Richard Page and Mike Putnam

The grammaticalization of the kriege-passive in Pennsylvania German

In this study, we investigate the degree of grammaticalization of the kriege-passive in Pennsylvania as spoken by Anabaptists in Central Pennsylvania. Parallel to the development of recipient passives in Continental German and English, Pennsylvania German is developing a passive construction using the verb kriege ‘to get, receive’ as an auxiliary (Burridge 2006: 186-187). Examples taken from Burridge (2006: 186) are given in (1) and (2).

(1)       Ich hab   e Buch gewwe griegt.

I     have a book  given   got

‘I got given a book’

(2)       Mir kriege gesaagt.

we  get      told

‘We get told’

As illustrated in (1) and (2), the degree of grammaticalization varies. In (1), the sentence licenses the object Buch which is assigned the role of patient as would be expected with the lexical variant of kriege and illustrated by the sentence Ich hab e Buch griegt ‘I got a book’, (cf. German Ich habe ein Buch geschenkt bekommen versus Ich habe ein Buch bekommen).  In contrast, (2) shows a greater degree of grammaticalization due to the absence of an overt object. Similarly, the lexical verb kriege assigns the role of recipient to the subject, but this is not always the case for subjects in kriege passive constructions as illustrated in (3) (example from Burridge 2006: 186):

(3)       Er hat sei Lewwe genumme griegt.

he has his life      taken         got

‘He got his life taken/He was killed.’

Once again, a parallel structure can be found in German in sentences like Sie haben den Ball weggenommen gekriegt ‘They got the ball taken away (from them)’ (Burridge 2006: 186).  The forms in (2) and (3) can be taken as examples of semantic bleaching (desemanticization) and extension (i.e., the rise of new grammatical meanings via context-induced reinterpretation) that are hallmarks of grammaticalization (see discussion in Heine and Kuteva 2005). We note that in English it is possible for the subject of get-passive sentences to actually be assigned the role of patient whereas this is not grammatical in standard German, as shown in (4):

(4)       English:  The ball got taken away.

German:  *Der Ball kriegt weggenommen.


The grammaticality of sentences such as (4) in Pennsylvania German has not been previously investigated to the best of our knowledge. In this study, we will systematically examine the grammatialization of kriege-passives in Pennsylvania German along a cline illustrated by the sentences in (1) – (4).


Burridge, Kate. 2006. Language contact and convergence in Pennsylvania German. Grammars in contact, ed. by A. Y. Aihenvald and R.M.W. Dixon, 179-200. Oxford UP: Oxford and New York.

Heine, Bernd and Tania Kuteva. 2005. Language contact and grammatical change. Cambridge UP: Cambridge.