Reflexives in Hindi/Urdu1 Pronouns and reflexives in Hindi/Urdu

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Алина Лобзина,

РГГУ, май 2008

Reflexives in Hindi/Urdu1
1. Pronouns and reflexives in Hindi/Urdu
In Hindi, pronouns and reflexives have different lexical forms and express different features:

  • pronouns are distinguished by person (I,II,III), number (singular and plural); 3rd person pronouns express orientation to the speaker (proximal and distal). Pronouns are inflected for morphological case (Nominative and Oblique forms; second ones are formed by the oblique case of a pronoun combined with a postposition that serves as a case marker and expresses different semantic features)

maiN1sg-Nom’ meeraa1sg-Gen’ mujh-koo/mujhee1sg-Dat’

ham ‘1pl-Nom’ hamaaraa1pl-Gen’ ham-koo/hameN ‘1pl-Dat’
2sg-Nom’ tumhaaraa2sg-Gen’ tujh-koo/tujhe2sg-Dat’

tum2pl-Fam-Nom’ tumhaaraa2pl-Gen’ tum-koo/tumheeN2pl-Dat’

aap2pl-Hon-Nom’ aap –kaa2pl- Gen’ aap-koo2pl-Dat’
Proximal yah3sg-Nom ‘this’ is-kaa
‘this-Gen’ is-koo/isee ‘this-Dat’

‘3pl-Nom ‘these’ in-kaa ‘this-Gen’ in-koo/inheN ‘these-Dat’

Distal woo3sg-Nom ‘that’ us-kaa ‘that-Gen’ us-koo/usee ‘that-Dat’

wee ‘3pl-Nom ‘those’ un-kaa ‘those-Gen’ un-koo/unheN ‘those-Dat’

  • reflexives in Hindi are inflected for all cases except for the Nominative. Reflexives form oblique cases in the same way as pronouns do (oblique form + postposition).  Such features as person, number and orientation are not expressed in Hindi reflexives, so their antecedent can be of any number, person, orientation or gender, expressed through verbal agreement. An important distinction for reflexives is the contrast between simplex and complex forms that have different binding possibilities.    

There are 3 simplex reflexives but the only difference is their origin and stylistic nuances

they express.
Simplex: apnaa ‘self-Gen’ apnee-koo ‘self-Dat’

khud-kaa ‘self-Gen’ khud-koo ‘self-Dat’

swayam-kaa 2‘self-Gen’ swayam-koo ‘self-Dat’
Сomplex: apnaa3 ‘self-Gen’ apnee-aap-koo ‘self-Dat’

Both simplex and complex reflexives can be used as arguments (1), simplex forms can also be used as modifiers (2).

(1) Mohan khud/ apnee-aap-koo nahaa-taa hai

Mohan self - Acc wash is

‘Mohan washes himself’

(2) Mohan apnaa-/ *apnee-aap-kaa pyaalaa dhoo-taa hai

Mohan self’s cup wash- is

‘Mohan washes his cup’
It should be mentioned here that Nominative forms of khud and aapnee-aap followed by hii can be used as emphatic clitics on the subject:

(3) woo khud/apnee aap hii gaarii chala-ti hai

3sg oneself emph car drive-Imperf.fsg is

‘She drives the car herself’

  • reciprocals

eek duusree-kaa eek duusree-koo

‘one-second, each other-Gen’ ‘one-second, each other-Dat’


‘among each other mutually’

  • Pronoun-anaphor is a genitive pronoun. It is formed through combining genitive forms of all pronouns with apnaa, matching its antecedent in person, number.

is-kaa apnaa

‘3s.Prox-gen self– Gen’

  1. Reflexives in Hindi

    1. Orientation

Reflexives in Hindi/Urdu are always subject-oriented in all binding domains in contrast to pronouns that always show anti-subject orientation.

(4) Wooi bacceej-koo apnee-aapi/*j /is*i/j –see kaisee alag kar sak -tii hai?

3sg child - Dat self’s self / her*i/j/him*i/j from how separate do is

‘How can shei separate/remove the childj from selfi/*j /her*i/j /him*i/j? ’

(5) raami nee mohanj-ko apniii/*j / us*i/j/k -kii kitaab parh-ii

Rami Erg Mohanj-Dat self’si/*j / 3sg*i/j/k –Gen book

‘Rami read self’si/*j/his*i/j/k book to Mohan’

(6) Moohani-koo apnaai/*j /uska*i/j mitr bahut acchaa lag-taa hai

Mohani-Dat self’si/*j / his*i/j friend much good is

Mohani likes self’si/*j friend very much.

Reflexives can be bound by nominative subjects, ergative subjects and dative subjects as shown

in examples (1), (2), (3) respectively4.

Special attention should be paid to ditransitive structures like (5), where the IO seems to c-

command the DO, so we should expect it to be able to bind reflexives inside the DO. Then the

principle of subject-orientation would be violated, but this fact does not hold for Hindi. Veneeta

Srivastav Dayal proposes two ways to explain this fact.

  • The first explanation uses the analysis of ditransitive structures given by Larson:

The VP consists of an empty V taking a VP complement whose Spec is the DO, whose head is the verb and whose complement is the IO. The surface order is a result of the verb raising to the empty V position5.
This account should be incorporated with a version of BT that refers to

antecedents that precede and c-command.

  • The second explanation uses the fact that anaphors (in Chomsky’s terminology) raises to INFL in LF.

Both explanations can be adopted to explain binding facts in ditransitive structures.

It is worth noting that only reflexives should be used as object modifiers in all cases when co-indexed with the subject, as it was noted by the native speakers I consulted with:
(7) wooi us-kej /apneei pitaa-se pyaar kar-taa hai

3sg hisj/hersj self’s father-with love is

‘He loves self’s father’

(8) hami *hamaareei /apneei pitaa-se pyaar kar-tee haiN

1pl our/ self’s father-with love do – are

‘We love self’s father’

Genitive pronouns can be used only as subject modifiers as in (9). Reflexives can be used as subject modifiers too, but then it is a case of arbitrary usage, when only generic reading is

possible (10):

(9) hamaaraa ghar sab-see accha hai

Our hous all from good is

‘Our house is the best’

(10) apnaa ghar sab-see accha hai

self’s house all from good is

‘One’s own house is the best’

Arbitrary apnaa can also have first person inclusive reading (11):

(11) oh! Love story! Yah apnaa kaam nahiiN6

this self’s work not

Oh! Love story! It’s not our work.

    1. Local binding

Both simplex and complex reflexives can be bound locally. This has been shown in (1), though the complex reflexive is preferred in this case.

    1. Long-distance binding

Hindi allows long distance binding but only for simplex reflexives:

(12) Siitaai-ne raamj-koo [ PROj apneei/j-ko /apnee aap*i/j-ko deekh-nee] kee liyee majbuur kiya

Sita –Erg Ram-Dat self -Dat / self’s self – Dat see-inf -Gen for force do-Perf

‘Sitai forced Ramj [PROj to look at self: apneei/j /apnee aap*i/j]’

Long distance binding is allowed only in certain domains, described in detail in Davidson (2001). Clauses with finite tenses prohibit long-distance binding.

(13) Raadhaai yah pasand nahiiN kar-tii

Radha this liking not do –

[ki usi/j-kaa/ apnaa*i/*j bhaii aisee loogooN-see baat kar-ee]

that 3Sg-Gen/self’s-Gen brother such people –with talk do- Subj-3Sg

‘Radha doesn’t like it [that heri/j / self’s*i/*j brother should talk to such people’

Non-finite domains on the contrary sometimes prohibit local binding. For example, local binding is impossible within some NPs (‘event nominals’7 in Davidson (2001)):

(14) *[raami-kaa apnee-kee liyee dhookaa] kaanuun-kee xilaaf nahiiN hai

Ram – Gen self- for sake deception law Gen against not is

‘Ram’s deception of himself is not against the law’
Local binding is prohibited in Small Clauses with individual level predicates (15) and clauses

embedded in causative constuctions (16):

(15) raami [moohanj-koo apneei/*j / us-kaai/*j sab-see baRaa dušman] maan-taa hai

Ram Mohan – Dat self’s 3sp-Gen all – from big enemy consider-Imperf is

‘Ram considers [Mohan his own worst enemy]’

(16) pulisi-ne raamj-koo [ apneei/*j-koo paisa curaa-tee hu-ee] dikh-aa-yaa

policei-Erg Ramj –Dat self- Dat money be-Pf see-Caus-Pf

‘The policei showed Ramj [themselvesi/*himselfj stealing the money]

Other non-finite domains (clauses with non-finite tense –naa, non-finite aspect, NPs and small clauses except for mentioned above) allow both local and long-distance binding.
Davidson uses the head-raising account for Chinese (Cole and Sung 1994) to explain these facts, arguing that for Hindi in LF the host functional category to which the reflexives can be cliticised are TENSE and ASPECT. Domains that don’t allow local binding lack Tense/Aspect and other functional projections, and thus prohibit local binding.

    1. The animacy condition

The animacy condition requires both local (8) and distant antecedents to be animate in most cases. Animacy should be expected for distant antecedents, since matrix verbs tend to be verbs of perception and propositional attitude.

(17) * kaari -nee apnee aapi –koo diiwaar –par tooR diya

Car-Erg self’s self- Dat wall -on smash

‘The car smashed itself against the wall’
The same meaning should be expressed differently, like in (9) where intransitive verbs derived from nouns are used:
(18) kaar diwaar-par zoor-see laR ga-ii

car wall-with force-with clash

‘the car hit the wall with force’
What counts for animate is another question, as such words as ‘computer’ and ‘bacteria’ seem to meet the animacy condition.
3. Some remarks on the contrast between reflexives in Hindi and Russian

First of all I would note the resemblance of the set of lexical forms of reflexives and some of their properties in Hindi and Russian. Both languages have simplex reflexives (sebja in Russian, apnee-postposition in Hindi – both not specified for person, number and gender), that are used as arguments in oblique cases only, allowing the usage of their Nominative forms only as emphatic clitics on the subject – (3) and (19):

(19) Ona sama vodit mašinu.

She oneself drives car

‘She drives the car herself’
Simlpex reflexives svoj and apnaa can be used as modifiers- :
(20) On ljubit svoj dom.

He loves self’s house.

‘Hei loves hisi house’
Russian complex reflexive sam sebja , as well as apnee-aap is used as an argument only.

(21a) On sam sebja kormit.

He self-Acc feeds

‘He feeds himself ’

(21b) *On moyet sam sebja čašku.

He washes self’s cup

‘He washes self’s cup’
The main difference in expressing reflexivity in Russian and Hindi is that reflexivitiy in Russian can be expressed through verb derivation:
(22a) On moyet sebjya samostoyatel’no

He himself washes by himself

(22b) On moyet-sya samostoyatel’no

He washes-refl. By himself

‘He washes himself without help’
Russian reflexives are also subject-oriented, unlike pronouns that show anti-subject orientation.
(23) Petjai čitaet Vasj-ej svojui/*j/ his*i/j/k knigu.

Petja reads Vasja-Dat sefl’s / his book.

‘Petjai read’s self’si/*j / his*i/j/k book to Vasjaj.
But if the usage of a pronoun in (8) that seems to be prohibited Hindi is absolutely fine in Russian:
(24) My ljubim našego/svojego ottsa

We love self’s our father

‘We love self’s/ our father’

Further more, the usage of the possessive pronouns conveys an additional sense of intimacy. In addition to that, the differences between reflexives and pronouns in Russian, when they are used for 1 or 2 person, singular or plural, seem to express additional meaning, when in Hindi they can’t be used in this position8:

- common vs. distributive possession

My vernemsja s toboy v naš gorog

We shall return with you in our city (city in common)

Odnako k utru my zjablu pod svoimi odeyalami.

But by morning we felt cold under self’s blankets

‘By the morning we were feeling cold under our blankets’ (blankets are separate)

-politeness is usually expressed by possessive pronouns. Often it’s antecedent is the polite vy:
Prošu vas vzvesit’ vaši slova

I ask you to weigh your words

Ty otvečayeš za svoi (*tvoi) slova

You are responsible for self’s (*your) words

Arbitrary usage of reflexives is possible in Russian too, though it has only generic reading:

Svoya rubashka blizhe k telu

Self’s shirt is closer to the body

‘Self comes first’

As in Hindi, Russian reflexives can be bound within local and distant domains; in some domains both local and distant readings are possible:
Mamai zapretila synui čitat’ svoii/j knigi

Mother forbade son-Dat read self’s books

The mother forbade the son to read her/his own books.
A very interesting paper on reflexives in both languages was written by L.V. Khokhlova. She studies the properties of Hindi and Russian reflexives in order to discover the influence of the language type on the referential properties of NPs. These languages seem perfect for such purposes – Russian is a classical nominative-accusative language, while Hindi is in the middle position in ergativity hierarchy.


  • Davison, Alice. 2001. Long-distance anaphora in Hindi/Urdu. In Long-Distance Reflexives. Syntax and Semantics 33, eds. Peter Cole et al., 47-82. Irvine, CA: Academic Press.
  • Dayal, Veneeta. 1994. Binding facts in Hindi and the Scrambling phenomenon. In Theoretical Perspectives on Word Order Issues in South Asian Languages, eds. Miriam Butt et al., 237-261. Stanford: CSLI Publications.  

  • Büring, Daniel. 2005. Binding Theory: Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Khokhlova, L.V. Some notes on reflexivisation in Hindi and Russian


I’m very indebted to Mohsin Siddique and Suradj Agarval for their help as informants.

1 Most examples are taken from Davidson (2001) and Dayal (1994)

2 Swayam origins from Sanskrit and seems to be not used in Urdu.

3 The form apnee-aap-kaa is possible but used very rarely. The native speakers I consulted with found it possible but awkward. It is possible to say that the contrast between simplex and complex reflexives breaks down for the genitive forms.

4 But only Nominative subject controls verb agreement. In (5) and (6) demonstrate verbal agreement with the DO.

5 Dayal, Veneeta. 1994. Binding facts in Hindi and the Scrambling phenomenon, p. 245

6 This example is taken form Khokhlova. The whole situation is described there as such: The two policemen, noticing at night the burning candles on the ground at first suspect something wrong happening.Later one of them discovers that the candles are arranged in some order and spells the words “I love you!”; addressing his collegue, he pronounces : “O, love story, that is not our work!” - (Film “Aashikii”).

7 In this section I will use the same names for binding domains as in Davidson (2001)

8 All the examples here are taken from Khokhlova, some of her examples are taken from other works.

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