On ‘reflexive pronouns’

Pursuing the reflection on grammatical categories, we will examine now “reflexive pronouns”. These are:

  • me te se nous vous se (French)
  • mi ti si ci vi si (Corsican)
  • myself yourself himself/herself/itself ourselves yourselves themselves

Let us take an example:

  • je me promène, tu te promènes, il se promène, nous nous promenons, vous vous promenez, ils se promènent
  • I walk, you walk, he walks, we walk, we walk, you walk, they walk
  • spassieghju, spassieghji, spassieghja, spassiemu, spassieti, spassièghjani

These reflexive pronouns are usually associated with so-called pronominal verbs.
From our point of view, this classification as ‘pronouns’ is unsatisfactory, because they always precede a verb,1 but are placed after a personal subject pronoun, an indefinite pronoun, or a nominal group. In particular, the notion of pronoun following a pronoun is not coherent, from the point of view of our analysis, where the main criterion for typology is the position of a given grammatical type in relation to another.

Let us recall here that the idea behind this reconstruction of grammatical typology is the hypothesis that traditional classification lacks coherence and that this considerably hinders the development of natural language analysis and, at the same time, the development of machine translation modules based on the emulation of human reasoning.

This example suggests that the classic ‘reflexive pronoun’ is a word that introduces into the verb to which it refers a notion of reflexivity of action. In this sense, it is more of a specialized verb modifier. It is thus more akin to the adverb in the sense that we have defined it, i.e. a verb modifier in the broad sense. The adverb in this sense can be placed before or after the verb. On the other hand, the reflexive verb modifier as we have defined it can only be placed in French before the verb.

1 I oversimplify here, since there are also some structures like: tu t’en souviens (you remember it, ti n’inveni).