Person: First, Second and Third

In grammar, the term person generally refers to one of three possible types of referent as defined by the role one plays in a speech act.  In other words, person identifies 1) who is speaking, 2) who is being spoken to, and 3) who (or what) is being spoken about.  This three-way division minimally allows for a basic person paradigm (or set of forms) as follows:


Person Divisions

1 first person speaker (or person speaking)
2 second person addressee (or person spoken to)
3 third person person spoken about


In any speech act, there is a speaker, the one speaking, and we refer to the speaker as the first person, generally abbreviated simply as 1.  In English, “I” and “me” are first person pronouns; in Plains Cree, niya is a first person pronoun.  Usually, the speaker is speaking directly to one or more people or “addressees”.  The addressee or person spoken to is referred to as the second person, generally abbreviated as 2.  In English, “you” is a second person pronoun, and in Plains Cree, the second person pronoun is kiya.  Together, the first and second persons are the speech act participants or “local” referents.  They interact and take turns alternating between being speaker and addressee.  In addition to the speech act participants, we can also refer to others who are neither speaking nor being spoken to.  The third person is the person being spoken about, and this is generally abbreviated as 3.  In English, “she” and “he” are third person pronouns, divided also by gender as discussed above.  In Cree, there is no natural gender distinction made, so the Plains Cree third person pronoun is wiya.  We can compare these person forms for both Cree and English in the following paradigm:


Basic Person Divisions in Plains Cree and English

  Plains Cree English
1 niya I; me
2 kiya you
3 wiya she/he; her/him


The basic three-way division of person illustrated thus far does not take into account the important category of number discussed above.  Normally, the categories of person and number interact to create a more detailed person paradigm which includes both singular and plural persons.  This interaction will be discussed next, allowing us to introduce possessive marking on nouns.