Journal article Open Access

A frequentist explanation of some universals of reflexive marking

Haspelmath, Martin

This paper identifies a number of empirically observable universals of reflexive marking that concern the existence of a special reflexive pronoun and the length of the marker that is used in reflexive constructions, in various different positions of the nonreflexive or reflexive pronoun. Most of the proposed universals have been mentioned earlier in the literature, but they have not been very prominent because the literature on binding has focused on language-specific generalizations rather than identifying readily testable cross-linguistic generalizations. I argue that all of these universals have their basis in a frequency asymmetry: Under different circumstances, the likelihood of an anaphoric pronoun being coreferential with the subject can be quite different, and this is argued to be the motivation for the universal patterns of form.

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