Detransitivity in the Brittonic Languages: Reflexivity, Reciprocity and Middle Voice Constructions


This project will examine the expression of detransitivity (reflexivity, reciprocity and middle voice constructions) in the Brittonic languages, with a special focus on Welsh. Together with several other constructions, reflexivity and reciprocity are sub-domains of detransitive voice. Much cross-linguistic and typological research has been carried out on the grammatical categories as well as on their common semsntic and pragmatic features. Not only are these categories connected by interrelated semantic properties, they are also represented, in many languages, by identical markers. Most European languages display markers that encompass more than one such category, based on the so-called PIE "reflexive pronoun" *s(w)e, cp. e.g. German sich, French se, Italian si. The Brittonic languages Welsh, Breton and Cornish employ a different strategy. Here reflexives and reciprocals are characterized by the verbal prefix Welsh ym-, Breton em-, Cornish om-. This prefix originates from the Proto-Celtic preposition *ambi- 'about, at two sides' and originally indicated reciprocity, but possibly also middle voice. One of the objectives of the present project is precisely to test this latter hypothesis. While in Cornish and Breton the prefix developed into the only marker of reflexivity and reciprocity that the two languages display, Welsh behaved differently. Next to the prefix, Welsh developed a second strategy to express reflexivity by means of the complex intensifier ei hun, which over time completely replaced the prefix in this function. These developments, which have not been researched so far, will be examined and dated based on a diachronic corpora analysis. They will also be discussed in relation to data gathered for typological research and for contact linguistics. In addition, convergent developments with the neighbouring languages will be considered. It is for example controversial, whether the use of the complex intensifier himself as a relative pronoun in English was influenced by Welsh. The project examines the diachronic restructuring of a grammatical sub-system of the Brittonic languages, and it aims at improving the understanding of their development. The expected results will also be relevant within the fields of typology, language contact and language change.


Principal Investigators
Irslinger, Britta Dr. (Details) (Historical-Comparative Linguistics)

Duration of Project
Start date: 01/2017
End date: 01/2019

Research Areas
General and Comparative Linguistics, Typology, Non-European Languages, Historical Linguistics

Research Areas
Britannische Sprachen, Historisch-vergleichende Sprachwissenschaft

Last updated on 2020-01-06 at 18:03