Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Archive for the ‘Circumstantial passives’ Category

It Was Never Said Anything About

Posted by Neal on February 25, 2007

Last month, I said in one of my posts that it sounded like Ira Glass, host of “This American Life”, had a uvular /l/. Justin “Semantic Compositions” Busch decided to hear for himself, and after doing so commented, “I can convince myself that I hear the uvular nasal when Ira Glass says his name at the 25:48 mark in the 1/5/07 broadcast, but most of the tokens of his /l/ don’t trigger that sensation for me at all.”

Since that time I’ve listened to a lot more of the weekly podcasts and archived MP3s (they’re somewhat addictive, even though they’re not all equally interesting), and I’m sticking with my call. The uvular /l/ is most perceptible at the beginning of words and in word-initial consonant clusters, not quite so much so intervocalically (between vowels), and hardly at all word-finally. If, like Busch, you want to hear some of these uvular /l/s for yourself, you can browse episodes to listen to here.

One of the more interesting episodes is “Family Legend”. As a bonus, Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Circumstantial passives, What the L | 1 Comment »

Another Circumstantial Passive?

Posted by Neal on March 20, 2006

Doug thought it was the coolest thing when one of the onions in our pantry sprouted. He wanted to plant it. “We won’t have to buy any more onions at the grocery store,” he said. I’m not sure what I thought would happen if we planted it. Since onions are root vegetables, I couldn’t expect this onion to produce a little onion bush with onions hanging from its branches. But I just said, “Sure, OK,” and planted the onion in a small pot. For the next week, the sprouting stalks grew taller, breaking off here and there when the cats nibbled on them; the whole thing smelled more and more oniony; and about once a day my wife would ask what Doug and I were planning on doing with that onion.

When the weekend came, the leaves were all starting to wilt, and the onion could be smelled from across the kitchen. That’s when my wife said,

That will have to be done something with today.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Circumstantial passives | 2 Comments »

Doug’s Circumstantial Passive

Posted by Neal on September 4, 2005

In researching the double passive in English, I’ve been reading a few articles on Malagasy, which has a similar construction. I’ve learned that Malagasy not only has a double passive, but that it actually has two kinds of passive voice, an ordinary one and one called the circumstantial passive. I’ll illustrate with examples adapted from Paul Law’s 1995 article “On grammatical relations in Malagasy control structures” (in the book Grammatical Relations, edited by Clifford S. Burgess, et al.). First, there’s a sentence in the active voice:

hanasa        ny   lamba   amin’  ity    savony ity    Rasoa
wash.ACT  the clothes  with    this  soap     this  Rasoa
‘Rasoa will wash the clothes with this soap’

In Malagasy, the subject comes last, as seen with the placement of Rasoa above. Now we’ll do an ordinary passive, with the direct object ‘the clothes’ becoming the subject (and therefore appearing at the end of the sentence):

sasana-dRasoa              amin’  ity    savony ity    ny   lamba
wash.PASS-by-Rasoa  with    this  soap     this  the  clothes
‘The clothes are washed with this soap by Rasoa’

Now what if you wanted to make ‘this soap’ the subject? In English, you can’t. It’s not just that ‘this soap’ is the object of a preposition instead of a direct object: Sentences like This bed has been slept in or We were fired upon are quite common. But for some reason it just doesn’t work when the verb takes a direct object as well as a prepositional phrase. You end up with something weird like This soap was washed-the-clothes-with by Rasoa. For this soap to be the subject, you have to do a major workaround, something like This soap was used by Rasoa to wash the clothes. In Malagasy, though, it’s not a problem. You just have to have the right tool, and that tool is the circumstantial passive. Use the circumstantial passive form of ‘wash’, and then ‘this soap’ can go right into the subject position:

anasana-dRasoa           ny   lamba    amin’  ity    savony ity
wash.CIRC-by-Rasoa  the  clothes   with    this  soap    this
‘This soap is washed-the-clothes-with by Rasoa’

I was happy to find out about this kind of passive voice, not just because it was an interesting detail to learn about another language, but because now I have a name for something Doug said about three years ago. He was looking for a packet of some gumdrop-like snacks in the shape of characters from Scooby-Doo. (They’re called, rather misleadingly, Scooby Snacks, even though they don’t look or–I assume–taste anything like the doggy treats that Scooby and Shaggy love so well.) He found several empty bags that someone else had inconsiderately put back in the box, but finally found an intact one, and said:

This one hasn’t been eaten-any-Scooby-Snacks-out-of!

It was so jarring and just plain wrong, and yet so sensible at the same time, that I had to write it down. I don’t think Doug’s grammar will generate sentences like this one anymore, but now I know that at one point in time, Doug’s emerging English grammar was equipped with circumstantial passive functionality.

Posted in Circumstantial passives, The darndest things | 1 Comment »