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On the conceptual framework for voice phenomena

1Department of Linguistics — MS23, Rice University, P.O. Box 1892, Houston, TX 77251-1892, U.S.A.

Citation Information: Linguistics. Volume 44, Issue 2, Pages 217–269, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: 10.1515/LING.2006.009, May 2006

Publication History

Published Online:


This article attempts to lay the conceptual foundations of voice phenomena, ranging from the familiar active/passive contrast to the ergative/antipassive opposition, as well as voice functions of split case-marking in both transitive and intransitive constructions. We advance the claim that major voice phenomena have conceptual bases rooted in the human cognition of actions, which have evolutionary properties pertaining to their origin, development, and termination. The notion of transitivity is integral to the study of voice as evident from the fact that the so-called transitivity parameters identified by Hopper and Thompson (1980) and others are in the main concerned with these evolutionary properties of an action, and also from the fact that the phenomena dealt with in these studies are mostly voice phenomena. A number of claims made in past studies of voice and in some widely-received definitions of voice are shown to be false. In particular, voice oppositions are typically based on conceptual — as opposed to pragmatic — meanings, may not alter argument alignment patterns, may not change verbal valency, and may not even trigger verbal marking. There are also voice oppositions more basic and wide-spread than the active/passive system, upon which popular definitions of voice are typically based.

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