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A new look at the passive


Paul Kent Andersen

A new look at the passive is an investigation of the possibility of establishing a cross-linguistically valid characterization of the passive in terms of its morphological and syntactic properties. When it comes to morphology it is demonstrated that the traditional conception of the morpheme with its emphasis on the relationship between form and meaning must be replaced by a semiotic framework which distinguishes structural and functional properties of morphological categories. The passive is then shown to be a functional property of various, yet distinct morphological categories and not a structural property of a single category; thus the passive cannot be defined as a cross-linguistically valid morphological category. When it comes to syntax it is demonstrated that the passive cannot be defined as a syntactic structure, a syntactic process, nor a means of changing grammatical functions/relations. It is furthermore demonstrated that current typological attempts at defining the passive in terms of a prototype fail to give us a valid characterization of the passive. Finally, it is suggested that the passive can be defined as a complex cognitive structure composed of a number of distinct features, each of which corresponds to the structural meaning/function of those individual morphological categories that are employed in the expression of passive constructions.
Contents: Passive, diathesis, voice - Semiotics - Morphology, morphological categories - Middle, reflexive, valence, causative, stative, resultative, perfect - Syntax, syntactic structures, syntactic processes - Lexical rules - Language typology, prototypes.