Notes on the history of reciprocal NP-strategies in Semitic languages in a typological perspective

Elitzur A.Bar Asher Siegal*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Among Semitic reciprocal constructions, a division is seen between two types: 1) two-unit constructions, with two components, each filling a different argument position of the verb, and 2) one-unit constructions, with an anaphora that co-refers with the subject (that must be plural) and occupies only the non-subject position required by the verb. The goal of this paper is to explain how these constructions developed, specifically: 1) how did the various types of two-unit constructions evolve? and 2) could diachronic chains be identified in order to explain the development of the one-unit constructions from the two-unit constructions? Previous work on question (1) focuses on the range of phrases that tend to develop into reciprocal markers. Such accounts, however, do not explain how these constructions developed the specific meanings they have. I argue that consideration of the semantics of these constructions is crucial for understanding their evolution. Instead of 'reciprocal constructions' it is better to see them as denoting 'unspecified relations'. As for (2), various attempts have been made to explain such processes focusing on Indo-European languages, which do not capture the Semitic developments; therefore I propose an alternative hypothesis, according to which the one-unit constructions result from a reanalysis of the two-unit constructions.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)337-378
Number of pages42
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Keywords: reciprocal constructions, unspecified pronouns, typology, grammaticalization, reanalysis, agreement, Semitic languages * I would like to thank Eitan Grossman and two anonymous readers for excellent and productive comments on earlier versions of this paper. Parts of this paper were presented at the seminar of the Department of Hebrew Languages, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Semitic Workshop, Harvard University; the colloquium of the Department of Hebrew and Semitic Languages, Bar-Ilan University; and at “Agreement from a diachronic perspective,” Philipps Universität Marburg, Germany (October 4–5, 2012). I thank the audience in these forums for productive comments. Finally I wish to thank my consultants Daniela Viale (Italian) and Moshe Bar-Asher (Judeo-Arabic). This work is supported by the European Union grant IRG 030–2227.

Publisher Copyright:
© John Benjamins Publishing Company.


  • Agreement
  • Grammaticalization
  • Reanalysis
  • Reciprocal constructions
  • Semitic languages
  • Typology
  • Unspecified pronouns


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