This study offers an innovative, sign-based analysis of English self pronouns (myself, yourself, herself, etc.). While rejecting the traditional characterization of these forms as reflexive pronouns, the study borrows from the tradition by analyzing these forms as a kind of emphatic pronoun. The forms’ distribution can be explained by positing that they are semantic signals deployed by speakers to meet communicative goals. Speakers choose between self and simple pronouns when the additional meaning of self forms, INSISTENCE ON AN ENTITY(S), will steer hearers in particular interpretive directions. This approach has led to the discovery that reflexive uses of self pronouns are an instantiation of the general tendency to use these forms for unexpected messages, including those in which a single referent is playing more than one role at one time. The presence of such a role conflict accounts not only for reflexive uses, but also for the appearance of self pronouns in picture noun phrases, logophoric contexts, and other previously unexplained exceptions to the structural reflexivity account.
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