the passive

Discussion in 'Suomi (Finnish)' started by plmk, Jul 5, 2013.

  1. plmk Member

    I was thinking about the passive in Finnish and how the passive structures (sanotaan) seem to be in many contexts replaced by the Indo-European passive (on sanonut). I was about to ask here why it is so, when I suddenly realized what the problem is. Sanotaan is the passive and on sanonut is the perfective. Two completely different things. And apparently the Finnish perfective just sometimes happens to occur in the contexts where I would expect the passive.

    But I still have a question concerning the passive.

    I’ve always had an impression that the Finnish passive is not a "full passive", but a semi-passive. By semi-passive I mean that e.g. sanotaan corresponds to the German man sagt or the Spanish se dice. I think that’s actually how it is normally introduced in textbooks, as corresponding to the English one says or they say. And, although now I know that there’s no way that on sanonut is the "full passive", I’m still not sure whether the Finnish passive is used in the same way in which the Polish or English passive is.

    The way I understand the so called “full passive” is that it should involve an agent and a patient. For example:
    The woman was bitten by a cat.

    Is it possible to translate it into Finnish using the passive?
    Nainen purtiin [by a cat] (I have no idea how to decline kissa here.)
    Or does Finnish use different structures in this context? Like maybe the perfective, which I earlier suspected to be a passive structure modeled after the Indo-European passive? I think I have never seen such structures in Finnish, but again I haven’t read so much in Finnsh to be able to verify whether such structures are correct.
  2. Spongiformi Senior Member

    You are correct. There's such a difference between the Finnish passive and the passive of some other languages.


    The woman was bitten by a cat. <-> A cat bit the woman.

    Naista puri kissa. <-> Kissa puri naista.

    As far as I'm concerned, that's hardly anything more than a method for the English language to be able to switch the order of the subject and object. In that particular case, Finnish doesn't need a passive with an agent because our language happens to allow us to shuffle the word order a lot without the basic meaning changing. Only the emphasis changes (as intended).

    Sometimes you see dodgy passive sentences with an agent of a sort in Finnish as well.
    Yökerho tyhjennettiin poliisin toimesta. (Nightclub was emptied by the police.)

    Or so it should be, but in fact isn't. To be exact, the Finnish sentence would mean that the police arranged the club to be vacated but the officers weren't necessarily anywhere near the place personally. They just saw to it that it was done. However, that "toimesta", or some other similar magic words, are sometimes used to unnaturally force an Indo-European looking passive structure into Finnish.

    I'll leave the rest to the experts.
  3. sakvaka

    sakvaka Senior Member

    Another point: English language doesn't usually approve of sentences that don't have subjects. Even passive sentences have them.

    The woman (S) was bitten (P).

    However, in Finnish passive sentences don't have grammatical subjects. This is verified by the fact that in the following example, 'the woman' is declined like an object.

    Naista purtiin.
    The woman (O) was bitten (P).

    As mentioned above, agent forms don't belong to good Finnish. This is because you either have to mention the subject (by means of active sentences) or not specify it at all (by means of passive sentences).

    There are two common formulations of the agent, both of which are unfortunately wrong and clumsy in standard Finnish:

    Naista purtiin KISSAN TOIMESTA.
    Naista purtiin KISSAN TAHOLTA.

    The correct way to say this, however, is by turning the sentence into active:

    Kissa puri naista. /
    Naista puri kissa.
  4. DrWatson

    DrWatson Senior Member

    I'm a bit confused about this sentence right here. I can't think of an instance where one would use e.g. on sanonut in a passive meaning. The NUT-participle is active perfect participle; sanottu would be the corresponding passive form (passive perfect participle), e.g. on sanottu ('it has been said'). Finnish, unlike many IE languages, differentiates between the two:

    (Kirjan) kirjoittanut mies = A/the man who wrote/has written (the book)
    Kirjoitettu kirja = A/the written book

    Is this what you meant? If not, do you have an example sentence so I could better understand what you're after?
  5. plmk Member

    Thank you for your answers.
    I think the problem is that I didn’t really know there was a distinction between a passive and an active participle. Knowing that e.g. sanonut is a participle I’ve always wanted to use it in the formation of the passive structures. And I’ve seen something similar (a passive sentence with the olla verb), but you’re right that it wasn’t the active participle sanonut, but the passive sanottu.

    But I still have a question. If there’s a sentence in the perfective passive:

    Mistä se on tehty?

    is it possible to have such a sentence in the present tense:

    Mistä se tehdään?

    Or similarily the sentence Kakku on tehty jauheesta turn into Kakku tehdään jauheesta, in the present tense, meaning that it is an universal truth that anytime you make a cake you have to use flour? I'm not sure whether I've seen the present tense passive in this context. Is this use of the passive correct?
  6. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    The distinction between

    "Kakku on tehty jauheesta"
    "Kakku tehdään jauheesta"

    is the same as the diff. between

    "(the/a) cake has been made with flour"
    "(the/a) cake is made with flour" (or, "... will be made with flour")

    As far as I know, you can't tell whether either of the Finnish sentences is a universal or a particular statement without further context; in English, you could express this distinction with the presence or absence of an article, or the choice of article.

    Last edited: Jul 11, 2013
  7. Gwydda Member

    The problem when translating sentences from Indo-European languages to Finnish is that they work differently on a very fundamental level.
    The Finnish passive requires that there is someone to perform the action, whether it is mentioned or not. In fact, it's not so much of a passive, but more like the unknown subject.
    Someone's doing it, we just don't know who.

    That's also why the optional constructions "Naista purtiin kissan toimesta" and "Naista purtiin kissan taholta" sound so clumsy, because first the verb form implies that we don't know who did it, and then immediately afterwards the subject is being wedged in.

    So, neither

    Mistä se on tehty?
    Mistä se tehdään?

    is a full passive, because they both require someone to do it. There is the classic example of "*Alkoholi hajotetaan maksassa" ("alcohol is broken down in the liver"), which is not possible because it requires a person to do it.
  8. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Hi Gwydda,

    While I don't disagree with your main point, I wonder if it's a good idea to portray this as a "Finnish vs. Indo-European" contrast. It seems simpler to say that Finnish "tehdään/tehtiin/on tehty" are *impersonal* verb forms ("someone/some people are doing", etc.) whereas English "is done/was done"/etc. and similar constructions are passive forms. I don't think there's anything essentially "IE" about the passive, considering that some IE languages, such as Welsh, have impersonal verb forms that are used instead of (or in addition to) passives.

    Another thing: even though the passive/impersonal distinction is real, this distinction may not always be maintained with perfect strictness. For example, according to some Finnish speakers I asked, one could say,

    "Asiaa käsitellään Anttilan kirjassa"
    "The topic is dealt with in Anttila's book"

    This would sound acceptable (again, according to the speakers I asked) even if Anttila were the sole author of the book. If "käsitellään" were a completely impersonal form in this case, then mentioning Anttila as the author of the book would sound just as contradictory as saying, "Asiaa käsiteltiin Anttilan taholta" or similar, wouldn't it?
  9. Gwydda Member

    Hmm. I think you're right about the Finnish vs. IE part.

    I don't agree, however, on your perspective on "Asiaa käsitellään Anttilan kirjassa".

    Why? Because there the sole "actor", or the writer of the book, Anttila in this case, is too abstract or distant from the final product and doesn't really count.
    I know it doesn't sound too 'grammatical' or 'scientific', but I think that's the case.

    It wouldn't be natural to say "Asiaa käsiteltiin presidentin puheessa", because when it's a speech it is too clear that there is only one actor. Actually, your example is the only example my friends and I here can think of that would allow only a single known "actor" with the passive. If you can come up with another example that does not refer to a written text, I'm keen to hear it.
  10. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    What about an example of a written text where it's clearer that there is only one author? E.g., does it sound acceptable to say,

    "Asiaa käsiteltiin Tuomisen viime artikkelissa"
    "Aihetta käsiteltiin muun muuassa Parviaisen viime kuukauden esseessä."
  11. Gwydda Member

    I've been talking about this with my friends, and we came to the conclusion that regardless of how clear it is that there is only one author, the fact that it is a book or an article makes the author too distant.
    So distant that they almost aren't present. In a way it's impersonal. That's also the reason you cannot say

    "*Asiaa käsiteltiin Tuomisen kirjeessä."
    "*Asiaa käsiteltiin Tuomisen päiväkirjassa."

    because when it's a letter or a diary the author indeed is present, and it doesn't sound good at all.

    "Asiaa käsiteltiin Tuomisen kirjassa."
    sounds a lot more acceptable, although I think I would even then say it in the active voice.
  12. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Terve Gwydda,

    These sound odd in English as well, but I think that's because "The issue is dealt with ..." is not something people commonly say about a personal letter or diary. On the other hand, it sounds fine to say, for example,

    "Pystynen had a half-sister? That's odd: she isn't mentioned anywhere in his letters/journals."

    Still, this kind of statement would usually only be made if Pystynen were no longer alive, which means that he's very distant indeed from the action of the sentence. :)

    Would it sound acceptable to say "häntä ei mainita" in the Finnish translation of the above sentence, or would you have to say "Hän [Pystynen] ei maininnut tätä" or similar?

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