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Expletive passives in Scandinavian – with and without objects

Chapter in book
Authors Elisabet Engdahl
Published in Michelle Sheehan & Laura R. Bailey (eds.), Order and structure in syntax II: Subjecthood and argument structure
Pages 289–306
ISBN 978-3-96110-029-3
Publisher Language Science Press
Place of publication Berlin
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Swedish
Pages 289–306
Language en
Keywords Swedish, passive, impersonal, parameter, Icelandic, expletive
Subject categories Specific Languages, Linguistics


Holmberg (2002) proposes an account for the variation concerning expletives, participial agreement and word order in periphrastic passives in the Mainland Scandinavian languages in terms of parameters. In this short article, the predictions of Holmberg’s proposal are evaluated against a corpus study of expletive passives. It turns out that only Norwegian 1 (bokmål) behaves as expected given Holmberg’s parameter settings; it lacks participle agreement and only displays the PCP DO word order, with few exceptions. Danish, which has the same parameter settings as Norwegian 1, is shown to have had the DO PCP order in earlier stages and this order is still used in many dialects. Norwegian 2 (nynorsk) and Swedish are predicted to allow both the PCP DO order and the DO PCP order, but it is shown that Norwegian 2 uses the same order as Norwegian 1, PCP DO, whereas Swedish – to the limited extent that the periphrastic passive is actually used in expletive passives – uses the DO PCP order. In both Danish and Swedish, the DO PCP order is facilitated by an incorporated negation in the DO, just as in active clauses, a fact that should presumably be reflected in the analysis.

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