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Review of  The Grammar of Identity

Reviewer: Christopher D Sapp
Book Title: The Grammar of Identity
Book Author: Volker Gast
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Language Family(ies): Germanic
Issue Number: 18.1331

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AUTHOR: Gast, Volker
TITLE: The Grammar of Identity
SUBTITLE: Intensifiers and reflexives in Germanic languages
SERIES: Routledge Studies in Germanic Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2006

Christopher D. Sapp, Department of Modern Languages, University of Mississippi


This book is a revised version of Volker Gast's 2003 Ph.D. dissertation
entitled The Grammar of Identity -- Intensifiers and Reflexives as
Expressions of an Identity Function. Whereas the dissertation presents
primarily English data supported by evidence from other languages, in this
book Gast has opted to concentrate on offering a comprehensive survey of
SELF-forms in the Germanic languages. The primary goal of this study is to
account for the fact that Germanic SELF-forms function both as reflexives
('John criticized himself') and as intensifiers ('The president himself
made the decision'). Gast demonstrates in the book that both uses of SELF
express an 'identity function'.

Chapter 1, 'Introduction', begins with an overview of SELF-forms in twelve
Germanic languages. Next, Gast outlines his analysis of the identity
function, which allows SELF to be an intensifier when interacting with
information structure but a reflexive when interacting with binding.
Following that, the three types of intensifiers are presented:
head-adjacent SELF, head-distant exclusive SELF, and head-distant inclusive
SELF. (These will be illustrated below.) Finally, Gast gives an overview
of previous diachronic and synchronic analyses of the relationship between
intensifiers and reflexives.

Chapters 2 through 6 are devoted to intensifiers. Chapter 2 presents 'The
distribution and morphology of head-adjacent SELF'. The canonical position
of this intensifier is right-adjoined to the Determiner Phrase or Noun
Phrase (DP), as in 'the president himself', which is the only possibility
in historical and contemporary stages of the West Germanic languages.
Gothic and the Scandinavian languages additionally allow the intensifier to
be preposed or left-adjoined to the DP: e.g. Swedish has both 'presidenten
själv' and 'själve presidenten' for 'the president himself'. After
disproving several proposed combinatorial restrictions of head-adjacent
SELF, Gast concludes that the only restriction is that the intensified DP
must be in the propositional background.

In Chapter 3, Gast demonstrates that his analysis of SELF as an identity
function (ID) can account for the semantics of head-adjacent intensifiers.
He argues that this identity function invokes contextually relevant
alternatives to the intensified DP and contrasts with them. Thus (1a) is
interpreted as (1b), where ID(the president) contrasts with alternative
relations represented by OTH(the president), for example 'wife of the
president' or 'spokesman of the president'.

(1) a. The president [himself] will open the meeting.
b. ID(the president) will open the meeting. (Gast's ex. (12a-b), p. 41)

Chapter 4, 'The syntax of head-distant intensifiers', argues based on word
order that exclusive and inclusive SELF have different derivations.
Head-distant exclusive SELF indicates that the subject acts exclusively of
alternative subjects; it is thus synonymous with 'alone' or 'by
herself/himself' (2a). Conversely, head-distant inclusive SELF (2b)
requires that alternative subjects be included in the interpretation, and
it can be paraphrased by 'also' or 'too'.

(2) a. [...] not relying on an assistant but doing it himself.
b. If the baby's grandmother is young and has young children herself
... (Gast's ex. (14b-c), p. 6)

The discussion begins with the distributional properties of head-distant
SELF in German. There, both inclusive and exclusive SELF appear between
the subject and all other arguments, preceding manner adverbs but following
modal adverbs. However, inclusive SELF precedes temporal and spatial
adverbs but exclusive SELF follows them. Based on this, Gast concludes
that exclusive SELF is generated inside the Verb Phrase (specifically vP)
and remains in situ when the subject raises. Inclusive SELF also
originates in vP but moves with the subject to a higher position (namely
TP), above the node representing tense. In English, exclusive SELF occurs
after objects but before temporal/spatial adverbs (3a), indicating that
they are within vP as in German. Inclusive SELF occurs either immediately
following an auxiliary verb (3b) or clause-finally (3c).

(3) a. Maybe he'll tell you about it himself some time. (ex. (46b), p. 81)
b. [...] who has himself been the subject of some speculation [...]
(ex. (50), p. 82)
c. [...] a leader they know has been through the fire himself, [...]
(ex. (51), p. 82)

The fact that distribution of inclusive SELF in English is like that of
German only with auxiliary verbs is accounted for by the fact that
auxiliary verbs are the only verbs in English that undergo V-to-T movement.
Gast derives the clause-final position of inclusive SELF by 'heavy shift'.
As further evidence that exclusive but not inclusive SELF remains in the
vP, both English and German allow only exclusive SELF to participate in
VP-topicalization ('and do it himself he did') and deverbal derivation

Chapter 5 discusses the 'Combinatorial properties of head-distant
intensifiers'. It has been argued that there are a number of restrictions
on DPs that can be intensified by head-distant SELF. Gast discusses these
restrictions and dismisses them in turn, demonstrating that they represent
mere tendencies and not rules. As with head-adjacent SELF, he concludes
that the only restrictions on head-distant SELF involve information structure.

Chapter 6, 'The interpretation of head-distant intensifiers', relates the
word-order differences between exclusive and inclusive SELF, discussed in
Chapter 4, to the semantic distinctions between the two. Under Gast's
hypothesis that exclusive SELF is in vP, it is c-commanded by T (the tense
node), which for Gast is the locus of the existential quantifier. Thus the
event is under the scope of the existential quantifier, and the contrasting
alternative subjects result in alternative propositions of the same event.
The sentence 'John will mow the lawn himself' is interpreted as: 'As far
as John is concerned, there is an event e such that e is an event of mowing
the lawn, and e has been performed by the x identical to John, and e may
have been performed by some x different from John.' On the other hand,
inclusive SELF is above T, and thus both the identity function and the
alternative subjects c-command the existential quantifier. This means that
each alternative subject introduces an additional existentially-bound
event. In the sentence 'John is himself a drinker', the alternative event
is 'As far as John is concerned, there is a fact e such that e is the fact
that someone other than John is a drinker.' That is, both John and the
other individuals included in the context are drinkers.

The final two chapters turn to the reflexive function of SELF. In Chapter
7, 'Reflexivity and the identity function', Gast demonstrates that in
reflexive contexts the identity function interacts with syntax rather than
information structure. He begins with a presentation of the typology of
reflexives, followed by a lengthy discussion of previous accounts of
reflexives, from Chomsky's classic Binding Theory through Kiparsky's (2002)
Optimality-theoretic account. Unlike Reinhart and Reuland (1993 i.a.), who
propose that languages like Dutch have two types of reflexives--
SE-anaphors ('zich') and SELF-anaphors ('zichself')-- Gast proposes that
there are two types of predicates with respect to reflexivity. In
'typically self-directed predicates' like 'to wash', Dutch uses the simple
anaphor 'zich', e.g. 'Jan wast zich' 'Jan washes (himself)'. However, in
'typically other-directed predicates' such as 'to hate', Dutch requires the
complex anaphor: 'Jan haat zichself' 'Jan hates himself'. Gast analyzes
'zichself' as the reflexive 'zich' plus 'zelf', the identity function,
required because 'to hate' is typically directed at an individual other
than the subject. The choice of reflexive is accounted for by Gast under
Optimality Theory, with binding, predicate type, and morphology interacting
with each other.

Chapter 8, 'The grammar of reflexivity in Germanic languages', extends the
analysis of Dutch to the other languages of the family. The Scandinavian
languages behave similarly to Dutch, with a simplex anaphor (e.g. Norwegian
'seg') in typically self-directed predicates and the compound with SELF
(e.g. Norwegian 'seg selv') required in typically other-directed predicates
that are reflexive. Thus as in Dutch, the constraint that simplex anaphors
cannot be bound by subjects in other-directed predicates is ranked higher
than the constraint that anaphors be morphologically simple. In German,
however, where the simplex 'sich' is used with both types of reflexive, the
morphological economy constraint is ranked higher, thus the complex 'sich
selbst' is not obligatory with other-directed predicates. The English
system is accounted for by two diachronic changes: first, SELF incorporated
into the pronoun, and second, typically self-directed predicates ceased to
require a reflexive.


In The Grammar of Identity, Gast has made three significant
accomplishments. First of all, he convincingly unifies the intensive and
reflexive functions of SELF, which is the ultimate goal of the book. The
analysis of SELF as an identity function dispenses with the need to assume
that there are two different meanings of SELF or that one function
developed diachronically out of the other. Rather, Gast's 'identity
function' allows there to be one SELF, which results in two different
interpretations depending on the component of grammar in which it is

Secondly, Gast provides a detailed description of intensifiers in Germanic,
as well as a well-argued analysis of them. Gast's syntactic analyses of
the three types of intensifiers is supported not only by word-order facts,
but also by their semantic interpretations, making his account particularly

Thirdly, although relying heavily on Kiparsky (2002), Gast provides an
elegant analysis of the two types of reflexives in Germanic. The insight
in his modification of Kiparsky's account is that the difference in meaning
between the simplex and complex anaphor derives from the identity function
of SELF. Moreover, he demonstrates that a few basic constraints account
for all of the Germanic data, with the variation within the family stemming
from different rankings of those constraints.

There are, however, a few minor problems with the book. Although generally
very well edited, there is occasional influence from the author's native
German, resulting in sometimes awkward wording. Moreover, the glosses do
not always clearly render the meaning of the example: in some German
examples, word order distinguishes between exclusive and inclusive SELF,
but the English gloss is ambiguous between the two readings. An additional
problem is that, while most chapters have a final summary, sub-chapters do
not. This often forces the reader to re-scan the section to find its main
point, sometimes buried in the middle of the section. Finally, the book
could have benefited from a concluding chapter.

These shortcomings, while diminishing the book's readability somewhat, do
not at all detract from its significant contributions to linguistics. The
Grammar of Identity is valuable for its thorough morphological, syntactic,
and semantic description of SELF in English and the other Germanic
languages, its insightful analysis of intensifiers, and its addition to the
ongoing debate on the syntax of reflexives.


Kiparsky, Paul. 2002. Disjoint reference and the typology of pronouns.
More than Words -- A Festschrift for Dieter Wunderlich, ed. by Ingrid
Kaufmann and Barbara Stiebels, 179-226. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

Reinart, Tanya and Eric Reuland. 1993. Reflexivity. Linguistic Inquiry

Christopher D. Sapp is an instructor at the University of Mississippi,
where he teaches German, German linguistics, and general linguistics. His
areas of research include the diachronic morphology and syntax of the
Germanic languages.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0415394112
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