Open reference, subjectivity and viewpoint: The Finnish and Estonian zero person constructions
My presentation concerns the so-called zero person constructions both in Finnish and in Estonian, two closely related languages. In the zero person construction, there is no overt subject, and the verb is in the 3rd person singular form. The form is functionally comparable to the English one or you, German and Swedish man, and the French on.
Zero person constructions have been studied to some extent in Finnish (most notably by Laitinen 1995), but there are no studies focussing on their Estonian counterparts. The role of the zero as a member of the category of person is somewhat unclear (for discussion, see Helasvuo & Laitinen, forthcoming). The meaning of the construction is considered generic and open. However, the zero may be interpreted as indexically open so that the reference can be construed in the context. Laitinen (1995) shows that in Finnish the zero person construction is used in contexts where the reference of the zero is construed as a speech act person. Thus, the zero form may express the viewpoint and the reference implicitly.
The zero person construction conveys open reference to any of the speech act participants or non-specific reference. For example, in Jos osta+a liput tänään, saa hyvän alennuksen [if buy+3SG tickets today, get+3SG good discount] ‘if one buys the tickets today, one gets a good discount’ the zero may be interpreted as referring to any of those present in the speech situation or anybody.
My presentation provides new insights and perspectives on the study of zero constructions in Finnish and Estonian. Estonian and Finnish are closely related, and in principle the zero construction is structurally identical in the two languages. Using data from literary fiction and magazines, I will show that despite formal similarities, there are interesting contextual constraints on the use of these structures. I show that the zero person construction is not as common in Estonian as it is in Finnish.
My presentation deals with the subjectivity of a viewpoint and open or non-specific reference forms. My aim is to answer to the following questions: How is the zero person construction used in Finnish and Estonian, and what kind of functions does it have? How do Finnish and Estonian differ in this regard? What is the relationship between the zero person construction and other constructions? Is one of the languages, Finnish or Estonian more implicit or explicit when expressing relations to a referent?
Helasvuo, Marja-Liisa – Laitinen, Lea (forthcoming): Person in Finnish: paradigmatic and syntagmatic perspectives. – Helasvuo, Marja-Liisa & Lyle Campbell (eds.), Grammar from the human perspective: case, space, and person in Finnish. Current Issues in Linguistic Theory. Benjamins, Amsterdam.
Laitinen, Lea 1995: Nollapersoona. – Virittäjä 99: 337–358.
Keywords: subjectivity, reference, viewpoint, zero person construction, Finnish language