zibun as ‘nouns of self-reference’, stating (1999: 64) that ‘morphologically, they do not form regular paradigms’. Hinds (1986: 238) states that ‘The primary problem is that, from a historical perspective, the group of words which is typically thought of as being pronouns, have nominal origins.’ Similarly, on forms such as watasi, anata, kare and kanozyo, Shibatani (1990: 371–2) writes that while they ‘are usually identified as personal pronouns, they are characteristically different from the personal pronouns in European languages’. Like Hinds, he states that etymologically most of the forms derive ‘from regular nouns’, citing watakusi from ‘private (thing)’, kimi from ‘emperor’ and anata from ‘yonder’.

Howe, Stephen (2010b) ‘New pronouns and loss of pronouns in English and Japanese’, Fukuoka University Review of Literature and Humanities, vol. XLII, no. III (no. 166), pp. 1–37.

Howe, Stephen (2011a) ‘Pronouns and politeness in English and Japanese’, Fukuoka University Review of Literature and Humanities, vol. XLII, no. IV (no. 167), pp. 1161–1201 (= Essays dedicated to Professor Jun Katata, Professor Toshitsugu Furukawa and Professor Yuzuru Mishima in Honour of their Seventieth Birthday).

This paper will examine pronouns and social deixis in English, Japanese and other languages. Respect, politeness, social distance and formality are complex areas of language use, particularly in Japanese. This short working paper will focus only on personal pronouns and their use (or non-use). The paper will first discuss respect degrees in pronominal reference based on a survey of over a hundred languages worldwide, followed by a brief examination of reciprocity and non-reciprocity. It will then look at English and Japanese pronouns, and 2nd person, 1st person and 3rd person reference – referring to you, me and others – followed by a discussion of avoidance of pronominal reference. The final sections of the paper examine the use of names and titles and change in forms of reference.

Reviewed in The English Teachers’ Magazine, published by Taishukan, Japan, March 2012, pp. 66–67.

Howe, Stephen (2011b) ‘Reanalysis in pronouns’, Fukuoka University Review of Literature and Humanities, June, vol. XLIII, no. I (no. 168), pp. 97-126.

Howe, Stephen (2013a) ‘North Sea Germanic Pronouns’, The Bulletin of the Central Research Institute, Fukuoka University, series A, vol. 12, no. 4, pp. 5–18.

Howe, Stephen (2013b) ‘Origins, development and loss of personal pronouns’, Paper presented at the 3rd conference of the Japan Society for Historical Linguistics, Tohoku University, November 2013.

Personal pronouns are often described as a ‘closed class’, but in fact new pronouns can and do develop, and pronouns can be lost (as demonstrated by English ‘thou’). This paper examines how new personal pronouns arise, and why pronouns are lost from a language. It also examines the sources of new personal pronouns, including directional deictics, reflexives, borrowing, compounding (including addition of lexical plurals), sandhi and pronominalisation of titles. The paper draws on English and Japanese as well as other languages. It considers why Old English had around 36 personal pronouns but Modern English only about 19. It also looks at possible ‘depronominalisation’, the replacement of pronouns by lexical forms, in Japanese. Examination of these types of developments can allow us to evaluate uncertain etymologies in the light of empirical evidence (one obvious example being the origin of English ‘she’). It may also help us put forward hypotheses for the origins of personal pronouns in human language.

Howe, Stephen (2014b) ‘Old Frisian personal pronouns: morphology and change’, in Directions for Old Frisian Philology, ed. by Rolf H. Bremmer Jr, Stephen Laker and Oebele Vries, Amsterdam and New York: Brill/Rodopi (= Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik 73) (January 2014), pp. 201–242.

Howe, Stephen (2014c) ‘The etymologies of Old Frisian iemma(n) and himmen’, Paper presented at the 20th Frisian Philologists’ Conference, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, December 2014.

This paper will examine the etymologies of the Old Frisian 2nd and 3rd person plural pronouns iemma(n) and himmen. There are two main explanations for these forms: one by Siebs (1901) that they derive from the dative plural, the other by Van Helten (1889) that they derive from addition of ‘man/men’. Neither theory is entirely satisfactory. Although distinction by analogical extension is relatively well attested in the personal pronouns in Germanic languages (Howe 1996), Siebs’ explanation envisages a somewhat complex sequence of case distinction followed by levelling, followed by redistinction, followed again by levelling. A problem with Van Helten’s man, men explanation is that 3rd person plural forms such as hi(a)rem seem unlikely phonetically to derive, directly at least, from a combination with man, men, suggesting rather the addition of dative plural inflection to a genitive base.

The author will discuss a hybrid explanation based on both theories. He will show a parallel development in English dialect and review similarities with Guðmundsson’s explanation of dual pronouns as plurals in Icelandic.