The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Colloquium 11/1 - Eric Reuland

Speaker: Eric Reuland (Utrecht)
Date/Time: Friday November 1st, 3:30-5pm
Location: 32-141
Title: Why reflexivity is (not) so special


Cross-linguistically one sees a variety of ways in which languages express reflexivity. Languages use bodypart reflexives, self-anaphors, clitics, special verbal markings, but one also sees simplex anaphors, pronominals, and verb forms that have been characterized as ‘detransitivized’. The vast majority of languages does ‘something special’ to express reflexivity. In my talk I will address two major questions that keep intriguing me:

i. Why would this domain be special? Why would the prima facie simplest way to express reflexivity, namely a structure where the subject just binds an object pronominal (‘brute force’ reflexivization, BFR) be so generally avoided?

ii. Are there nevertheless commonalities underlying the various ways in which reflexivity is expressed, and if so what principles of grammar do they follow from?

For an answer, we need sufficiently detailed analyses of languages that prima facie exhibit non-standard properties. In this talk I will focus on the way reflexivity is expressed in languages of two rather different types, namely Tegi Khanty (an Uralic language), and Bahasa Indonesia (Malay), and related languages. I will show that each in its own way raises intriguing issues, from having locally bound pronominals to having multiple ways of expressing reflexivity.

I will briefly review some current approaches to binding, and show that despite their merits they are unable to capture and explain the patterns of variation we find. I will show how the facts discussed follow from the interplay between the effects of binding per se and independent properties of the grammatical system, along the lines proposed in Reuland (2011). Thus, what appeared to be special turns out to be not so special after all.