A Rare Change: The degrammaticalization of an inflectional passive marker into an impersonal subject pronoun in Earlier Egyptian
Grossman, Eitan; Haspelmath, Martin; Richter, Sebastian
Egyptian-Coptic linguistics in typological perspective
de Gruyter Mouton
Place of publication
Empirical approaches to language typology
The paper describes a rare change whereby an inflectional passive marker is extended to new uses as an impersonal subject pronoun. The change is analyzed as an instance of degrammaticalization, more specifically of deinflectionalization. The possibility for change is modeled in terms of formal equivocation and semantic conditions favouring alternative construals of the passive construction, without prior reanalysis of the latter. The change is further related to the spread of SV patterns, which had their origins in non-verbal constructions. Degrammaticalization is thus argued to have been rendered possible by a broad conjunction of independent conditions, none of which individually exceptional. The mechanisms of change are themselves ordinary ones, consisting in occasional reanalysis, pragmatic enrichment, and context generalization. A further case of deinflectionalization in second millennium BCE Egyptian is discussed in an Appendix.