or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, July 18, 2005

Me Myself I

After reading yesterday's posting, Jim has informed me that in French, "suicide" is a verb: a reflexive verb, in fact. "Se suicider" means "to commit suicide": the "se" is the reflexive part in French verbs, and changes in just the way that English reflexive pronouns do: "je me lave", "I wash myself"; "il se lave", "he washes himself"; "nous nous lavons", "we wash ourselves"; and so forth. The difference with "suicide", as I noted, is that in Latin and in English, the "-self" is built into the word itself, so we never felt the need to add reflexivity to it, instead coupling the noun with a verb ("to commit").

Since the whole point of a reflexive verb is that its subject and its object are the same, it would seem logical that a language might use the subject and object forms of a pronoun in reflexive verbs, and this is just what German does: "sich rasieren", for example, means "to shave oneself", and "ich rasiere mich" means, literally, "I shave me". But we do the same thing in English, in a slangy, non-standard way: "I think I'll get myself a drink" can be turned into a casual "I think I'll get me a drink".

Another tactic that we occasionally use in English to form reflexive verbs is to tack a prefix onto the verb in question: some languages form their reflexive verbs in the way that we will use, for example, "self-destruct". It's true that we mostly use this method for nouns such as "self-awareness" or adjectives such as "self-interested"; but English never was one to limit itself unnecessarily. It's one of the things that must make the learning of the language maddening but which I love; the fact that we have such a large set of linguistic toys with which to play.


Post a Comment

<< Home