Personal and Impersonal Passives: Definite vs. Indefinite Diatheses


  •  We would like to thank Seppo Kittilä and Martin Durrell as well as two anonymous reviewers for their helpful remarks. The native speakers Zyg Frajzyngier, Wladimir Klimonov and Alicja Nagórko helped us with the Polish examples, (14) and (17a,b), whose grammatical status as ImpPass was questioned by one of the reviewers.

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This paper discusses what is called the ‘impersonal passive’ (ImpPass) with the aim of isolating the criteria under which ImpPass is distinguished from the ‘personal passive’ (PersPass). It will be argued, first, that ImpPass is a misnomer given that it can be formed only from active subjects identified by personal agents. Secondly, we shall investigate why certain languages, such as German and Latin, can form an ImpPass, whereas others such as English cannot. The main insight to be gained is that the overt formal aspectual distinguishability of perfectivity vs. imperfectivity is the main typological criterion allowing ImpPass to occur in a given language.1