Semantic constraints on the Latin impersonal passive

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This paper focuses on a specific type of impersonal construction in Latin, the so-called <i>impersonal passive</i>, which is based on the third person singular of the passive voice. Using a corpus-based analysis of the Latin data, I will investigate the introduction of a prepositional agentive phrase in impersonal passives, which, although rare, represents a challenge to the functional-typological view of this construction as an <i>agent defocusing strategy</i>. It will be shown that this characterization only partially accounts for the Latin data, since subject demotion is possible also when the agent is highly topical, i.e. definite, referential and human. It will be further suggested that the scalar approach to split intransitivity put forward in Sorace (2000) may throw new light onto the parameters determining the distribution of agentive phrases in Latin; in particular, it will be demonstrated that agentivity acts as the main constraint on the presence/absence of a syntactic agent in the Latin impersonal passive.


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