[Lingtyp] Double-marked passive

Bohnemeyer, Juergen jb77 at buffalo.edu
Tue Mar 23 14:30:28 UTC 2021

Martin, I don’t want to extend this discussion beyond its best-by date, but the example you cite...

> So the reason I would opt for the form-based definition of "passive" (as opposed to the function-based definitions favoured by Bohnemeyer and Givón-Croft) is that the term "passive" is generally used for a strategy, in actual usage. It would be very odd to say that a sentence with a fronted object and focused subject like German "Den Mann hat der LÖWE gesehen" (= 'The man was seen by the LION') is a passive construction.

… would not meet the definition of ‘demotion’ I was assuming in my definition of ‘passive':

> A passive is a construction that combines with a causative description and whose semantic impact is the demotion of the causer while retaining the causative meaning.

I would define ‘demotion’ such that the definition presupposes a default assignment of the highest-ranked semantic role to the subject or pivot (the highest-ranked syntactic argument position). Demotion is then an operation that blocks this default assignment. In your example, the highest-ranked role is the experiencer, and it is assigned to the syntactic subject, so there’s no passive construction involved by my definition. 

Via this definition of ‘demotion’, which involves a mix of semantic and syntactic properties (it is a form-meaning mapping property), the definition of ‘passive’ acquires enough syntactic anchoring to clearly target ‘strategies’, as opposed to mere meanings, while still avoiding the apparent pitfalls of including a purely formal property such as verb-coding in the definition.

Best — Juergen

Juergen Bohnemeyer (He/Him)
Professor, Department of Linguistics
University at Buffalo 

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