R. Anne Osborne

Payap University, SIL




The unspecified pronoun dee in Kmhmu'


Kmhmu' personal pronouns have a singular, dual and plural distinction, with gender differentiation in the second and third person singular forms. As well as these forms there is an unspecified pronoun dee. Unlike the other personal pronouns, dee has no semantic constraints with respect to person, gender or number. It exhibits a range of meanings depending on its context. This paper explores the syntactic and pragmatic constraints that govern the use and determine the interpretation of dee.

Previous work describes dee as a reflexive pronoun (Suwilai 1987:33; Suksavang et al. 1994:166) and a co-referential pronoun (van den Berg 1988:5). Building on these findings, this paper presents 4 structurally defined uses of dee, some of which have multiple pragmatic functions. In a well-formed sentence dee is used for any second pronominal co-reference within a clause. The antecedent reference is usually the subject of the clause, as shown in (1) where dee is co-referent with the first person singular pronoun ʔoʔ.


ʔoʔi      ʔɑn      ɡeej      deʔ       m̥uɑk   deei/ *j

1sg       give      3sgm    get       hat       CO-REF

I gave him my hat.


dee may also be co-referent with a non-subject, as shown in (2).


ʔoʔi      ʔɑn      ɡeej      hɑk                  deʔ       m̥uɑk   deej/ *i

1sg       give      3sgm    nevertheless     get       hat       CO-REF

I gave him his hat.


The co-referential meaning applies within a clause, and extends to embedded clauses within a matrix clause.Where there is no antecedent, dee can have a default first person or generic interpretation. In other syntactic contexts, it can mean 'alone', or function as a particle in the verb complex. In certain pragmatic contexts, dee is used to mitigate the force of a speech act, or mark events that are off the storyline in the narrative.



Berg, René van den, with the assistance of Mark Taylor. 1988. Some Khmu' particlesː A preliminary analysis. Anduze, ms.

Suksavang Simana', Somseng Sayavong & Elisabeth Preisig. 1994. Kmhmu' – Lao – French – English dictionary. Vientiane: Ministry of Information and Culture, Institute of Research on Culture.

Suwilai Premsrirat. 1987. A Khmu grammar. Pacific Linguistics Series A – No. 75, Papers in South-east Asian Linguistics 10. 1-143.