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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Giving Reflexivity a Voice: Twin Reflexives in English

  • Author(s): Ahn, Byron Thomas
  • Advisor(s): Jun, Sun-Ah
  • Sportiche, Dominique
  • et al.

Across languages, there is variability in the surface realization of reflexivity, according to various sets of properties. For example, there are languages (e.g. Greek, Lakhota) that seem to treat some of their reflexive clauses as being in a non-active voice, similar to a passive. There are also languages (e.g. French, Kannada) in which reflexivity is encoded differently depending on whether the antecedent is the subject or not. In this way, English seems to be different: reflexivity is apparently realized in a homogeneous way - filling an argument position with an anaphoric expression like themselves - regardless of clausal voice or grammatical role of the antecedent.

This homogeneity is an illusion. Despite using a single set of anaphoric expressions for reflexivity in various situations, reflexive anaphors in English fall into two classes: those that exhibit exceptional prosodic behaviors, and those that do not.

This exceptionality can be directly observed in two domains: the distribution of "default" phrasal stress, and the distribution of a certain focal accent. From the results of expirments on speech production and perception, I show that the distribution of exceptionally behaving reflexive anaphors is structurally constrained. This implicates that there must a be syntactic account for these prosodic properties.

Assuming that syntactic structure plays a near deterministic role in prosody (an assumption going back to even the earliest generative work on phrasal stress; Chomsky and Halle 1968:25), I argue for a more refined syntactic structure of reflexivity. Briefly, I demonstrate a sub-class of reflexive anaphors in English undergo a syntactic movement (to a reflexive VoiceP). This movement, along with independently motivated mechanisms for placement of phrasal stress and focal accents, derives the heterogeneous prosodic behaviors of reflexives in English. Crucially, this analysis does not require the prosodic component to have any stipulations for specific (classes of) words, in line with a Minimalist approach to the Syntax-Prosody Interface.

This model of reflexivity simultaneously reduces the amount of theoretical machinery necessary to achieve descriptive adequacy, while also enhancing the model's predictive power. Moreover, this research has broad theoretical implications, beyond just reflexives in English. This theory is able to unify the various morpho-syntactic instantiations of reflexivizing functions - across languages - as being related to the Reflexive VoiceP. It also establishes a core set of properties that define clausal reflexivity, each of which are the result of the formal properties of the reflexive Voice0. Finally, it provides direct support for the hypothesis that syntactic and prosodic structures are maximally isomorphic, with prosodic cues in the signal giving direct evidence for otherwise invisible syntactic structure.

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