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9. Passives of ditransitives: the gradual rise of a Recipient passive in Italian

Anna Giacalone Ramat


This chapter investigates the properties and the diachronic development of a poorly described Italian construction, vedersi ‘to see oneself’ followed by the infinitive, with the aim of defending its Recipient passive interpretation. According to the recent typological literature (Malchukov, Haspelmath, and Comrie 2010), Italian, as a language that follows an indirective coding pattern, should not allow the passivization of the Recipient argument in ditransitives. The case under scrutiny represents a special strategy whose motivations are to be searched for, on the one hand, in the tendency for Recipients to take the subject role in passivization (Haspelmath 2015), and on the other at the pragmatic level in a response to the need for expressing the (mostly negative) subject affectedness. The diachronic analysis illustrates the grammaticalization path of vedersi + infinitive leading from the reflexive construction, in which vedersi has a perceptive meaning, to a Recipient passive construction through texts from Old to Modern Italian. The semantic expansion of the Recipient construction beginning in the late 19th century, through its ability to attract a variety of ditransitive predicates, is illustrated with corpus-based examples. The earlier but parallel development of a Theme passive in the construction vedersi + past participle (Giacalone Ramat 2017) confirms the main lines of change and suggests a new assessment of passivization patterns in Modern Italian.

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