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  • Most of the words we use refer to things in the real world

  • Like "martian" - martians tend to refer to things from Mars.

  • Other words, however, don’t have such a clear meaning, like "herself."

  • "Herself" certainly has to refer to something that’s a person and maybe female,

  • but other than that, were not so sure.

  • We know what it CAN refer to, but not what it DOES.

  • Let’s give an example to illustrate.

  • "The martian saw herself in the mirror."

  • In this case, "herself" refers to the martian.

  • "Herself" and "the martian" basically refer to the same individual.

  • Let’s show another example to see how "herself" takes its meaning from the words around it.

  • If we replace "the martian" with "Ingrid," now "herself" means "Ingrid."

  • This is what we mean when we say that "herself" takes its meaning from the words around it.

  • Let’s try another example, this time replacing "Ingrid" with another noun that is more complex:

  • "The martian’s mother saw herself in the mirror."

  • Now we have two possible antecedents: the martian, and the mother.

  • In this case, it has to be the mother who’s doing the seeing, not the martian.

  • Let’s lay out a set of hypotheses about what "herself" can possibly refer to.

  • 1. We think that it has to be the closest possible noun to "herself"

  • 2. And it has to be the right kind of noun

  • But that’s kind of vague.

  • What do we mean by the "right kind" of noun?

  • Well, let’s replace all of this with some other noun, for instance:

  • "The book saw herself in the mirror."

  • That kind of doesn’t work, because "the book" isn’t a person.

  • It would only work if the book were anthropomorphized.

  • So let’s put a person back in the sentence:

  • "The book saw herself in Ingrid."

  • Well, we have a person, but this sentence doesn’t work either.

  • Maybe "Ingrid" actually has to go before "herself."

  • Let’s swap these:

  • "Ingrid saw herself in the book."

  • Now the sentence works reasonably well - in a figurative sort of way - "Ingrid" is the

  • antecedent of "herself."

  • So, we should revise our hypotheses to reflect that the referent of "herself" must be the

  • closest preceding female person.

  • Let’s try another example with multiple possible antecedents:

  • "Ingrid said the martian’s mother laughed at herself."

  • In this case, we have several possible antecedents: "Ingrid," "the martian," and "the mother."

  • And this is where our closest preceding antecedent comes in. "herself" has to refer to "mother".

  • Let’s apply our new constraints to another sentence:

  • "The mother of the martian saw herself."

  • We have two possible antecedents: the mother and the martian.

  • But by our rule, the martian would be the one that’s doing the seeing, and that’s

  • just not the case.

  • Here, the mother is actually doing the seeing.

  • This suggests that we might have to revise our rules a bit.

  • Let’s take a simpler sentence to see how this works:

  • "The mother saw herself."

  • This means that the mother is, crucially, the person that is doing the seeing.

  • When we re-insert "of the martian," we see that "of the martian" is somehow modifying

  • "the mother."

  • It’s not changing the most critical part of the meaning of the sentence.

  • And so when "herself" searches for an antecedent, it skips over the content in parentheses and

  • just looks at "the mother."

  • So our new hypothesis has to reflect that any potential antecedent not be within a modifier.

  • Let’s look at one more sentence to see this in action:

  • "*The rocket that carried the martian launched herself."

  • "that carried the martian" seems to be modifying "the rocket," just like the other modifier

  • was doing in the previous sentence.

  • So when "herself" has to find an antecedent, it skips right over "the martian" and goes

  • straight to "the rocket."

  • This sentence happens to be ungrammatical because "the rocket" does not meet our constraints

  • in that it is not a person.

  • (Sometimes linguists can learn as much from ungrammatical sentences as grammatical ones.)

  • "Herself" is just one of many words that take their meaning from the words around them.

  • It’s called an anaphor. Specifically, a reflexive anaphor.

  • Other reflexives that exist in English include these words.

  • Reflexives exist in other languages, as well, like these words.

  • But, in fact, there are other types of anaphora that are not reflexive.

  • These include his and its and their and her and him.

  • These take their meaning from the words in the surrounding context, as well, but use

  • different antecedents.

  • Bonus:

  • Try to figure out the antecedents of the anaphora in this sentence:

  • Morris thought that Felix misplaced his book after the martian distracted him.

  • In particular, pay attention to "his" and to "him". And which of these could be the

  • possible antecedents.

Most of the words we use refer to things in the real world

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反射代名詞はどのようにして意味を得るのですか? 構文ビデオ #4 (How do reflexive pronouns get their meaning? Syntax Video #4)

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