Syntax: Problem Sets
“Rama was killed.”
in the game last
“They were beaten in the last game.”
What is the difference between these impersonal passive constructions and
more traditional passives of English? Suggest a parameter that will account
for the difference between languages like Ukrainian, Kannada, and Irish and
languages like English. (Hint: the parameter will have to do with the way the
passive morphology works.)
(Data from Perlmutter and Postal 1984)
In a textbox above, we mentioned the existence of a class of verbs that are
essentially inherently passive. These are called unaccusatives. A surprising
property of unaccusative verbs is that they don’t allow passivization.
The Shah slept in a bed.
The bed was slept in by the Shah.
Dust fell on the bed.
*The bed was fallen on by the dust.
Similar effects are seen in the following Dutch sentences. Sentence (e) is not
unaccusative (we call these “unergatives”), while sentence (f) is. Both these
sentences are impersonal passives. English doesn’t have this construction,
so they are difficult to translate into English.
In de zomer wordt er hier vaak gezwommen.
“In the summer, there is swimming here.”
*In de zomer wordt er hier vaak verdronken.
“In the summer, there is drowning here.”
Strictly speaking, the data in (a–d) do not involve passivization, since the NP that is moved
comes from inside a PP. The technical term for these constructions is pseudo-passivization.
The differences between pseudo-passivization and passivization are not relevant to this