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The Category of Voice


§ 203. The category of voice is the system of two-member opposemes (loves – is loved, loving – being loved, to love – to be loved, has loved – has been loved, etc.) which show whether the action is represented as issuing from its subject (the active voice) or as experienced by its object (the passive voice).

This may be shown graphically as follows:



Active voice

the subject of the action Action

John loves.


Passive voice the object of the action Action  

John is loved.


§ 204. Voce is one of those categories which show the close connection between language and speech. A voice opposeme is a unit of the language system, but the essential difference between its members is in their combinability in speech. The ‘active voice’ member has obligatory connections with subject words and optional ones with object words. The ‘passive voice’ member, on the contrary, forms obligatory combinations with object words and optional ones with subject words.

Cf. He loves (her).

She is loved (by him).

I want John to read (the letter).

I want the letter to be read (by John).

The category of voice also shows the links between morphology and syntax. Being a morphological category, voice often manifests syntactical relations. The voice opposites of finites indicate whether the subject of the sentence denotes the doer or the recipient of the action.

Cf. She asked ... and She was asked.

§ 205. With regard to the category of voice verbs divide into those that have voice opposites and those which have not. The second subclass comprises subjective verbs and some objective verbs denoting actions of weak dynamic force (in which the meaning of ‘action’ is hardly felt) like belong, become (‘be suitable’), befit, befall, cost, fail, lack, last, misgive, own, possess, resemble, etc.

Still, when comparing the subjective verb stands with the two voice opposites writes – is written, we see that stands resembles the ‘active voice’ member of the opposeme by its synthetic form (write-s, stand-s) and by its regular connection with the subject word. Cf. He stands and writes (not is written).

Therefore subjective verbs can be treated as united by the oblique (lexico-grammatical, potential) meaning of ‘active voice’.

§ 206. The content of all voice opposemes is the same: two particular meanings of ‘active’ and ‘passive’ voice united by the general meaning of ‘voice’. All the other meanings found in both members of the opposeme are irrelevant within the opposeme.

The forms of voice opposemes seem to differ considerably. In the opposeme ask – am asked the ‘active’ member has a zero grammatical morpheme and the ‘passive’ member has a complicated positive morpheme /-aem... -t/. In asks – is asked both members have positive grammatical morphemes /-s/ and/-iz ... -t/. In will ask – will be asked the forms of the grammatical morphemes are still more complicated. But this variety of form can be generalized if we exclude everything that expresses other meanings than those of ‘voice’. Then the ‘active’ member can be regarded as unmarked and the ‘passive’ member as marked by the combination of one of the words of the lexeme be used as a grammatical word-morpheme and the grammatical morpheme of participle II, in formulaic representation be + -en (Cf. to write – to be written, writing – being written).

§ 207. One of the most difficult problems connected with the category of voice is the problem of participle II, the most essential part of all ‘passive voice’ grammemes. The fact is that participle II has a ‘passive’ meaning not only when used with the word-morpheme be, but also when used alone. Thus, participle I writing seems to have two ‘passive’ opposites: being written and written.

Participle II has also a ‘perfect’ meaning, not only when used with the word-morpheme have (have written, having written) but when employed alone, too. Thus, the participle fading seems to have two ‘perfect’ opposites, having faded and faded.

E. g. The train moved ... – setting East – g o i n g – g o i n g – g o n e! (Galsworthy), where gone is used as the ‘perfect’ opposite of going.

Owing to the combination of the two meanings (‘passive’ and ‘perfect’) written cannot be regarded as the ‘passive’ opposite of writing which has no ‘perfect’ meaning. As we know, the members of an opposeme distinguish only the particular meanings of the category they represent. Consequenty, the meanings of participle II are not grammatical meanings. They are not lexical either, since they do not belong to the stem of the lexeme. So research is needed to establish the nature of these meanings.

The ‘perfect’ meaning of participle II is felt in terminative verbs, and the ‘passive’ meaning in objective verbs.

§ 208. Participle II may have left-hand connections with link-verbs.

E. g. The young woman’s face became i l l u m i n e d by a smile. (Galsworthy). I always took it for granted that when one got married, one was married for good. (Iles).

The combination of words thus formed is often homonymous with a ‘passive voice’ verb, as in His duty is f u l f i l l e d.

The group is fulfilled cannot be treated as the passive voice opposite of fulfils since

1. It does not convey the idea of action, but that of state, the result of an action.

2. The sentence corresponds rather to He has fulfilled his duty than to He fulfils his duty, as the perfective meaning of participle II is particularly prominent.

§ 209. Some linguists are against this interpretation. According to L.S.Barkhudarov and D.A.Shteling, the combination be + participle II should in all cases be treated as a ‘passive voice’ form on the ground that participle II is, first and foremost, a verb, the idea of state not being incident to this structure, but resulting from the lexical meaning of the verb and the context it occurs in.

Likewise, G.N.Vorontsova maintains that the passive form expresses either an action in its development or an action as an accomplished fact. In both cases we deal with the passive voice.

However, this theory cannot explain the absence of an active equivalent to As my work i s f i n i s h e d, I am free to go.

As shown by A.I.Smirnitsky, The table is made of wood has no corresponding parallel with an active meaning.

It is also not clear why other link-verbs may form combinations with participle II and the most frequent link-verb be cannot.

Cf. to s e e ò forgotten, to l î î k forgotten, to b e forgotten.

Examples like I was concealed and motionless (Wells), where participle II is coordinated with an adjective, prove its combinability with the link-verb be.

§ 210. The opposite extreme is to regard the combination of various link-verbs with participle II as analytical forms of the passive voice. G.N.Vorontsova objects to Curme’s idea of become as a ‘passive’ auxiliary, but her own insistence on get as such an auxiliary is not much more justified. The verb influence cannot have two (or more) ‘passive voice’ opposites (be influenced, get influenced, become influenced). These «opposites» must differ either lexically or grammatically. In the first case get and become are not word-morphemes. In the second case there must be several ‘passive voices’. In our opinion the first is true. Become and get always retain some of their lexical meaning. Get usually introduces a peculiar sense of an activity or achievement on the part of the object of the action (Cf. He was appointed to the post and He go t appointed to the post).

§ 211. Opinions differ as to the voice system of Modem English. Though most linguists, apparently, recognize only two voices in Modern English – the active voice and the passive voice, some speak also of the reflexive voice (or neuter-reflexive) expressed with the help of the semantically weakened self-pronouns, as in He cut himself while shaving.

Besides the three voices mentioned above, B.A.Ilyish finds two more voices in Modern English – ‘the reciprocal’ voice expressed with the help of each other, one another and ‘the neuter’ (‘middle’) voice as seen in The door opened, The numbers would not add, The words formed in his head, The college was filling up, etc.

These theories do not carry much conviction:

1) In cases like He washed himself it is not the verb that is reflexive but the pronoun himself used as a direct object.

2) Washed and himself are words belonging to different lexemes. They have different lexical and grammatical meanings.

3) If we regard washed himself as an analytical word, it is necessary to admit that the verb has the categories of gender (washed himself – washed herself), person – non-person (washed himself – washed itself), that the categories of number and person are expressed twice in the word washes himself, etc.

4) Similar objections can be raised against regarding washed each other, washed one another as analytical forms of the reciprocal voice. The difference between ‘each other’ and ‘one another’ would ïåñåòå a grammatical category of the verb.

5) A number of verbs express the ‘reflexive’ and ‘reciprocal’ meanings without the corresponding pronouns.

E. g. He always washes in cold water. Kiss and b e friends.

6) Different meanings of open, add, etc. have already been treated.


The Category of Order (Time Correlation)


§ 212. The category of order is a system of two-member opposemes, such as writes – has written, wrote – had written, writing – having written, to be written – to have been written, etc. showing whether the action is viewed as prior to (‘perfect’), or irrespective of (‘non-perfect’), ether actions or situations. The interpretation of this category belongs to the most controversial problems of English grammar.

§ 213. Linguists disagree as to the category the ‘perfect’ belongs to.

Some Soviet authors (B.A.Ilyish, G.N.Vorontsova) think that it forms part of the aspect system (the ‘resultative’ aspect – according to B.A.Ilyish, the ‘transmissive’ aspect – ‘âèä ïðååìñòâåííîñòè’ – according to G.N.Vorontsova). This point of view is shared by quite a number of grammarians both in our country and abroad.

Other linguists treat the ‘perfect’ as belonging to the system of tense. I.P.Ivanova regards the ‘perfect’ as part of the ‘tense – aspect’ system.

Those who take the ‘perfect’ for part of the aspect system are up against a very serious difficulty, since proceeding from this point of view it Is difficult to explain the nature of the ‘perfect continuous’, where two aspects (‘resultative’, ‘perfective’ or ‘transmissive’, on the one hand, and ‘continuous’ or ‘imperfective’, on the other) seem to have merged into one, which is hardly possible. We cannot imagine a verb as having positive indications of two tenses, two voices, etc. at the same time.

§ 214. Though there is a considerable dissimilarity between the three views mentioned above, they have something in common. They underestimate the peculiarities characteristic of the ‘perfect’ system in English.

A.I. Smirnitsky was the first to draw attention to the fact that opposemes like writes – has written, wrote – had written or to write – to have written represent a grammatical category different from that of tense though closely allied to it.

§ 215. If we take a close look at the ‘perfect’ (whether it be a finite verb or a verbid, a verb in the indicative or in the subjunctive mood), we cannot fail to see that it conveys the meaning of priority, precedence.

Cf. She h a s c o m e (priority to the situation in the present, to the act of speech).

She h a d c o m e before Mrs. B. phoned over (priority to the act of Mrs. B.’s phoning over).

She’ll h a v e c o m e by that time (priority to the point of time indicated by the adverbial expression).

She is known to h a v e come (priority to the action of knowing). To have come expresses priority though it has no tense opposites.

She behaves as if she h a d c o m e unwillingly (priority to the action of behaving). Had come expresses priority though it has no tense opposites.

From the string of examples above it is clear that the ‘perfect’ serves to express priority, whereas the non-perfect member of the opposeme (write as opposed to have written or wrote as opposed to had written) leaves the action unspecified as to its being prior or not to another action, situation or point of time.

A.I.Smirnitsky calls the category represented by writes – has written, writing – having written, the category of time correlation – êàòåãîðèÿ âðåìåííîé îòíåñåííîñòè. He gives a fine, detailed analysis of the category, but the terms he uses are very inconvenient. It is impossible to use them alongside of such terms as «present tense», «active voice» when analysing a certain verb. So accepting the arguments of A.I.Smirnitsky, we are bound to look for another term that would serve as a name for the category described.

§ 216. Let us take an extract from J.Galsworthy’s novel To Let:

«On Friday night about eleven he had packed his bag and was leaning out of his window, half miserable and half lost in a dream of Paddington Station, when he heard a tiny sound, as of a finger-nail tapping on his door. He rushed to it and listened.»

All the verbs here indicate actions taking place in the past, so that there is no difference between them as far as tense is concerned. But the actions did not take place at the same time, they followed each other in a certain succession or order. First he packed his bag, then he leaned out of the window (this action is described by means of the ‘continuous aspect’ form was leaning as if developing slowly before the eyes), then he heard the tapping, then he rushed to the door and at last he listened.

We know of this order of actions from the order of the verbs in the text. If it were written «He listened for a while and rushed to the door», we should know that the order of actions was reversed. So listened and rushed are indifferent to order.’

This is not the case with had packed. We know that the action denoted by it preceded the other actions not only because it comes first in the text but because the very form shows that.

In sentences like He knew what she h a d me ant to say. or He thought with a curious pride that he and his family had done little or nothing to help this feverish expansion only the forms of the verbs show the order of the actions they express.

We name the category represented by such opposemes as wrote – had written, «writing – having written, etc. the category of order. Members like had written presenting a process as prior to some action or situation are opposites of the ‘perfect’ order, those like wrote, writing which do not specify the action as to its being prior to another situation or action – of the ‘non-perfect’ order.

Cf. I g a v e her a book to read.

She returned the book I h a d g i v e n her.

By 8 o’clock everyone h a d r e t u r n e d.

Both gave and had given express an action in the past. Only gave represents the action as irrespective of other past events, whereas had given indicates that the same action preceded some other event in the past, namely, the action denoted by the word returned. In the third sentence had returned also indicates an action preceding some event in the past, in this case, the situation denoted by the words 8 o’clock.

The same with actions taking place in the future:

I s h a l l r e a d the book tomorrow.

By noon I s h a l l h a v e r e a d it.

Shall read expreses an action irrespective of other future events, whereas shall have read shows that the same action will precede some event in the future, in this case, the situation denoted by the word noon.

In the sentence «He has already come and is waiting for you» has come expresses an action preceding another action in the present.

§ 217. As elsewhere, all the opposemes of the category of order are exactly alike with regard to the content. They have the same particular meanings of ‘perfect’ and ‘non-perfect’ order united by the general meaning of the category, that of ‘order’. In this respect writes – has written and wrote – had written are identical.

Some linguists speak of the heterogeneity of the ‘perfect’ members of ‘order’ opposemes. A form like had written, they say, usually expresses ‘priority’, but a form like has written expresses ‘result’.

In this connection it is necessary to remind the reader of the difference between a word in the language system and the same word in speech. In an opposeme all the meanings ‘of a word are neutralized save the particular meaning of the given category which is singled out relatively in contrast to the meaning of the opposite member. In speech the word is not contrasted with its opposite, no grammatical meaning is singled out. On the contrary, a whole bunch of grammatical, lexical and lexico-grammatical meanings are interlaced with the meanings of neighbouring words to make a communication. Naturally, the resulting effect is different with different words or with the same word in different environments. The usage of various verb grammemes in speech is discussed in a special chapter of this book. But a few words with regard to the ‘heterogeneity’ of the ‘perfect’ grammemes would probably not be amiss here.

Whatever difference there is in the usage of the so-called ‘present perfect’ and ‘past perfect’, it is primarily connected with the difference between the ‘present’ and the ‘past’, and not with the different shades of the ‘perfect’ meaning. When we describe an action prior to some past action, both actions must be mentioned, and the notion of ‘priority’ is obvious. When an action prior to the present is described, the present need not be mentioned, since it is the act of speech. Therefore the notion of priority is not so obvious. I have read this book can be interpreted not as a description of an action prior to the act of speech, but as one containing the present result of a past action or some implicit conclusion for the present from an action in the past, etc. But then an integral grammatical category is replaced by a host of usages.


Date: 2015-02-28; view: 4467

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