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English: Indirect object becoming the subject of the passive voice

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by berndf, Oct 7, 2012.

  1. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Moderator note: Split from here.

    Right.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  2. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    No.

    "I was given a book" is a special form where the usual rules of word order do not apply and where "I" is allowed to replace "me". It is clearly the book which is undergoing the giving and therefore the subject of the sentence. If we ask what the indirect object of the sentence is it is "I" because it is "I" who is getting the book.

    Compare the examples given above:

    Daniel was given a book.

    Daniel was given to the lions.

    In the first case it is not Daniel who is being given, but the book. In the second case it is Daniel who is being given.

    Moderator note: Earlier posts on the subject which has been removed from the original thread:
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  3. e2-e4 X Senior Member

    Русский
    "The book was given me"? "Me was given a book"? No way, as it seems. Only with the "to"; and with the "to" it is a different sentence, just compare: "To I was given a book".
    But in both cases Daniel takes the major part in what happens; it is his state which is concerned the most, even though in the first case he does nothing by himself (and neither does the book, which was being moved by someone else).

    In the second case we have a passive form of the verb "to give", and in the first case we have an /incorrect/ English verb "to be given" (copular? transitive? if it's transitive, then it's active).
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2012
  4. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    I strongly disagree. In English, contrary to most other European languages, the indirect object of the active voice can become the subject of the passive voice. The direct and indirect objects are symmetrical in this respect. Of course, this was originally a dative. But this is long gone and modern speakers have to intuition for it any more (look in the German forum how English speakers struggle to understand the difference between mir ist kalt and ich bin kalt). "I" in I am given a book should be considered a normal subject and the tag question wasn't I? does indeed support this view.
     
  5. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    That surely cannot be a correct analysis.

    Consider:

    Mary was sent to London

    Mary was sent a letter

    In the first case if we ask who or what was sent the answer is "Mary". "Mary" is the subject of the sentence.

    In the second case if we ask who or what was sent the answer is "the letter". "The letter" is the subject of the sentence. If we ask to whom the sent was sent the answer is "Mary". "Mary" is the indirect object. If "Mary" is the subject, then what is "the letter"?
     
  6. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Who was sent a letter? Mary. If Mary were still to be analysed as a dative the question had to be: *Whom was sent a letter?
     
  7. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Even if we now use "I" instead of "me" at the beginning of a sentence, there is still a latent direct object hidden in there with the passive aspect.

    Mary was sent to London (by me) = passive
    I sent Mary to London = active

    I was sent to London (by Mary) = passive
    Mary sent me to London = active

    Here it is an indirect object with passive that is implicit:
    Mary was sent a letter (by me)
    I sent Mary a letter

    I was sent a letter (by Mary)
    Mary sent me a letter.

    By whom was the letter sent?
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2012
  8. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    I am a bit confused. You say you agree with Hulalessar but your example would demonstrate, if anything, the contrary: Suggesting a symmetry between
    I was sent to London (by Mary)
    and
    I was sent a letter (by Mary)
    would corroborate the thesis that "I" is the subject in I was sent a letter because it undoubtedly is the subject in I was sent to London.
     
  9. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Sorry for the confusion. Check my edit. After thinking about it, I reformulated the second part as I realized that "I" in the two examples didn't have the same function. Yet, I still don't believe it's a real subject pronoun.
    For me: "I" is not a subject. In the first case "I" replaces a direct object "me". In the second case "I" replaces an indirect object "(to) me". Even though some time in the past "(to) me" was changed to "I" when it was deemed we couldn't start a sentence with "(to) me" in English, "I" is still filling the function of an object (indirect or direct)
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2012
  10. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    But the point is that you can no more say*Whom was sent a letter? than you can say *Me was sent a letter.

    As I explained above the construction was first found with personal pronouns. The standard word order was at one time: indirect object pronoun, verb, subject. As inflections declined so the general word order in the language became subject, verb, object, but in this type of construction the old word order persisted, but it began to be felt that an indirect object pronoun at the start of a sentence was incorrect. Accordingly Me was given a book became I was given a book - a case of hypercorrection arising from the feeling that a sentence had to start with I rather than me. From there it was only a short step to John was given a book.
     
  11. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Where did you get that from?
     
  12. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Anyway, the interpretation of the indirect object turning into the subject in passive voice has been commonplace in grammar books for a long time*. The construct is interpreted as a "retained accusative" (similar to Greek). Note how I phrased the question in #82: Who was sent a letter?, not Who was sent? The presence of the direct object is essential for the validity of the construct.
    __________________________
    * E.g. C.T.Onions, Modern English Syntax, §42; First published 1905.
     
  13. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    I read it in a book a long time ago.

    However, that "I" could not be the subject in "I was given a book" arose when I was learning French. When the passive came up we were naturally taught that in many situations French prefers a construction with "on", but that constructions with "être" were possible. However, we were warned to be on our guard against translating "I was given a book" as "*J'étais donné une livre." That "I" was not the subject in such constructions was not something I had previously needed to consider, but when explained it seemed to me (as it still does) that it is irrefutable that that was the case. Up until then I would probably have said that where a sentence starts with "I" it must be the subject of the sentence.

    I have done a bit of Googling and read about promotions when turning the verb of a sentence from active to passive. However, some of the examples involving verbs like "give" and "send" are very dubious.

    When describing a language you have to describe it as you find it and not by reference to its history or any other language. If you ask the questions I posed above I do not see how any other conclusion can be reached than that in "I was given a book" the subject is "a book" and that "I" is the indirect object because what is being given is "the book" and who is receiving it is "I".

    However, we can call in aid the history to confirm the point. In the older form "Me was given a book" it is immediately apparent that "me" is the indirect object. If by hypercorrection "me" becomes "I", "I" does not suddenly become the subject of the sentence simply because "I" is a subject pronoun. If in "I was given a book" the indirect object is "I" then in "Mary was given a book" the indirect object must be "Mary".

    Again, whilst not necessary, we can emphasise the point further by translating "Mary was given a book" into Latin. Using only the words "Mary", "book" and a passive form of "give" the only possible translation (but with the words in any order you like) to indicate that it is Mary who got the book is "Mariae liber donatus est". "Mariae" is dative indicating that it is the indirect object and "liber" nominative indicating that it is the subject. Latin and English have different grammars but are not so different that we have to rethink what we mean by "subject", "indirect object" and "passive voice". If the only possible translation into Latin using my criteria requires "Mariae" i.e. the dative, then in the English version "Mary" must be the indirect object.
     
  14. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Hulalessar,

    For the purpose of this discussion it suffices to note that the interpretation I described is current text book opinion and can therefore not be described as an "error", irrespective of what you think of this opinion. It has never been denied that the current usage developed out of a dative in first position. What matters here is synchronic and not diachronic analysis.

    One last comment about Latin: It is not frequent but a few retained accusatives are attested also in Latin. E.g.:
    Sed Caesar, ubi ad eum ventum est, rogatus sententiam a consule...
    But
    Caesar, when it was his term [and who was] asked [his] opinion<accusative> by the consul...
    (Sallust, The Catilinian Conspiracy)
     
  15. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    Also for the purpose of this discussion:

    Caesar ... rogatus sententiam a consule is ok, but Caesar ... datus librum a consule (meaning "Caesar ... [was] given a book by the consul") would be acceptable, too?
     
  16. Hamlet2508 Senior Member

    English
    Caesar ... rogatus sententiam a consule (=accusativus Graecus)

    Caesari ... datus liber
    a consule
    (meaning "Caesar ... [was] given a book by the consul")
     
  17. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    Yes, and that's why my question (#92). Caesar rogatus sententiam ... is understandable "sponeaousely" (also from the point of view of some modern languages). But Caesar datus librum ... is wrong, while in English Caesar was given a book, instead of To Caesar was given a book, is ok ...
     
  18. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    The retained accusative is quite rare in Latin. As the term accusativus Graecus indicates, it is an imitation of Greek.
     
  19. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    Absolutely. I did say: "When describing a language you have to describe it as you find it and not by reference to its history or any other language." I brought history in because explaining how the construction arose helps to explain the peculiarity (if that is the right word to use). I brought Latin in because when you have to translate from your own language to another it sometimes makes you realise that your own language sometimes behaves in "odd" ways.

    Let's try a different analysis:

    A. John sent a letter

    B. A letter was sent by John

    Both are equivalent in that they convey the same information: there was a sending; the thing sent was a letter; John did the sending. In both cases John was the agent and the letter was the patient. In A, where the verb is active, John is the subject, whilst in B, where the verb is passive, the letter is the subject. In a passive sentence the patient is the subject.

    Now let's bring Mary into it:

    C. John sent a letter to Mary

    D. A letter was sent by John to Mary

    Nothing has changed. In both cases John is still the agent and the letter the patient and in D the letter is still the subject. Mary is the direct object

    Next we take John out of D:

    E. A letter was sent to Mary

    The letter is still the subject and patient and Mary the indirect object.

    Now we bring in the "peculiar" construction:

    F. Mary was sent a letter

    F is the same as E. The letter is the patient - it is the thing sent. Since the subject of a passive verb is the patient, the subject of F must be the letter.

    Now consider:

    G. Mary was sent by John

    In G Mary is quite clearly the patient and the subject of a passive verb - it was Mary who was sent. On the surface G looks the same as F, but the first three words function quite differently in each. If it is insisted that in both F and G Mary is the subject it is confusing outward form with function.

    We can further highlight the difference between F and G because in respect of G we can ask a question which will elicit the reply: "Mary was sent", but in respect of F we cannot.

    One book I read asserted that the construction was bad grammar but good English. A neat but unsatisfactory way of describing it. It is better described as a construction which confounds our expectation of what a sentence in English should be like.
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2012
  20. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Active: John gave my parents a book.

    If you are right it should be: My parents was given a book by John.
    If I (and Onions and many other distinguished grammarians) are right it should be: My parents were given a book by John.

    What do you say?
     
  21. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    Yes, in fact, trying to understand this accusativus from the point of view of some modern languages (e.g. Romance, Slavic, Hungarian ...), it is indeed practically a bit difficult, or at least, it should sound very artficial or (almost) inacceptable.

    But, my question is not about the accusative of "sententiam" or the nominative of "liber" (in the previous examples), but rather about the "logic" of the constructions "Caesar was asked" and "Caesar was given" in English, versus the Latin (not only) "Caesar rogatus" and "Caesar datus". So, spontaneousely, I'd say that Caesar is in dative also in the English expression "Caesar was given", even if the "dative marker" (the preposition "to" is not present).

    If true, then then the only "problem" are the personal pronouns, where the distinction of the grammatical cases are (partially) functional ( I - nominative, me [with no preposition] - dative/accusative). If we admit that there is a tendency to "eliminate" the case distinction also in the personal pronouns (e.g. this is me instead of this is I), then constructions like Caesar was given, I am given ... seem to be acceptable and also "logical".

    Or, alternatively, constructions like "I am given" are to be understood rather as abbreviated forms of something like "I am (the one whom is) given" ? ... What is your opinion?
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2012
  22. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    The problem is that it cannot be decided in English if "the book" is accusative or nominative. And the only substitutable is "it". The only way to tell if "I" is the subject (nominative) and "the book" the direct object (accusative) is to look at verb agreement rules. See #97 above.
     
  23. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    The point is that in the construction XYZ where X is the indirect object, Y a passive verb and Z the patient, X is treated as if it were the subject of the sentence. It comes at the beginning and is why we have "I was given a book". Where X is plural the verb will agree with X. To suggest that it should be "My parents was given a book" is like suggesting it should be "Me was given a book."

    The problem here seems to have something to do with word order. Word order is important in English for establishing the relationship between words in a sentence, though it is of course not the sole means. We have two possible ways of defining what the subject of a sentence is, one based on where it appears in a sentence and the other based on role, that is one based on form and one based on function. If you choose the one based on form you are not concerned with function and vice versa. If the definition is based on form, which comes down to word order, then it is not surprising if in "I was given a book" it is asserted that "I" is the subject of the sentence. It does though leave you with the problem of explaining where "book" fits in because a passive verb cannot have a direct object. A definition based on function does not raise that difficulty.
     
  24. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Giving up the rule that passive verbs cannot have an accusative complement, i.e. postulating a "retained accusative", is by far the simpler and more straight forward solution than explaining

    1. The uncommon word order.
    2. The nominative X.
    3. Agreement of Y with X and not with Z.
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2012
  25. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    Yes. Also:

    4. the accusative case of Z: I was given them/*they.
    5. the possibility of control/raising (only available for the subject/external argument in English): I hoped to be given the book.
    6. coordination of passives with a shared subject: I was invited to the White House and given a medal by the President.
    7. the possibility of adjectival predication (again, only available for the external argument): Most people, given the chance/the choice/a million dollars, would quit their job.
    8. anaphoric binding (reflexives and reciprocals cannot be subjects): John was assigned himself/*Himself was assigned John. John and Mary were assigned each other/*Each other were assigned John and Mary.
     
  26. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    I cannot agree. The explanation comes over as distinctly opaque. It seems to be imposing on English a feature of Latin grammar, and a rare one at that. If you are going to bring Latin grammar into it, then why rule out a historically informed explanation?

    Languages may retain features and be subject to changes explained by hypercorrection, analogy etc which do not fit neatly into rules of general application. Analytic languages in particular are inclined to resist accurate description and being straightjacketed into rules.

    If word order is to be paramount, how are the following explained?

    Had I known that...

    Little did I realise that...

    What a nice house you have!

    Oaths you have taken.
    (OK a Tolkienian quirk of style, but it is in the film and the meaning is clear.)

    What would be made of:

    Me was given the book

    if, as is entirely possible, the construction under discussion had made it into Modern English in that form?

    I think it is misconceived to place more emphasis on form than function. I once read a book which distinguished between "adjectives" and "adjectivals" based on how the comparative and superlative are formed. That leads to "large" and "enormous" being considered different parts of speech when they both perform the same function. It is as absurd as describing Spanish adjectives with the possible endings -o, -a, -os and -as as adjectives and all others as adjectivals. Far better simply to say that English has two types of adjectives.

    Let's imagine a native French speaker who has never heard of retained accusatives who is faced for the first time with "I was given a book". Since in French "*J'étais donné une livre" is not found, he going to say (in French!) "What's going on here? That doesn't look right at all!" When the meaning is explained he will surely say "So it's back to front then and the pronoun is all wrong."
     
  27. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    I really don't understand what you mean by form vs. function. When you look at 1-8 (my original 3 and CaptnPrep's additional 5), we are not only talking about morphology but about all aspects of syntax.

    In the construct <NP1> <finite form of be> <ppl> <NP2>, seen from all angles, <NP1> behaves like a (nominative) subject and <NP2> like an (accusative) object. Why can't we simply call it so?

    I really fail to understand your problem.:confused:

    French obviously lacks this syntactic feature. I fail to see the relevance of that argument.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  28. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    Actually, a similar structure does exist in French: Je me suis fait (or Je me suis vu) donner un livre (= "I got given a book"). This is considered to be a kind of passive construction (although the verb itself, donner, does not have passive morphology), because the agent of the verb is suppressed. And there is no question whatsoever that un livre remains the direct object, while je has become the syntactic subject of the sentence. Just like in English.
     
  29. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Right. I forgot about that. There is also structure in German and Dutch which behaves similarly, by some German grammarians called the "Bekommen-Passiv" which supplements the other two German passives, the "Sein-Passiv" and the "Werden-Passiv":
    Aktiv: Er stellt ihr eine Frage - He asks her a question.
    Werden/Sein-Passiv: Die Frage wird/ist ihm von ihr gestellt - The question is asked to him by her (the semantic difference between the forms with "wird" and "ist" is not normally expressed in English).
    Bekommen-Passiv: Er bekommt die Frage von ihr gestellt - He is asked the question by her.
    There is also not a shadow of a doubt that "die Frage" is akkusative in the Bekommen-Passiv.
     
  30. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    What is the Perfekt of your example: Er hat bekommen die Frage .... or Er ist bekommen die Frage ... ?
     
  31. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Er hat die Frage von ihr gestellt bekommen.
     
  32. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    That is not a construction with which I am familiar, but my French is not perfect. (You no doubt noted that I got the gender of "livre" wrong above!). However, in this case I have no problem accepting that "je" is the subject of the sentence. Translated literally: I to myself made give a book.
     
  33. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    I have a similar impression of the Berndf's example (that's why I have asked for the Perfekt). For illustration: Er bekommt die Frage von ihr gestellt could be translated literally e.g. in Italian as Egli riceve la domanda da lei posta. I don't say that this is a perfect translation, but grammatically it seems to be ok (at least for me). On the other hand, the literal translation of He is given the question ... (*Egli è posta la domanda ...) is wrong even grammatically.

    So, simplifying all what has been said, my conclusion could be as follows:

    1. The undeclined form of a noun in English can today represent the former nominative, accusative and dative cases, while e.g. in the Romance languages the dative has to be explicitely marked by a preposition ("a"). That's why such constructions could arise in English, but not in (some) other languages.

    2. The etymological dative has been later interpreted as nominative (for reasons that have been already explained in this discussion), that's why I was given ... and not *Me was given .... Such constructions seem to be "strange" when analyzing them from a general "IE" point of view, but they seem to be totally "normal" when speaking English.

    3. Where is the problem :) ? ... (a "new" grammatical construction was "born" some time ago and we are the witnesses ...).
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  34. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    I can't help but notice that the object of a preposition can sometimes be made into a passive subject...

    Someone is writing in my book. -> My book is being written in (by someone).

    ...and that Berndf's 1-3 and CapnPrep's 5-7 apply here too. CapnPrep's 4 and 8 depend on retained direct objects, which seem to be a problem:

    Someone is writing something in my book. -> My book is being written something in (by someone).:cross:
    They made hash of me. -> I was made hash of (by them). [OK, but not a good candidate for CapnPrep's 4 or 8]

    The only object of in in my first example and of of in this last is the subject of the sentence, if that makes sense. (Sorry, I don't know anything about the history of such things.)

    I am not sure what exactly this says about the matter at hand, but I think it is relevant.

    I also can't help but notice that indirect objects can often be "translated" to prepositional phrases, but...

    They gave me a book. -> I was given a book (by them).
    They gave a book to me. -> I was given a book to (by them). [A little strange, but workable]
    It was John who was given a book. [I would not put a to in this sentence.]

    She asked me a question. -> I was asked a question (by her).
    She asked a question of me. -> I was asked a question of (by her). [workable]
    It was John who was asked a question. [I would not put an of in this sentence.]

    He did me a favor. -> I was done a favor (by him).
    He did a favor for me. -> I was done a favor for (by him). [strange, but workable]
    It was John who was done a favor. [I would not put a for in this sentence.]
     
  35. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    The problem is that there is total disagreement in this thread about the proper synchronic analysis of the English construction. As for the historical development, before drawing any conclusions, I'd prefer to have a fuller picture of the facts, with real sources (i.e. not just "I read it in a book a long time ago").

    But the historical considerations and the comparisons to other languages are really beside the point. Let's look at how two of the claims made above about the English passive stand up against the facts of English:
    Not always. It can have one of many possible semantic functions. As Forero just pointed out, these functions are often expressed using prepositions: theme (I am seen and feared by all), location (The bed has been slept in), path/direction (The bridge was crossed/walked across), goal (The summit was reached, I was approached by several ninjas), instrument (These chopsticks were eaten with by Chairman Mao), beneficiary/cause (Evita was cried for by Argentina), etc. And it can be a recipient: I was rewarded/compensated with 2000 AAPL shares, The charity was contributed/donated to by eccentric millionaires.

    So we cannot conclude a priori that in I was given a book, the only possible subject is the patient the book. The semantic function of I (recipient) is compatible with the syntactic function of subject, and all of the other properties of the sentence show that I is indeed the subject.
    Yes, it can. I was taken unfair advantage of, We were opened fire upon, She was made a complete fool of. John was elected mayor, Mary was considered a hero, Lancelot was made a knight of the Round Table.

    So in I was given a book, a book can be the direct object of given, and all of the other properties of the sentence show that a book is indeed the direct object.
     
  36. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    Maybe I am not using the correct terminology, but when using "form" and "function" I was not referring only to morphology but also to syntax.

    The key word there is "behaves". Just because A behaves like B does not mean it is B. In the Latin retained accusative just because the noun is in the accusative does not mean it is the direct object of a verb. Bringing in the Latin retained accusative only confuses the issue because the accusative case in Latin is not confined to marking the direct object of a verb.

    Is it not in the very nature of a passive verb that it is intransitive and cannot have a direct object?

    It was not so much an argument as trying to put a different perspective.

    *

    The subject of a passive verb is surely the person or thing undergoing the action described by the verb.

    Take

    Mary was sent by John

    and we have no difficulty seeing that Mary is being sent.

    If we remove the last two words to leave

    Mary was sent

    it is still Mary who is being sent.

    However if we take

    Mary was sent a book

    but take away the last two words to leave

    Mary was sent

    we are again left with the idea that it is Mary who was sent when it was the book which was sent. How can the book not be the subject of the verb?
     
  37. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    No. The very nature of a passive verb is that the active subject is suppressed. Some other argument may be promoted into subject function, but this is not a necessary property of the passive construction. For English passives with direct objects, see my message above (as well as the original example of this thread).

    Since you like French, consider impersonal passives like Il a été publié beaucoup d'articles, Il sera détruit une centaine de maisons (more examples here). Or indeed Il m'a été donné un livre ("There was given to me a book"). The verb is passive and the active subject is suppressed, but the direct object stays put. The new syntactic subject is just a dummy pronoun, il.
     
  38. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    But in those cases the words in bold are the subject of the sentence and we have another construction where what precedes the verb is not the subject. "Of" and "upon" are prepositions. A preposition must govern something. English allows prepositions to go for long walks. In I was taken unfair advantage of "of" governs "I". The whole thing is no more than Unfair advantage was taken of me back to front with "me" becoming "I" for no other reason than that it comes at the beginning.

    In these cases there is an ellipsis. John was elected [to be] mayor.

    It can be shown that a knight of the Round Table is not the object by inserting something meaning the same thing as "made": Lancelot was invested with the rank of a knight of the Round Table.
     
  39. Dan2

    Dan2 Senior Member

    US
    US English
    Hulalessar: I've read all your posts in this thread and am still baffled by your logic.

    When "John hit Bill" is passivized to "Bill was hit by John" you accept "Bill" as the subject of the passive sentence even tho this subject is the recipient of the action, whereas in the original sentence the subject is the doer of the action. So you accept the notion that there is a distinction (and no one-to-one correspondence) between formal grammatical concepts like subject and object and semantic concepts like doer-of-action and recipient-of-action.

    But in "I was a given a book", you deny the possibility of "I" being the grammatical subject of the sentence. Why? Because "I" has the semantic role of "indirect object" (typically, person to whom something is given). But we've already agreed that the passivization process creates a grammatical subject with a different semantic role from that in the original sentence. If in some passive sentences this different semantic role can be recipient-of-action, why can it not in others be "recipient of a given object"?

    In all your posts, the only answer I see to this question is,
    But this is simply an assertion on your part. I see no reason for accepting this assertion. On the other hand, Berndf and CapnPrep present a whole host of arguments in favor of viewing "I" as subject of "I was given a book", any one of which carries more weight than your bare assertion. Unless you can present similar arguments in favor of your analysis (and you certainly haven't done so to this point), we must accept the "I as subject" view.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  40. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    So what does it govern in my other examples, like The bed was slept in, The charity was donated to? You do agree that the bed and the charity are the subjects of those sentences, don't you? In prepositional passives, when the object of the preposition "goes for a walk", it acquires a different syntactic function (subject) and is no longer governed by the preposition.
    By this flawed reasoning, beef stew is not the direct object in I made beef stew because I can dream up a different sentence I followed a recipe for beef stew that says vaguely the same thing, and in which beef stew is not a direct object.

    Throughout this thread, you make the mistaken assumption that if two sentences are semantically equivalent, then the syntactic analysis of the corresponding pieces of the two sentences must also be equivalent. But the whole point of transformations/alternations like passivization is that one semantic form can correspond to several distinct syntactic realizations.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  41. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    These examples seem to me be be cases of "double subjects" where "il" stands in for a postponed subject. Il m'a été donné un livre is no different from Quelque chose m'a été donné - un livre.
     
  42. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    Actually, they are very different: Quelque chose is referential, il is non-referential. Un livre is an argument of the clause in the first sentence, but outside the clause in the second. Furthermore, the impersonal passive is available for verbs with prepositional complements (Il a été parlé d'un livre "People talked about a book"), and for intransitive verbs (Il a été beaucoup ri "People laughed a lot"). You can't say there's a postponed subject here, and you can't do the quelque chose trick (*Quelque chose a été parlé (de) — un livre, *Quelque chose à été beaucoup ri).

    Back to English, and one last argument from my side.
    1. They did not give me anything.
    2. *Anything was not given (to) me.
    3. I was not given anything.
    Do you agree that the passive sentence #2 is ungrammatical, or at least very awkward? That is because anything does not like to be the subject of a negative sentence. But then why is #3 fully grammatical, if in your view, it's just #2 with the word order switched around?
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2012
  43. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    I shall reply to the latest posts tomorrow, but for the moment I shall try a different tack.

    Whilst we are more or less agreed that we should consider this question synchronically, I think the key lies in the history. I first raised the point in the thread which asked whether native speakers make mistakes. I cited the form "I was given a book" as an example of a "mistake" that had become accepted as perfectly good grammar and explained how it had arisen.

    There was a time when the accepted (though possibly not only) form was: "Me was given a book*". Word order then started to become more rigid with the subject of a sentence appearing at the beginning, but the form persisted. However, it came to be felt that a sentence could not begin with an object pronoun and so the form changed to "I was given a book". Without getting into a discussion about whether or not native speakers can make mistakes, there would have been a period when the new form was considered "wrong". All the time it was considered wrong the "I" must have been considered to be the indirect object just as today in the non-standard "Me and John went for a walk" "me" has to be (with John) the subject. Next came the time when "I" was considered acceptable. It cannot be the case that when that happened "I" suddenly becomes the subject because it performs exactly the same function as "me" did. In a sense the author who said that the modern form was bad grammar but good English had a point. To insist that in "I was given a book" "I" is the subject because it is a subject pronoun is no different from asserting that "me" is the object in "Me and John went for a walk" because "me" is an object pronoun.

    *I use Modern English and as I do not know Old English and Middle English
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2012
  44. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    The history is interesting (and it would be even more interesting with some references…), but a child learning English today does not have access to Old and Middle English, and their acquisition of English does not reproduce the diachronic development of the language. The fact is that English now has SVO order, and that is what the child learns. As you pointed out above, English does have deviations from SVO, and the child has to somehow learn those. For this to happen, the deviant word order and its communicative function must be salient. For example, subject-auxiliary inversion and wh-fronting in interrogative function. In contrast, I can't see how you expect a child to figure out that I was given a book is an OVS structure in which the O nevertheless "behaves" like a subject in every respect and the S "behaves" like a direct object in every respect, and the function of this crazy structure is to express a passive (except that all other passives in the language are expressed with ordinary SV(O) clauses).
    It is different, because the first conclusion is based on a multitude of arguments (many of which have been presented upthread), and not just the morphological form of the pronoun.
     
  45. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Your argumentation gets increasingly strange. Now you're suggesting that syntax should not play the decisive role in deciding on the applicability of the syntactic categories subject, object, nominative and accusative. :confused:
     
  46. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    I think, in these constructions the prepositions (in, to) behave rather like separable prefixes in German and Hungarian that modify the meaning of the verb, as if we had *The bed was in-slept, *The charity was to-donated.

    When cpmparing with other languages, in this case I could "feel" rather a supressed preposition and not an ellipsis, e.g. *John was elected for mayor.

    Indeed, in some Slavic languagages this mayor is in instrumental case and in Hungarian there is a special case for this. What I want to say, is that in other languages mayor may be neighter in accusatie nor in nominative in such constructions. Question: couldn't be this the situation also in English in the past?
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2012
  47. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    If we look at the active form this would mean that
    The people elected him mayor
    must either be interpreted as a double-accusative or him as an indirect object. Both of these interpretations have their difficulties. I suggest we drop this example. It doesn't seem really important for anybody's argument in this debate and further discussion of this sentence will only lead us off-topic.
     
  48. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    Yes. English double-object verbs fall into several different classes, and elect X Z and give X Z definitely have some major syntactic/semantic differences. But in both cases, you can passivize X, while Z remains as a direct NP complement of the passive verb, thus invalidating Hulalessar's claim that it is "in the very nature of a passive verb that it is intransitive".

    Here's a more relevant example, including an indirect object in the active form:
    1. Someone bet me 100€ (that I couldn't eat 50 eggs in one hour).
    2. *100€ was bet me.
    3. I was bet 100€.
    Again, since I corresponds to the original indirect object (the potential winner/loser of the 100€), Hulalessar would say that it cannot be the subject in #3. So the subject must be 100€, the theme/patient argument. But #2 shows that 100€ cannot in fact appear as the subject in the passive form of #1.
     
  49. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    "Hit" is different from "give". In "Bill was hit by John" we can indeed agree that Bill was the recipient of the hitting. In "Mary was given a book" whilst Mary is the recipient of the book it is the book which gets the giving.
     
  50. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    I agree with Francisgranda that the prepositions here are really part of the verb. They do not function as prepositions in the sense that they establish some relationship between words. I also have some doubt as to whether these two examples actually exhibit passives. In the first case "sleep" (and "sleep in") cannot be transitive (except in the sense of accommodate) so how can they have a passive? In the second nothing is actually being given.

    No. "Make" has many different meanings. My dictionary gives the following as one: (intransitive) to come or cause or to come into a specified state or condition. When used in this sense "make" is a copula. It seems therefore that in Lancelot was made a knight of the Round Table there is in fact no passive.
     

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