On the development of Recipient passives in DO languages

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Passives of ditransitive verbs vary as to whether they promote the Theme argument or the Recipient. In general terms, Theme passives associate with Direct Object (DO) languages, whereas Recipient passives are characteristic of Primary Object (PO) languages. In this work, we ask what motivates some DO languages to develop a Recipient passive, against the typological tendency, and we suggest that the answer lies in the anthropocentric character of discourse. We then focus on the mechanisms by which an original Theme passive is able to transform into a Recipient passive, using Spanish as our case example. Our analysis of the grammaticalization process documented in that language allows us to localize the origin of the new pasive in a phenomenon of “subjective empathy” with the Recipient, and to track its advance along a continuum of “topicworthiness”. Our study verifies the precedence of word order strategies over other coding properties in passivization.


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