Acceptability and hierarchy of passive-types

Thompson, D., Myachykov, A. and Scheepers, C. (2013) Acceptability and hierarchy of passive-types. In: 11th International Symposium of Psycholinguistics, Canary Islands, Spain, 20-23 Mar 2013,

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A transitive event involves two participants: an Agent, the doer of the action, and a Patient, the person who undergoes the action. In English such events can be described in Active-voice or Passive-voice. While active is the canonical form, the passive serves specific functions, such as placing focus on the Patient, or forcing the Agent into the background (Keenan & Dryer, 2006). It is notable that the passive is further divided, providing the options of be- and get-passives. Some have dismissed these two versions as equivalent, both syntactically (Chomsky, 1981) and semantically (Weiner & Labov, 1998). However, literature from the fields of Linguistics and Psychology points to these two passive-types having their own distinct uses, structures, and connotations. Budwig (1990) conducted a study with 10 children and 10 adults, looking at acceptability ratings for be- and get-passives, with and without by-phrases. Participants could also suggest a better way to say each sentence. We replicated and improved on this by using a design properly distributed across lists and participants, and by testing a larger number of adult participants (80). Partly confirming patterns shown in Budwig's study, we found that get-passives are generally corrected into be-passives, while be-passives tend to be corrected into active-voice. This establishes a linear hierarchy of the three variants. Notably, it is not the case that all passives are corrected into active-voice; get- and be-passives are not viewed simply as passives, but as unique forms. Furthermore, these data indicate a preference for passives without a by-phrase. This is likely related to the function of passives (e.g. Keenan & Dryer, 2006), which serve as a method of focussing the Patient: the inclusion of an agentive by-phrase goes some way to cancelling out this Patient focus.

Item Type:Conference Proceedings
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Scheepers, Dr Christoph and Myachykov, Dr Andriy
Authors: Thompson, D., Myachykov, A., and Scheepers, C.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Psychology & Neuroscience

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
509541Get- versus be-passives in English: a functional investigationChristoph ScheepersEconomic & Social Research Council (ESRC)ES/G045720/1RI NEUROSCIENCE & PSYCHOLOGY