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The "Reflexive" as an Interpretation
Växjö University, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Humanities.
2004 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

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 underdeterminacy. 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 Tékhnē Grammatikē 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 interpretations. 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.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Växjö: Institutionen för humaniora , 2004.
Keywords [en]
linguistic sign, semiotics, meaning, interpretation, arbitrariness, underdeterminacy, diathesis, energia, páthos, voice, Dionysios Thrax, Tékhnē Grammatikē, 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
National Category
Specific Languages
Research subject
Humanities, English
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:vxu:diva-456OAI: oai:DiVA.org:vxu-456DiVA, id: diva2:206758
Public defence
2004-10-01, Homeros, Växjö universitet, 351 95 Växjö, 13:15
Opponent
Available from: 2006-03-06 Created: 2006-03-06 Last updated: 2018-01-13Bibliographically approved

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CiteExportLink to record
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Citation style
  • apa
  • harvard1
  • ieee
  • modern-language-association-8th-edition
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More styles
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More languages
Output format
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