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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton 2022

A Sociopragmatic Account of the se Passive in (pre-)Classical Spanish

Bert Cornillie and Giulia Mazzola


From the 15th century on Spanish periphrastic passives with ser ‘to be’ + participle receive competition from the increasingly frequent pronominal passive (with reflexive se). Our sociopragmatic approach to the diachrony of the two constructions in complement clauses shows that (i) at the micro-level, animacy of the subject plays a role in that pronominal passives have undergoers with low animacy, whereas periphrastic ones combine often with human undergoers; (ii) at the macro-level, the actualization of the pronominal passive is initially driven by its popularity in diplomatic documents, but the new construction quickly spread to other document types. By the end of the 18th century, the pronominal construction had lost its function as a marker of formality and became the default construction to encode passive voice. The periphrastic construction, by contrast, ended as an archaic and highly infrequent passive construction, relegated to conservative document settings, such as legal texts.

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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