Many European languages have specific pronouns for the case that the subject and an object are identical, e. g.

Reflexive Non-reflexive
Engl. "Peter sees himself (in the mirror)" "Peter sees him (somebody else)"
Dan. "Peter ser sig" "Peter ser ham"
Pol. "Peter widzi siebie" "Peter widzi go"

In some languages other than English this is extended to possessive pronouns referring to the subject, e. g.

Reflexive Non-reflexive
Engl. "The mother gives the daughter her book (the mother's)" "The mother gives the daughter her book (somebody else's)"
Dan. "Moderen giver datteren sin bog" "Moderen giver datteren hendes bog"
Pol. "Matka daje córce swoją książkę" "Matka daje córce jej książkę"

In the first column, it is clear whose book we are talking about but the examples on the right are ambiguous. Are there languages that have specific pronouns (personal or possesive) to refer to other parts of a sentence (indirect or direct object) or the preceding one, e. g. picking up the previous subject and use it as the new object?

I have already found out about obviative pronouns. They seem, however, to focus on the semantic role of a word or the implied relationship between the words. I am only interested in languages that assign pronouns based on the syntactic role of a noun phrase.

  • In the second table, I note that we can say "her own book", in which case it means either the mother's or the daughter's, but not a third party's... If their grammatical genders were different, it would be unambiguous! Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 11:59
  • Navajo has 4 persons, the 4th person is used for the one(s) outside of discourse, and there's one more indefinite person for ‘somebody’. So, I guess, in the 2nd column of the 2nd chart, the 3rd p. possessive prefix will mean ‘her (mother's) book’, the 4th p. will mean ‘‘her (daughter's) book’, and the indefinite person possessive will mean ‘someone else's book’.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 18:04
  • You say words referring to "parts of the same sentence other than the subject". However, in English, for example, a reflexive pronoun might easily refer to an Object: "I gave Brenda a picture of herself". From the perspective of someone only intimately familiar with the syntax of English, the key point is that in the examples you give in the second table, the pronoun is a Determiner within the noun phrase. In English Determiners are never reflexive. Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 22:57
  • 1
    Note that the reciprocal pronouns each other and one another can also occur carved up: They know each other; They know one another; Each (one) knows the other (one). And they can be used together in interesting ways: Each man thinks the other is smarter than he is; Each man thinks the other is smarter than himself. Accounting for the reflexive in the last subordinate clause is troublesome.
    – jlawler
    Commented Oct 13, 2022 at 21:17
  • 1
    @jlawler That comparative in itself is mind boggling when you start to think about it, even without the reflexive. Commented Oct 15, 2022 at 12:44


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