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[ENGL Seminar] Re-Understanding Passives in South Asian Languages

by Dr Anindita Sahoo, Assistant Professor, Amity University, Noida, India

Date                  2 October 2015
Time                  4:30pm-6:00pm
Venue                AG710
Medium             English

Numerous studies have been conducted on passives in the world’s languages. Both the formalists and the functionalists have tried to define passives based on their own methodology. However, when it come sto passives in South Asian languages, the properties identified by both formalists and functionalists cannot be attributed to these. In this talk, I will redefine the notion of passives. In addition, I will address the questions of why do some languages allow passives while others do not?

Passives are generally understood as structures where the predicate is detransitivized forcing it to realize its external argument as an adjunct (Prepositional Phrase/PP). Consequently, an internal argument occupies the subject position of the construction. In this talk, I show through a detailed study of passives in three South Asian languages (Odia, Malayalam and Kharia) that these canonical properties-i.e. external argument suppression and object promotion-do not necessarily define all passive (-like) constructions in every language. Some South Asian languages exhibit constructions with optionally manifested agentive phrases (appearing as PPs), which prima facie resemble English canonical passives. However, on close inspection, the optional agentive phrases turn out to exhibit properties of core arguments.

In this talk, I will also include Meitei, a Tibeto-Burman language, and contend that this language also hosts passive constructions, though they do not exhibit canonical passive behavior. This goes against the general typological claim that Tibeto-Burman languages do not have passive constructions at all. In redefining the notion of passives, I will also be calling for a re-classification (and hence a re-drawing of the typological distribution map) of passive constructions in the world’s languages.

About the speaker
Anindita Sahoo is an Assistant Professor with Amity University, India. Her primary research interests are in Linguistic Typology and Syntax. She obtained her PhD from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, India. Her PhD thesis analyzes passive constructions in South Asian languages such as Odia, Kharia and Malayalam. Her recent publications have focused on the typology and grammaticalization of passive and copula constructions. She is also interested in language and communication studies from an acquisition and cognitive processing perspective.

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