Get-and be-passives project different pragmatic information about the patient

Thompson, D., Myachykov, A. and Scheepers, C. (2012) Get-and be-passives project different pragmatic information about the patient. In: 18th Annual Conference on Architectures and Mechanisms of Language Processing, Riva del Garda, Italy, Riva del Garda, Italy, 6-8 Sep 2012,

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We analysed how increasing the patient’s accessibility, by means of its information status (given versus new), and putting attentional focus on the patient, by means of syntactic clefting, jointly affect the speaker’s bias to paraphrase a previously encountered active-voice sentence using one of the two passive voice constructions. Out of all available responses, we separately analyzed proportions of active-voice (“a manager fired a janitor”), be-passive (“a janitor was fired [by a manager]”) and get-passive descriptions (“a janitor got fired [by a manager]”), using binary logistic Generalized Estimating Equations. Analyses revealed that participants produced fewer active-voice descriptions when the patient in the target event was Given. Moreover, we found the two passive-voice variants were differently sensitive to the two experimental manipulations: While proportions of be-passive paraphrases increased in the Patient-Given conditions (significant main effect of information status, complementary to what we found in proportions of active voice), get-passives became more likely in the Patient-Focused conditions (significant main effect of attentional focus). There were no reliable interactions between the two factors in any of the three dependent variables. We conclude that the be- and get-variants of the English passive may serve distinct pragmatic functions: While be-passives appear to mark given (hence, generally more accessible) patients, get-passives are more likely when the speaker wants to refer to an event with particular attentional focus (or emphasis) on the patient’s role in the event. Our results therefore support the view that get- and be-passives are not arbitrarily interchangeable: They are distinct syntactic devices that project different types of pragmatic information.

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