Predicting voice alternation across academic Englishes

Marianne Hundt 1 , Melanie Röthlisberger 1  and Elena Seoane 2
  • 1 English Department, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 2 Department of English, Vigo, Spain
Marianne Hundt
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  • English Department, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
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  • Marianne Hundt (born 1966, PhD University of Freiburg, 1996) is a professor in English Linguistics at the University of Zurich. Her research focus is on corpus-based studies of grammatical change in (Late) Modern and current World Englishes. She is co-editor of English World-Wide and has been actively involved in the compilation of various corpora (historical and contemporary).
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, Melanie Röthlisberger
  • English Department, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
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  • Melanie Röthlisberger (born 1986, PhD KU Leuven, 2018) is a senior research and teaching assistant at the English Department, University of Zurich. Her main research focus is on morphosyntactic variation in World Englishes and dialects of English within the framework of Cognitive Sociolinguistics. She has been actively involved in the compilation of various corpora and has a keen interest in statistical methods and visualization techniques.
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and Elena Seoane
  • Department of English, Universidade de Vigo, Vigo, Galicia, Spain
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  • Elena Seoane (born 1967, PhD University of Santiago de Compostela, 1996) is an Associate Professor in English Linguistics at the University of Vigo (Spain). Her research focus is on corpus-based morphosyntactic change in the history of English and current World Englishes. She is review editor of English Language and Linguistics and is involved in the compilation of various historical and contemporary corpora.
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Abstract

Academic writing in the second half of the twentieth century witnesses a notable decrease in be-passives in British and American English (AmE). This trend is more advanced in the soft than in the hard sciences; with the exception of AmE, moreover, regional variation is not highly significant. This paper aims to discover whether the use of passives is conditioned by the same factors across seven different varieties of English (both as a first and as an institutionalized second language). For this purpose, we automatically retrieve central be-passives and active transitives from syntactically annotated International Corpus of English corpora and code for factors that are likely to play a role in the choice between active and passive (such as the semantics of the participant roles or the length of the constituents). Our results show that, while the same factors predict the choice of a passive over an active verb phrase across first- and second-language varieties, subtle differences are found in the effect size that some factors (animacy, givenness and length of passive subject) have, notably in Hong Kong and Philippine English. Some (but not all) of these find an explanation in substrate influence.

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