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Sources of accessibility: Distinguishing the two reflexives of Late Archaic and Early Middle Chinese


This thesis investigates properties of two reflexive pronouns in Late Archaic Chinese (LAC) and Early Middle Chinee (EMC), 自 zì and 己 jǐ, and demonstrates how syntactic generalisations about them are motivated by discourse-functional considerations.

I argue that zì has six major uses: signaling coreference between subjects and (1) objects, (2) possessors of objects, and (3) arguments inside complement clauses, and (4) emphasising the agent against plausible alternatives, (5) expressing the subject’s status as the affectee, and (6) indicating that the action had no external cause. I characterise the prototypical use of zì with four properties: the referent of zì is (1) centrally relevant to the predicate, (2) the same as the subject, (3) unexpected in its role in the predicate, and (4) contrasted with other possible potential referents in its role. I also discuss deviations from these properties.

Turning to jǐ, I identify three main uses: (1) coreference between subject of a complement-taking verb and a referential form inside the complement, (2) coreference between a referent in an agent-nominalised clause and a non-agent referent in surrounding context, and (3) salient contrasts between the ‘self’ and ‘other’. I characterise these uses through a common discourse profile: the referent of jǐ is either (1) the perceiver of a situation or, in EMC, (2) a discourse topic, and in both LAC and EMC, (3) competes with another highly salient referent in the discourse context.

I show that although the reflexives’ individual properties are crosslinguistically common, the constellations of properties and the resultant division of labour between the reflexives are typologically unique. I also argue that, consistent with Ariel’s (2008) account, both reflexives are used in contexts of intermediate discourse accessibility: some factors push the referent’s accessibility up, and others lower it. Yet, unlike Ariel, I argue that the two reflexives differ not in terms of overall accessibility level, but in the sources of accessibility they are sensitive to, supporting a multidimensional view of accessibility, rather than collapsing sources of accessibility into a single value as is traditionally done.

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