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The spread and decline of indefinite <i>man</i>-constructions in European languages

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Abstract

This paper focuses on the areal distribution of indefinite <i>man </i>-constructions (i.e. impersonal active constructions in which the subject position is filled by a noun meaning ‘man’) in European languages. It is shown that <i>man </i>-constructions are a widespread phenomenon across Europe: they show up consistently in the so-called “Charlemagne area”, and tend to diffuse eastwards to West and South Slavonic languages, whereas East Slavonic languages do not present clear instances of this construction type. This areal distribution allows us to consider these constructions as a yet unnoticed areal feature of the Standard Average European area, but they are, in a sense, a recessive areal feature, and their distribution in older times included more languages than today (especially in Germanic and Romance). On the other hand, the eastward expansion towards the Slavonic area appears to be a quite recent phenomenon, and <i>man </i>-constructions in Slavonic languages are possibly an incipient category. To cope with this apparent discrepancy, a twowave model of diffusion is introduced, which singles out two historical periods in which the diffusion of these constructions is likely to have taken place.

References

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