Russian dative reflexive construction: inexpressible subject, backgrounding of the constituents of situation, and the problem of compositionality

2017. № 2 (34), 29-62

Gennadij M. Zeldowicz, Warsaw University; Warsaw, Poland


The immediate concern of the paper consists in explaining, why in a range of Russian dative reflexive constructions (such as Mne ne pišetsja ‘I do not feel like writing’, lit. ‘to me it does not write’) the subject is formally inexpressible; cf. Ljubite, poka (?vam) ljubitsja ‘love, while you can love’; Ja xoču ego prostit', no (??mne) ne proščaetsja ‘I would like to forgive him, but I cannot do so’. It is claimed that, as far as such a construction foregrounds some uncontrolled force which exerts influence on the subject and gives (or otherwise) her/him the inner resources necessary for the relevant action to be performed, other constituents of the situation must be backgrounded, and under certain conditions the best possibility to do so is null instantiation of the subject. The regularities described in the paper are witness to the fact that dative reflexive construction is not a rigid syntactic model the meaning of which is fixed in advance, and, in spite of what is widely claimed, is compositional.