Pullum on the passive

Geoff Pullum writes about an excellent article of his in press:

Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2014)  Fear and loathing of the English passive.  Language and Communication, in press, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.langcom.2013.08.009

(The URL is not yet functional, but will soon be.)

It comes in two parts — one about what passive clauses are, and a longer section on the damnation of the passive.

The piece combines two threads of Geoff’s postings on the passive. The abstract:

Writing advisers have been condemning the English passive since the early 20th century. I provide an informal but comprehensive syntactic description of passive clauses in English, and then exhibit numerous published examples of incompetent criticism in which critics reveal that they cannot tell passives from actives. Some seem to confuse the grammatical concept with a rhetorical one involving inadequate attribution of agency or responsibility, but not all examples are thus explained. The specific stylistic charges leveled against the passive are entirely baseless. The evidence demonstrates an extraordinary level of grammatical ignorance among educated English language critics.

Geoff, Mark Liberman, and I have had only too many occasions to rant about grammatical ignorance on the part of people who propose to advise the public about the language. I see this as a scandal, but I doubt that anything I have to say — after all, I’m an academic and an actual expert on these topics (that means I’m a poisoned and untrustworthy source) — will have any sway whatsoever with these people.

3 Responses to “Pullum on the passive”

  1. Greg Morrow Says:

    I read the paper when Professor Pullum posted about it on Language Log a week or two ago. (It made good plane reading on a business trip.) Great stuff, but familiar to LL readers — but great to have it in the academic record.

  2. Allison Wright Says:

    I am glad someone has laid out this subject in what appears to be so much detail. The price of US$27.95 is a bit steep for what I am likely to glean from this scholarship, so I shan’t be reading it just yet.
    I, for one, have always maintained the passive voice is anything but – and is used to good stylistic effect, more often than not. But, like you, Arnold, I would be perhaps be considered “a poisoned and untrustworthy source”, as a linguist and translator!

  3. thnidu Says:

    Yah. To some people, anyone who actually knows about (whatever the subject is) is “a poisoned and untrustworthy source”. I seem to be dealing with one such denier of global climate change, elseblog.

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