The Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 229–252 | Cite as

Reflexive choice in Dutch and German

  • Petra Hendriks
  • John C. J. Hoeks
  • Jennifer Spenader
Original Paper


Standard Dutch and German have two reflexive forms: a weak form (zich in Dutch and sich in German) and a strong form (zichzelf in Dutch and sich selbst in German). The choice between the two reflexive forms in Dutch has been explained by the selectional restrictions of the verb, distinguishing between three verb classes: inherently reflexive verbs, accidentally reflexive verbs and transitive verbs. The same three verb classes can be distinguished in German, suggesting that the factors governing reflexive choice in Dutch and German are similar. However, several studies have pointed out that Dutch zich is more restricted in its use than German sich. We used a forced-choice task to test adult Dutch and German participants on their preference for the weak versus strong reflexive form with various verb classes and sentence types. Comparing similar sentences across the two languages, we observe an overall preference for the strong reflexive in Dutch but an overall preference for the weak reflexive in German. Looking at the participants’ reflexive choices within each language, we found effects of verb class, syntactic structure (transitive versus ECM constructions) and semantic features. Whereas the semantic feature habituality did not affect reflexive choice in either language, intentionality did so in Dutch only, and tense and possibly focus affected reflexive choice in both languages. These observations seem problematic for the syntactically motivated dual-entry account of reflexive choice, but are consistent with the likelihood account.


Reflexives Verb class ECM construction Habituality Intentionality 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Barbiers, Sjef, and Hans Bennis. 2004. Reflexieven in dialecten van het Nederlands: Chaos of structuur? In Taeldeman, man van de taal, schatbewaarder van de taal, ed. Johan de Caluwe, Georges De Schutter, Magda Devos, and Jacques Van Keymeulen, 43–58. Gent: Academia Press and Vakgroep Nederlandse Taalkunde Universiteit Gent.Google Scholar
  2. Bouma, Gosse and Jennifer Spenader. 2009. The distribution of weak and strong object reflexives in Dutch. In Proceedings of the seventh workshop on Treebanks and Linguistic Theory (TLT 7), eds. Frank van Eynde, Anette Frank, Koenraad de Smedt, and Gertjan van Noord, Groningen.Google Scholar
  3. Chomsky, Noam. 1981. Lectures on government and binding. Dordrecht: Foris.Google Scholar
  4. Donaldson, Bruce. 1997. Dutch: A comprehensive grammar. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Everaert, Martin. 1986. The syntax of reflexivization. Dordrecht: Foris.Google Scholar
  6. Féry, Caroline, and Laura Herbst. 2004. German sentence accent revisited. In Interdisciplinary studies on information structure (ISIS) 1, ed. Shinichiro Ishihara, Michaela Schmitz, and Anne Schwarz, 43–75. Potsdam: Universitätsverlag Potsdam.Google Scholar
  7. Geurts, Bart. 2004. Weak and strong reflexives in Dutch. In Proceedings of the ESSLLI workshop on semantic approaches to binding theory, eds. Philippe Schlenker and Ed Keenan.Google Scholar
  8. Gussenhoven, Carlos. 1983. Focus, mode and the nucleus. Journal of Linguistics 19: 377–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Haeseryn, Walter, Kirsten Romijn, Guido Geerts, Jaap de Rooij, and Maarten C. van den Toorn. 1997. Algemene Nederlandse Spraakkunst. Groningen: Martinus Nijhoff and Deurne: Wolters Plantyn.Google Scholar
  10. Haspelmath, Martin. 2008. A frequentist explanation of some universals of reflexive marking. Linguistic Discovery 6(1): 40–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kemmer, Suzanne. 1993. The middle voice. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ordelman, Roeland, Franciska de Jong, Arjan van Hessen, and Henri Hondorp. 2007. TWNC: a multifaceted Dutch news corpus. ELRA Newsletter 12(3/4): 4–7.Google Scholar
  13. Oya, Toshiaki. 2010. Three types of reflexive verbs in German. Linguistics 48(1): 227–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Philip, William, and Peter Coopmans. 1996. The double Dutch delay of principle B effect. In Proceedings of the 20th Boston University Conference on Language Development, ed. Andy Stringfellow, Dalia Cahana-Amitay, Elizabeth Hughes, and Andrea Zukowski, 576–587. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.Google Scholar
  15. Reinhart, Tanya, and Eric Reuland. 1993. Reflexivity. Linguistic Inquiry 24: 657–720.Google Scholar
  16. Reinhart, Tanya, and Tal Siloni. 2005. The lexicon-syntax parameter: reflexivization and other arity operations. Linguistic Inquiry 36: 389–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ruigendijk, Esther. 2008. Pronoun interpretation in German kindergarten children. In Proceedings of GALA 2007, ed. Anna Gavarró Algueró and M. João Freitas. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  18. Schäfer, Florian. 2013. On passives of reflexive verbs and the nature of (natural) reflexivity. In Proceedings of NELS 41 (the Forty-First Annual Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society), eds. Yelena Fainleib, Nicholas LaCara, and Yangsook Park, 205–218. University of Pennsylvania, Oct. 22–24, 2010. GLSA (Graduate Linguistics Student Association).Google Scholar
  19. Selkirk, Elisabeth. 1984. Phonology and syntax: The relation between sound and structure. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  20. Selkirk, Elisabeth. 1995. Sentence prosody: Intonation, stress, and phrasing. In The handbook of phonological theory, ed. John A. Goldsmith, 550–569. London: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  21. Selkirk, Elisabeth. 2007. Contrastive focus, givenness and the unmarked status of “discourse-new”. In The Notions of Information Structure, ed. Caroline Féry, Gisbert Fanselow, and Manfred Krifka, 125–145. Potsdam: Interdisciplinary Studies on Information Structure 6.Google Scholar
  22. Smits, Erik-Jan, Petra Hendriks, and Jennifer Spenader. 2007. Using very large parsed corpora and judgment data to classify verb reflexivity. In 6th Discourse Anaphora and Anaphor Resolution Colloquium, DAARC 2007, LNAI (Lecture Notes in Artifical Intelligence) #4410, ed. António Branco, 77–93. Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer.Google Scholar
  23. Spenader, Jennifer, Erik-Jan Smits, and Petra Hendriks. 2009. Coherent discourse solves the pronoun interpretation problem. Journal of Child Language 6(1): 23–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Steinbach, Markus. 2002. Middle voice: A comparative study in the syntax-semantics interface of German. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Stevens, James P. 1992. Applied multivariate statistics for the social sciences, 2nd ed. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  26. Ter Meulen, Alice. 2000. On the economy of interpretation: Semantic constraints on SE-reflexives in Dutch. In Interface strategies, ed. Hans J. Bennis, Martin Everaert, and Eric Reuland, 239–255. Amsterdam: KNAW.Google Scholar
  27. van Rij, Jacolien, Hedderik van Rijn, and Petra Hendriks. 2010. Cognitive architectures and language acquisition: a case study in pronoun comprehension. Journal of Child Language 37(3): 731–766.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Vasić, Nada. 2006. Pronoun comprehension in agrammatic aphasia: The structure and use of linguistic knowledge. Doctoral dissertation, Utrecht: LOT.Google Scholar
  29. Vat, Jan. 1980. Zich en zichzelf. In Linguistics in the Netherlands 1980, eds. Saskia Daalder and Marinel Gerritsen, 127–139.Google Scholar
  30. Veraart, Fleur. 1996. On the distribution of Dutch reflexives. MIT Occasional Papers in Linguistics 10. Cambridge, MA: MIT.Google Scholar
  31. Williams, Edwin. 2003. Representation theory. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Petra Hendriks
    • 1
  • John C. J. Hoeks
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jennifer Spenader
    • 3
  1. 1.Center for Language and Cognition GroningenUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.BCN Neuroimaging CenterUniversity of Groningen / University Medical Center GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive EngineeringUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations