ELTE BTK Magyar Nyelvtudományi és Finnugor Intézet

Gulyás, Nikolett (Budapest)

nyomtatható változat

Some means of expressing impersonality in Komi

Impersonality, from a functional-semantic viewpoint, is closely related with the demotion of the agent (cf. Siewierska 2008, Givón 1990: 574-575, Langacker 1991: 371). The aim of this paper is to outline some types of impersonal expressions which are used in Zyrian and in Permyak. In my presentation a corpus-based analysis of impersonals is presented. I suppose that impersonals are often used in formal and in mythical (con)texts, where the identity of the agent (from certain causes) is left open.
According to Siewierska (2008: 7), impersonality is associated with agent defocusing, which may involve: (a) the non-elaboration or under-elaboration of the instigator, (b) the demotion of the instigator from its prototypical subject and topic function or (c) both demotion and non-elaboration. (The term instigator refers to the agent.)
To type (a) belong constructions in which the 3Pl form refers to an indefinite agent: (Z) viÇśInÏ gožImÏn more bereg dorÏn (Rédei 1978: 81) ‘The reindeers are kept on the seashore in summer.’ Another strategy for the under-elaboration of the agent is the use of indefinite pronouns: (P) Кылöны, кинкö ружтö. (Ponomareva forthcoming: 168) ‘They can hear that someone is yammering.’ There are other means of expressing non-elaborated agents, for instance by the use of zero constructions (cf. Rédei 1978: 81, 98). A demoted obligatory argument (type b) can be found in constructions that have a causative verb with an obligatory accusative-marked argument: (P) Менö узьöтö. (Larisa Ponomareva, personal communication) ‘I am sleepy. Lit.: Something makes me sleepy.’ Necessive and permissive constructions - and a special genitive-marked construction in Zyrian (for details, see Leinonen 1995) - are also considered impersonals of type b: (Z) sÏlÏ gortI kolI munnÏ (Rédei 1978: 81) ‘S/he has to go home.’ Type c contains impersonal passives. The marker of the 2nd past can express both active and passive - and so, from our viewpoint, impersonal - meaning in Komi (cf. Rédei 1978, Ponomareva forthcoming).
Furthermore, there are several other examples (anticausatives, weather expressions, etc.) of impersonal constructions in Komi. My presentation demonstrates some conditions under which they are used. It is worth repeating that impersonality can be defined as the speaker’s choice to diminish the prominence (Siewierska 2008) of the agent of the event or the action. In this sense, grammar-external factors play a crucial role in the way different impersonals are used.


Givón, Talmy 1990: Syntax: A functional-typological introduction. Volume II. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Langacker, Ronald 1991: Foundations of Cognitive Grammar, vol. 2: Descriptive Application. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Leinonen, Marja 1995: Komin possessiivinen resultatiivirakenne. In: Laakso, J. (toim.): V. I. Lytkinin satavuotismuisto. Castrenianumin toimitteita 52, 87‒100.
Ponomareva, Larisa forthcoming: Komi‒permják nyelvkönyv.
Rédei Károly 1978: Chrestomathia Syraenica. Budapest: Tankönyvkiadó.
Siewierska, Anna 2008: Introduction: Impersonalization from a subject-centred vs. agent-centred perspective. Transactions of the Philological Society 106: 2, 1-23.

Language of the presentation: English.