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Shunning the First-Person Pronoun: Onomastic Reference to Oneself

In these days of incessant broadcasting of US primary candidates’ utterances, it is not unusual to hear them referring to themselves with their full names rather than the first-person pronoun “I.” Bernard Sanders does this habitually, but he is not alone.

While this linguistic quirk may at first blush seem like a distancing device, it is actually a rhetorical trait of speakers who wish to arrogate to themselves a measure of self-dignification. To refer to oneself by one’s full name rather than the pronoun “I” tends to elevate the ontological status of the speaker by making him/her unique, whereas the use of the first-person pronoun always has a leveling effect, since “I” only and always refers to the speaking subject, a reference that is purely deictic, hence flattened in content because of its second-order (i. e., context-dependent, derivative) status.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

4 Responses to “Shunning the First-Person Pronoun: Onomastic Reference to Oneself”

  • James-Henry Holland says:

    Couldn’t it also be that the candidates are being advised to repeat their names at every chance? TV ads are expensive, and one goal is to increase name-recognition.

  • mike says:

    Hi, Michael–just discovered your blog, so I’m trolling through various posts. I had just finished reading your About page when I got to this post, and it made me wonder how you’d analyze your use in the About page of using third person for auto-biographical writing. When I read the About page, I did find it notable that you’d consistently used third person, which I thought might have been a reflection of a primarily academic focus. (I’m not in academics, so I’m not fluent in the conventions of that genre.)

    Also, when you name “Bernard Sanders,” are you saying that he uses that name onomastically? I ask because I haven’t listened to his speeches, and of course he’s referred to in the media as “Bernie Sanders.” Perhaps I should be paying more attention to this election season, bleah. 🙂

    • As you will discover, if you continue trawling (NOT “trolling”)through my posts, I avoid referring to myself with the first-person pronoun, hence the use of the third-person pronoun in the “About” section; also “Y-H-B” (= “Your Humble Blogger”) in the posts themselves.
      As for the use of “Bernard” rather than “Bernie,” I always prefer to use the full forename of politicians despite the media’s use of nicknames.

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