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Multiple uses of reciprocal

Frantisek Lichtenberk
Department of Anthropology, University
of Auckland, Private Bag, Auckland, New
Version of record first published: 14 Aug

To cite this article: Frantisek Lichtenberk (1985): Multiple uses of reciprocal

constructions, Australian Journal of Linguistics, 5:1, 19-41

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Frantisek Lichtenberk
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This paper will be concerned with the construction that is usually called
'reciprocal' or 'reflexive', although occasionally one finds other terms,
such as 'the reflexive-reciprocal construction' (Heath 1980 for Ritharngu),
'middle voice' (Tsunoda 1981 for Djaru), 'the collective/reciprocal con-
struction' (Wordick 1982 for Yindjibarndi), 'co-operative verbs' (Lewis
1967 for Turkish), and 'social verbs' (Schachter & Otanes 1972 for
Tagalog) —for convenience I adopt the term 'reciprocal'.*
It is well known that in many languages the reciprocal construction
may encode more than one type of real-world situation—not only recipro-
cal but also reflexive and what I will call 'chaining' situations. An example
of a chaining situation is that encoded in (1):
(1) The soldiers followed one another
It is perhaps less well known that in a number of languages the reciprocal
construction may also be used to encode what I will call 'collective'
situations. An example of a collective situation is that encoded in (2):
(2) The children left together
I will elaborate on the four types of situation in subsequent sections.
Reciprocal constructions have some other uses, some of which will also be
considered here.
Throughout the paper I make a distinction between reciprocal
CONSTRUCTIONS on the one hand and reciprocal, chaining, reflexive
and collective SITUATIONS on the other. The former is a formal con-
cept: it refers to language-specific means used to encode reciprocal and,
perhaps, other situations. The latter are semantic, real-world concepts
defined by particular types of relations of the participants to each other
[*] A version of this paper was read at the 5th Conference of the Linguistic
Society of New Zealand, Auckland, May 1983. I am grateful to Ross Clark,
Yoko Sugioka and two anonymous referees for their valuable comments on
various versions of the paper. My thanks also go.to Atsuko Kikuchr for the
Japanese data. The Manam data come from my field notes. The Czech data
are my own. The sources of the other data are given in the References.
© Australian Journal of Linguistics AJL 5 (1985) 19-41 19

or to themselves. I prefer to view situations as made up of relations in

which the participants play certain roles vis-^-vis other participants or
vis-a-vis themselves, rather than as made up of events (or states). Viewing
situations in this way will enable us to say that even though a situation
may consist of a single event, it is nevertheless made up of two relations
in which each of the participants plays two roles (see section 2).1
It is important to draw the distinction between constructions and
situations because in many languages the relation between the two is not
one-to-one. A reciprocal situation does not necessarily require a reciprocal
construction. Conversely, a reciprocal construction may encode situations
other than reciprocal. Cases of the latter type are the subject of this
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The purpose of this paper is twofold. One is a cross-linguistic examin-

ation of several types of real-world situations expressed by means of
reciprocal constructions. The other, the primary one, is to offer an explan-
ation for the multiple uses of the reciprocal constructions. As I will
suggest, the explanation is extralinguistic and is to be sought in similarities
among the internal structures of the situation types. The kind of explan-
ation advanced here follows the spirit of Lakoff's (1977) 'experiential
It should be noted that I have not included here examples of
multiple uses of the reciprocal construction from all the languages for
which I have data. For example, its use to encode reciprocal and reflexive
situations is common in Australian and Indo-European languages.
Similarly, its use to encode reciprocal and collective situations is not
uncommon in the Turkic group and is also found in a number of Austro-
nesian languages. For each type of multiple use I have included only one
representative language for a given language family or geographic area.
Secondly, I will have nothing to say about the formal properties of
the reciprocal construction in the individual languages. It is irrelevant to
my present concerns what kinds of argument can function as the ante-
cedent of the reciprocal marker, or whether the reciprocal marker is in
fact an anaphoric element or whether it is an element of, for instance, the
voice system. The focus here will be exclusively on the types of situation
that can be expressed by means of the reciprocal construction, or more
exactly on the fact that different types of situation are expressed by
means of the same construction.
Thirdly, the term 'reciprocal construction' is not to be interpreted
as implying that the reciprocal use is primary and that the other uses are
somehow secondary or derivative (which may or may not be true historic-
ally). On the other hand, in the context of this paper the label is not
entirely arbitrary because, again for convenience, I have taken the recip-
rocal use of the constructions as the point of reference. That is, I have

[ 1 ] By 'role' I mean the way in which a participant is involved in a relation, not

a semantic-syntactic case relation such as Agent, Patient, etc.

considered here primarily those languages where reciprocal constructions

have a reciprocal use as well as some others. It would have been equally
possible to take as the point of reference, for example, the reflexive use of
the 'reflexive' construction and then look for other uses. What I have to
say here is not significantly affected by which kind of construction and
real-world situation is taken as the starting-point. As will be seen in the
sections that follow, there is a great deal of overlap between the reciprocal
and the reflexive uses of the construction under discussion. Furthermore,
my main goal here is to propose an explanation for the multiple uses, and
the explanation I will put forward is independent of which use is selected
as the point of reference.
The paper is structured as follows: In sections 2-5, I discuss and
exemplify the four types of situation mentioned above as being
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commonly encoded by means of reciprocal constructions. In section 6, I

identify the features shared by those situation types and offer an explan-
ation for the multiple uses of the reciprocal constructions. In section 7,1
extend the explanation briefly to some other kinds of use although
exhaustive coverage is not the aim. A short conclusion is provided in
section 8.

The prototypical reciprocal situation can be characterised by means of
the diagram in Figure 1: Here and in subsequent diagrams, 'R' stands for
the relation that holds between certain participants in a situation, and the
other letters stand for the participants. For the sake of simplicity, I will

Figure 1. The reciprocal situation

restrict my attention to reciprocal situations that consist of only two
relations, as shown in Figure 1. For discussions of situations with more
than two relations see Fiengo & Lasnik 1973, Dougherty 1974, and
Langendoen 1978. The more complex situations discussed in those works
consist of different combinations of the basic relations.
The reciprocal situation can then be defined as one in which there
are two participants, A and B, and the relation in which A stands to B is
the same as that in which B stands to A, as in (3):
(3) John and Bill punched each other
A reciprocal situation need not be expressed by means of a reciprocal
construction if the verb itself signifies a reciprocal activity, as in (4):

(4) John and Mary exchanged gifts

Langendoen 1978 calls constructions like that in (4) '(elementary)
covertly reciprocal sentences'. To this sentence we can compare the more-
or-less synonymous sentence (5), which we may call 'an overtly reciprocal
(5) John and Mary gave gifts to each other
Only constructions that are OVERTLY reciprocal will be considered in
the remainder of the paper.
Before we leave reciprocal situations, a few more points need to be
made. The relations that make up a reciprocal situation may be simultan-
eous or subsequent to each other. In (6) and (7) the relations are simul-
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taneous: 2
(6) halagara c)aymbal-ç|aymbal-bari-nu bur_b¡oga
two-people-NOM find find X PAST half-way
'The two people met each other half-way.'
M AN AM (Papua New Guinea)
(7) ?a¡ di -e-maranatoi
wood they-REAL X stick
'The pieces of wood stick to each other.'
(6) and (7) also demonstrate the advantage of viewing situations as
made up of relations rather than events or states. The situations encoded
in (6) and (7) consist of a single event and a single state respectively
(meeting, sticking), but they are nevertheless made up of two relations.
In (3) above, the interpretation may be sequential, but a simultan-
eous interpretation is available as well: John and Bill may have punched
each other at the same instant.
In fact, one may argue that reciprocal constructions avoid the
specification of sequentiality of the relations in a reciprocal situation.
This point is also made by Haiman (1980) in his discussion of the recip-
rocal construction in Hua (a highland language of New Guinea). In Hua,
verbs in the reciprocal construction appear in a special form which avoids
specifying the temporal order of the relations, even though elsewhere the
order of the relations is specified.
With respect to sequentiality, (3) contrasts with (8) and (9):

[ 2 ] I use 'X' in the glosses to identify the element used to form the reciprocal
constructions. The other abbreviations used are as follows: ACC—accusative;
ASSR-assertive; CAUS-causative; COLL—collective; DISTR—distributive;
DO-direct object; DU-dual; ERG —ergative; GER—gerund; INCL —
inclusive; INDEF —indefinite; INTERJ—interjection; IRREAL—irrealis;
LOC—locative; NOM—nominative; PART—particle; PARTIC—participle;
PERF-perfect; PL-plural; PRES—present; PROF—professive; REAL —
rcalis; REFL-reflexive; SU—subject; TOP-topic;TRANS—transitive.

(8) John punched Bill, and Bill punched John

(9) Bill punched John, and John punched Bill
The normal interpretations of (8) and (9) are sequential whereas (3) leaves
the interpretation of sequentiality or simultaneity open. I will return to
this characteristic of reciprocal constructions in section 6.
Just because a reciprocal situation such as that describable by (3) is
made up of two relations, it does not follow that the situation is describ-
able by two conjoined clauses, such as those in (8) and (9) (a point also
made in Dougherty 1974). Since the normal interpretations of (8) and (9)
are sequential, neither sentence is appropriate if the speaker wishes to
convey the simultaneity of the two relations.
Certainly there are cases where there is no appreciable difference in
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meaning between a sentence with a reciprocal construction and one with

two conjoined clauses:
(10) John and Mary loved each other
(11) John loved Mary, and Mary loved John
Love, a psychological-state verb, allows a simultaneous interpretation even
in the two-clause sentence. The two states, being extended in time, can
easily co-exist. Punch, on the other hand, refers to punctual events, and
such are more likely to occur in succession than simultaneously.
In an interesting discussion of Spanish reciprocal constructions,
Garcia (1975) also points out that some reciprocal constructions are not
paraphrasable by conjoined clauses, although her reasoning is different
from mine. First of all, according to Garcia, (12) is paraphrasable by (13):
(12) Juan y María se besaron
Juan and María X they-kissed
'Juan and Mafia kissed (each other).'
(13) Juan la beso'' a María, y María lo beso a
Juan her he-kissed DO María and María him she-kissed DO
'Juan kissed Maria, and Maria kissed Juan.'
Under my interpretation of reciprocals, the two sentences are not synony-
mous and therefore not necessarily interchangeable. The preferred inter-
pretation of (13) is that two kisses took place: Juan kissing Maria and
(then^ Maria kissing Juan. (12), on the other hand, may encode a situation
where two kisses were exchanged or a situation where only one kiss took
place. There are reciprocal sentences that, according to Garcia, cannot be
paraphrased by conjoined clauses—compare (14) and (15):
(14) Juan y María se casaron
Juan and María X they-married
'Juan and Maria married.'

(15) Juan la caso' a María, y Marta lo caso'

Juan her he-married DO Mafia and Maria him she-married
a Juan
DO Juan
'Juan married Maria (to someone else), and María married
Juan (to someone else).'
In Garcia's view, the difference between (12) and (14) is as follows: In
(12), the participants each play two roles (one who kisses and one who is
kissed), while in (14) they each perform only one role (one who gets
married). Under my interpretation of reciprocals, the participants A and B
perform two roles in all reciprocal situations, even in the one encoded by
(14): Juan marries Maria and at the same time is married by Maria. The
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same holds in reverse of Mafia. I will return to the duality of roles played
by participants in reciprocal situations in section 6.
We may conclude then that the contrast between sequentiality and
simultaneity of the relations in reciprocal situations is of no consequence
to reciprocal constructions. Even those situations where the relations are
sequential are encoded in reciprocal constructions in a non-sequential
manner. Let us now consider situations other than reciprocal which may
nevertheless share the mode of expression with reciprocal situations.

In a chaining situation, the relations by which the participants are related
can be compared to the links in a chain: see Figure 2. With the exception
of the end participants (A, F), all the others are involved in two identical
relations, albeit in two different roles. Trie end participants are each
involved in only one relation.

•B 5; *C ^ -B £ -E -

Figure 2. The chaining situation

Consider example (1) above, The soldiers followed one another.

Assuming that more than two soldiers are involved in the situation, then
with the exception of the first and the last soldiers, all the others follow
somebody and in turn are followed by somebody else. The first soldier
does not follow anybody although he is followed. The last soldier, on the
other hand, follows somebody but is not followed by anybody.
Or at least this is so in the most salient interpretation: it could also
be that the soldiers walked in a circle, in which case each one of them
would follow somebody and be followed by somebody else. This kind of
situation can be compared to a closed chain, as in Figure 3. A closed-chain
interpretation, however, is not always possible: see (18a) below.

Figure 3. The chaining situation (closed chain)

With one exception, chaining situations are different from reciprocal

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situations regardless of whether the relations form an open or a closed

chain. In a reciprocal situation, A stands in a certain relation to B, and B
stands in the same relation to A. In a chaining situation, the relation of A
to B is not the same as that of B to A but as that of B to C, etc.
The only case where a chaining situation is at the same time recip-
rocal is one that consists of two relations in a closed chain —see (16) and
Figure 4:
(16) The two children are chasing each other (in a circle)

Figure 4. A closed-chain situation consisting of two relations

The fact that in English the reciprocal construction can be used to

encode chaihing situations has been discussed in Fiengo & Lasnik 1973
(where this type of situation is called 'linear configurational'), Dougherty
1974 and Langendoen 1978. As Langendoen points out, there are some
interesting restrictions on the types of predicate that can be used in the
reciprocal construction to encode chaining situations. All the predicates
seem to deal either with temporal successions of the relations, or with
more or less linear arrangements of the participants. Furthermore, while,
for example, follow can be so used, precede cannot, witness Langendoen's
(17) The guests followed/??preceded one another (into the room)
Examples from other languages where chaining and reciprocal situ-
ations are encoded by the same construction are given in (18)-(22), the
first member of each pair illustrating a chaining situation, the second a
reciprocal. From the data that I have come across it appears that those

languages have restrictions on the use of predicates in reciprocal construc-

tions encoding chaining situations that are comparable to those of English.
(18) a. Shitai ga kasanari -a-tte iru
corpse SU pile-on-top X GER be
'The corpses are piled on top of one another.'
[Closed-chain interpretation excluded.]
b. Karera wa naguri -a -tta
they TOP punch X PAST
'They punched each other.'
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(19) a. Tamoata di -e -taga

man they-REAL X follow
'The men followed one another.'
b. Natu di -e -un -ru
child they-REAL X hit DU
'The two children hit each other.'
(20) a. ahko'-to-wak
come X they
'They come one after the other.'
b. na'tama-to-wak
help X they
'They help each other.'
(21) a. ¡nduna ya-6a -khuza 6e -ma ßa -landela-na
officer he them shout-at PARTIC stand they follow X
'The sergeant major shouted at them and they lined up.'
b. Ga -ßona-na e -mgwaqw-eni wo ßa -nika-na
they see X LOC road LOC INTERJ they tear X
'They met on the road and didn't they go for one
(22) a. egymast követi b. egymdst éri
X follow X touch
'follow/succeed one another' 'touch each other'

In a reflexive situation, a participant stands in some relation to himself/
herself/itself rather than to any other—see (23) and Figure 5:
(23) / hit myself with a hammer

Figure 5. The reflexive situation

In contrast to the other three situation types—reciprocal, chaining

and collective—the reflexive type is the only one that may consist of a
single relation: all the others must have at least two. A reflexive situation
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may, of course, consist of more than one relation:

(24) The players praised themselves
In (24) the reflexive pronoun may be interpreted as having either: (i)
individual reference (A praised A; B praised B); or (ii) set reference (A
praised A and B; B praised B and A). This kind of ambiguity is of no
relevance to the matters under discussion here.
In languages in which reciprocal and reflexive situations are
expressed by identical means, sentences encoding multiple relations may
be ambiguous between a reciprocal and a reflexive interpretation.
(25) Prastili se
they-hit X
'They hit each other/themselves.'
This can be disambiguated by the use of the more explicit constructions
(26) and (27), where sebe is an emphatic reflexive pronoun:
(26) Navza'jem se prastili
mutually X they-hit
'They hit each other.'
(27) Prastili sami sebe
they-hit alone REFL-ACC
'They hit themselves.'
(28) wambra-kuna riku-ri-rka -0
child PL see XPAST they
'The children saw each other/themselves.'
(29) n -os-ompamnoh-yatxoko Wryekomo kómo,
they X teach RECENT-PAST child COLL
karaywa rwon hoko
non-Indian talk-of concerning
'The children taught themselves/each other Portuguese.'

TZOTZIL (Mexico)3
(30) ?av -ak' a -ba-ik ta k'exlal
you-ERG give you-ERG X PL to shame
'You exposed yourselves/each other to shame.'
DJARU (Australia)
(31) rjali oa -li -punu mart-an
'We talk to each other/ourselves.'
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In a collective situation, two or more participants are jointly involved in a
situation in identical roles—see (32) and Figure 6:
(32) The children left together

Figure 6. The collective situation

It is true that, unless specified to the contrary, sentences with plural

subjects like The children left often imply a joint, collective involvement
of the participants in the situation. However, languages normally possess
forms which explicitly signal collective action, such as English together.
Here we are interested in those languages in which the collective-action
marker is the same as the reciprocal marker.
Since in a collective situation the participants are involved in the
situation jointly, it can be argued that each participant performs two
roles: that of, for example, the performer of the activity and that of a
'companion' of the other participant(s). In this use, reciprocal construc-
tions are comparable to comitative constructions. I will return to this
characteristic of reciprocal constructions in section 6.
In the following pairs, the situation is collective in the first example,
reciprocal in the second.4

[3] The example is from Haviland MS, cited from Aissen 1982; Aissen's gloss is
'They exposed themselves/each other to shame', but this must be an error.
[4] The variations in the forms of the affixes in some of the languages exempli-
fied below are due to phonological and/or morphological conditioning.

PALAUAN (Micronesia)
(33) a. a rengalek a kai-dgrurt
PART children PART X run
'The children are running together.'
b. a rengalek a ka-chelebgd
PART children PART X hit
'The children are hitting each other.'
(34) a. tun newa u-respa wa okai ruwe ne
two people LOC Xlive PROF dwell PART PART
'They were living there together.'
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b. u-kotumi koro u-ronnup ne rure ne

Xfight with Xkill PART PART PART
'They fought together and killed one another.'
(35) a. uç -M£ b. sev -i§
fly X love X
'fly together' 'love one another'
Lewis (1967) calls verbs with the X suffix 'co-operative'.
(36) a. ngarrku-marri b. mirnuma-nmarri
eat X teach . X .
'eat together' 'teach each other'
Wordick (1982) terms the X suffix 'collective/reciprocal'.
SHONA (Zimbabwe)
(37) a. gadza -na b. rwa -na
settle X fight X
'settle down together' 'fight one another'
In Menomini, according to Bloomfield (1962:302-3), 'the meaning
[of reciprocal verbs] is that of two or more actors acting upon each other,
sometimes rather that of several acting in concert'.

We have seen that in many languages one and the same construction is
used to encode more than one type of real-world situation. The construc-
tion then clearly has two (or more) distinct meanings or functions rather
than just one vague, general meaning or function.
That that is so is also evident from sentences which have more than
one interpretation. (25) above, for example, is truly ambiguous; it has two
distinct meanings, not just one vague meaning. If a speaker utters it with
the intention of conveying the meaning 'They hit themselves', and then
discovers that the hearer interpreted it as meaning 'They hit each other',

he can say that the hearer MISUNDERSTOOD. Whereas with a vague

sentence, the hearer may demand more specific information (responding
How? or What with?, say, to John hit Bill), with an ambiguous sentence
the hearer may demand that the speaker explain which of the two or more
possible meanings he wishes to convey (so that a response to (25) might
be Navzdjem nebo sami sebe? '(Do you mean) each other or themselves?';
compare (26) and (27) above).
Having demonstrated that in many languages the reciprocal con-
structions can encode more than one distinct type of situation, the next
step is to look for an explanation. What is the explanation for the multiple
uses of the reciprocal constructions? The fact that the same kinds of
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multiple use are found in numerous genetically as well as geographically

diverse languages eliminates an explanation in terms of chance, common
origin or contact.
One might opt for a formal 'explanation'. For example, a linguist
who subscribes to a theory that recognises two syntactic levels related in
some way might suggest that the various uses of reciprocal constructions
are surface manifestations of two or more similar or even identical under-
lying structures. For example, Kayne (1975), working within the
Extended Standard Theory, has suggested that in French, reciprocal and
reflexive sentences are to be derived from identical underlying structures.
Rosen (1982) has proposed a formal explanation for the multiple use of
the Italian 'reflexive' marker si using the framework of Relational
Grammar. Although Rosen does not consider the reciprocal use of si, she
does consider three other uses that are relevant to our discussion: reflex-
ives, sentences with unspecified human subjects (see 7.4 below), and what
will here be called 'patient-subject' sentences (see 7.2). Rosen accounts for
the multiple use of si by postulating an underlying property (multi-
attachment of arguments) common to the three uses. However, if one
does opt for a purely formal explanation, then the following question goes
unanswered: Why should sentences encoding reciprocal, chaining, reflex-
ive, collective and other situations have very similar or even identical
underlying structures?
I suggest that the explanation for the multiple uses of reciprocal
constructions can only be extralinguistic and that it is to be sought in
similarities among the internal structures of the types of situation ex-
pressed by the constructions. The reason why certain kinds of situation
may be expressed by the same linguistic means is that even though the
situation types are distinct from each other, they are nevertheless similar
in some important respects.
As Lakoff (1977) and others have argued, language reflects the
human experience and perception of the world. 'Experiential linguistics',
as Lakoff calls his approach to linguistic theory, ought to reflect this
human experience. Lakoff's theory is based on partial similarities:
phenomena that are perceived, experienced by people as somehow similar
may be talked about in similar or even identical ways.

Explanations of multiple uses of constructions based on similarities

between the types of situation they encode are certainly not lacking in
the literature. Among the situation types considered in this paper, it is
reflexives that have figured most prominently in the discussions. Typical-
ly, the author demonstrates that certain kinds of situations share some
properties with reflexive situations, which accounts for their being en-
coded by means of similar or identical constructions.
For example, Baldi (1974) has argued that reciprocals are a special
case of reflexives. In both, the participants are at the same time the
performers and the undergoers of the events. The only difference is that in
reflexives the participants act on themselves, whereas in reciprocals they
act on the others and are acted on by the others. Notice that one could
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just as well argue that reflexives are a special case of reciprocals, the case
where the performer and the undergoer happen to be one and the same
participant. To demonstrate similarity, it is not necessary to argue that
one situation type is a special case of the other. Situation types may
exhibit significant similarities without one of them being a general cate-
gory of which the other is a special case.
Aissen (1982), working within Relational Grammar, also suggests
that the explanation for multiple uses of what is here called the 'reciprocal
construction' is to be sought in similarities among its reciprocal, reflexive,
passive (see 7.3 below) and other uses. Aissen argues that the similarities
lie in the fact that in all those uses the predicates have in their logical
representations n - 1 distinct variables in argument positions compared to
n distinct variables of the same predicates when used in canonical transi-
tive constructions. This, according to Aissen, also explains the intransi-
tivity of these constructions in many languages: their syntactic valence
matches the number of distinct variables. Aissen's notion of reduction in
the number of distinct variables is close to the notion of low degree of
individuation of participants to be discussed in 6.4. For some examples of
intransitivity of reciprocal constructions also see 6.4.
What then are the similarities between the four situation types?
There are four factors that are of relevance: non-sequentiality of the
relations that make up the situations; multiplicity of the roles performed
by the participants; identity of the roles performed by the participants;
and low degree of individuation of the participants. Not all of the factors
are relevant to all four situation types, although they do all apply to
reciprocal and collective situations. We can now consider the factors in

6.1. Non-sequentiality of the relations. This factor is, of course, relevant

only to situations that necessarily consist of more than one relation. That
is, it is relevant to reciprocal, chaining and collective but not to reflexive
situations. It obviously applies to situations where the relations are
simultaneous. That is, it applies to collective situations and also to some
reciprocal situations. However, I believe that the concept of non-
sequentiality can be justifiably extended to apply to all reciprocal
As discussed in section 2, in reciprocal situations the temporal
arrangement of the relations—simultaneous or sequential—is irrelevant.
Even those situations where the relations are sequential are encoded in a
non-sequential manner. We can then say that the factor of non-
sequentiality of the relations applies to those situations where the re-
lations are simultaneous and to those where their temporal arrangement
is of no consequence.5
In the case of the other two situation types, non-sequentiality is not
a factor. In a chaining situation, the relations may be simultaneous, as in
(18a), or sequential, as in (20a). Non-sequentiality of the relations is not
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relevant to reflexive situations because those may consist of single re-

6.2. Multiplicity of the roles performed by the participants. In all four
types of situation, the participants play two roles. In reciprocal and re-
flexive situations, each participant is at the same time, for example, a
performer and an undergoer. In chaining situations, which normally
involve a linear arrangement of the relations in space or in time, each of
the chain-internal participants plays two distinct roles in two mirror-
image relations. (The end participants, of course, play only one role each.)
In collective situations, each participant plays the role of a companion of
the other participants in addition to its other role.
6.3. Identity of the roles performed by the participants. In reciprocal,
collective and chaining situations, the pairs of roles performed by the
participants are identical. In chaining situations, once again, this is true
only of the chain-internal participants. In the case of reflexive situations,
the factor of identity of roles is, of course, relevant only if the situation
consists of more than one relation. If it does, the roles performed by the
participants are identical.
6.4. Low degree of individuation of the participants. Following
Timberlake (1975:124), we can define the individuation of a participant
as 'the degree to which the participant is characterized as a distinct
entity or individual'. The referent of a noun phrase may be more or less
distinct from his own background. For example, 1st and 2nd person
participants are more highly individuated than 3rd person participants,
singular participants more so than plural participants, and so on. The
referent of a noun phrase is also more highly individuated if he is dis-
tinct from the referent of another noun phrase than if the two are
Using Timberlake's concept of individuation, Hopper & Thompson
[5] This interpretation of the concept of non-sequentiality of relations is similar
to the interpretation of the concept of non-distinct arguments in Langacker
& Munro 1975. The latter includes not only co-referentiality but also lack of
specification of one of the arguments (see 7.3 below for more detail).

(1980) have argued that in many languages the degree of individuation of

a participant determines the way in which it is encoded in a sentence.
Hopper & Thompson are concerned primarily with the encoding of
patient participants—i.e. those that are normally realised as direct objects
in transitive sentences. As will be seen in what follows, the concept of
individuation may be extended to subject participants. Given the defini-
tion of individuation, it is evident that in all four types of situation dis-
cussed here the relevant participants have a low degree of individuation.
Both in reciprocal and in collective situations, there must be at
least two participants, A and B, and, as pointed out above, plural partici-
pants are less individuated than singular ones. Furthermore, the partici-
pants perform identical pairs of roles, which means that they are less
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individuated, less distinct from each other than they would be if their
roles were different.
In chaining situations also there is a multiplicity of participants.
Furthermore, those involved in the relations inside the chain perform
identical pairs of roles.
In reflexive situations, the crucial fact is that {he participants per-
forming two different roles are non-distinct. This means that each partici-
pant is less individuated than he would be if he were distinct from the
other, and vice versa.
In many languages, sentences encoding reciprocal, reflexive or
chaining situation exhibit reduced transitivity in the sense of Hopper &
Thompson 1980, even though they contain otherwise transitive verbs.
That is, they exhibit one or more features characteristic of intransitive
sentences. (I have no examples of reduced transitivity in sentences en-
coding collective situations. This is not surprising though, because in
reduced transitivity it is the low degree of individuation of the partici-
pant that would otherwise be realised as direct object that is relevant.
In collective situations, it is the subject participants that have a low degree
of individuation.)
For example, in French the reciprocal construction may encode
reciprocal, reflexive and chaining situations. When used in the reciprocal
construction, otherwise transitive verbs take the auxiliary être, character-
istic of intransitive verbs, instead of avoir, required elsewhere. Secondly,
when embedded under the causative verb faire, reciprocal constructions
behave like intransitives: the performer of the event is realised as a direct,
not an indirect, object of faire (Kayne 1975).
In a number of Australian languages, normally transitive verbs behave
like intransitives when they encode a reflexive or a reciprocal situation.
For example, in Guugu Yimidhirr, an ergative language, nominal subjects
of transitive verbs are in the ergative case, and nominal objects of trans-
itive verbs and nominal subjects of intransitive verbs are in the absolutive.
(Pronominal subjects and objects operate on a nominative-accusative
basis.) However, when an otherwise transitive verb appears in the recip-
rocal construction, its nominal subject is in the absolutive, not the ergative

case. There is no object; the reciprocal/reflexive marker is a suffix on the

verb (Haviland 1979).
In Manam, the reciprocal construction may encode reciprocal and
chaining situations. Manam transitive verbs carry suffixes to mark or cross-
reference the direct object unless they appear in the reciprocal construc-
tion, in which case no object suffix is used—compare:
(38) a. lano lima rua ¡ -un -di
fly five two he-RE AL hit them
'He killed (hit) seven flies.'
b. natu di -e-un -ru6
child they-REAL Xhit DU
'The two children hit each other.'
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(39) a. tamoata go -taga -di

man you-IRREAL follow them
'Follow the men!'
b. tamoata di -e -taga
man they-REAL X follow
'The men followed one another.'
In Menomini, verbs in the reciprocal construction, which may encode
reciprocal and chaining situations, are formally intransitive: they carry the
subject-marking suffixes characteristic of intransitive verbs instead of the
subject-and-object marking suffixes characteristic of transitive verbs
(Bloomfield 1962).
Postal (1977), in a discussion of the intransitivity of the reciprocal
and the reflexive constructions in French and other languages, suggests a
formal explanation of the phenomenon in the framework of Relational
Grammar. He attributes the intransitivity of the constructions to their
being subject ta an 'antipassive' rule, whereby the underlying direct
object surfaces not as a direct object but as a chômeur. Postal's formal
analysis docs not, however, go to the heart of the matter. To say that
those constructions are subject to an antipassive rule is not an explan-
ation. It merely bestows a label ('subject to antipassive') on the construc-
tions. The explanation suggested here is that those constructions exhibit
intransitive properties because they are unlike canonical transitive sent-
ences. Even though there are undergoers involved in the events encoded
by the constructions, the undergoers have a low degree of individuation
with respect to the performers, either because the two are non-distinct or
because the undergoer in one relation is also the performer in another
relation. As will be seen in section 7, the notion of low degree of individ-
uation also applies to other cases.
6.5. Interpretation. We have seen that the four distinct types of situation
exhibit similarities among their internal structures. For convenience, the
[6 ] The dual suffix here is not an object marker. It is used to mark the number
of the (human) subject of an intransitive or a transitive verb, or of a (human)
direct object, in which case it follows the object-marking suffix.

relevant factors are summarised in Table 1, where '+' indicates that the
factor is relevant to the given situation type, ' - ' indicates lack of relevance,
and '±' indicates partial relevance. In the 16 cells in the table, there are

Non-sequent- Multiplicity Identity of Low degree of

iality of roles roles individuation
Reciprocal + + + +
Chaining - ± + +
Reflexive + ± +
Collective + + + +
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Table I. Relevance of the factors to the situation types

only two cases where a factor is totally irrelevant to a situation type:
non-sequentiality of the relations in the cases of chaining and reflexive
situations. There are three cases of partial relevance, two of which involve
chaining situations. In both cases involving chaining situations, the factors
are relevant only to the participants that are involved in the relations in-
side the chain, not to those in the end relations. The third case involves
reflexive situations, where the factor of identity of roles is, of course,
relevant only to situations that consist of more than one relation.
As far as chaining situations are concerned, it is only the chain-
internal relations that are characteristic of this situation type; the end
relations are aberrant. Assuming an open chain, sentence (1) above, The
soldiers followed one another, is, strictly speaking, not true of the first
participant: the relation of 'follow' does not hold for that participant.
Similiarly, (18a) from Japanese is, strictly speaking, not true of the
bottom participant: the relation of 'be piled on top' does not hold for
that participant.
The chaining-situation type exhibits some idiosyncratic properties.
Firstly, it is heterogeneous with respect to the relations in a typical
situation. The chain-internal participants have double involvements in the
relations, whereas the end participants have only single involvements.
Furthermore, the two end participants are involved in the relations in
different ways. This heterogeneity accounts for the two ± entries for
chaining situations in Table 1. Secondly, owing to the nature of this
situation type only a very restricted class of predicates can appear in a
reciprocal construction to encode a chaining situation (see section 3),
whereas there are no such restrictions on the other three situation types.


If the explanation concerning the multiple uses of the reciprocal con-
structions advanced here has any validity, it ought to be extendable to
other kinds of multiple use. In this section, I will briefly consider some

other kinds of multiple use and will show how the explanations for those
multiple uses put forward by other scholars can be incorporated into the
explanation developed here. I will consider the following topics: the
middle voice, patient-subject sentences, passives, unspecified arguments,
and collective plural.

7.1. The middle voice. Following Lyons (1968:373), the meaning of the
middle voice can be broadly defined as expressing that 'the "action" or
"state" affects [the referent of] the subject of the verb or his interests'.
The middle voice is found in a number of Indo-European languages. It
encodes reflexive and reciprocal situations, and also situations where the
performer of the event is somehow affected by his own action directed at
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another participant, as in the Ancient Greek example (40):

(40) Louo -mai tas cheiras
wash-PRES I-X the-ACC-PL hands-ACC
'I wash my hands.'
It is not difficult to see the similarity between reflexive (and reciprocal)
situations on the one hand and those like the one encoded in (40) on the
other. In a reflexive situation, the performer of the event is at the same
time the undergoer. As undergoer, he is affected by the event. In a situ-
ation like that in (40), the performer, although not the undergoer, is
nevertheless affected by the event. In both types of situation, the relevant
participants are involved in the events in two identical ways: as performers
responsible for the events and as entities affected by those same events. I
will return to the notion of being responsible for an event in 7.2.

7.2. Patient-subject sentences. A number of Indo-European languages

use the reciprocal construction to form sentences where the verb is active
(not passive) and transitive, but the subject refers to the undergoer not to
the performer. Following Oosten 1977, I will refer to such sentences as
'patient-subject sentences'. The discussion that follows is based on
Oosten's perceptive analysis and its refinement in Lakoff 1977.
Although both Oosten and Lakoff restrict their discussions to
English, where patient-subject sentences do not use the reciprocal con-
struction, their analyses are readily applicable to those languages that do.
What is meant by a patient-subject sentence can be seen from Oosten's
example This wine drinks like water: although the transitive verb drink
is in its active form, its subject refers not to the performer but to the
undergoer. Examples of patient-subject sentences using the reciprocal
constructions are the Czech (41) and the Italian (42), the latter from
Rosen 1982:
(41) Tohle vino se pije jako voda
this wine-NOM X it-drinks like water-NOM
'This wine drinks like water.'

(42) // mo tore sie fermato

the motor X is stopped
'The motor has stopped.'
Oosten (1977:461) argues that in patient-subject sentences it is some
properties of the undergoer that 'are [asserted to be] responsible for the
action of the predicate'. As also noted by Lysvâg (1975) in his discussion
of this sentence type in Norwegian, patient-subject sentences are normally
agentless. Since the event cannot be attributed to any performer, it must
be something about the undergoer that the event is to be attributed to.
In a canonical transitive sentence, on the other hand, it is the performer
who is responsible for the event.
As pointed out by Lakoff, patient-subjects share with actor-subjects
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the property of being responsible for the event. Situations encoded by

patient-subject sentences and reflexive situations (and, one might add,
reciprocal situations as well) have it in common that the relevant partici-
pant undergoes the event but at the same time is responsible for the event
(either because he is the performer, as in the two latter types, or because
of some of its properties, as in the former type).

7.3 Passives. The close connection between passives and reflexives (or
the middle voice) has been pointed out by a number of scholars; see,
for example, Lehmann 1974 for Indo-European, and Langacker & Munro
1975 for Uto-Aztecan. The discussion that follows is based on Langacker
& Munro's analysis.
Langacker & Munro's analysis rests on the notion of non-distinct
arguments. In a reflexive situation, the two participants —the performer
and the undergoer—are non-distinct because they are identical. As far as
passives are concerned, Langacker & Munro argue that they are to be
derived from underlying transitive structures with unspecified subjects/
performers. Since the referent of the subject is unspecified, the performer
is, in a sense, not distinct from the undergoer. Example (43) from
Northern Paiute demonstrates the use of the reflexive marker in a passive
(43) nopi na -a'taa- (k+ - 'ti -ya?a
house REFL sit-PL CAUS PRES here
'Houses are put up here.'
One need not subscribe to Langacker & Munro's formal analysis of
passives to adopt their insight concerning the non-distinctness of argu-
ments. First of all, as pointed out in 7.2, patient-subject sentences are
typically agentless; that is, in Langacker & Munro's terminology, the
undergoer and the performer are non-distinct. This suggests that passives,
more specifically agentless passives, are even more closely related to
subject-patient sentences than they are to canonical reflexives. As
Langacker & Munro say, in the Uto-Aztecan languages passives are typical-

ly or exclusively agentless. Agented passives may in general be a later

development from agentless passives. According to Lehmann 1974, in
Proto-Indo-European the agented passive was a later development from
the middle voice by the inclusion of the agent.
The notion of non-distinct arguments, in itself quite general (it
subsumes two subtypes), can be further generalised. It can be viewed as
one kind of low degree of individuation of participants. As pointed out in
6.4, the degree of individuation of a participant refers to his distinctness
from his own background or to his distinctness from the other partici-
pants. Non-distinct arguments are less individuated than those that are
distinct from each other. In 7.4 we will see how the notion of low degree
of individuation can be applied to another kind of multiple use.
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Langacker & Munro also discuss the direction of the development

of the multiple use in Uto-Aztecan. In Uto-Aztecan, the passive use is
typically a later development from an earlier reflexive use. Compare also
the middle-to-passive development in Proto-Indo-European mentioned
above. However, it is also possible for a development in the opposite
direction to take place. According to Langacker & Munro, in Tarahumara,
one of the Uto-Aztecan languages, an erstwhile passive-impersonal suffix
(a post-Proto-Uto-Aztecan innovation) has acquired a reflexive use.
As the Uto-Aztecan evidence demonstrates, the view advocated here,
namely that the multiple uses of a construction are due to similarities
among situation types, does not imply that certain situation types are
necessarily perceived as more general than certain others, and that as a
consequence the development of a multiple use always follows a certain
direction. All that is suggested here is that there are similarities among
certain types of situation and that the similarities may result in a multiple
use of a linguistic construction. It remains an empirical question whether
certain types of development are more common, more natural than
7.4 Unspecified arguments. In their paper, Langacker Se Munro also point
out that the notion of non-distinct arguments can be used to account for
another kind of multiple use of what they call 'reflexive' constructions,
viz. marking unspecified subjects per se—i.e. even with intransitive verbs.
As an example, they give the following sentence from Spanish:
(44) Se trabajó
X he-worked
'One worked.'
Not only that; original reflexive markers may even come to be used
to mark unspecified objects, as in the Huichol (45), from Grimes 1964,
cited by Langacker & Munro:
(45) we -p -te -yu -ka -naak¡?eer¡
they ASSR DISTR REFL down love
'They love.'
Note, however, that it is not necessarily a reflexive construction that
develops an unspecified-argument marking function. According to
Goddard 1979:44, in Delaware the reciprocal construction is also used to
encode 'a nonreciprocal action by an indefinite subject on an indefinite,
but by implication plural, object':
(46) wanCÍ-n-ti* -n
summon X INDEF-SU
'People are being summoned.'
In Delaware, the reciprocal construction is not used to encode reflexive
In reciprocal and reflexive situations, the participants have a low
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degree of individuation because they are plural and because they play
identical pairs of roles. The referents of unspecified arguments also have
a low degree of individuation by virtue of being unspecified. Furthermore,
in Delaware the unspecified objects must be plural.
7.5 Collective plural. A further kind of multiple use of the reciprocal
construction is found in Fijian. The reciprocal construction is marked by
the prefix vei-, as in (47) and (48), encoding the familiar reciprocal and
collective situations:
(47) erau s5 vei-loma-ni
they-DU PERF X love TRANS
'They two love each other.'
(48) vei-caqe
X kick
'play football' (lit. 'kick together')
In addition, however, vei- can be used with some nouns to form a collec-
tive plural:
(49) a. vei-kau b. vei-vale
X tree X house
'forest' 'group of houses'
Churchward (1941) suggests that the original, fundamental meaning of
the prefix is that of plurality, collectivity and that its reciprocal use is a
later development. However, comparative evidence makes it clear that the
collective-plural marking function is not historically primary but a later
innovation. The semantic connection between the reciprocal and the
collective uses on the one hand and the collective plural on the other is
not difficult to see. Both in reciprocal and in collective situations there
must be at least two participants performing the event. Moreover, in both
types of situation, those participants can be viewed as forming a unified
group by virtue of their being involved in the event in identical roles.

The main thesis of this paper is that the multiple uses of the reciprocal

construction are due to similarities among the internal structures of the

situations encoded. This is a kind of iconicity in the sense that real-world
situations that exhibit some similarities may be encoded by similar or even
identical means (see Haiman 1983 for a recent discussion of this sort of
iconicity in language).
Language reflects the human experience of the world. From this it
does not, of course, follow that language is FULLY determined by human
experience. Real-world phenomena that exhibit some 'significant' similar-
ities may but need not be encoded by identical linguistic means. In this
connection, some intriguing questions arise: What counts as a SIGNIFI-
CANT similarity? Can any similarity lead to the development of a multi-
ple use or are some kinds of similarity necessary? In other words, are
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there constraints on the kinds of multiple use that languages may develop?
Questions of this kind go far beyond the confines of linguistics. The
answers will have to come from a much more general study of human
behaviour, from a study of human psychology.

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