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Passives in South Asian Languages: Some Typological Puzzles

Pritha Chandra,
Published in University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Volume: 3
Issue: 1

Haspelmath (2010) debates whether universal (descriptive) categories of the types that generativists (cf. Newmeyer, 2007) envisage are real and needed for cross-linguistic studies. Instead every language has its own unique set of categories. We raise doubt on this “categorial particularism” position by drawing on underlying similarities of passive constructions of three South Asian languages - Oriya (Indo-Aryan), Malayalam (Dravidian) and Kharia (Austro-Asiatic). Unlike English-type passives, they retain subject properties for their logical subjects and object properties for their logical objects, suggesting commonalities that a “categorial particularism” approach would not allow us to posit. Our further contention is that like English passives, they too satisfy Shibatani’s (1985) minimal condition for passives – the underscoring or the optionality of agents. Passive voice must therefore be a universal found in all languages primarily resulting in the optionality of agents. We also show how adopting this approach helps us re-analyse Meitei and Ao (Tibeto-Burman) as languages involving passives.

About the journal
JournalActa Linguistica Asiatica
PublisherUniversity of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Open AccessNo