[Lingtyp] Double-marked passive

Martin Haspelmath martin_haspelmath at eva.mpg.de
Wed Mar 24 10:51:42 UTC 2021

Thanks, Bill – I agree with all this. Indeed, the choice of terminology 
is not straightforward and involves many considerations. We don't want 
our technical terms to be polysemous, but we tend to balk at too many 
new terms (I've had reviewers commenting negatively on my submissions 
because of my neologisms).

But I wanted to mention that I recently formulated a universal that 
requires the definition of "passive" that I proposed earlier (in terms 
of verb coding):

"Universal 13
If a passive alternation is sensitive to givenness, then the passive 
alternant tends to be used when the original A is not given information 
and/or the original P is not new information." (Haspelmath 2021: 155)


If "passive" is defined functionally (as in Givón 1994), then this 
tendency needs to be formulated quite differently. I'm not saying that 
this is impossible, and I'm not even quite sure that the universal is 
true. But what I like about Universal 13 is that it is simply a special 
instance of a far more general universal (the role-reference association 
universal, Haspelmath 2021: 125), which also subsumes differential 
object marking and many other generalizations.


Am 23.03.21 um 19:56 schrieb William Croft:
> Dear all,
>    I'm afraid I will extend this discussion a bit longer...The 
> fundamental issue is that in defining comparative concepts, one has to 
> draw sharp boundaries on gradual diachronic processes that lead to 
> synchronic continua of typological diversity. And then one has to 
> choose terms for comparative concepts that in many cases were devised 
> for non-typological theories based on a small, genetically and 
> geographically narrow set of languages (Western European, East Asian, 
> Middle Eastern, South Asian, to name some prominent grammatical 
> traditions). There is no ideal solution, even among those who fully 
> agree with the above statements.
>    To elaborate a little bit: Martin's intuition about "passive", and 
> the intuitions of many about defining a "construction", is that there 
> should be dedicated morphosyntax for the function of the 
> "construction". There was already an objection to this intuition in 
> this thread, saying that multifunctional "passive" morphemes should 
> not be excluded. More generally, a dedicated construction is a late 
> stage in the constructionalization process. The first step is 
> recruiting another construction, that is, recruiting a morphosyntactic 
> form used for some related function. Then the recruited construction 
> is gradually adapted to its new function, diverging from the form used 
> for the original function.
>    Recruitment is the basic strategy that starts the process towards a 
> "dedicated" construction for a particular function. It's a gradual 
> process. Any choice to delimit a comparative concept beyond the 
> initial recruitment is arbitrary. The definition of a "passive" 
> construction (in my terms) in terms of any form used to express the 
> function is actually the least arbitrary choice -- except that 
> functions (conceptual space) also form a continuum, so dividing that 
> continuum is also arbitrary. But it's necessary for practical reasons, 
> so we can talk about the phenomena we're studying. This is what 
> language is about.
>    And language is also about using shared terms in a community. A 
> typological theory of, say, grammatical voice could invent entirely 
> new terms because the "legacy terms" are not typological. But it's not 
> like non-typological theories have a single agreed-upon definition of 
> "passive", or "subject", or pretty much any other important 
> theoretical concept. So recruiting the terms for a typological theory 
> and defining them differently is not abnormal, though if it's too 
> different then a new term may be better. (We may disagree in 
> particular cases.) And in some cases there is continuity between the 
> functional analysis proposed by non-typologists and the functional 
> comparative concept that is useful for typology.
>    I think there's another reason that typologists broadened 
> traditional terms to the construction, rather than just the strategy 
> for the construction typical of Western European languages. The point 
> was to find (implicational etc.) universals that hold across all 
> languages. So excluding many languages that don't use a particular 
> strategy from the category in question is not helpful for that purpose.
>    I don't expect we'll all agree on the choice of terms. For 
> "relative clause construction", I have restricted the definition to 
> modification by action concepts; so modification by property concepts 
> is excluded. There are also theoretical considerations. For instance, 
> I believe that grammatical voice is about the interplay between the 
> relative salience/topicality of participants and their semantic 
> (force-dynamic) interactions in an event. From that point of view, 
> constructions in the functional domain of voice should be defined in 
> terms of relative topicality of participants and by their 
> force-dynamic interactions in the event.
>    I just added the (draft) Glossary to the (draft) chapters of 
> "Morphosyntax" that I have posted on my webpage 
> (http://www.unm.edu/~wcroft/WACpubs.html), to give an idea of how I 
> have constructed comparative concepts for many constructions.
> Bill
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> *From:* Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf 
> of Bohnemeyer, Juergen <jb77 at buffalo.edu>
> *Sent:* Tuesday, March 23, 2021 8:30 AM
> *To:* Martin Haspelmath <martin_haspelmath at eva.mpg.de>
> *Cc:* LINGTYP at listserv.linguistlist.org 
> <LINGTYP at listserv.linguistlist.org>
> *Subject:* Re: [Lingtyp] Double-marked passive
> 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
> Office: 642 Baldy Hall, UB North Campus
> Mailing address: 609 Baldy Hall, Buffalo, NY 14260
> Phone: (716) 645 0127
> Fax: (716) 645 3825
> Email: jb77 at buffalo.edu
> Web: http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jb77/ 
> <http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jb77/>
> Office hours will be held by Zoom. Email me to schedule a call at any 
> time. I will in addition hold Tu/Th 4-5pm open specifically for remote 
> office hours.
> There’s A Crack In Everything - That’s How The Light Gets In
> (Leonard Cohen)
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Martin Haspelmath
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6
D-04103 Leipzig

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