The passive has been attacked by practically every linguistic school, but it has never been conquered. Why has such a problem been presented by this enigma of language? How could the geniuses of linguistics be defeated by such a simple, though important, grammatical phenomenon? This question will be explored in the following paper.
The failure of linguists to define the passive can be placed on the refusal to allow for the existence of the passive as an independent entity. It has been labeled as the opposite of the active. The active, conversely, seems to be proposed merely as a construct to classify those sentences not passivized. Circular reasoning has never been so allowed as in those theories from linguistic schools that are inspired to insist that the passive be tied to this supposedly synonymous active structure. The scholar is being deceived who is disposed to accept this type of an explanation. The passive as it exists in natural language must not be related to some other grammatical form. When discourse structure is resorted to, it can be verified that a particular purpose is served by the passive; a purpose which is required for effective communication. No other reason can be given. The reader who is convinced otherwise, has been had.
It has been revealed through discourse analysis that the passive should be linked more to its function as a cohesive element within a text or paragraph than to any other grammatical form. In the past, the equality of truth conditions between active and corresponding passive sentences has been given as an explanation for basing the analysis of the passive on the active. The fact that this is known not to always be true, however, has never been fully explained. Why then, would the passive be used? The question of certain verbs that cannot be passivized has also eluded those who have been seduced but the active/passive equality argument. Case structure, as presented by Fillmore, or semantic role categories, as proposed by Lyons and others, must be explored in order that a fuller understanding of this phenomenon be obtained.
The grammar is simplified when analysis such as the following is employed: Verbs are restricted with respect to the possible categories with which they can be combined in a sentence. Although it has been suggested that the category of patient should be considered the most significant in this analysis, with further examination it is revealed that the passive is required by other categories when they are placed in the subject position. This is determined by the interaction of the specific verbs and their concomitant participants.
The power of the use of the passive can be seen by the awkwardness which is displayed in passages where the passive is used to excess. The above, which is written almost exclusively in the passive, can be given as an excellent example.
|Joel Boyd||Michigan State University|