The role of atypical constellations in the grammaticalization of German and English passives
In this paper we propose an alternative scenario for the grammaticalization of passive constructions in German and English. According to the received view, the development starts with the frequent combinations of copula verbs with past participles, which then increasingly gain in frequency during the grammaticalization process. In contrast to the received view, we argue that marginal – i.e., atypical and infrequent – constellations of constructions play an important role in the grammaticalization process. These constellations are ambiguous in their interpretation, and consequently have an inherent potential to trigger semantic reinterpretation and syntactic reanalysis. The alternative scenario is more consistent with theoretical considerations and the patterns in corpus data of German and English between 1050 and 1350. Our paper supports the hypothesis that the grammaticalization of the passive in German started from constellations of the become copula with past participles of atelic verbs, i.e., activities and semelfactives. By contrast, no such change can be observed in the corresponding construction in English. We discuss the implications of our findings for constructional change and grammaticalization in general.
Keywords: passive, copula verbs, aspect, aktionsart, grammaticalization, German, English, Middle High German, Old English
Published online: 17 September 2019
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