Oblique Passivization in Lithuanian

Cori Anderson, Princeton University

Case is divided into at least two types in the literature: structural and lexical. Since the latter is a lexical property of a verb, it is checked early in the derivation by V, and, in principle, these NPs do not undergo further case-licensing in the syntax. Structural case assignment is dependent on syntactic configurations, thus these NPs participate in syntactic processes altering case, such as passivization or marking genitive under negation in Slavic. However, data from Lithuanian show that structural and lexical case can exhibit identical behavior. Thus the distinction between structural and lexical case cannot be as clear-cut as most theories generally assume.

Certain Lithuanian verbs assign oblique cases, as in Slavic. Oblique objects fail to appear in genitive under negation, which is obligatory for accusative objects, and thus seem to be an instance of lexical case. However, Lithuanian allows verbs requiring “lexical” genitive, dative and locative objects to undergo passivization (Ambrazas, 1997), although this is generally limited to verbs assigning structural case. (Russian and Polish, to a more limited extent (Fowler 1996, Swan 2004), also allow for passivization of certain oblique objects.) As seen in (1) and (2), the initial object is promoted to the final subject, appearing in nominative and agreeing with the participle in number and gender. If V checks lexical case, there should be no subsequent motivation for raising to a nominative-case-marked position in (2b).

Svenonius (2005) offers an analysis of similar facts of the middle of lexical case verbs in Icelandic. He argues that V alone cannot assign case; the introduction of an external argument, and thus v, are also necessary. Lexical case remains a property of certain Vs, but cannot be assigned to the object without an external argument. Thus lexical case is distinct from structural, but depends on the syntactic configuration to a certain extent. I will argue for a similar configurational dependency of lexical case assignment in Lithuanian (and Slavic), but against the requirement of v for case assignment, on the basis that it is necessary to license the by-phrase.

(1)        a. Jonas rašo    laiška

                 John.NOM  wrote letter.ACC

                 ‘John wrote a letter’

            b. Laiškas                     buvo Jono rašomas

                Letter.M.Sg.NOM   was John.GEN written.M.sg.NOM

                ‘The letter was written by John’

(2)        a. Mes atstovavome darbininkams

                 We represented workers.DAT

                 ‘We represented the workers’

              b. Darbininkai/*-ams              buvo musų atstovaujami

                  Workers.M.Pl.NOM/*DAT were us.GEN represented.M.Pl.NOM

                  ‘The workers were represented by us’


Ambrazas, V. et al. 1997. Lithuanian grammar. Vilnius: Baltos lankos.

Fowler, G. 1996. “Oblique passivization in Russian”. Slavic and East European Journal 40,               3:519-545.

Svenonius, P. 2005. Case alternations in the Icelandic passive. Ms. CASTL, University of                     


Swan, O. 2004. Grammar of Contemporary Polish. Bloomington, Ind.: Slavica.