Non-promotional passives and unspecified subject constructions

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The passive construction, one of the most scrutinized across varying theoretical and typological perspectives, sometimes gives rise to disagreements among linguists about the membership of particular cases. “Non-promotional” passives are a key example: they lack overt subjects but govern accusative objects and may be categorized as either passives or impersonal actives with null unspecified human subjects. Based on Irish, Polish, Ukrainian, Icelandic, and Pomo data, we argue that disagreements stem from two sources: (a) linguists’ differing theorizations of “passive,” including their tacit commitments to the importance of distinct constructional features for a theory of language; and (b) differing native speaker judgments, which reveal two distinct and persistent analyses of this configuration, arising from the syntactic ambiguity of verb forms with null surface subjects.


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