LINGUIST List 6.1440

Tue Oct 17 1995

Disc: Creeping reflexives

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Peter Christian, Creeping reflexives

Message 1: Creeping reflexives

Date: Tue, 17 Oct 1995 14:01:56 Creeping reflexives
From: Peter Christian <>
Subject: Creeping reflexives

Although creeping reflexives certainly contain reflexive pronouns, I think
the reflexivity may not be an essential feature of the usage. Three
observations suggest this.

1) In Middle High German verse narratives, it is common to find in dialogue
usages such as "min li^p" (literally "my body") instead of the first person
pronoun, and likewise with the second person. The fact that this occurs
predominantly in the dialogue of characters belonging to the higher social
classes suggests that this avoidance of the personal pronoun is a matter of
politeness. (It is found, incidentally, both in subject and object positions
- though there may some statistical differences in frequency). There is no
reason to suppose this to be a feature of literary rather than everday

2) The creeping reflexives could be seen as simply as an extension of the
existing methods of avoiding the personal pronoun in address to persons of
rank ("Your Honour", "Your Majesty"), with the use of a "dummy" noun. MHG
li^p can simply be seen as a more generally applicable dummy noun, as can
"self" in English. Of course, this type of phrase is also used in the
third person.

3) The "self" in these creeping reflexives seems still to function as a noun
on occasions for example in the locution (in a slightly archaic British
English, at least) "your good self".

Peter Christian

Peter Christian				
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