‘Give us my shoe back’: The pragmatic functions of singular us

This paper is based on the results emerging from an ethnographic study of the language practices of 10-year-old children in two primary schools in Teesside, in the north-east of England. It focuses on the children’s use of us for the objective singular first person pronoun.

Investigation of the occurrences of singular us in a corpus of radio-microphone recordings indicates that this variant of the objective singular appears to have a pragmatic function associated with degrees of politeness, power and social distance. At the same time, this paper raises methodological concerns about the importance of combining quantitative with qualitative analysis, and by doing so, articulates a new approach to the study of sociolinguistic variation.

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