Where do antipassive constructions come from?
A study in diachronic typology
The aim of this article is to provide an overview of the main sources of antipassive constructions based on a 120-language sample. The sample includes the 48 languages with an antipassive in the WALS (Polinsky 2013) + 72 further languages in which an antipassive or a functionally equivalent construction is attested (e.g., deobjective constructions, unspecified object constructions, etc.). The diachronic sources of antipassives 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 diachronic sources are recurrent in the sample: (i) agent nominalizations; (ii) generic/indefinite items filling the object position (e.g., “person” for animate objects, “(some)thing” for inanimate objects); (iii) action nominalizations, sometimes accompanied by a light verb like “do”; and (iv) morphemes encoding reflexive/reciprocal actions. For each of these sources, a diachronic scenario is proposed through which the antipassive construction might have come into existence. The article also explores the hypothesis that at least some of the functional and structural differences among antipassive constructions across languages may be explained by taking into account the diachronic sources of these constructions.
Keywords: antipassive, voice, diachronic typology, nominalization, reflexive, reciprocal
Published online: 20 July 2017
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