September 25, 2009
This article discusses the two main Estonian voice constructions, the impersonal and the 'resultative′ passive, and their status in the grammatical system of Estonian. Both constructions are subject-oriented; however, the passive is a valence-reducing operation, while the impersonal merely constrains argument realization. Both constructions are subject to distinctive lexical, syntactic and semantic constraints. A comparison of the role of these constructions in Estonian demonstrates that passive constructions need not be treated as universal and that languages can employ different grammatical means to achieve very similar communicative results. The fact that impersonals in Estonian and in other languages are frequently misclassified as passives shows how typological biases can distort grammatical descriptions. The comparison of impersonals and passives in Estonian also shows how constructions can differ in terms of whether they are sensitive to subjects at 'logical′ or 'grammatical′ levels of analysis.