2 The Grammatical Phenomenon Differences between Active and Passive Voice
3 Variations of the Passive Voice
3.2.1 Bare Passives as Complements
3.2.2 Bare Passives as Modifier
4 The Development of Queries in the Penn Treebank
4.3 Bare Passives as Modifier
4.4 Relative Clauses in Be-Passive Form
5 Research findings
5.1 Frequency of Be-Passive and Get-Passive
5.2 Frequency of Bare Passives as Modifiers
and Relative Clauses in Be-Passive Form
5.3 Frequency of Bare Passive as Modifier
and Relative Clause in be-passive form at the beginning of sentences
In order to learn more about the English language and how it is actually used by the native speaker community I am going to investigate the occurrence of bare passives as modifiers and of relative clauses in be-passive form which can be compared to the former in its function as modifier. With help of the queries I will find out how many of these constructions exist in The Penn Treebank and then take a closer look at the beginning of sentences. Which of these two grammatical phenomenon is more frequent at the beginnings of sentences and why? Firstly in this term paper, I will introduce the grammatical phenomenon of the passive voice with its variants ‘be-passive’, ‘get-passive’ and ‘bare passive’ by contrasting it to the active voice. Furthermore I will explain the development of the different queries needed for the research whose findings will be discussed subsequent to that.
2 The Grammatical Phenomenon - Differences between Active and Passive Voice
Active clauses contrast with passive clauses in the system of voice
(cf. Huddleston and Pullum 2005, p. 240) .“The passive voice is one of the most important types of voice alternations attested across languages. The majority of languages with voice alternations also have the passive voice” (Kazenin 2001, p. 899). The term ‘voice’ defines a category of grammar “which makes it possible to view the action of a sentence in either of two ways, without change in the facts reported” (Quirk et al. 1985 p. 159). In situations where two participants are involved both can usually become the topic/theme and subject. In this case the English language offers the “active-passive voice alternative” (Downing and Locke 2006, p. 253).
i a. Itchy gave Scratchy a big hug.
i b. Scratchy was given a big hug [by Itchy].
The clauses in this declarative pair have the same truth value and thus have the same “core meaning” (Huddleston and Pullum 2005, p. 243) but still are “not freely interchangeable” (Huddleston and Pullum 2005, p. 243). The difference between clauses ia) and ib) is to be found in how the information is “organised and presented” (Huddleston and Pullum 2005, p. 239), not in the presented information itself. In that ia) deviates from the “most elementary syntactic structure” (Huddleston and Pullum 2005, p. 239) in order to arrange the information in another way it “package[s] the information differently” (Huddleston and Pullum 2005, p. 239) and thus belongs as a passive clause to the information-packaging constructions (cf. Huddleston and Pullum 2005, p. 239). In the active construction ia) the agent ‘Itchy’ is the subject and is focused on as the theme of the sentence, while the affected ‘Scratchy’ is located in final position and given “normal, unmarked end-focus” (Downing and Locke 2006, p. 252). In the passive clause ib) these conditions are the other way round. The affected ‘Scratchy’ is now holding the function of the subject and attracts the focus, while the agent has to give up its “privileged position as [s]ubject” (Downing and Locke 2006, p. 252) and is even usually left out. If the agent is given it is realised as a by-phrase called internalised complement (cf. Downing and Locke 2006, p. 252).
Although the choice of passive over active is not open there are different “discourse motivations” (Downing and Locke 2006, p. 253) which are conditioned by the “immediate contextual environment” (Downing and Locke 2006, p. 253). With the option of packaging the information differently in the passive the speaker can use the beginning or the end-position of a clause to emphasize his or her statements. Usually new “important information is placed in end-position, while already known information is placed at the beginning” (Downing and Locke 2006, p. 253) or if it becomes unnecessary can be cut out. In contrast to active constructions passive ones offer the opportunity of “not stating who carried out the action” (Downing and Locke 2006, p. 254) and in that raise “informativeness” (Downing and Locke 2006, p. 254), support the “information flow” (Downing and Locke 2006, p. 253) and connect the sentences of a whole text in order to weave a tighter text-net.
[…] [U]sing personal pronouns or the names of particular researchers as the subjects of sentences […] helps to create the appearance of an objective, fact-based discourse because writers can present research and conclusions without attributing them to particular agents. Instead, the writing appears to convey information that is not limited or biased by individual perspectives or personal interests.
(OWL at Purdue University 2004)
3 Variations of the Passive Voice
The passive voice described so far includes the auxiliary ‘be’ and is therefore called be-passive. The much more informal occurrence of the passive voice is realised by the so called get-passive which forms the constructions with ‘get’ instead of ‘be’ and is “avoided in formal style” (Quirk et al. 1985, p. 161). But even in informal English use the get-passive is “far less frequent than the be-passive” (Quirk et al. 1985, p. 161). Furthermore it “is used much more in speech than in writing” (Downing and Locke 2006, p. 256) as the following examples from conversation show.
Poor fellow, he got knocked down in a road accident.
She got bitten by a new bug of some sort in France.
He got promoted, the lucky devil! (Downing and Locke 2006, p. 256)
In contrast to the “stylistically neutral” (Huddleston and Pullum 2005, p. 245) be-passive the get-passive is used in situations where “the subject-referent is involved in bringing the situation about, or where there is an adverse or beneficial effect on the subject-referent” (Huddleston and Pullum 2005, p. 245). If non of this is the case the be-passive functions again.
Several shots were heard. *Several shots got heard.
(Huddleston and Pullum 2005, p. 245)
The get-passive “grammaticalises affective meaning” (Downing and Locke 2006, p. 256) and in that is a mirror of the involvement of the speaker. To choose the get-passive is as well an option as is the “more objective” (Downing and Locke 2006, p. 256) be-passive. The get-passive focuses on the subject and “what happens to it” (Downing and Locke 2006, p. 256), the be-passive rather puts its focus on the event. (cf. Downing and Locke 2006, p. 256) The reason why “the agent is less usual with a get-passive” (Quirk et al. 1985, p. 161) lies in the emphasis which is placed on the condition of the subject referent (cf. Quirk et al. 1985, p. 161).
The verbs ‘be’ and ‘get’ are called catenative verbs because they take non-finite complements (cf. Huddleston and Pullum 2002, p. 1430). The fact that these verbs which “can carry the full range of verb inflections” (Huddleston and Pullum 2002, p. 1430) augment a bare passive, in this case ‘knocked’, ‘bitten’ and ‘promoted’, causes them to be named ‘expanded passives’. (cf. Huddleston and Pullum 2002, p. 1430) This circumstance “enables the passive clause to occur in any syntactic context instead of being restricted to dependent positions” (Huddleston and Pullum 2002, p. 1430).
 Citation is originally written in capital letters.
 Citation is originally written in capital letters .
 ‘not’ is originally written in italics.
- Quote paper
- Annika Onken (Author), 2007, 'Bare passives' and 'relative clauses' in be-passive form as modifiers, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/84333