Reflexive clitics are verbal, not pronominal




McGinnis, Martha

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Canadian Journal of Linguistics


I argue that reflexive clitics are not pronominal, but verbal. Cross-linguistically, reflexive clitics can realize either an unaccusative or an unergative Voice head, both of which allow anaphoric interpretations (as suggested by the work of Reinhart and Siloni 2004, 2005). I contrast the anaphoric Voice analysis with two well-known pronominal analyses of reflexive clitics: one, proposed for French, postulating an anaphoric external argument (McGinnis 1998, Sportiche 1998), and another, proposed for Icelandic figure reflexives, postulating an expletive argument in [Spec, pP] (Wood 2014, 2015; Wood and Marantz 2017). Evidence against the external-argument analysis for French includes: a language-internal contrast between unergative and unaccusative anaphoric clauses (Labelle 2008); the absence of a c-command requirement on the licensing of anaphoric Voice; the absence of a lethal ambiguity effect with anaphoric Voice (McGinnis 1998, 2004); and the interpretation of focus constructions with seul ‘only’ (Sportiche 2014, Haiden 2019). Evidence against the Icelandic expletive-argument analysis includes: the observation that not all figure reflexives have a pP, or allow an impersonal passive (Moser 2021); and the difficulty of extending the analysis to other languages with reflexive clitics – in particular, the difficulty of accounting for the widespread observation that anaphoric clitics are restricted to referential dependencies involving the external argument.



expletive argument, figure reflexive, impersonal passive, lethal ambiguity, reflexive clitic


McGinnis, M. (2022). “Reflexive clitics are verbal, not pronominal.” Canadian Journal of Linguistics, 67(3), 328-352.