Singular de and its referential use in talk-in-interaction


  • Ehm Hjorth Miltersen Aarhus University



Personal pronouns, gender neutral pronouns, conversation analysis, reference, gender indexing


The Danish pronoun de and its inflections are traditionally described as 3rd person plural, but, as this article demonstrates, it is also used as a gender neutral 3rd person singular pronoun. As this pronoun – termed singular de – has not been documented or described in the literature thus far, the purpose of this article is to provide a grammatical description and analysis of singular de and its referential use in interaction. This is based on 104 occurrences of singular de in naturally occurring conversation. It is found that singular de is used with both generic and specific reference, and that interlocutors may use singular de to avoid indexing gender and orienting to it as a relevant topic in talk-in- interaction (gender-unspecified reference) or to index the referent’s gender as neither male nor female (gender-specified reference). The article also parallels between singular de and English singular they, as well as sociolinguistic variation in the use of singular de which could be topics for future studies.



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How to Cite

Miltersen, E. H. (2020). Singular de and its referential use in talk-in-interaction. Scandinavian Studies in Language, 11(2), 37.