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The passives of Modern Irish

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Abstract

This paper is about the passive construction, of which modern Irish (a vso language) has two primary forms, the personal passive and its variants, and the impersonal. An empirical question is posed as to whether a third passive form exists within the language, that of a functionally defined get passive. To deliver a unified analysis of the various passive constructions, a perspective that takes account of the complete event is necessary. Irish supports three variants of the personal passive construction (i.e. perfective, progressive, prospective) each of which involves the substantive verb (one of two forms of the verb “to be” found in Irish) in a periphrastic form. The agent can optionally be represented obliquely. The active verb takes a non-finite form as a verbal adjective or verbal noun, depending on the personal passive variant. The impersonal passive form occurs with all verbs of Irish, across all tenses, whether intransitive or transitive.<br />The impersonal passive form is also to be found productively with the substantive verb across all tenses. It does not under any circumstances occur with the copula verb. Our view is that the impersonal passive construction has an indefinite actor at the level of the semantics and that the impersonal passive verb expresses this as a third person indefinite pronoun in the syntax via a synthetic post-verbal suffix rendered on the matrix verb. When considered in this way, the behaviour of the impersonal passive verb in the syntax is shown to be the same with respect to definite subject pronouns when they are expressed in a non-analytic manner, that is, in the synthetic form of the verb. <br />We investigate whether there is a third passive construction to be found in Irish, a get passive. The get passive is attested in many, but not all, of the world’s languages (Siewierska 1984).We find evidence that a particular subset of constructions precisely exhibits the characteristics of the get passive under strictly defined constraints. On the basis of this evidence, we claim that there is a functionally defined get passive in modern Irish. <br />The commonality underpinning the passive constructions, including the functionally defined get passive, can be explained in terms of the windowing of attention analysis in the sense of Talmy (1996), that is, a functional analysis with an event frame perspective sensitive to prototypicality. Irish follows a vso word order with the subject more closely bound to the verb than the object. As well as looking at each of the passive constructions, we also briefly examine how the vso word order is maintained through each.

References

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