1 - Reflexive language and the human disciplines  pp. 9-32

Reflexive language and the human disciplines

By John A. Lucy

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What prevents a work from being completed becomes the work itself.

Marcus Aurelius

Human activity is saturated by speech and much of what is distinctive about the human species depends on the use of language. Yet it is not easy to specify exactly what it is about language that is so special. One aspect of language that has drawn extensive attention in this regard is its reflexive capacity: in its full form this property may be unique to human language (Hockett 1963: 13; Lyons 1977: 5; Silverstein 1976: 16). This reflexive capacity underlies much of the power of language both in everyday life and in scholarly research. A theoretical account of this reflexive capacity will be necessary, therefore, for progress in many of the human disciplines.

A number of approaches to the study of reflexive language have already been developed, but the general significance of this work has not been widely appreciated. The present chapter briefly surveys some of the forms of reflexivity in language, outlines how these have been approached by some prominent research traditions, and then explores the place of research on reflexive language in the human disciplines with special attention to its methodological implications for the research process itself.