Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Linguistics (Interdepartmental Program)

Document Type



Through a research approach of emergence applied to a corpus of academic letures, I developed a theory to explicate the referents of a class of frequently used pronouns (I, you, and we), which I term the Participatory Pronouns. My theory of the Positioning of Participatory Pronouns resolves the main practical concern of the research participants, which is to place their utterances in contexts for authoritative, intellectually sound, and socially relevant interpretation. At the theoretical level, my theory is a specification of Relevance Theory and resolves disparate previous analyses of pronouns. Overall, my work provides a new paradigm for how referents are retrieved, the language function of these referents, the discourse strategies of the speakers, and what these reveal about academic lectures. Through analysis of seven thousand pronouns from twenty-three university-level, introductory science lectures, my findings emerged from the data as the best explanation for the usage of the participatory pronouns I, we, and you. These pronouns occur frequently in the academic lecture and help to create social and spatial contexts for interpretation. Member-checking interviews and additional tests of validity and reliability verified the limits and generalizability of my findings. The academic lecture is a principal locus of engagement between students and professors. The main concern of the professors in their lecture is how to position their speech in contexts for interpretation so that their message is intellectually sound, socially relevant, and authoritative. My concept of participant positioning analyzes the way speakers and listeners place speech in a social and physical context for interpretation. The Positioning of Participatory Pronouns theory explains the associated language functions of juggling, categorical referents, economy, and interchangeability while also accounting for the discourse strategies of extending, exampling, and staturing. Here I explicate the conditions for the occurrence of economy, categorical referents, and interchangeability, which have been noted but not resolved in previous research. My research goes beyond all extant explanations of pronominal reference offering the concept of referent juggling, accounting for switching between several referents designated by the same pronominal form, as well as discourse strategies that are essential to academia.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Brody, M Jill

Included in

Linguistics Commons