Richard Page, Michael T. Putnam, Andrew Hoffman & Robert Klosinski – University of Copenhagen

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Resisting change: Get-passives in Pennsylvania Dutch

Richard Page, Michael T. Putnam, Andrew Hoffman & Robert Klosinski (Penn State University)

Overview: As discussed by Wood and Sigurðsson (2014), get-passives with two arguments as in (1) are apparently found in all Germanic languages whereas the get-passive constructions in (2) are found in English but are typically impermissible in other Germanic languages. Here we explore the availability of get-passives in Pennsylvania Dutch (PD) in a variety of structures similar to those in (1) and (2) in both monotransitive and ditransitive verbs:

a. John got a package delivered yesterday. (Wood & Sigurðsson 2014: 493) (English)
b. Sie bekommt/kriegt den Katalog zugeschickt. (German)
She gets/gets the.ACC catalog sent
‘She gets the catalog sent to her.’ (Diewald 1997: 32)

a. The package got delivered to John. (English)
b. *Der Katalog hat der Frau zugeschickt gekriegt. (German)
the.NOM catalog has the.DAT woman sent gotten
‘The catalog got sent to the woman.’

PD also has a get-passive construction that uses the verb griege ‘to get, receive’, which is cognate to the German verb kriegen ‘to get, receive’. Burridge (2006) provides the examples in (3) and (4):

Ich hab e Buch gewwe griegt. (Pennsylvania Dutch)
I have a Book given gotten
‘I got given a book.’ (Burridge 2006: 186)

Mir griege gesaagt. (Pennsylvania Dutch)
we get told
‘We get told.’ (Burridge 2006: 186)

Though German get-passives are most common with ditransitive verbs in German, sentences as in (5) that combine kriegen/bekommen with a monotransitive verb to form the get-passive are permissible in German, though their acceptability varies dialectally.

Er bekommt/kriegt geschmeichelt/geholfen/auf die Füße getreten.
He gets/gets flattered / helped / on the.ACC feet stepped
‘He is getting flattered/helped/his feet stepped on.’ (Diewald 1997: 32)

Wood and Sigurðsson (2014: 495) note that the subjects of get-passive constructions in German are limited to the thematic roles of beneficiary, maleficiary, or recipient, which are also the thematic roles available to datives. Note that (2b) is impermissible in German, where the subject of the get-passive has the thematic role of patient and would appear in the accusative case in the active voice.


We present results from a production task and an experimental comprehension task conducted with 11 PD speakers in Ohio who have an Old Order Amish (OOA) background and live in the world’s largest Amish settlement, established in 1808 and centered in the Holmes-Wayne County area of Ohio with a population of 29,862. All of the participants in PD may be considered balanced English-PD bilinguals, and PD is their first language. PD as spoken by sectarian OOA has lost the dative case. Intense contact with English over the last two centuries and the loss of the dative case in PD raises the possibility that the get-passive in PD may differ from German and permit sentences like (2a).

In our study, we presented participants with recordings of PD sentences using the get-passive combining the PD verb griege ‘get’ with intransitive, monotransitive and ditransitive verbs. The subjects of the get-passive constructions also varied with regard to the thematic role of the subject. Informants listened to and evaluated sixty (n=60) token sentences, with half (n=30) consisting of filler sentences, half (n=30) using griege. Of the griege sentences, twelve were non-canonical passives with subjects assigned a recipient/beneficiary/maleficiary role (n=12), twelve were non-canonical passives with subjects assigned a thematic role of theme/patient (n=12), and six were active sentences (n=6). Recorded stimuli were presented to the participants in PsychoPy. Participants evaluated the acceptability of these tokens on a Likert scale ranging from 1 (never) to 6 (absolutely). Participants also performed a production task by watching videos and responding to questions about the videos such as the following: “What is the woman doing?” or “What is happening to the woman?”


Preliminary results show that the get-passive in PD was completely acceptable with all verbs when the subject assigned a thematic role of recipient, maleficiary, or beneficiary as in other varieties of German. In contrast, when the subject had the thematic role of patient or theme, the sentences were generally rated unfavorably, although there was variation by participant and item. In the production task, participants readily used the get-passive with a subject assigned the thematic role of recipient/beneficiary/maleficiary when describing what was happening to the woman in the film. Despite the loss of morphosyntactic markings of dative case, the production and comprehension of get-passives in PD display a pattern of resistance rather than shift toward English forms.


  • Burridge, Kate. 2006. Language contact and convergence in Pennsylvania German. Grammars in contact, ed. A. Y. Aihenvald and R.M.W. Dixon, 179-200. Oxford UP: Oxford and New York.
  • Diewald, Gabriele. 1997. Grammatikalisierung. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer.
  • Wood, Jim & Einar Freyr Sigurðsson. 2014. ‘Get’-passives and case alternations: The view from Icelandic. Pro-ceeding of the 31st West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics, ed. R.E. Santana-LaBarge, 493-503. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.