The Recipient Passive in the History of English

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Lena Kaltenbach


Considerable attention has been paid to formal and functional aspects of the recipient passive (e.g. Mary/Sheis given a book) whereas its emergence during the 14thcentury has received little attention in the literature to date. This study seeks to explore its semantic and syntactic characteristics based on shared features of verb classes. It also considers potential influence of language contact in the form of the borrowing of Anglo-Norman verbs including their argument structure into Middle English.  For a set of Modern English ditransitive verbs, the ability to signify a caused possession event type by selecting for a true recipientargument is identified as the necessary condition. A corpus analysis of two native and three French origin verbs from two Middle English corpora, PPCME2 (Kroch & Taylor, 2000)and PCEEC (Taylor, Nurmi, Warner, Pintzuk, & Nevalainen, 2006), reveals the set of verbs which can form recipient passives as historically stable with regard to event type and semantic roles. By tendency, the verbs form recipient passives as soon as the choice between expressing the recipientargument as either a prepositional phrase or a bare noun phrase becomes available. Native verbs lag behind non-native verbs. This tendency supports recent assumptions about borrowing of argument structure (Trips & Stein, 2019)and differences in argument realisation options across languages (Hovav & Levin, 2008).

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Kaltenbach, L. (2020). The Recipient Passive in the History of English. Mannheim Papers in Multilingualism, Acquisition and Change, 1, 73–112.
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