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The Grammaticality of Japanese Passives

Noriko Koyama


The grammaticality of Japanese passives has been well studied from various perspectives (Harada, 1973; Hoshi, 1994; Howard & Niyekawa-Howard, 1976; Ishikawa, 1985; Ishizuka, 2012; Kitagawa & Kuroda, 1992; Kubo, 1992; Kuno, 1973; Kuroda, 1965, 1979, 1985; Miyagawa, 1989; Oshima, 2003; Perlmutter, 1973; Shibatani, 1990, 1995; Terada, 1990; Teramura, 1982; Uda, 1994; among many others), though it has not been fully explained -- one of the unsolved problems is split passivizability, referring to cases where one and the same verb forms a grammatical passive in some contexts but an ungrammatical passive in other contexts though their corresponding active sentences are fully well-formed.1 This study proposes that Japanese passives are not derived from role suppression but from a sort of complex predicate formation, involving a matrix verb r/are and a base verb, and this complex a-structure contributes to split passivizability.

I propose that the verb r/are is a ditransitive verb with a transitive variant, expressing affectedness. The verb r/are selects a subject, a complement clause and optionally a 'by-phrase' in f-structure; these three arguments are realized as an affectee, an event and an optional affector in a-structure.

The fact that a subject and a 'by-phrase' are selected by r/are is suggested by the example sentences in (1)- (4) below. The passive sentences in (1b) and (2b) are derived from the transitive verb morat(w) 'receive'; the former is well-formed but the latter is ill-formed, although their corresponding active sentences in (1a) and (2a) are all well-formed. Similarly, the intransitive verb taore 'collapse' demonstrates split passivizability in (3)-(4). This clearly indicates that a subject and a 'by-phrase' can influence the wellformedness of passive sentences.

Yoko-ga neko-o morat-ta.
Yoko-NOM cat-ACC receive-PAST
'Yoko received a cat.'
neko-ga Yoko-ni moraw-are-ta.
cat-NOM Yoko-by receive-PASS-PAST
'A cat was received by Yoko.'
Yoko-ga shoosan-o morat-ta.
Yoko-NOM praise-ACC receive-PAST
'Yoko received praise.'
*shoosan-ga Yoko-ni moraw-are-ta.
praise-NOM Yoko-by receive-PASS-PAST
Intended: 'Praise was received by Yoko.'
Yoko-ga taore-ta.
Yoko-NOM collapse-PAST
'Yoko collapsed.'
Ichiro-ga Yoko-ni taore-are-ta.
Ichiro-NOM Yoko-by collapse-PASS-PAST
'Ichiro was collapsed on by Yoko (Ichiro had Yoko collapse on him).'
isu-ga taore-ta.
chair-NOM collapse-PAST
'A chair collapsed.'
*Ichiro-ga isu-ni taore-are-ta.
Ichiro-NOM chair-by collapse-PASS-PAST
Intended: 'Ichiro was collapsed on by a chair (Ichiro had a chair collapse on him).'

This study argues that the matrix verb r/are projects a PRED feature, AFF(ectedness), as defined in (5) below. The AFF feature consists of an af(fecte)e x, an optional af(fecto)r y and an ev(ent) z; these three roles are defined as [-r], [-o] and [+c], respectively (cf. Falk, 2001, 2005). The AFF feature denotes that an affectee x is affected in an event z, initiated by an affector y. The a-structure of r/are is 'incomplete' in denotation, and this obligates r/are to enclose a base verb as the event z role in a-structure.

5. r/are:
 | | |
a-structure: 'AFF<x(y)z>'

This study adopts attribute-value matrices to represent a-structure; the a-structure in (6) below expresses the passive sentence in (2b) above. In (6), connotation, f1 and f2, represents control configurations: a matrix x (neko 'cat') controls an embedded y (a theme) and a matrix y (Yoko) controls an embedded x (a recipient). Adopting control equations in f-structure, this study proposes that r/are specifies for two control configurations in a-structure, ((↑ x) = (↑ z a+)) and (↑ y) = (↑ zx). The former denotes that an affectee x optionally controls an argument a embedded in an event z; whereas the latter denotes that an affector y, if present, obligatorily controls the x role of a base verb.

6. a-structure:
[ PRED 'AFF<x, y, z>'
  x [ PRED 'CAT' ]:f1
  y [ PRED 'NAME-y' ]:f2
  z [ PRED 'RECEIVE<x, y>'
  x f2
  y f1 ] ]

This study also proposes that Japanese passives are not only subject to the well-formedness conditions for a- and f-structures, but also subject to a language-specific condition, concerning whether the referent of a subject is understood as the 'most affected' participant in an event, which I term the Relative Affectedness Condition (RAC). Relative affectedness expresses a relative value of affectedness between two or more participants in an event, denoting which participant is more affected than the other. The fundamental idea is that, if an affectee x controls an embedded 'patient-like' role and an affector y controls an emedded 'agent-like' role, the former is understood as more affected than the latter, because the former is acted on by the latter (e.g., Ichiro-ga Yoko-ni but-are-ta 'Ichiro was hit by Yoko'); this satisfies the RAC. It follows that Japanese passives are unacceptable if an affectee x controls an embedded 'agent-like' role and an affector y controls an embedded 'patient-like' role, because the former is not the 'most affected' participant (e.g., *kega-ga Yoko-ni kurushim-are-ta 'injury was suffered from by Yoko'); this violates the RAC.

A complexity arises from cases where a predicator selects two 'patient-like' roles, or cases where an affectee does not control any embedded arguments, as exemplified by morat(w) 'receive' and taore 'collapse' in (1)-(4) above. In these cases, the RAC is satisfied by the overall understanding of how a base event takes place: an autonomous affector, having potential to influence a base event, is regarded as less affected than an affectee, which is specified as affected by r/are. In sum, the grammaticality of Japanese passives is determined by the RAC, the composition of a-structure and the status of a 'by-phrase' as autonomous, in a complex clausal structure.

End Notes

  1. Correspondence concerning to this article should be sent to Noriko Koyama, Department of Applied Language Studies and Linguistics, University of Auckland, Building 206, 14a Symonds Street, Auckland CBD, Auckland 1010, New Zealand. E-mail: nkoy002@aucklanduni.ac.nz. This article corresponds to my Master's thesis: Relative Affectedness in Japanese Passives, submitted to the University of Auckland in 2013. The full version will be available on the library website: http://www.library.auckland.ac.nz/


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