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Long distance reflexives/anaphora/binding are much discussed in the literature, particularly among generativists, but while there seems to be rough agreement on what constitutes a long-distance reflexive, I can't find a good, theory-neutral definition of it.

The general usage seems to be 'a reflexive whose anaphoric distance is longer than what English allows', reflecting the field's traditional anglocentricity, but even that is vague and imprecise. For example, (1) is not acceptable in English:

(1) *The father of John(i) is looking at himself(i) in the mirror

But it's not clear that the distance between 'John' and 'himself' is longer than in (2), which is acceptable in English:

(2) John(i) is looking at himself(i) in the mirror

So I'm looking for a good, citable definition, not laden in theoretical terminology, under which it is clear whether (1) is a type of long-distance reflexive. Thanks!

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  • (I realise this isn't a very intellectually meaningful question, but I asked in the 'small questions' post on Reddit and have no replies so far. Sorry if you find this silly!) Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 14:44
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    There really isn't a single theory-independent answer because "distance" is a metric that is defined in terms of some concept of "structure"; it's not linear, and theory-related terms like "command" and "subordinate" are going to have to be used for the non-temporal dimensions. Like the famous constraint on English anaphors, which may not both precede and command their antecedent. Linguists are agreed on the metaphor of "distance"; but they each define their own metric over their own vector space.
    – jlawler
    Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 15:43
  • @jlawler I realise there isn't a single definition, but this is more of a practical question than a conceptual one. I'd like a good definition that I can cite and stick to... Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 15:55
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    Simplest thing to do is list all the cases where it fails and describe them each as being conditioned by some variant of C-command customized to your practical needs. That's what grammarians do when they can't find a connecting thread.
    – jlawler
    Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 16:43
  • @jlawler Thanks, but I guess I was unclear in stating my intentions... I'm writing about the phenomenon of long-distance binding in general, rather than doing actual syntactc analysis, and that's why I need a nice, precise definition to define the scope of the essay! >< Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 1:19

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