We in Hong Kong : claiming to speak for the community
In the run-up to the handover in Hong Kong in 1997 there was much debate about its future identity. Many “experts” and politicians put forward views that purported to be representative of Hong Kong people. One linguistic feature in this debate was the use of the pronoun we when referring to the entire community. This paper reports a survey which examined the use of this “generic” we and other first person plural pronouns in political comment in the South China Morning Post both before and after the handover. Generally, it was found that generic we was a common feature of such writing and appeared to be the default interpretation. There was no evidence that the amount of “claiming to speak for the community” had decreased after the handover. The shifting of the reference of first person plural pronouns within articles was rare. One unexpected finding was the frequency with which generic we appeared to be anaphoric in nature, referring back to an explicit introductory noun phrase.
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