Measures, Elizabeth
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education / University of

Elizabeth Measures
33 Colony Trail
Holland Landing
Ontario L9N 1C6

Strand: Discourse English

Title: The English Pronominal System: Exploiting the Potential Ambiguity of Plural Pronouns for the Realization of Power Relations

The seminal paper, "the Pronouns of Power and Solidarity" by Brown and Gilman (1960), emphasised the way in which power relations can be realized through the pronominal systems of different languages. In the English pronominal system, the power relations described were those realized in the differentiated use of "thou" and "you" when addressing individuals. Though such distinctions have been retained in the use of tu/vous in French and in the use of Du/Sie in German, the English system is assumed to have lost the capacity for the realization of this distinction as a result of a shift towards a more egalitarian ideology. This paper attempts to demonstrate, however, that where there is a shift in ideology towards conflict or resistance, the realization of power relations may once again be reflected in choices associated with the pronominal system.

Taking as data four addresses by Ovide Mercredi to differing audiences in the period immediately prior to and following the Charlottetown Accord, I examine the way in which the speaker selectively included or excluded subgroup(s) of his audience through an analysis of the speaker's exploitation of the ambiguity in "we". How such ambiguity functions in the speaker's achievement of particular rhetorical goals is also discussed with reference to the social difference between the speaker and his addressees. The study thus offers a window through which it is possible to see how an individual's use of a system of meaning making is exploited for ideological purposes.