Chapter published in:Historical Linguistics 2015: Selected papers from the 22nd International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Naples, 27-31 July 2015
Edited by Michela Cennamo and Claudia Fabrizio
[Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 348] 2019
► pp. 406–421
The sources of antipassive constructions
A cross-linguistic survey
Antipassive constructions may be polysemous, with aspectual and modal functions other than patient demotion, and may differ with respect to the way agents and patients are coded. This paper explores the hypothesis that at least some of these differences can be explained by taking into account the diachronic sources of these constructions, which hold the key to some regularities. The sample includes the 48 languages with an antipassive in WALS (Polinsky 2013) + 50 languages in which an antipassive or a functionally equivalent construction is attested. These functionally equivalent constructions are generally not labelled as antipassives in grammatical descriptions, and alternative labels such as depatientive, deobjective, unspecified object construction, etc. are used. The diachronic sources of all these constructions are identified drawing on two kinds of evidence: (i) etymological reconstructions based on the comparative method; (ii) synchronic resemblance between (some features of) the source construction and (some features of) the target construction. Four main sources are found to be recurrent in the sample: (i) agent nominalizations; (ii) generic/indefinite elements filling the object position (e.g. person for animate objects, (some)thing for inanimate objects); (iii) action nominalizations, either alone or accompanied by a light verb like ‘do’ (≅ do the washing); (iv) morphemes encoding reflexive and/or reciprocal actions. For each of these sources, a diachronic scenario is sketched through which the antipassive construction might have developed out of the source.
Keywords: antipassive constructions, diachronic typology, agent nominalizations, action nominalizations, reflexive, reciprocal
Published online: 10 September 2019
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