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International Conference on Historical Linguistics

Plenary: The Actualization of ‘New’ Voice Patterns in Romance: Persistence in Diversity



Michela Cennamo


In this talk I will discuss some aspects of the reorganization of voice distinctions in Late Latin, focusing on the actualization of a number of ‘new’ structures which became available for the encoding of voice in the transition from Latin to (Italo-)Romance, their various stages and the parameters determining their implementation, in relation to (i) the role played by aspect, the continuum of control (Lehmann 1988) and the person hierarchy, (ii) the diachronic relationship between auxiliation and serialization, (iii) the direction(ality) of the changes.

The ultimate goal is to detect patterns of invariance (i.e., persistence), of Latin inheritance and principled differences (i.e., divergence) in the type and extent of variation and further developments in this area of Romance morphosyntax.

More specifically, I will investigate the grammaticalization of lexical verbs of motion (come), activity (do/make) and change of state (become) as markers of the passive voice in the transition from Latin to (Italo-)Romance, in relation to the status of serial/light verbs, — whether intermediate stages in the auxiliarization process (Rosen 1977; Giacalone Ramat 2000; Giacalone Ramat & Sansò 2014, among others) or a different syntactic category (Butt 2003, Butt & Lahiri 2013) — and to the linearity of the relationship between serial verb and auxiliary (following the path verbal lexeme > serial > auxiliary) (Heine 2003, Hopper & Traugott 2003 and recent discussion in Bisang 2011; Börjars & Vincent 2011, among others).

I will argue that, although characterized by maximal desemanticization on a par with auxiliaries, the serial uses of the verbs under investigation, both in Late Latin (e.g., coctus factus ‘cooked’) and in some early Italo-Romance vernaculars (e.g., O. Lombard strangosada facta ‘anguished’) seem to exhibit a different type rather than a reduced degree of decategorialization. I will also show that the relationship serial verb-auxiliary is non-linear: the same lexeme, in fact, can have simultaneously auxiliary and serial uses, the latter developing, for some verbs, after their auxiliary uses (Cennamo 2006; 2007).

I will also investigate the reanalysis of the reflexive morpheme as a voice modulator. This appears, rather, to follow a linear path, proceeding from anticausative to passive and optionally to an impersonal/indefinite reinterpretation. This last stage is attested to different extents in Romance, and not in the same range of constructions in every language, depending on the referential scope of the reflexive morpheme and its degree of grammaticalization, as witnessed, for example, by Italo-Romance (Cennamo 1993; 2014; 2016). These changes indeed give evidence for the passive and impersonal reinterpretation of reflexive patterns as reflecting two different diachronic paths, which at some point merge. While the passive reflexive is a Late Latin development, related to changes in the encoding of voice in the transition from Latin to Romance, the impersonal function of the reflexive with one-argument verbs is a Romance phenomenon, and one not equally attested across the Romance languages or even within the Italian dialects. It probably reflects a stage where the reflexive pronoun acquires a non-reflexive pronominal value, such that Latin se becomes equivalent to is ‘he’, while also coming to refer to first and second person participants (se = nos ‘we’, vos ‘you’) (Cennamo 1993: 81; 2014).


Bisang, W. 2008. Grammaticalization and the areal factor- the perspective of East and mainland Southeast Asian languages. In M.J. López & E. Seoane (eds), Rethinking Grammaticalization. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins, 55–88.

___ 2011. Grammaticalization and linguistic typology. In H. Narrog & B. Heine (eds), 105–117.

Börjars, K. & Vincent, N. 2011. Grammaticalization and directionality. In H. Narrog & B. Heine(eds), 163–176.

Butt, M. 2003. The light verb jungle. Harvard Working Papers in Linguistics 9: 1–49.

Cennamo, M. 1993. The Reanalysis of Reflexives: a Diachronic Perspective. Naples: Liguori.

___ 2006. The rise and grammaticalization paths of Latin fieri and facere as passive auxiliaries. In W. Abraham & L. Leisiö (eds), Passivization and Typology. Amsterdam/Philadelphia:Benjamins, 311–36.

___ 2007. Auxiliaries and serials between late Latin and early Romance. In D. Bentley & A. Ledgeway (eds), Sui Dialetti Italo-Romanzi. Saggi in onore di Nigel B. Vincent. The Italianist, Special Supplement 1, 63–87.

___ 2014. Passive and impersonal reflexives in the Italian dialects: synchronic and diachronic aspects. In P. Benincà, A. Ledgeway & N. Vincent (eds), Diachrony and Dialects. Grammatical Change in the Dialects of Italy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 71–95.

___ 2016. Voice. In M. Maiden & A. Ledgeway (eds), The Oxford Guide to the Romance Languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 967–980.

Giacalone Ramat, A. 2000. Some grammaticalization patterns for auxiliaries. In J.C. Smith & D. Bentley (eds), Historical Linguistics 1995, vol. 1. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins, 125–38.

Giacalone Ramat, A. and Sansò, A. (2014) “Venire (‘come’) as a passive auxiliary in Italian” in M. Devos & J. van der Wal (eds), Come and Go off the Beaten Grammaticalization Path, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 21–44.

Heine, B. 1993. Auxiliaries. Cognitive Forces and Grammaticalization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

___ 2003. Grammaticalization. In B. Joseph & R. Janda (eds), The Handbook of Historical Linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell, 576–601.

Heine, B. & Kuteva, T. 2011. The areal dimension of grammaticalization. In H. Narrog & B. Heine (eds), 291–301.

Hopper, P. & Traugott, Elisabeth C. 2003. Grammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ledgeway, A. 2011. Grammaticalization from Latin to Romance. In H. Narrog & B. Heine (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Grammaticalization. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 717–726.

Narrog, H. & Heine, B. (eds) 2011. The Oxford Handbook of Grammaticalization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rosen, C. 1997. Auxiliation and serialization: on discerning the difference. In A. Altsina, J. Bresnan & P. Sells (eds), Complex Predicates. Stanford: CSLI.

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