Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Wiley-Blackwell Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


Language Planning as a Sociolinguistic Experiment

By: Ernst Jahr

Provides richly detailed insight into the uniqueness of the Norwegian language development. Marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Norwegian nation following centuries of Danish rule

New from Cambridge University Press!


Acquiring Phonology: A Cross-Generational Case-Study

By Neil Smith

The study also highlights the constructs of current linguistic theory, arguing for distinctive features and the notion 'onset' and against some of the claims of Optimality Theory and Usage-based accounts.

New from Brill!


Language Production and Interpretation: Linguistics meets Cognition

By Henk Zeevat

The importance of Henk Zeevat's new monograph cannot be overstated. [...] I recommend it to anyone who combines interests in language, logic, and computation [...]. David Beaver, University of Texas at Austin

Email this page
E-mail this page

Review of  Non-Canonical Passives

Reviewer: Laura Arman
Book Title: Non-Canonical Passives
Book Author: Artemis Alexiadou Florian Schäfer
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Book Announcement: 24.4492

Discuss this Review
Help on Posting
In its own words, the work under review supports the claim by Huang (1999) that there is no real definition of canonical and non-canonical passives. Each chapter presents a language-internal study of constructions labelled at some point in recent linguistic history as 'non-canonical passives', providing evidence that no clear distinction exists of what properties are exclusively passive. This means that no unifying theory of passives or account of their structure exists that accommodates all possible passives and the construction or 'voice phenomenon' has been characterized as a cluster of features in typological work for decades (Siewierska 1984, Keenan and Dryer 2007). This book makes no correction to our notion of passive as it stands, with most chapters elaborating on cases where formal theories either dismiss or fail to differentiate constructions. The above is an issue summarized and exemplified concisely in the introductory chapter by the editors, taking into account previous well-used 'definitions' of passive.

Artemis Alexiadou and Florian Schäfer’s introduction outlines several properties considered to define or diagnose passives. Using Baker, Johnson & Roberts (1989) as a basis, the chapter exemplifies the kind of diagnostics widely used for passives which are employed by all chapters of this collected work, disambiguating passives from superficially similar clauses: licensing of by-phrases, control of PRO, agentive adverbs and disjoint reference in adjectival passives. The introduction also attempts to synthesize major arguments from the last two decades on the analysis of non-canonical passives, including Alexiadou's own work -- the issue of implicit arguments raised here is one which remains a constant for later analyses. Evidence is provided from English, German, Dutch, French and Japanese for the blurriness of what is analysed as canonical and non-canonical within passives, to convince us of the need for more detailed analyses as well as to outline some of the questions that come with such data:

- How is a get-passive different from a be-passive and why is get used over any other verb?
- Why are only certain auxiliaries used with passives?
- Why are there different types of adjectival passives?
- Which restrictions on verb classes can be observed?

These data are revisited in greater detail in later chapters.

Andrew McIntyre's ''Adjectival passives and adjectival participles in English'' posits several original ideas to the two titular forms, some at odds with previous well-known analyses of the adjectival passive, such as Kratzer (2000). McIntyre proposes an analysis of subtypes of adjectival passives including a type previously unidentified, or at least undistinguished: situation in-progress participles. A sentence such as 'that car seems badly driven, so keep away from it' can only be uttered whilst the car is still moving, for example. Although there may also be a possible resultative reading of these participles, they clearly differ from resultative participles, such as 'the car is scratched', and eventive-verb-related pure statives (previously known simply as 'stative participles'), such as 'the bars are bent because the craftsman moulded them that way', in that they are time-reference dependant on their verb (cf. Embick 2004). This contribution also concludes that adjectival participles can have an implicit agent, or rather initiator (which covers any external argument), as attested also for Hebrew (Meltzer-Asscher 2011) and Greek (Anagnostopoulou 2003), with examples such as 'The Picts painted themselves blue and stayed painted for several days' clearly containing an initiator of the verbal participle's event. On the basis of such data, McIntyre suggests that transitive-based adjectival participles are truly passive, whilst unaccusative-based participles are not. This analysis disambiguates the previously problematic adjectival passives from adjectival participles, necessary for solidifying the boundaries of passives in English. McIntyre concisely lays out formalisms for the semantics of his proposed participle types and proposes a syntactic analysis where the theme of the adjectival participle is merged externally to the participle's projection. This is not uncontroversial, but is supported by previous tests on Russian (Borer 2005), Hebrew (Meltzer-Asscher 2011) and Italian (Cinque 1990), as well as work in lexicalist theories.

The second language-specific chapter is also on English, focusing on the choice of verb for its periphrastic passives in Anja Wanner's corpus-based study 'The get-passive at the intersection of get and the passive'. As might be expected, this paper additionally deals with register and style, unlike most papers in the volume. She begins by reviewing English passives and claims made about get-passives and get-arguments in general, raising questions echoing those in the introduction, such as whether the get-passive is a true, if quirky and restricted, passive or whether get is the regular lexical verb or some grammaticalization of it. Whilst the paper largely discusses previous analyses of implicit arguments in get-passives, it also provides original data on get-passives from the FROWN (ICAME) corpus. Wanner endorses Orfitelli’s (2011) notions of a responsibility get-passive and a non-responsibility get-passive, to account for different get-passive types found in the 57 get-passives of the corpus data. Whilst offering no strong conclusion on the passive status of get-passives as a whole, the overall contribution here is that get-passives are not necessarily strictly differentiated from their be-passive counterparts. Some constructions involving no secondary agent appear more easily with the get-passive, due to the causative nature of some 'gets', but be-passives and get-passives still largely overlap -- 'he was promoted' or 'he got promoted' for example. Instead, it is suggested that the structure of 'get' is flexible enough that it allows for these differing contextual interpretations, or we are left with the notion of two different structures for one surface phenomenon.

Alexandra N. Lenz's chapter 'Three ''competing'' auxiliaries of a non-canonical passive' is another interesting, data-driven take on get-passives. This time, the social variation under investigation was regional and dialectal, as well as taking register into consideration. An enormous amount of data from various corpora were used to determine the sociolinguistic factors involved in selecting one of three possible auxiliary verbs for the German get-passive, namely 'kriegen', 'bekommen' and 'erhalten' -- all with some combination of the meaning ‘get/receive’. The meticulous study of German dialect and register finds that the selection of passive auxiliary does indeed vary with both register and region, providing information which both contradicts and supplements what is assumed by literature on standard German and on German passives.

A more general analysis of 'Variations in non-canonical passives' is given in C.-T. James Huang's paper, with data drawn from Mandarin Chinese, English and German, although unlike other chapters it is mostly a discussion of the possible theoretical analyses of a Mandarin construction. Despite unhelpfully characterizing the non-canonical passives of this dataset as 'chameleonic', Huang identifies two different analyses applicable to these sets of non-canonical passives, such as the English get-passive and the Chinese bei-passive -- they can be analysed as being control or raising constructions. In Huang's view, non-canonical passives can differ from other passives in selecting a semi-lexical verb to superimpose on the main predicate, which may change the argument structure of the predicate as a whole. More detailed is his analysis of the lexical selection and syntax of the Mandarin give-passives, which supports the assertion that auxiliaries with differing properties along the causative-unaccusative continuum have an effect on the argument structure, and ultimately, the analysis of a construction as either raising or control.

'How much 'bekommen' is there in the German 'bekommen' passive?' presents both experimental and corpus data. Markus Bader and Jana Häussler's account of the 'bekommen' passive auxiliary shows that the construction is sometimes acceptable with verbs whose dative object is not a recipient -- sometimes, but not always. What they conclude from their study is that the 'bekommen passive' is indeed not a recipient passive and so only part of the semantics of 'bekommen' is retained in its grammaticalized use as a passive auxiliary. The semantics of the auxiliary is discussed, but a more fine-grained analysis is left for future work.

The next two contributions are also on German, this time rejecting the analysis of non-canonical passive for the construction studied. In 'Haben-statives in German: A syntactic analysis', haben-statives are analysed as a class of their own as Martin Bunslinger finds them to have the same underlying structure, rejecting the need for Kratzer’s (1993) distinction of 'lexical' and 'phrasal' adjectivization. Unlike their English counterparts, German haben-statives consist of a main verb and an adjective, according to this analysis, and this is supported in the next chapter, 'Another passive that isn't one: on the semantics of German haben-passives'. Helga Gese's analysis captures the semantic overlap of participles in 'haben-passives' and German adjectival passive participles (with 'sein'). Gese claims that a zero adjectiviztion affix can account for this overlap in the semantics of the participles of the two constructions, which are both main verb + predicative adjective, but differ from their non-adjectivized counterparts in lacking the event-kind meaning that comes with the deverbal adjectives.

James E. Lavine's 'Passives and near-passives in Balto-Slavic: on the survival of the accusative' attempts to account for the structural accusative in passives as found in Lithuanian, Polish and Ukrainian. He proposes that v-Cause and v-Voice be 'bundled' together in Polish so that an external argument has filled the specifier of the Voice node, resulting in the reanalysis of the Polish so-called impersonal construction as active. In Lithuanian Inferential Evidentials, a similar analysis holds. However, in this case, the historical passive morphology, /-ma/-ta/, cognate with Polish /-no/-to/, has not been reanalyzed as active and thus still heads v-Voice. As the v-head is fused, accusative is not assigned to the Lithuanian evidentials, whereas it is hypothesized that Ukrainian has a split vP and so can still assign accusative to its direct object.

The optimistically titled 'How do things get done: on non-canonical passives in Finnish' offers not only another non-Indo-European passive puzzle, but proposes a new one. This contribution proposes that Finnish has agreeing passives (as well as the previously recognized non-agreeing kind) which somehow resemble English get-passives and differ from the Finnish copular construction to which it may be compared. Fredrik Heinat and Satu Manninen claim that the two passive types 'pattern alike' and differ significantly from the copular construction; they provide a syntactic analysis to this effect, on the grounds that the agreeing passives are a copular construction which contains a passive. They see the copular construction differing from the passives in its lack of vP, whereas the two passives are seen to select their participles using a different head.

Marie Labelle's chapter 'Anticausativizing a causative verb: the passive 'se faire' construction in French' brings an interesting case of a construction which is semantically passive but formally causative. The chapter lays out the problem of analysing the construction as causative, as the non-reflexive counterpart would be. In this case, the subject of a 'se faire' construction is not a causer and in fact Labelle analyses the construction as having no CAUSE in the syntactic structure. Instead, 'se faire' requires a missing object in its embedded clause, which brings the non-canonical passive claim to the fore. This paper sees an account similar to that of Embick (2004)'s resultatives being applied to the 'se faire' constructions, only that Voice occurs above v in this instance, for what are assumed to be result anticausatives (Labelle & Doron 2010). This contribution provides a detailed syntactic as well as semantic analysis of the construction in question, drawing on plenty of natural data, and dedicates space to discuss in satisfactory detail the issues arising from the analysis. Labelle concludes that these constructions are decausativized and resemble result anticausatives in that, in both, a change of state event is headed by 'faire' and, in both, the external argument is not merged. The passive semantics is a result of the change of state event of the higher clause.

Fatemah Nemati's provides an overview of the different passivization strategies available in Persian, 'On the syntax-semantics of passives in Persian'. Another Indo-European language using the become-passive, Persian's other uses of 'šodæn', become, are contrasted with their use as a passive auxiliary (in the form of a light verb construction), 'noun/adjective + become'. It seems that 'šodæn' will be interpreted as a copula unless the element preceding it has a [+passive] feature, according to Nemati's analysis. Rather than assuming a different lexical representation for the passive use of ‘šodæn’, it is the interaction of the lexical semantics of the construction that will determine the structure of the light verb.

Masanori Deguchi's brief chapter on 'Two indirect passive constructions in Japanese' deals with so-called ‘affective’ passives, in which the participant in the event is always somehow 'affected' -- negatively with the 'rare' passive and positively in the 'morau' passive. The key difference between the two seems to be that no causation is involved between the participants in the 'rare', negative passive, whereas there is in the positive 'morau'. This causation, it is argued, is the source of the beneficiary reading of this 'affective passive'.

Another Indo-European light verb passive is found in Swedish 'Få and its passive complement', and Eva Klingvall proposes that the Swedish get-constructions are structurally divided. Having outlined the previous research on and structure of the få constructions, Klingvall goes on to exemplify causer versus beneficiary subjects in these constructions in some detail. Her structural analysis of beneficiary and causer få-constructions concludes that the two differ in their syntactic behaviour and thus have differing structural representations. The passive complement of få is analyzed as being the past participle when its subject is a causer, whereas the subject being a beneficiary will cause the complement of få to be the received DP.

Bjarne Ørsnes investigates 'The Danish reportative passive as a non-canonical passive' and finds them to be fully compositional passives. These constructions would be deemed non-canonical only due to their treatment of the subject of the passive verb -- an issue that arises due only to the traditional definition of passive. Instead of being demoted as one might expect, these passives promote their subjects to subjects of the matrix verb. Interestingly, Ørsnes's HPSG analysis also proposes a lexical rule which suggests that reportative passives may be uniquely available to subject-prominent SVO languages.

The final chapter, '(Non-)canonical passives and reflexives: deponents and their like', is the only one to offer a diachronic take on passive-like structures, relating passive-form 'deponent' verbs in Latin (and Greek) to the 'inherent reflexives' of Germanic and Romance languages (as well as others). Dalina Kallulli proposes that an actor-initiator feature is present in these constructions, without the presence of an external argument. These deponent verbs (cf. passive 'amor', I am loved vs. deponent 'mi:ror', I admire), which Kallulli considers to be canonical passives, are formed from nouns/adjectives which, according to this analysis, makes them more likely to form psych verbs. The fact that the same analysis can be extended to inherent reflexives such as French 'le vase casse / le vase se casse', as well as evidence that both construction types transitivize by means of overt morphological marking, is used to argue that both lack external arguments. Kallulli's analysis also supports Embick (1997) initial proposal of transitive deponent verbs as psych verbs.

As might be expected from a collection of conference papers, the contributions vary in many ways. Whilst largely data-driven, the chapters vary in their orientation towards theoretical implications. Certain chapters stand out as providing a greater contribution towards an overall understanding of the syntax and semantics of what are supposed to be non-canonical passives, whilst others at the very least contribute language-internal analyses, giving a richer view of the phenomena under review. Several may shape future research into placing those constructions in linguistic theory, such as Wanner’s corpus study on get-passives and Lenz’s dialectal investigation into the German get-passive.

Andrew McIntyre's contribution stands out as one of the more theory-heavy, yet accessible chapters, providing an original subdivision of much-discussed English adjectival passives in both their semantics and their syntactic representation. Similarly, a number of the chapters make strong conclusions about their data, such as Lavine on Balto-Slavic, Heinat and Manninen on Finnish, Labelle on French, Klingvall on Swedish and Ørsnes on Danish, and as a consequence will surely have implications for anyone working on similar phenomena either in the languages in question or in non-canonical passives in general.

The scope of this volume is very broad, as non-canonical passives have been shown to take many different verbal-forms and so will be relevant to researchers in many areas of syntax, semantics or their interface. One only has to turn to the final chapter to question how interrelated languages can share syntactic structures among such constructions or processes as reflexivization, transitivization, and causation, from either a syntactic, semantic or even morphological point of view. The editors have very carefully put together a volume in which the weaker contributions are few and far between. The book passes through related constructions, languages and notions whilst keeping the original contributions varied in linguistic impact, moving between topics within the same language, then between languages on the same topic. The empirical base remains constant whilst the theoretical persuasion is far from static, leaving the reader with a collected view -- although far from comprehensive of course -- of the problematic analyses of passives. However, the problems of passives are news to no one and volumes of previous linguistic analyses have been dedicated to such studies, including those treating non-canonical passives, such as Perlmutter (1978), Siewierska (1984), Shibatani (1985), Keenan and Dryer (1987/2007), Anagnostopoulou (2003), Abraham & Lesiö (2006). This collection aims to answer some specific questions, repeated from above.

- How is a get-passive different from a be-passive and why is get used over any other verb?
- Why are only certain auxiliaries used with passives?
- Why are there different types of adjectival passives?
- Which restrictions on verb classes can be observed?

These questions have been answered in specific contributions, on the whole. However the biggest test for any volume on voice phenomena or non-canonical constructions is how they contribute to our understanding of the canon.

The editors ask, ''What are the properties of passivization?'' and ''Do passives have the same properties across languages?'' (p.2). Unusually, for work on passives, the individual contributions here do go some way to answering at least the first question, proposing to reject some constructions as non-canonical passives (haben-statives in German) and to include others as newly considered passives (Finnish agreeing passives). Most chapters make small steps to advance the overall view of passives within linguistic theory, but it is always tempting to ask, as the contributors do, how we can discuss non-canonical passives with only a pre-theoretical and fluid idea of what a canonical passive should be. This work makes no claim to answer such a question, but perhaps its incremental approach to narrowing down the syntactic and semantic structures of what are valency-reducing or passive-like in a language are the most cautious way to proceed to an overall picture of passivization entails.

Abraham, W. & Lesiö, L. 2006. “Passivization and Typology: Form and Function.” [Typological Studies in Language 68]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Anagnostopoulou, E. 2003. Participles and voice. In Artemis Alexiadou, Monika Rathert & Arnim von Stechow (eds.), “Perfect Explorations”. Pp. 1-36. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Baker, M., Johnson, K. & Roberts, I. 1989. Passive arguments raised. “Linguistic Inquiry” 20: 219-252.

Borer. H. 2005. “The Normal Course of Events”. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cinque, G. 1990. Ergative adjectives and the lexicalist hypothesis. “Natural Language and Linguistic Theory” 8: 1-39.

Embick, D. 1997. Voice Morphology, “Syntax and Inherent Specification”. PhD dissertation, University of Philadelphia.

Embick, D. 2004. On the structure of resultative participles in English. “Linguistic Inquiry” 35(3): 355-392.

The Freiburg-Brown Corpus (FROWN). ICAME Collection of English Language Corpora, Second Edition, 1999.

Huang, James C.-T. 1999. Chinese passives in comparative perspective. Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies 29: 423-509.

Keenan, Edward L. and Matthew S. Dryer. 2007. Passive in the world’s languages. In Timothy Shopen (ed.), “Clause structure, language typology and syntactic description” (Vol. 1). Pp. 325-361. Second Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kratzer, A. 1993. The event argument and the semantics of voice. Ms, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Kratzer, A. 2000. Building statives. “Berkeley Linguistic Society” 26: 385-399.

Meltzer-Asscher, A. 2011. Adjectival passives in Hebrew: Evidence for parallelism between the adjectival and verbal systems. “Natural Language & Linguistic Theory” 29(3):815-855.

Doron, E., & Labelle, M. 2010. An ergative analysis of French valency alternation. In Herschensohn, J. (ed.), “Romance Linguistics 2010: Selected Papers from the 40th Linguistic Symposium on Romance Linguistics (LSRL), Seattle, Washington, March 2010” (Vol. 318). Pp. 137-154. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Orfitelli, R. 2011. Parsimony in passivization: Lexically defining the core characteristics of the get-passive. In “Workshop on Non-canonical passives, University of Göttingen”. Pp. 23-25.

Perlmutter, D. M. 1978. Impersonal passives and the unaccusative hypothesis. In “Proceedings of the annual meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society” (Vol. 4). Pp. 157-190.

Shibatani, M. 1985. Passives and related constructions: A prototype analysis. Language 61:821-848.

Siewierska, Anna. 1984. The passive: A comparative linguistic analysis. London: Routledge.
Laura Arman is a PhD candidate in the department of Linguistics and English Language at the University of Manchester. Her PhD research explores the Welsh Impersonal construction, which has often been compared with the Welsh get-passive. The focus of her PhD is the comparison of these two structures and the argument structure of both.