LINGUIST List 2.654

Mon 14 Oct 1991

Misc: Themself, I Says, Possessive

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. MAILBOOK, Re: 2.627 Themselves
  2. Henry Churchyard, Re: 2.613 Queries
  3. jack rea, yours
  4. Ron Smyth, Re: 2.635 Queries
  5. "STEVE SEEGMILLER", RE: 2.635 Queries

Message 1: Re: 2.627 Themselves

Date: Wed, 09 Oct 91 23:55:20 EDT
Subject: Re: 2.627 Themselves
In reply to my complaint about linguists ignoring the phenomenon of singular
'they' when writing aobut bound anaphora Ellen Prince writes,
>it's not that anyone gets into trouble,(if they were to include singular
>THEY [MN]) it's that you've got a different phenomenon with 'they' ...
>with 'they' you've got discourse anaphora
I guess in my annoyance, I let myself fall into some sloppy ways of expressing
myself. However I think it is sloppy of those who do this sort of work to
completely ignore a closely related phenomenon-- it is the ignoring of singular
THEY that I am commenting on. In any case I think that what Ellen is saying
is not really complete. It is not that with THEY that you HAVE a discourse
anaphora, it's that with THEY you CAN have discourse anaphora. THEY may also
pick up a distributive sense, and it can even pick up a singular sense as wit-
nessed by this whole THEMSELF business. As for the distributive meanings, how
about this sentence that I owe to Bob Fiengo:
Max saw everyone before Jim saw them/him.
There are three possible readings: 1) a group reading where first Max saw some
group of people and then Jim saw them 2) a reading where Max saw a person and
then sent that perosn to Jim 3) a case load reading where Max finished his case
load of completely different people than Jim's first. In all cases I think THEY
is OK, but HE works only with the second, distributive reading. However, and
this may weaken my case, I admit, a few speakers claim not to get that second
distributive one with THEY.
In any case I think my point still stands. A lot is going on here that has
beenignored in favor of a normative rule, one which is rarely followed at least
when anaphorizing EVERY
Micahel Newman Hunter College
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Message 2: Re: 2.613 Queries

Date: Fri, 11 Oct 1991 19:47 CST
From: Henry Churchyard <>
Subject: Re: 2.613 Queries
On Oct 05, Susan Fischer ( asks about the third
person indefinite reflexive:
>The following sentence appeared in today's New York Times (Section I, p. 27):
> (3) (quoting the Georgia Attorney General) "I'm not going to hire
>someone who holds >>themself<< out to the public by their own admission as
>being engaged in homosexual marriage," Mr. Bowers said.
>[...] (3) seems to be the most felicitous way to express the intended idea in
>this case, since the "correct" >>himself<< is inappropriate given the genders
>of the participants, and even >>themselves<< is a little funny since the
>pronoun is semantically singular. [...]
> Has anyone else encountered constructions like (3)?
 At the LSA linguistic institute this summer, I collected the following
example from a handwritten notice outside the University of California at
Santa Cruz copy center:
 "The sample for resume' stock is missing, because sadly enough, someone
brought it upon *themself* to steal it. We, at the Copy Center are sorry for
any inconvenience they may have caused you." (Emphasis added.)
 In my dialect (roughly U.S. Southwestern/Californian white suburban), there
are also compounds of plural pronoun + _self_ which have an unequivocally
plural, rather than generic, sense: _ourself_, _yourself_ (in a plural sense),
and _themself_. What is interesting is that these can acquire a semantic
contrast with the original forms in _-selves_; insofar as there is a contrast,
the _self_ compounds have a more collective, non-individuated meaning. Thus
sentence (1a) most naturally means that some group, including the speaker
accomplished some task together. Sentence (1b) can also have this meaning,
especially in a formal or prescriptive context, but the meaning that each
member of some group, individually and separately accomplished some task is at
least equally prominent. Similarly, sentence (2a), in its plural non-generic
reading, means that some group of people wants to be with each other to the
exclusion of others, while (2b) suggests that each member of a group of people
wants to be entirely alone by him/herself.
 And for me sentence (3a) implies that a group of people, standing together,
saw the reflection of the group, perhaps in a far-off mirror, but that each
person was not necessarily able to make out him/herself in the reflection
individually. Sentence (3b) would tend more to be used for the two other
readings: the first reading, that all the members of a group looked into a
mirror together, and each saw not only his/her own reflection but those of
other members; and the second reading, that on separate occasions in the past
each member of a group looked into the mirror and saw his/her own reflection,
but not necessarily those of the other members of the group.
 1a) We did it by ourself. 1b) We did it by ourselves.
 2a) They want to be by themself. 2b) They want to be by themselves.
 3a) They saw themself in the mirror. 3b) They saw themselves in the mirror.
 What is also interesting is that (4a) is totally bad, despite the
semantically favoring context, whereas if the intensive is merely postposed
then (5a) is really rather better than (5b):
 4a) *They themself spoke French together.
 4b) They themselves spoke French together.
 5a) They spoke French together themself.
 5b) They spoke French together themselves.
 Does anyone else have these intuitions (I am stricly an amateur in
semantics, and it probably shows)?
 --Henry Churchyard
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Message 3: yours

Date: Fri, 11 Oct 91 15:42:01 EDT
From: jack rea <>
Subject: yours
One of the oddest possesives I have heard was done spontaneously in a
conversation by a linguist (obviously and untrustworthy type, and was
 "My wife and my's reaction was the same as yours."
This stopped conversation, but all agreed, "Well, how else would you say it?"
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Message 4: Re: 2.635 Queries

Date: Thu, 10 Oct 91 20:06:02 EDT
From: Ron Smyth <>
Subject: Re: 2.635 Queries
I used to be a nat speaker of an "I says" dialect. This was in my
childhood in Thunder Bay, Ontario. I can still do it on demand, as in:
"So this guy comes up to me, eh, and I says to him, I says, 'Whattaya want,
Is this a narrative present? I'm not sure what kind of test would count.
I can mix it with past: The guy wanted money, eh, so I says to him...
However, I'd be more likely to put 'want' in the present as well. If you
can think of a way to distinguish the historic present from a st,
I can try to give some rusty intuitions. But perhaps this is just the
point: is the historic present a morphological past or a morphological
present? Another consideration is whether "I says" can be used for the
present in some or all of these dialects. Not for mine; I can't imagine
saying "I says let's go and get some ice cream" meaning "My opinion is that we
should go and get some ice cream". However, it's fine if I mean, "So I said
let's go and get....".
Who has studied this seriously?
Ron Smyth
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Message 5: RE: 2.635 Queries

Date: 13 Oct 91 22:49:00 EST
Subject: RE: 2.635 Queries
In reply to Niko Besnier's query about "I says...": I am marginally a
speaker of such a dialect -- I don't use it actively, but it seems entirely
natural to me. My intuition is that you are correct in thinking that "I
says" is the narrative (or historical) present. For me, the -s ending
can occur with any singular subject (including *you* in the singular) but
no plural subject.
I have no information on the regional or social distribution of this feature.
I'm not even sure if I acquired it in my native Utah or in one of the five
other states I've lived in.
Steve Seegmiller <>
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