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  • A Universal Pronoun in English?
  • John Beavers and Andrew Koontz-Garboden

In many colloquial varieties of English, there exist pronominal expressions of the form possessive pronoun + ass, examples of which are given in (1).

(1)

  1. a. Rundgren's shit is only fuckin' good when his ass sings pop. . . . You and I see shit the fuckin' same way. I can dig partying with your ass. (= he sings pop, I can dig partying with you)
    [rec.music.progressive, 03-12-98]

  2. b. The poster claimed that HE paid for gas. In reality, every time his ass drives his car where he doesn't need to go, WE pay for it . . . (= he drives his car)
    [alt.fan.rush-limbaugh, 07-02-97]

  3. c. their asses sure know how to fuckin' jam. kick ass guitar, whaling keys, and fuckin' screetching ass voices! dig it. fuckin' a. after the fuckin' jam was over my ass handed the old chick her ten fuckin' bucks. . . . his ass claimed that his old lady gave him the fuckin' bucks to fuckin' buy an ice cream sandwich. . . . i told his ass i needed the fuckin' money in order to fuckin' buy some beer.shit. my ass ain't ready to rip off texaco quite yet. (= they know, I handed, I told him, I'm not ready)
    [alt.music.yes, 04-01-00]

  4. d. Nah, I don't think so. . . . I got my baseball bat right by the bed so I can smash its ass [= a doll], Chucky-style. (= smash it)
    [forums.yellowworld.org/archive/index.php/t-15055.html] [End Page 503]

We refer to these expressions collectively as your ass. Your ass is not simply a possessive pronoun + NP (PossNP) construction since, primarily, it is semantically noncompositional. This is clearly evidenced by (1c), where it is the members of the band who know how to jam (not their buttocks) and likewise the speaker presumably handed the ten dollars to the woman with his hands (not his buttocks). These cases and others we consider below lead us to conclude that your ass is a pronoun—but a pronoun of a peculiar type since it appears in both reflexive and nonreflexive contexts as in (2), contrary to the predictions of many binding theories.

(2)

  1. a. Direct object (reflexive)
    But most people do believe OJi bought his assi/himselfi/*himi out of jailtime.
    [soc.culture.china, 01-28-02]

  2. b. Direct object (nonreflexive)
    First Newton, Alexander, and Moore make an ass out of Pangborni. The more hei whined about it, the more they nailed his assi/himi/*himselfi.
    [soc.men, 04-23-99]

  3. c. Subject (nonreflexive)
    his assi/hei/*himselfi claimed that his old lady gave himi the fuckin' bucks . . .
    [alt.music.yes, 04-01-00]

In section 1, we give further arguments that your ass is a pronoun. In section 2, we consider its binding properties from the perspective of Kiparsky's (2002) binding theory, which predicts the existence of such a pronoun. In section 3, we argue that your ass's unusual behavior is due to its semantic and social functions and that it can be accommodated once these are taken into account. We briefly discuss other binding theories in section 4 and conclude in section 5.

1 The Pronominality of Your Ass

We first show that your ass is pronominal rather than a PossNP, by presenting syntactic and semantic evidence that it patterns more like reflexives than PossNPs.

First, the main distinction between your ass and PossNPs is compositionality: your ass shares reference with its putative possessive determiner, unlike PossNPs.1 For example, his ear and his mother refer to an ear and a mother, whereas his ass refers to a third person masculine participant, as seen in (3a) and (3b). [End Page 504]

(3)

  1. a. Johni bought [hisi ear/hisi mother]j≠i an earring.

  2. b. Johni bought [hisi ass]i/himselfi an earring.

In (3a), the recipient is the mother or the ear but never John. Yet it is only John in (3b) on the intended reading, not his posterior. If your ass were a PossNP, this would...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9150
Print ISSN
0024-3892
Pages
pp. 503-513
Launched on MUSE
2006-08-09
Open Access
No
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