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Prepositional passives in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish: A corpus study

  • Elisabet Engdahl (a1) and Anu Laanemets (a2)

There are conflicting reports in the literature concerning whether the Scandinavian languages use prepositional passives as in English. Maling & Zaenen (1985) showed that Icelandic does not have the construction; instead the Icelandic data should be analyzed as topicalization of the complement of a preposition in impersonal passives. They suggested that the same account would be appropriate for Danish and Swedish, whereas Norwegian is reported to have a rather productive prepositional passive (Lødrup 1991). In order to find out to what extent and in what ways prepositional passives are actually used, we carried out a series of investigations in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish contemporary text corpora, analyzing over 3600 potential prepositional passives, with a balance of periphrastic and morphological passive forms. We have found that prepositional passives are indeed used in all three languages, but rather infrequently, ranging from 3.4 per million words (3.4/mw) in Swedish, 5/mw in Danish to 16/mw in Norwegian. The majority of the prepositional passives are periphrastic bli(ve)-passives. The passive subject is typically animate, a person or an animal, who is psychologically affected by the action, or the lack of action, expressed by the participle. The notion of affectedness that is relevant for these languages thus differs from what has been described for English. Prepositional s-passives are found in coordinated structures and in infinitival complements of modal verbs, a context known to favour s-passive.

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