I myself have learned something

Intensive pronouns. I was aware that reflexive pronouns are the ones that use "self" (that's the reflexive part), but I had never heard of an intensive pronoun before. Apparently, an intensive pronoun is when a reflexive pronoun is used to emphasize the subject and his/her accomplishment, as demonstrated by the title of this post.

As I've been thinking about intensive pronouns today, I've decided that they seem a little strange in writing. Maybe it's the whole phenomenon of when you say a word too many times and its starts to lose its meaning, but saying "I myself have learned something" or "He himself came to the door" is striking my ear as incredibly off.

I mean, in speech, the emphasis feels more comfortable: "She herself called!" But we do a lot of things in our spoken language that we just can't pull off in writing: interrupting ourselves, starting our sentences over again, dropping off into strange silence before reaching the actual end of a sentence. Our speech draws on so many other aspects of communication--the voice, the body, the face--that sentence structure isn't as critical. But when we only have words on the page, well, those words have a lot of work to do. Grammar has to stand in for the voice, the body, the face--well, we do have emoticons :)

I think the only time in writing that I might feel comfortable with the intensive pronoun might be in a phrase like "She did it all by herself" when referring to my one year old niece. But in this case, the word probably doesn't even count as an intensive pronoun, since it comes so much later in the sentence, included in a prepositional phrase, and really just working its standard reflexive magic.

When would we need an intensive pronoun? When is there work that word would have to do? Maybe in the case of royalty or people with great power who typically have their admins do things for them? Is it a grammar function that has gone out of style with the rise of democracy? We don't need intensive pronouns because we expect everyone to do their work themselves, make their own phone calls, answer their own doors?

Maybe it is a grammatical archaism, a political antiquity. Maybe that explains why I only learned about it yesterday.