A pessoa and uma pessoa: Grammaticalization and functions of a human impersonal referential device in European Portuguese

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


The grammaticalization of nouns meaning 'man' or 'person' into impersonal pronouns (so-called man-impersonals) has been related to languages with obligatory subject expression, like Germanic languages and French. Albeit regarded as a null-subject language, European Portuguese (EP) presents a similar development: the noun phrases uma pessoa 'a person' and a pessoa 'the person' are used in ways that resembles man-impersonals. The present paper aims at shedding light to the semantics, pragmatics and morphosyntactic properties of the pessoa constructions in EP and discuss their status as potentially grammaticalized or grammaticalizing referential devices. It is argued that the emergence of these constructions is favored by pragmatic and morphosyntactic tendencies found in EP: avoidance of direct person reference and a preference for expressed subjects even in contexts permitting null subjects.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Portuguese Linguistics
Issue number2
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 6121 Languages
  • European Portuguese
  • grammaticalization
  • impersonality
  • pronouns
  • person
  • reference
  • TIME

Cite this