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Reflexive pronouns with and without -self

Reflexive pronouns are pronouns that are inherently anaphoric to the subject of the sentence. Ponelis (1979:86) and De Stadler (1989:414) both regard this as a specialised use of the object form of personal pronouns, rather than a separate category of pronouns. However, this technically only holds true for the reflexive pronouns that correspond to the object form of pronouns, such as (1a-b). Reflexive pronouns can also take on an extended form with -self added at the end, illustrated in (1c-d).

a. Jy mag jou assosieer met wie jy ookal wil.
you.SG may.AUX.MOD you.SG associate with whom you.SG also.all want
You may associate with whomever you want to.
b. Saam kan ons ons beywer om meer vir ons professie te bereik.
together can.AUX.MOD we us motivate for.COMP more for our profession PTCL.INF achieve.INF
Together we can motivate ourselves to achieve more for our profession.
VivA-KPO, adapted
c. Jy moet jouself kan identifiseer wanneer jy die kaart kom afhaal.
you.SG must.AUX.MOD yourself can.AUX.MOD identify when you.SG the card come fetch
You must be able to identify yourself when you fetch the card.
d. Maar ons moet onsself nie flous nie.
but we must.AUX.MOD ourselves not fool PTCL.NEG
But we should not fool ourselves.
VivA-KPO, adapted

The use of reflexive pronouns with -self is not uncontroversial. Adding -self for emphasis, or in cases that could be ambiguous, is always accepted. However, adding -self to reflexively used pronouns in any other case is often strongly proscribed, as the pattern is attributed to English influence (Ponelis 1979:83, 88). In terms of real language use, speakers often do add -self when it is technically not necessary for emphasis or disambiguation, as can be seen in examples (2b), (3b) and others below.

Similar to personal pronouns in general, reflexive pronouns can also be distinguished according to person, number, and sometimes gender. For first person singular, the object form my me is used (2a) as well as the extended form myself myself (2b). For the first person plural, ons us (2c) and onsself ourselves (2d) are used. Different from English where there are separate forms for singular and plural, in Afrikaans the added -self is used for both. However, there are alternative forms, used infrequently and often (though not always) informally, such as onsselwe (2e), but these do not correspond to specific person or number references.

a. Ek het my beseer op die datum...
I have.AUX me hurt on the date
I hurt myself on this date...
b. Ek kan myself twee meer verskillendes nie voorstel nie.
I can.AUX.MOD myself two more differents not imagine PTCL.NEG
I cannot imagine for myself two that are more different.
c. Ons bibber van die koue en ongemak, maar ons wil ons dood lag.
we shiver of the cold and discomfort but we want us dead laugh
We shiver from the cold and discomfort, but we want to laugh ourselves to death.
d. Ons mag nie onsself in die voet skiet deur soos diegene te word teen wie ons "veg" nie.
we may.AUX.MOD not ourselves in the foot shoot by like those to become against whom we fight PTCL.NEG
We must not shoot ourselves in the foot by becoming like those against whom we fight.
e. Derhalwe het ons andere lief na die mate waarin ons onsselwe liefhet.
therefore have.PRS we others love to the extent REL.in we ourselves love.have
Therefore we love others to the extent that we love ourselves.

In terms of second person singular, the same principle applies: the object form jou you.SG can be used reflexively (3a), as well as jouself yourself (3b). The second person plural takes julle you.PL (3c) and julleself yourselves (3d), as well as the shortened form jul (3e) and julself (3f). The honorific second person u you.HON (3g) and uself yourself/yourselves.HON (3h) are used similarly.

a. Jy sal jou beslis blind soek.
you.SG will.AUX.MOD you.SG definitely blind search
You will search yourself blind.
b. Stel jouself oop vir ander kulture, ander weergawes van die geskiedenis, nuwe verhoudings, en toets die grense van jou denke en jou optrede.
set yourself open for other cultures other versions of the history new relationships and test the boundaries of your.SG thoughts and your.SG actions
Open yourself up for other cultures, other versions of history, new relationships, and test the boundaries of your thoughts and your actions.
VivA-KPO, adapted
c. Ons wil hê dat julle julle verder sal bekwaam om vordering te maak.
we want.to.AUX.MOD have.INF that.COMP you.PL you.PL further will qualify for.COMP progress PTCL.INF make.INF
We want you to qualify yourselves further in order to make progress.
d. Nou bevind julle julleself in 'n sekere vryheid van denke.
now find you.PL yourselves in a certain freedom of thoughts
Now you find yourselves in a certain freedom of thought.
VivA-KPO, adapted
e. Net soos julle nou is en net soos julle jul nou gedra, was dit ook reeds lank gelede die geval.
just like you.PL now be.PRS and just like you.PL you.PL now behave be.PST it also already long ago the case
Just like you are now and just like you behave yourselves now, it's been like that for a long time.
VivA-KPO, adapted
f. Kan julle julself in hierdie mense se hartseer en verdriet indink?
can.AUX.MOD you.PL yourselves in these people PTCL.GEN sadness and grief in.think
Can you imagine these people's sadness and grief for yourselves?
g. Die vraag is: waarmee gaan u u vandag besig hou?
the question be.PRS REL.with go you.HON you.HON today busy keep
The question is: with what will you keep yourself busy today?
h. U moet uself verder laat oplei.
you.HON must.AUX.MOD yourself.HON further let train
You should let yourself be trained further.
VivA-KPO, adapted

As with personal pronouns, the third person singular distinguishes between female and male gendered forms. The female form haar her is used reflexively (4a), as well as the extended form haarself herself (4b). The male forms function according to the same principles, with hom him (4c) and homself himself (4d). Furthermore, the plural manifests as hulle them (4e) and hulleself themselves (4f), and as the shortened forms hul (4g) and hulself (4h).

a. Sy gaan haar nie laat doodpraat nie.
she will.AUX her not let dead.talk PTCL.NEG
She will not let herself be talked over.
b. Sy wou haarself knyp om seker te maak sy is rêrig in Rome.
she want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT herself pinch for.COMP sure PTCL.INF make.INF she be.PRS really in Rome
She wanted to pinch herself to ensure that she is really in Rome.
VivA-KPO, adapted
c. Hy sal hom nie so maklik laat vang nie.
he will.AUX.MOD him not so easily let catch PTCL.NEG
He will not let himself be caught so easily.
d. Dit is egter in die genre van die speurroman waar Deon Meyer werklik homself telkens oortref.
it be.PRS however in the genre of the detect.novel where Deon Meyer really himself each.time outdo
It is, however, in the genre of detective novel where Deon Meyer really oudoes himself every time.
e. Maar beide gedra hulle hier slegs maar so omdat hulle hulle so móét gedra.
but both behave them here only but so because they them so must.AUX behave
But both behave like this here because they have to behave themselves like this.
f. Maar daarin sal hulle hulleself erg vergis!
but PN.in will.AUX.MOD they themselves badly mistake
But in that they will be badly mistaken!
g. Hulle moet hul nie deur mooi woorde laat verblind nie.
they must.AUX.MOD them not by beautiful words let blind PTCL.NEG
They should not let themselves be blinded by beautiful words.
VivA-KPO, adapted
h. Lesers moet hulself afvra watter vlak by hulle pas.
readers must.AUX.MOD themselves ask what level with them suit
Readers should ask themselves what level suits them.

The third person has one unique reflexive pronoun, a pronoun that is inherently reflexive, sig it (5a) and sigself itself (5b). The form is used infrequently, as it is fairly archaic, except for the fixed expression PPop sigself in itself (see Further uses of -self). As an alternative for inanimate reflexive use, the male form can be used. Another form that is not formally recognised, and only infrequently used, is with the third person inanimate personal pronoun as ditself itself, illustrated in (5c-d).

a. 'n Lotslyn waarlangs die menslike geskiedenis evolueer en sig nooit herhaal nie.
a Lot.line REL.along the human history evolve and it never repeat PTCL.NEG
A Lot line along which human history evolves and never repeats itself.
VivA-KPO, adapted
b. 'n Gedig skryf sigself: 'n metafoor vir die woordreisiger.
a poem write itself a metaphor for the word.traveler
A poem writes itself: a metaphor for the word traveler.
c. Ja, die fliek hou ditself besig met Oedipus Rex.
yes the movie keep itself busy with Oedipus Rex
Yes, the movie keeps itself busy with Oedipus Rex.
d. 'n Oop, wetenskaplike benadering verreken alle invalshoeke / interpretasies en verantwoord ditself ten opsigte daarvan.
a open scientific approach account all angles / interpretations and account itself with regard PN.to
An open, scientific approach accounts for all angles / interpretations, and keeps itself accountable in that regard.

A few more examples of different reflexive pronouns with alternative forms, primarily -selwe and -selwers, are illustrated in (6).

a. Hulle weet nie hoe om hulleselwe te bewoon nie.
they know not how for.COMP themselves to occupy PTCL.NEG
They do not know how to occupy themselves.
b. Kom verlustig jou en vind jouselwers in poësie uit die boonste rakke!
come delight you.SG and find yourself in poetry out the top shelves
Come and delight yourself and find yourself in top poetry.
c. Nou toe, ek het genoeg gehad van julle vir een dag, verwyder julleselwers voor my aangesig.
now then I have.AUX enough had of you.PL for one day remove yourselves from my face
Now then, I have had enough of you for one day, remove yourselves from my presence.
  • De Stadler, L.G1989Afrikaanse semantiek.Southern Boekuitgewers
  • Ponelis, Frits A1979Afrikaanse sintaksisPretoriaJ.L. van Schaik
  • Ponelis, Frits A1979Afrikaanse sintaksisPretoriaJ.L. van Schaik
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