Call for Papers: workshop on impersonal constructions

Andrej Malchukov andrej_malchukov at EVA.MPG.DE
Tue Jan 8 11:08:51 UTC 2008

/Call for papers/

Workshop proposal *Impersonal constructions: a cross-linguistic 

organizers: Anna Siewierska and Andrej Malchukov

Dear List members,

This is a call for papers for a workshop on *Impersonal constructions: a 
cross-linguistic perspective* that we plan to organize within the next 
annual meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea (SLE), to be held in 
Forlì, Italy, September
17-20, 2008 (

Since SLE policy for workshops and theme sessions requires us to submit 
the proposal to the SLE program committee before February 15, 2008, we 
ask the prospective contributors to send us the title of their 
contribution and a very short abstract no later than 8^th of February, 
2008. We will ask for longer abstracts once we have negotiated with the 
conference organizers the number of slots available.

Abstracts should be sent to both organizers to the following e-mail

a.siewierska at <mailto:a.siewierska at>

andrej_malchukov at <mailto:andrej_malchukov at>

The notification of acceptance of an abstract for the workshop is 28^th 
of February.

The final notification of acceptance on the part of the SLE committee is 
the 31^st of May 2008. If the theme session is accepted it is our 
intention to publish a selection of the papers with an international 

Anna Siewierska and Andrej Malchukov

/Workshop Topic/

*Impersonal constructions: a cross-linguistic perspective*

Impersonal constructions (such as Latin /Me pudet/ lit. ‘me shames’, 
German /Mich// friert/ lit. ‘me freezes’, or Russian /Svetaet/ ‘It 
dawns’) have been a traditional topic of research in Indo-European 
studies (see, e.g., Seefranz-Montag 1984; Lambert 1998; Bauer 2000). Yet 
this research with a few exceptions has not been extended 
cross-linguistically. There seem to be several, different reasons for 
this all of which cause problems for the cross-linguistic identification 
of impersonal constructions. The first reason relates to the term 
impersonal, which has remained controversial and is understood in a 
variety of different ways by different authors: as pertaining to 
constructions lacking a subject; as embracing constructions lacking a 
lexical subject (this allows for treating constructions like /It dawns 
/as impersonal); as covering constructions featuring subjects with 
generic or arbitrary reference rather than definite reference. These 
uses of the term impersonal are not unrelated though. We will define 
impersonal constructions broadly as constructions lacking a referential 
subject, which is consistent with the traditional usage of the term 
impersonal. The second reason for the lack of cross-linguistic studies 
of impersonals is that impersonal constructions are rather heterogeneous 
in terms of the verb types involved. As repeatedly noted in the 
literature, among the verb types that most commonly pattern impersonally 
are weather-verbs, psych verbs, as well as verbs used in presentational 
constructions. Yet, in spite of this heterogeneity, these constructions 
also show an overlap, which justifies their joint consideration (e.g., 
the same predicates may be involved in weather constructions and psych 
predicates: cf. Russian: /Morozit/ ‘It is cold’ and /Menja morozit/ lit. 
‘me freezes’). Another reason for the relative neglect of impersonals in 
typological investigations is that, impersonal verbs can be either basic 
or derived (impersonal passives; cf. the impersonal participles in 
/–no/-to /in/ /Polish; Siewierska 1984). Yet, again both types show a 
significant overlap: in fact, Givón (2001) regards impersonal 
construction such as /Man sagt/ in German as a kind of impersonal 
passive (cf. Khrakovky 1974). Finally, the term impersonal is based on 
the concept of subject, which may be not readily applicable to languages 
of different alignment (e.g., ergative languages). However, as noted by 
Lazard (1998 /et passim/), similar phenomena can be attested in ergative 
languages with respect to encoding of the P argument, a construction 
called “anti-impersonal”. Furthermore, the role of impersonal 
constructions in the rise of different alignment types has been recently 
recognized (see, e.g., contributions by Donohue, Mithun, Malchukov to 
Donohue & Wichmann (eds.) 2008 on the rise of the active-stative 

The workshop is intended to bring together scholars interested in 
various aspects of the structure of impersonal constructions, both in 
individual languages and cross-linguistically. The discussion of 
theoretical issues will be appreciated to the extent that it helps to 
elucidate the empirical data. The topics to be addressed include but are 
not limited to:

    * impersonal constructions in individual languages (contributions
      dealing with less studied languages are particularly welcome)
          o lexical properties of the constructions (i.e., what types of
            predicates pattern impersonally)
          o syntactic properties of these constructions (i.e., does any
            argument display subject properties)
          o morphological properties (basic and derived impersonal verbs
            (impersonal passives)
          o borderline cases/extensions of impersonal uses (cf.
            Siewierska 2004 on the impersonal uses of personal pronouns,
            and personal uses of impersonal pronouns)
    * cross-linguistic and diachronic studies of impersonal constructions


Bauer, B. 2000. /Archaic syntax in Indo-European: the spread of 
transitivity in Latin and French/. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Donohue, M. & S. Wichmann (eds). 2008. /Typology of languages with 
semantic alignment/. Oxford University Press.

Givón, T., 2001. /Syntax. A Functional-Typological Introduction/, vol. 
2. John Benjamins, Amsterdam.

Khrakovsky, V. S. 1974. “Passivnye konstrukcii” [Passive constructions]. 
In A. A. Kholodovich (ed.) /Tipologija passivnyx konstrukcij/ [/Typology 
of passive constructions/], Leningrad: Nauka, 5–45.

Lambert, P.-Y. 1998. L’impersonnel. In J. Feuillet (ed.). /Actance et 
valence dans les Langues de l’Europe/. Berlin: Mouton, 295-347.

Lazard, G. 1998. /Actancy/. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter

Seefranz-Montag, A. 1984. Subjectless sentences and syntactic change. 
In: J. Fisiak (ed.). /Historical syntax/. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 

Siewierska, A. 1984. /The Passive: A Comparative Linguistic Analysis/. 
London: Croom Helm.

Siewierska , A. 2004. /Person/. (Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics). 
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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