Passive voices: be-, get- and Prepositional Passives In Recent American English

  • Datum:
  • Plats: Geijersalen, Engelska parken, Thunbergsvägen 3, Uppsala
  • Doktorand: Schwarz, Sarah
  • Om avhandlingen
  • Arrangör: Engelska institutionen
  • Kontaktperson: Schwarz, Sarah
  • Disputation

The aim of the thesis is to shed light on the use and development of passive voice in American English. Empirical, corpus methods are employed in order to examine the syntactic, semantic, and stylistic preferences of three English passive constructions across time and genre in American English.

The corpus data span the years 1870–2010 and come from genres of widely varying formality. The three passive constructions investigated in this thesis are:

The canonical be-passive, as in she was sent home.

The informal, relatively infrequent get-passive, as in she got sent home.

The typologically rare prepositional passive, as in she was sent for.

In Article 1, the frequency of be- and get-passives in very recent, speech-like material suggests both colloquialization and prescriptivism as influences on the language. The results indicate little difference between the two passives except in terms of frequency, highlighting the importance of comparing get-passives to a control group of be-passives.  In Article 2, data from the TIME Magazine Corpus indicate that get-passives may have been continuing to grammaticalize over the 20th century in terms of situation-type preferences. Article 3, which encompasses a longer diachronic span across more genres, lends further support to the continuing grammaticalization of get-passives, and offers two additional indicators:  decreased use with human subjects, and increasing acceptability with a range of past participles. Finally, the study of prepositional passives presented in Article 4 constitutes an empirical investigation of earlier theories against a control group of non-prepositional passives. The findings suggest diachronically stable differences along a range of features, including the thematic roles conferred on the passive subject-referent, supporting earlier claims about affectedness and perceptual salience of subject in prepositional passives.

The overall findings of the thesis highlight differences and similarities in three kinds of passive, and nuance our understanding of what passive voice is by using empirical methods to refine intuitive theories. The results regarding the use and development of the passives across time period and genre offer insight into the intertwined nature of mechanisms relating to language change, such as prescriptivism, colloquialization, and grammaticalization.