I'm trying to build a sentence with an anaphora in place of the direct object or the oblique in the VP layer in order to understand whether it's the oblique or the patient occupying SpecV. According to recent theories on anaphora, the element that the anaphora refers to should c-command it (so generally it precedes it, although it's not always the case e.g. questions, because of movement).

I formulated the following sentences in Italian:

  1. Lo specchio ha mostrato Luca a sè stesso.
    The mirror has shown Luca to himself.
  1. Lo specchio ha mostrato a Luca sè stesso.
    The mirror shown (to) Luca himself.
  1. Lo specchio ha mostrato a sè stesso Luca.
    The mirror has shown himself to Luca.
  1. Lo specchio ha mostrato sè stesso a Luca.
    The mirror has shown himself to Luca.

Note: Italian has no overt morphological distinction between himself and itself.

I asked two people (which is not a big number, actually) whether the Italian sentences are correct and what they mean. These two people seem to agree on the ungrammaticality of number 3. As a native speaker of Italian, I agree that it is indeed a strange sentence and upon reading it I would either interpret it as ungrammatical or as the mirror showing itself to Luca (so sè stesso refers to the mirror). Sentence 4 was interpreted in more or less the same way. Sentence 1 was a bit different, with a swapped order of direct object and oblique. One person said that this sentence is incorrect and another that sè stesso refers to Luca. I don't know how to feel about this sentence, because it's really strange and I would never utter this kind of construction. Sentence 2 seems to be the best. It can be interpretable in two ways though: the mirror showing itself or Luca seeing himself in the mirror. So the anaphora can still be interpreted as referring to the mirror.

In the end, I would therefore say that the direct object occupies CompV and the oblique SpecV, but I'm yet not fully convinced.

Dear native English speakers, I know that the following sentences are super strange, but which of these would you deem to be, like, 100% ungrammatical?

The mirror showed Luca himself.
The mirror showed Luca itself.
The mirror showed itself to Luca.
The mirror showed himself to Luca.

The mirror showed itself Luca.
The mirror showed himself Luca.
The mirror showed Luca to itself.
The mirror showed Luca to himself.

I also thought that in German the Dativ always preceeds the accusative (expect with pronouns).

Der Spiegel hat dem Mann sich selbst gezeigt.
Der Spiegel hat sich selbst den Mann gezeigt.
Der Spiegel hat sich selbst dem Mann gezeigt.
Der Spiegel hat sich selbst (<- Dativ) den Mann gezeigt.

I doubt that this way of proceeding will actually yield results, but I hope somebody will help. Thank you!

Edit: It's not really about whether these sentences are non-sensical or not. It's more about syntactic coherence, rather than a semantic one. See this famous example: Colourless green ideas sleep furiously. This sentence doesn't make any sense (ideas cannot green and colourless, they don't sleep and you can't do it furiously). Nonetheless, it's a well-formed sentence of English. Counter-example: *They loves a water.

  • 1
    I'd say The mirror showed himself Luca is 100% ungrammatical, the others weird to various degrees.
    – TKR
    Commented Apr 25 at 18:31
  • I think only the first makes sense. Mirrors don't show themselves to others; they are not people.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 25 at 20:17
  • “I would either interpret [sentence 3] as ungrammatical or as the mirror showing itself to Luca (so sè stesso refers to the mirror)” — I’m not Italian, but I don’t understand how that can be a possible interpretation. Sè stesso is the object of a, so if refers to the mirror, the PP is ‘to itself’; in other words, ‘the mirror has shown to itself Luca’, or more naturally, ‘the mirror has shown Luca to itself’ – i.e., the opposite of the mirror showing itself to Luca. This seems entirely grammatical to me, just nonsensical; but with different NPs, it can be fine. Commented Apr 25 at 21:01
  • @TKR Do you find “The mirror showed himself to Luca” more grammatical? I cannot, even with the best of intentions, force himself to refer to Luca rather than the mirror, which makes the sentence as ungrammatical as “The mirror showed himself Luca”. And both are of course only ungrammatical because ‘he’ is not normally a valid pronoun for ‘mirror’ – if we were in a fictional sci-fi or fantasy world where, for whatever in-universe reason, some male entity were referred to as ‘the mirror’, it would be perfectly grammatical. I agree that all the rest are grammatical, but semantically strange. Commented Apr 25 at 21:06
  • Assuming Luca is a he, I consider sentences 1 and 8 to be perfectly acceptable. I consider sentences 2 and 3 to rely somewhat on anthropomorphization of the mirror but otherwise acceptable (an inanimate object showing something seems mostly acceptable). I consider sentences 5 and 7 somewhat bad, relying much more heavily on anthropomorphization. In sentences 4 and 6, "himself" has to be bound by "the mirror" since it is an anaphor: unless the mirror is a him I would consider those unacceptable.
    – apropos
    Commented Apr 25 at 21:52


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