Joan Maling · [CogSciColloq] Syntactic Change in Progress: The New Impersonal Construction in Icelandic
The passive is one of the most thoroughly examined constructions in the world’s languages, across different theoretical and typological perspectives; yet there is often disagreement about category membership, particularly for constructions sometimes called “non-promotional” passives, which have no overt subject but govern an accusative object. In this talk I will discuss a new impersonal construction which has arisen in Icelandic in recent decades and which is gaining ground. Data has been collected in two nation-wide surveys. This syntactic innovation is a system-internal change that is not the result of borrowing, nor the result of any phonological change or morphological weakening in the language. I argue that the categorical indeterminacy of the New Impersonal is a result of two distinct grammatical analyses of the construction among native speakers. Other cases of this kind across several genetically unrelated languages will also be discussed.