I'm neither a professional linguist nor a native English speaker, please excuse me if I use any term incorrectly. Feel free to make and suggest edits to make my question more clear.



I was teaching Polish to a Chinese girl and she was really confused by uczę and uczę się construct, which translate literally to I teach and I teach myself. That seemed interesting to me, because out of 3 European languages I know, each one of them has an analogous grammatical marker indicating the action is done both by and to a subject: sich in German, myself in English and się in Polish. Using Google Translate I found that mismo in Spanish and même in French fill the same role.

Thus here is my question:

  1. is myself, sich, się and it's analogues in different languages a feature specific to European/Indo-European languages or is it a peculiarity of Chinese language that it has no such construct?
  2. in Chinese, how would I modify a verb to indicate I'm doing something to myself as opposed to unspecified object? Using Gogle Translate again it seems that every pair of verb/verb myself I try uses a separate verb, similar to learn/teach in English.


It was brought to my attention that Chinese (at least Mandarin Chinese) does in fact have a reflexive pronoun and it was just a misunderstanding between me and my Chinese student. Nevertheless I still find this question interesting, so let me rephrase it

  1. are there any languages or language families that do not have a reflexive pronoun and if so, how do they work around this issue?
  • 1
    This is called a reflexive pronoun. Chinese does have one: 自己 (in Mandarin zìjǐ)
    – Michaelyus
    Nov 15, 2019 at 11:23
  • @Michaelyus thank you, I corrected my question to include your comment Nov 15, 2019 at 12:00
  • "me in French" -> "même in French"
    – Uwe
    Nov 15, 2019 at 19:05
  • German, English, Slavic and Romance reflexives each actually work differently. English especially. Nov 17, 2019 at 10:59

1 Answer 1


This is in fact a well-researched question in linguistic typology, for a high-level overview see WALS chapter 47. Not every language has reflexive pronouns, sometimes so-called intensifiers fill the gap. The introduction of the WALS chapter has very instructive examples of that.

EDIT: And yes, Chinese is different from the European languages in respect to reflexive pronouns: While European languages have different expressions for reflexive pronouns and intensifiers, Chinese lacks that distinction.

  • Varieties of Chinese behave like English, Dutch, and the Scandinavian forms of Germanic in this respect!
    – Michaelyus
    Nov 18, 2019 at 12:01
  • @Michaelyus: From a European perspective, you just listed the outliers :-) See the chart for the WALS chapter Nov 18, 2019 at 12:43

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