The passive of reflexive verbs in Icelandic

Hlíf Árnadóttir, Thórhallur Eythórsson, Einar Freyr Sigurðsson

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7557/12.2024

Keywords

reflexives; Icelandic; pronominals; binding; anaphora; historical linguistics; passive; new passive; case

Abstract

The Reflexive Passive in Icelandic is reminiscent of the so-called New Passive (or New Impersonal) in that the oblique case of a passivized object NP is preserved. As is shown by recent surveys, however, speakers who accept the Reflexive Passive do not necessarily accept the New Passive, whereas conversely, speakers who accept the New Passive do also accept the Reflexive Passive. Based on these results we suggest that there is a hierarchy in the acceptance of passive sentences in Icelandic, termed the Passive Acceptability Hierarchy. The validity of this hierarchy is confirmed by our diachronic corpus study of open access digital library texts from Icelandic journals and newspapers dating from the 19th and 20th centuries (tímarit.is). Finally, we sketch an analysis of the Reflexive Passive, proposing that the different acceptability rates of the Reflexive and New Passives lie in the argument status of the object. Simplex reflexive pronouns are semantically dependent on the verbs which select them, and should therefore be analyzed as syntactic arguments only, and not as semantic arguments of these verbs.


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