The role of passives in the formation of hierarchical systems in Northern California

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Passive constructions have been considered as possible sources for grammatical systems based on person hierarchies (Mithun 2007, 2010, 2012). Mithun (2012: 285) shows how patterns of core argument marking in Northern California could have spread areally as a result of language contact. In this paper I build on Mithun’s work, examining core argument patterns and passive constructions in ten Northern California languages and exploring why passives have led to hierarchical systems in some languages, but not in others. A number of features are shown to always be present in languages with hierarchical systems, though passive constructions are not always involved. The results indicate that the grammatical systems crystallized at different stages of development, which explains many of the irregularities.


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