Double Passives in Hebrew, Norwegian, and Danish
Posted by Neal on April 11, 2008
The last time I reported on double passives, it was to say that I’d learned they existed in Turkish as well as in English. For those new to the conversation, this post gives an overview of double passives in English. Now I’ve learned of a few other languages with double passives.
First, there’s Hebrew, which I learned about from a single example on a page out of a book I was able to read via Google books. The book is Issues in the Theory of Universal Grammar, and the example is from an article by Edward Keenan:
ha-tvu’a tigamer lehe’sef ba- stav
the-harvest(FEM) finish(FUT PASS FEM 3sg) gather(INF PASS) in-the fall
“The harvest will be finished being gathered in the fall”
(42b), p. 38
Ran, if you’re reading, is this accurate? What other verbs in Hebrew can do this?
Next, I found that double passives also exist in Norwegian and Danish. For Norwegian, I read a 2001 paper by Lars Hellan, who calls them “complex passives”. In fact, there are several publications on double passives in Norwegian and Danish that use this term, which is probably why it took me until now to find them. Here’s an example of a Norwegian double passive:
Jon ble forsøkt skutt
Jon was attempt(PAST PART.) shoot(PAST PART.)
“Jon was attempted to be shot.” (2b)
Interestingly, the double passives in Norwegian have a regular passive as the first verb, and the ones that follow are not passive infinitives as in English or Hebrew, but past participles, even though the verbs ‘promise’ and ‘attempt’ take infinitives in the active voice.
This same peculiarity goes for Danish, too, as I learned in this 2006 paper by Bjarne Ørsnes. Here’s an example of a Danish double passive:
bilen forsøges repareret
the.car is.tried repair(PAST PART.)
“The car is tried to be repaired.” (2b)
Danish double passives are different from Norwegian (and English) ones in a couple of respects. First, remember this example from an earlier post on double passives?
I read The 10 Most Hated Tricks article, from April ‘03 issue of Skateboarder, and was immediately alarmed when I saw how many tricks were forgotten to be hated on.
Well, you can’t do that in Danish. The top verb has to have an agentive subject (i.e. a subject that actually takes some kind of action), not an experiencer subject like you have in a verb like forget. Second, in English, you can say
They told me to empty my desk.
And you can make it passive by turning the direct object me into the subject:
I was told to empty my desk.
But you can’t take the embedded direct object my desk and make it a subject:
My desk was told to be emptied.
Sure, this is a grammatical sentence, but it can’t refer to the same situation as They told me to empty my desk. It would correspond to the grammatical, but bizarre, active sentence
They told my desk to be emptied.
In Danish, though, you can do this:
bilen bedes flyttet
the.car is.asked remove(PAST PART.)
“The car is asked to be removed” (intended meaning, “Someone asks someone to remove the car”) (14)
Ingeborg, if you’re reading, do you have anything to add here? In fact, for any of you readers who are native (or at least fluent) speakers of a language other than English, how do you form the passive version of a sentence like Someone tried to repair the car in that language?