The lexical pragmatics of reflexive marking
Fabienne Martin, Florian Schäfer, Itamar Kastner
January 2023

In French, a subclass of anticausative verbs is optionally marked with the clitic `se', traditionally considered a reflexive marker. We show that this optionality does not consist of free variation. Rather, the presence or absence of `se' follows from lexical pragmatic considerations: while by default, both variants are equally acceptable, in the context of a human subject, speakers strongly prefer the variant that avoids alternative and unintended interpretations which arise in parallel with the intended interpretation, following the Gricean `Avoid ambiguity' maxim of manner. Understanding these preferences requires taking into account the multifunctionality of the `se', which is not only used in the formation of anticausative predicates, but also in semantically reflexive ones. Depending on whether a reflexive or an anticausative parse is intended, the presence of the otherwise optional clitic `se` is resolved. We show that similar pragmatic considerations also constrain the availability of the impersonal `il'-construction and `se'-passives. The connection between intended interpretations and individual verb subclasses is an example of what we call lexical pragmatic effects.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/007069
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: submitted
keywords: causative alternation, reflexive, french, limited-control change-of-state verbs, in-control change-of-state verbs, lexical pragmatics, agentivity, agent preference, semantics, morphology
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