"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more
To find some answers Tim Machan explores the language's present and past, and looks ahead to its futures among the one and a half billion people who speak it. His search is fascinating and important, for definitions of English have influenced education and law in many countries and helped shape the identities of those who live in them.
This volume provides a new perspective on the evolution of the special language of medicine, based on the electronic corpus of Early Modern English Medical Texts, containing over two million words of medical writing from 1500 to 1700.
AUTHOR: Klaiman, M. H. TITLE: Grammatical Voice SERIES: Cambridge Studies in Linguistics, 59 PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press YEAR: 2005
Andreas Jäger, unaffiliated scholar
In her book Grammatical Voice M.H. Klaiman provides a definition of voice as a category of the verb that is cross-linguistically valid and on this basis establishes a typology of voice systems. Voice is characterized as the relationship between clausal predicates and nominal arguments or argument positions with their corresponding referents or thematic roles marked by means of verb morphology. In doing so the author tackles the problem of delimiting voice phenomena from other categories and strategies that likewise operate in the domain of predicate-argument relations. As such the book is a major contribution to the study of verbal categories. The discussion takes a formally defined concept of voice as the basis, illustrates the range of associated functions and then goes on to identify ontological situation structure as the key to understanding the variation of voice systems.
The first chapter gives a brief historical overview of the study of voice and then proceeds to define the category under investigation. Voice is characterised as a morphological mechanism operating in the domain of predicate-argument structure, which encompasses crucial concepts such as transitivity, thematic roles, the distribution of core- and non-core arguments.
The author proposes a preliminary threefold typology of voice systems encountered in the languages of the world: derived voice, basic voice and pragmatic voice. Derived voice is introduced as a term for changes in verbal morphology that indicate changes in the allocation of nominal arguments to structural positions. This type involves a reconfiguration of arguments and consequently grammatical functions. Passivization is thus classified as derived voice, since it involves re-assignment of grammatical functions, particularly to core arguments: The argument that is assigned the role of patient is prototypically associated with the grammatical function of object, while in a passive counterpart structure the very same referent is associated with the subject. A common consequence of this is detransitivization: The passive counterpart to an active sentence is intransitive, is has the patient encoded as the subject and the agent optionally encoded as a non-core argument.
In contrast to this basic voice does without a change of valence. Basic voice systems are characterised by the observation that different voice effects may obtain, even though subject and object retain their respective function and/or structural position in the clause. Sentence pairs in a given language that are marked for basic voice distinctions remain constant in the mapping of nominal arguments and grammatical functions. Parallel to derived voice, however, changes in the involvement of participants are likewise expressed through basic voice systems. Verbally marked voice contrasts in active-middle systems indicate the affectedness of the subject by the action encoded in the verb. If there is a voice alternation, the participant that invariably functions as the subject is thus perceived as being affected by the verbal action in different degrees.
The third type of voice system proposed by the author involves marking of differences in the propositional salience of arguments depending on pragmatic factors. That is to say the relative, i.e. perceived, importance of a participant for the proposition to be conveyed in a clausal structure is reflected in marked voice contrasts. Voice contrasts in languages of this type fulfil functions such as interrogativity, focalisation and topicalisation.
This chapter examines a number of languages that employ basic voice systems. It is revealed that all languages of this type have in common only a subclass of verbs allows voice marking alternations, while others can only function in predicates marked either for active or for middle voice. Hence an important function of the category voice is identified, namely that of a classification parameter for lexical predicates based on their inherent semantics. Voice alternations are shown to reflect affectedness of the subject referent, as in the following opposition from Fula (example (21), pp. 62-63):
(a) mi moor -ii mo. I braid.hair-PAST.ACTIVE him/her 'I dressed his/her hair.'
(b) mi moor -ake. I braid.hair -PAST.MIDDLE 'I got my hair dressed.'
In the (b) example the subject does not actively instigate the action, but is affected by it.
Basic voice systems do not involve a re-mapping of nominal position and thematic role. What is crucial is the affectedness of the participant that is invariably encoded as the subject of a sentence. This becomes even more apparent in the example from Tamil (example (27), p. 71):
(a) kuzantai kalai utai –kir -atu. child.NOM leg.ACC kick -PRESENT.WEAK-Sg.NEUTER 'The child is kicking its legs (in the air).'
(b) kuzantai ennai utai-kkir -atu. child.NOM me.ACC kick-PRESENT.STRONG -Sg.NEUTER 'The child is kicking me.'
The case marking of the subject remains constant in this opposition, but its referent is affected by the verbal action only in (a). The author points out that the inherent semantics of each verb entail a certain likelihood of affectedness on the part of the subject participant and basic voice is a means to organize the verbal lexicon accordingly.
The data presented in this chapter suggests that the basis for understanding basic voice alternations such as active-middle, weak-strong or active-stative as presented in chapter 2 is the nature of real-world situations and our common expectations about their structure (i.e. the outcome of actions and events in relation to participants, the key term used being ontological salience). Voice alternations are shown to express the degree of control that a participant, particularly the subject, has on the clausal action or its consequences in a given situation. This control construct may become apparent as a lexical property of the verb, i.e. some verbs require the logical subject to be undergoer of its action rather than agent. In transitive predications animacy is a relevant issue, since animate entities are understood to have more potential for controlling a verbally denoted process or its outcome. Cross-linguistic data is provided to support the claim that basic voice systems reflect the control hierarchy.
This chapter presents the direct-inverse voice system, which is characterised as functionally similar to an active-passive system, but not at all identical. In contrast to the active-passive system of derived voice, direct-inverse systems are characterised as pragmatic voice. The transitivity of a verb is not altered in voice oppositions. Marked voice contrasts in languages that employ direct-inverse systems indicate or are sensitive to the ontological salience of nominal arguments depending primarily on the factors referentiality, animacy and involvement in the discourse. Speech act participants (1Sg/Pl and 2Sg/Pl) are rendered most salient, since they are maximally referential, animate and directly involved in the discourse. On these grounds they are prototypically encoded as the logical subject in languages that employ direct-inverse voice contrasts. If the referent is encoded as the logical object, this is marked not on the nominal but on the verb as a voice contrast. This type of voice is therefore analyzed as pragmatic in nature. Consider the following example from Plains Cree (example (1), p. 162):
(a) ni- sekih-a -nan atim. 1- scare-theme.DIRECT-1Pl dog 'We scare the dog.'
(b) ni- sekih-iko -nan atim. 1- scare-theme.INVERSE-1Pl dog 'The dog scares us.'
Both referents involved have the potential to scare one another. It is, however, argued that discourse participants have greater prominence for the speaker, which is reflected in the voice contrast, i.e. first person plural is assigned subject status directly, while 'dog' can only be assigned subject status indirectly.
A number of languages are reanalyzed in the light of previously established voice system characteristics. For instance it is revealed that the intricate system of person agreement in Tanoan languages can be accounted for in terms of a direct-inverse voice system. Also a correlation between direct-inverse voice systems and head marking languages as well as lack of case is attested. Here voice functions as the sole indicator of predicate-argument relations. Klaiman reveals that pragmatic voice and derived voice may coexist in a given language. Thus languages that mark a direct-inverse distinction may as well allow, for instance, passivization.
This chapter is devoted to yet another kind of pragmatic voice, which encodes information about topic status and focalisation of nominal participants. Verbally marked contrasts therefore function as an indicator of relevance of a nominal argument within a given discourse and convey interrogativity, topichood or focalisation. In contrast to the type of pragmatic voice described in chapter 4 languages that employ this type of voice system do not adhere to hierarchies of ontological salience or animacy when it comes to assigning statuses of subject or object. Rather this assignment depends entirely on informational salience, as in the following opposition from Cebuano (example (25a,b), p. 247):
(a) ni- hatag si juan sa libro sa bata. ACTOR.voice give FOCUS Juan GOAL book DIRECTIONAL child 'JUAN gave the book to the child.'
(b) gi- hatag si juan ang libro sa bata. GOAL.voice give FOCUS Juan FOCUS book DIRECTIONAL child 'Juan gave THE BOOK to the child.'
Data from the Mayan language family is used to illustrate the relationship between derived voice behaviour and pragmatic function. It is shown that in this language family derived voice, i.e. passivization, in fact functions in the domain of discourse pragmatics. This is contrasted with Philippine languages, where voice indices of focus and topic are the only mechanism for the encoding of predicate-argument relations.
The author lays the foundations for a unified analysis of cross-linguistic voice phenomena with a tentative formalization of the observations presented in the previous chapters. The category of voice is characterized as verbally marked alternations of assignment of arguments to positions of superior ranking. This superiority in turn can be either relational or informational. The formal mechanism is thus given a common functional basis, namely that of identifying and marking a hierarchy of participants. Accordingly the relevance of a certain hierarchy for voice marking constitutes the proposed types. Generally speaking, derived voice is sensitive to relations of structural positions, i.e. with logical subject and object, basic voice is sensitive to a hierarchy of control and affectedness and pragmatic voice is sensitive to a hierarchy of discourse salience.
The main achievement of this study is the establishment and definition of voice as a cross-linguistically identifiable grammatical phenomenon with common formal and functional properties. In contrast to the somewhat narrower views of voice (cf. Jespersen 1965, Fillmore 1968, Matthews 1974) the book establishes a comprehensive view of the category of voice and identifies a number of grammatical effects as voice phenomena, arriving at a threefold typology of voice systems. It shows that in the light of sufficient cross-linguistic data it becomes necessary to re-evaluate longstanding assumptions about the nature and organization of voice phenomena. The focus is on those voice phenomena that go beyond passivization, i.e. those that particularly call for a new definition of participant roles and predicate-argument structure. The author claims that in these systems, basic voice and pragmatic voice (types 2 and 3), the function of voice is to represent grammatically signalled variations in the construal of situations. Situations in turn can be characterised by participants being involved in events. The author further assumes a certain likelihood of participant involvement organised in terms of hierarchies. Certain participants are thus expected to show a certain behaviour in relation to the event based on their position on such a hierarchy. Any deviation from this expected behaviour results in a grammatical effect, namely a voice contrast. Such a hierarchy is the ontological construct of control. Participants of a situation have an inherent capacity for being the likely controller of an action or its outcome effect. By the same token other participants have an inherent capacity for being an affected entity. By reference to abstract hierarchies of ontological concepts such as potential control and actual control regulating the variety of coding strategies of predicate-argument structure the author manages to provide a definition of 'participant roles' in terms of expected real-world situations that allows a wider cross-linguistic applicability and thus to identify a unified characterization of voice as a category of the verb.
As far as the presentation of this highly complex subject matter is concerned, I would like to add a few comments: On page 42, Klaiman states that the emphasis is both on the 'varying functions of particular voice systems, as well as on the category's status in the grammatical organization of languages'. Croft (1990: 17) states that there are basically two directions of typological investigations and both may yield tangible results:
'Significant typological generalizations can be found by examining what functions are expressed by a given form just as much as by examining what forms are used to express a given function.'
On the whole the basis for generalization in this study is a grammatical mechanism, or in the author's words 'grammatical behaviour', that is identified as recurrent across languages, namely that of morphological marking on the verb signalling some change in the predicate-argument relation. This can be understood as a formal basis for investigation. However, since the initially proposed three classes of voice systems are to some extent also defined in terms of functional domains such as lexical verb class marking or clausal pragmatics, a strict directionality is not adhered to in the course of the study. This becomes apparent in the three-way typology that serves as the starting point for discussion: The concepts ''derived voice'', ''basic voice'' are defined formally in terms of morphosyntactic behaviour. This is juxtaposed with ''pragmatic voice'', which is defined in terms of function.
In chapter 5 Mayan mechanisms of derived voice are identified as pragmatic in function, so there is in fact an overlap of 'formal' and 'functional types (see p. 239). Also in chapters 2 and 3 the path of investigation switches from a survey of functions associated with a type of voice contrast to a functional construct, that of participant control, being analyzed in terms of variation of morphosyntactic coding strategies. It is only in the final chapter 6 that the common basis is identified, namely the importance of some (ontological) hierarchy underlying and governing all investigated voice systems, its formal expression then being subject to cross-linguistic variation, albeit within the limits of verb morphology.
Furthermore, the author opts for an in-depth analysis of certain languages and language families rather than discussion of relevant facts in a large sample. It therefore provides a very thorough and detailed account of voice phenomena in a rather small number of language families. Even though the sample shows a considerable degree of diversity, the typological claims should nevertheless be tested against a broader spectrum of languages in future studies.
Despite these minor points of criticism the book makes an important contribution to typological research and most significantly the understanding of predicate-argument structure and its organizing mechanisms on more than one level of grammar.
Croft, W. (1990) Typology and universals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fillmore, C. (1968) The case for case, in Bach, E. & Harms, R. (eds.) Universals in linguistic theory. New York: Holt.
Jespersen, O. (1965) The philosophy of grammar. New York: Norton
Matthews, P.H. (1974) Morphology – An introduction to the theory of word-structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Andreas Jäger is interested in the grammar of verbs, verbal categories and
their cross-linguistic encoding as well as the critical evaluation and
comparison of grammatical frameworks with respect to particular phenomena
such as verb periphrasis. He has done typological research on periphrastic
constructions and speech representation.