[Lingtyp] Double-marked passive

Martin Haspelmath martin_haspelmath at eva.mpg.de
Sun Mar 21 14:07:26 UTC 2021

According to my favourite definition of "passive construction", these 
Mandarin examples are (apparently) not passive constructions:

"A passive voice construction is a verb-coded valency construction (i) 
whose sister valency construction is transitive and not verb-coded, and 
(ii) which has an S-argument corresponding to the transitive P, and 
(iii) which has a suppressed or oblique-flagged argument corresponding 
to the transitive A".

According to this definition, a passive construction "marks both the 
agent and the verb" (unless the agent is suppressed or otherwise 
absent). But Ian Joo's question was probably about languages where the 
SAME marker can occur on the verb and on the oblique agent. This would 
be very unusual, because passive voice markers are not expected to be 
similar to an oblique agent flag.

Now my question is: Are these Mandarin (and Shanghainese) 
BEI/GEI-constructions passives? They have traditionally been called 
passives, but since the BEI element is obligatory, while the agent can 
be omitted (/Zhangsan bei (Lisi) da le/ 'Zhangsan was hit (by Lisi)'), 
it cannot be a preposition or case prefix. At least that would seem to 
follow from the definition of "affix/adposition". So I think this 
construction doesn't fall under a rigorous definition of "passive 
construction". (Rather, it is a sui generis construction.)

Some authors might say that it is a "noncanonical passive" (cf. Legate, 
Julie Anne. 2021. Noncanonical passives: A typology of voices in an 
impoverished Universal Grammar. /Annual Review of Linguistics/ 7(1). 
<https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-linguistics-031920-114459>), but there 
does not seem to be a clear limit to this vague notion (is every 
topicalization construction a noncanonical passive?). I do not know of a 
fully explicit definition of "passive construction" that clearly 
includes the Mandarin BEI constructions.

Best wishes,

Am 28.02.21 um 19:46 schrieb bingfu Lu:
> A better example in Mandarin may be:
> Zhangsan bei-Lisi      gei-da-le.
> Zhangsan PASS-Lisi PASS-hit-PRF
> `Zhangsan was hit by Lisi.'
> 'bei' is etymologically related to 'suffer' while‘给’ to 'give'.
> In fact,
> Zhangsan bei-(Lisi)      da-le.
> can also change to
> Zhangsan gei-(Lisi) da-le.
> Furthermore, in Shanghainese, the PASS is a morpheme homophonic to the 
> morpheme for 'give'.
> regards,
> Bingfu Lu
> Beijing Language University
> On Sunday, February 28, 2021, 10:26:36 PM GMT+8, JOO, Ian [Student] 
> <ian.joo at connect.polyu.hk> wrote:
> Dear typologists,
> I wonder if you are aware of any language whose passive construction 
> marks both the agent and the verb.
> For example, in Mandarin, the agent receives the passive marker /bei./
> (1) Zhangsan bei-Lisi da-le.
> Zhangsan PASS-Lisi hit-PRF
> `Zhangsan was hit by Lisi.'
> When the agent is omitted, the verb receives /bei/.
> (2) Zhangsan bei-da-le.
> Zhangsan PASS-hit-PRF
> `Zhangsan was hit.'
> But, in some occasions, both the agent and the verb receive /bei/:
> (3) Zhangsan bei-Lisi bei-da-le.
> Zhangsan PASS-Lisi PASS-hit-PRF
> `Zhangsan was hit by Lisi.'
> Are you aware of any other language where a construction like (3) is 
> possible?
> The only one I am aware of at the moment is Vietnamese.
> I would greatly appreciate any help.
> Regards,
> Ian
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Martin Haspelmath
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6
D-04103 Leipzig

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