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The Polish passive and impersonal in Lexical Mapping Theory

Anna Kibort


The paper offers an analysis of two distinct constructions in Polish which result from alterations in the argument structure of the predicate: the periphrastic passive construction, and the impersonal construction ending in -no/-to. I demonstrate that, in spite of overlapping with the meaning of the passive construction, the -no/-to impersonal is not equivalent to the impersonal passive, and that its subjectlessness is very superficial. Although it does not allow an overt expression of the subject or agent, it contains an interpretable, syntactically active covert subject. Furthermore, it applies to a wider class of verbs than the passive (in particular, it unproblematically applies to unaccusative verbs) and it does not induce the promotion of a structural accusative in transitive predicates.

To account for this type of construction, I suggest distinguishing between two types of operation in the argument structure of the predicate: suppression (as in the -no/-to impersonal) and demotion (as in the passive). I demonstrate that LFG's Lexical Mapping Theory reserves the resources with which it is possible to capture this distinction, and I offer analyses of passivization and impersonalization which can be extended to other constructions believed to be part of the system of operations on argument structure, and which preserve the previous descriptive generalizations about these constructions. Specifically, I argue that passivization can be seen as 'chomeurizing' the most prominent, non-objective, argument of the predicate by imposing on it a 'restricted' syntactic marking which forces it to map onto an oblique grammatical function. Impersonalization, on the other hand, operates on arguments which have been specified for their final grammatical functions and it could be viewed as suppressing, or blocking, the final subject in the way which has so far been suggested in LFG for the passive.

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