June 02, 2006

Reflexive alert

G.M. Filisko writes in the ABA Journal eReport for 5/19/06, about speculations as to why J. Michael Luttig is resigning as a U.S. Circuit Court judge.  The fifth paragraph begins:

Others have speculated Luttig resigned in anger at the Bush administration over its handling of the Jose Padilla case, in disappointment caused by dimming hopes for a Supreme Court seat, or in the expectation that a private sector job will better position himself for the next Supreme Court vacancy.

I've bolded a startling reflexive pronoun.  The advice books don't warn you against such reflexives; they spend a lot of time inveighing against myself (and sometimes yourself) without an overt antecedent (as in "You should give it to Sandy and myself"), but the problem here is not that an antecedent is lacking for "himself" -- "Luttig" is the subject of a clause that begins "Luttig resigned" and takes up the rest of the sentence -- but that "Luttig" is structurally too distant from the reflexive to count as an antecedent for it.  English speakers and writers rarely produce such reflexives, so examples like the Luttig sentence might easily escape the notice of the grammar and usage mavens.  Even if they did collect such examples, they'd probably be at a loss to say why reflexives (rather than plain personal pronouns) are odd in them.

In English.  Similar examples in Japanese, with the all-purpose Japanese reflexive zibun, are fine.  What's going on?  And why is (2) so much worse than (1), even granting that (1) isn't stellar?

(1)  Luttig expects that a private sector job will better position himself for a Supreme Court vacancy.

(2)  I'm speculating about Luttig that a private sector job will better position himself for a Supreme Court vacancy.

[Original example from Victor Steinbok, who got it from Ann Althouse.]

First, a little background about English reflexives.  (Seasoned syntacticians can skip this part.)  The big generalization (subject to some provisos) here is that in English reflexives and their antecedents must belong to the same clause, in a special sense of "belong":

Definition: An occurrence X of some expression within a sentence Y belongs to the smallest clause within Y that contains X.

Clause-Mate Condition: Reflexive pronouns and their antecedents must belong to the same clause.

Look at (1), a pared-down version of the original Luttig sentence.  The clause that the reflexive pronoun "himself" belongs to is "(that) a private sector job will better position himself for a Supreme Court vacancy", and this clause does not contain the (intended) antecedent for "himself", namely "Luttig"; instead, "Luttig" belongs to the (larger) clause that comprises all of sentence (1).  Similarly for (2).  Neither (1) nor (2) satisfies the Clause-Mate Condition, so both should be ungrammatical, and equally so.

When I first looked at the Luttig sentence, I thought that Filisko chose a reflexive pronoun for its emphatic or intensifying effect (one of the motives for antecedentless myself and yourself).  Reflexives are good for this because they are weightier than accusative personal pronouns: they have two syllables rather than one, and always bear some accent, while accusative pronouns are usually unaccented.  And maybe that's all there is to say about the matter.

But then I noticed that the clause that the reflexive belongs to is the complement of an deverbal noun denoting a thought, "expectation", and specifically LUTTIG'S thought; Filisko could have written "in his expectation that...", but the identity of the expecter is perfectly clear for the version "in the expectation that..."  Then the light came on and the word logophoric popped up in my head.

Logophoric pronouns are used in complements of verbs of saying or thinking to refer to the person responsible for the words or thoughts. (For some general discussion, see Peter Sells's influential "Aspects of Logophoricity" in Linguistic Inquiry, 1987.)  Reflexive pronouns in some languages have logophoric uses, probably on the grounds that the speaker or writer is taking the viewpoint of the person whose speech or thought is being represented.  The Japanese all-purpose reflexive zibun has logophoric uses; the literature on zibun is now enormous, but for a recent survey of some relevant facts, see Yukio Hiroshe's article "Viewpoint and the nature of the Japanese reflexive zibun" (Cognitive Linguistics, 2002).

In any case, "himself" in (1), and in the original Luttig sentence, is in the right place for a logophorically used reflexive, while the reflexive in (2) is not -- which might explain why (2) is so much worse than (1).

It turns out that I am not the first person to suggest that English, or at least some varieties of English, might have logophoric uses of its reflexive pronouns.  The most useful discussion I've been able to unearth (in an admittedly quick search) is in a handout for a talk ("The interpretation of logophoric self-forms, and some consequences for a model of reference and denotation") given by Volker Gast at the 5th Discourse Anaphora and Anaphora Resolution Colloquium in 2004.  (There is also a fair amount of literature on logophoric and other non-clause-mate reflexives in earlier stages of English, where they were apparently more frequent than they are now.)  It's a handout, but a very detailed one, with a fair number of attested examples and some bibliography.

In fact, I am not the first person to discuss, right here in the halls of Language Log Plaza, what might be logophoric uses of English reflexive pronouns.  Back in January, a guest posting by Chris Culy (no slouch on logophoricity), "Getting ourselves in trouble", started from the Darrel Waltrip quote

He told me I talked and talked and talked, and eventually I'd say something that would get myself in trouble.

(which has the right context for a logophoric reflexive)  and went on to explore some other non-clause-mate reflexives in English that are pretty clearly not logophoric -- all this in response to Geoff Pullum's straightforward deploring of George W. Bush's "ourselves" in

And so long as the war on terror goes on, and so long as there's a threat, we will inevitably need to hold people that would do ourselves harm.

(which is certainly not logophoric, but is 1st person, so might fall into another category of non-clause-mate reflexives).

So it might be that the original Luttig sentence comes from a variety of English -- one that is not mine, or Steinbok's, or, I would imagine, Pullum's -- where logophoric reflexives are possible.  There's a lot of variation in language, after all, and so far I know, no one has ever claimed that logophoric reflexives are impossible in English on some principled grounds, which means that finding varieties that have them should be cause for a small celebration: here's something that languages can do, and, by golly, here are varieties of English (who knew?) that do it.

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Posted by Arnold Zwicky at June 2, 2006 05:58 PM