LINGUIST List 16.160

Wed Jan 19 2005

Diss: Semantics/Morphology: Ryan: 'The 'Reflexive'...'

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        1.    Robert Ryan, The 'Reflexive' as an Interpretation

Message 1: The 'Reflexive' as an Interpretation

Date: 19-Jan-2005
From: Robert Ryan <>
Subject: The 'Reflexive' as an Interpretation

Institution: Växjö University
Program: PhD Program
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2004

Author: Robert C Ryan

Dissertation Title: The 'Reflexive' as an Interpretation

Linguistic Field(s): Morphology

Subject Language(s): English (ENG)
                            Greek, Ancient (GKO)
                            Polish (PQL)

Dissertation Director:
Paul Kent Andersen
Christer Platzack
Tuija Virtanen

Dissertation Abstract:

This thesis is an investigation into the meaning of the 'reflexive' pronoun
in English, and provides a cross-linguistic generalization concerning the
structurally distinct forms that can be associated with the 'reflexive'.
Before the question of the meaning of the 'reflexive' pronoun in English is
addressed directly, the theoretical framework, primarily Structuralist, in
which the results of the study are to be understood is outlined. This
entails a discussion of linguistic signs, semiotics and the key notion of

After the nature of the relationship between structurally determined
'meanings' and context dependant 'interpretations' is established, the
notion of the 'prototype' and its relevance to investigations into the
'reflexive' is analysed. Since the 'reflexive' is regularly analysed in the
linguistic literature as a phenomenon related to 'voice' or diathesis,
Dionysios Thrax's original definition of the term diathesis which appears
in the Tekhne Grammatike is presented. It is demonstrated that, contrary to
popular belief, there are not three formal diatheses to be found in
Classical Greek, but only two. The 'reflexive' and other voice-related
phenomena in Greek and Polish are then examined.

The study then turns to English with an examination of a number of
interpretations found in this language. These interpretations include the
'emphatic', 'decomitative', 'characteristic property', 'anti-causative',
'high degree of activity', 'reciprocal', 'beneficial', 'resultative', and
'reflexive' interpretations. All of these interpretations can be regularly
associated with the 'reflexive' pronoun in English, and also with so-called
'reflexive' morphology in a number of other genetically and areally
unrelated languages. It is claimed that the 'reflexive' pronoun in English
has a single meaning and that this meaning is a component of these

One of the conclusions that is drawn in the study is that the 'reflexive'
pronoun does not mean 'reflexive', and neither does it have 'reflexive' as
a component of its meaning. Rather, the 'reflexive' is but one of a number
of different interpretations that can be associated with this form. To
account for the cross-linguistic distribution of 'reflexive' morphology and
the range of interpretations that are regularly associated with these
forms, the term 'Diathesis' is introduced. This term is defined as an
empirically supported linguistic phenomenon which is concerned with
relating particular distinct linguistic signs to some conceptualisation of
the number and nature of the particular roles clausal participants come to
play in the transfer of energy.

Finally, by investigating a number of literary texts, it is observed that
the 'reflexive' pronoun can play a role in shifts of point of view in a
narrative, also known as 'focalization', in literary theory.

Key words: linguistic sign, semiotics, meaning, interpretation,
arbitrariness, underdeterminacy, diathesis, energia, páthos, voice,
Dionysios Thrax, Tekhne Grammatike, prototype, Transitivity, Polish,
Classical Greek, English, emphatic, decomitative, characteristic property,
anti-causative, high degree of activity, reciprocal, beneficial,
resultative, reflexive, focalization, narrative point of view, Diathesis.

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