Passives without actives

Evidence from verbless complement clauses in Spanish

  • Francisco Gonzálvez-García


This paper proposes a constructionist analysis à la Goldberg (1995, 2003, 2006) of passive verbless configurations in Spanish lacking a felicitous active counterpart, as in (1) below:

(1) Mr John Spencer no era lo que se dic-e un hombre intachable
Mr John Spencer NEG be.IMPPRET.3SG D E F . N . S G REL PASS say-PRS.3SG INDF man irreproachable
‘Mr John Spencer was not what you may call an irreproachable man’ (CREA Corpus, 1980, Anónimo, Los tripulantes de ovnis)

Under the paradigmatic – rather than syntagmatic – view of passives invoked in this paper, configurations of the type in (1) above, attested with a number of verba cogitandi et dicendi, are handled as instances of the Impersonal Subjective-Transitive construction, whose general skeletal meaning is X (NP1) attributed Y (XPCOMP) by Z (NP2) in a direct, categorical way. Moreover, the analysis proposed here also provides a satisfactory account of the distribution of grammatical subjects and the XPCOMPs, while also capturing the commonalities with “regular” passives (i.e. those with a felicitous active counterpart). In addition, Spanish passive verbless complement configurations with se dice (‘is said’) are shown to illustrate a three-point continuum consisting of (i) non-grammaticalized configurations with an active counterpart, (ii) non-grammaticalized configurations without an active counterpart, and (iii) grammaticalized configurations without an active counterpart. From a synchronic point of view, the structural and semantico-pragmatic properties exhibited by the lower-level lo que se dice XPFOCUS construction, involving a
focusing/emphasizer subjunct function (e.g. verdaderamente ‘really’) as well as a reformulatory connective use (e.g. o sea ‘that is’, en otras palabras ‘in other words’) appear to point to an early process of grammaticalization, exhibiting decategorialization as well as generalization of meaning in conjunction with a prominent increase in pragmatic function and subjectification (cf. Traugott 1988, 1995a, 1995b, 2003).

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