First Person Plural

8 Pages Posted: 11 Jul 2006 Last revised: 11 Mar 2008

See all articles by James Ming Chen

James Ming Chen

Michigan State University - College of Law

Date Written: July 9, 2006


Like most other Indo-European languages, English does not distinguish between the inclusive and exclusive uses of the first person plural. By contrast, languages as diverse as Tok Pisin, Samoan, Taiwanese, and Cherokee take care to distinguish between first person plural pronouns that include the listener and those that exclude the listener. This linguistic difference sheds light on the use of we throughout the foundational documents and the authoritative interpretations of the American constitutional tradition.

Keywords: linguistics, constitutional law, Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Supreme Court, pronouns

Suggested Citation

Chen, James Ming, First Person Plural (July 9, 2006). Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-30, Available at SSRN: or

James Ming Chen (Contact Author)

Michigan State University - College of Law ( email )

318 Law College Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States

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