Possibilities for Passives in Natural and Artificial Languages

Christo Moskovsky1, Alan Libert1
Author Information & Copyright
1University of Newcastle

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


The Passive Voice is a category which we find in the large majority of natural languages, and also in most artificial languages. The first major part of this paper offers a survey of passive constructions in a number of typologically distinct natural languages, with the basic aim of presenting the (prospective) artificial language constructor with the range of functional and formal properties of the Passive Voice which occur in natural languages. This survey shows that regardless of the fair amount of variation in the morphosyntactic form of passives that we find in different natural languages, crosslinguistically passives are remarkably uniform in inevitably occurring as a grammatical category marked (synthetically or analytically) on the verb; they are also remarkably uniform in relation to the basic function they perform: passivization inevitably involves demotion of a primary clausal term (the Subject) and in most of the cases also promotion of a non-primary term. The next part of the paper offers an overview of Passive Voice formation and function in artificial languages, which will provide the language constructor with a good idea of some of the ‘design’ decisions taken with regard to this grammatical category. Finally, the paper briefly discusses various design issues in relation to economy, explicitness/ambiguity, functionality, and learnability and presents some specific recommendations with regard to the possible design of passives in an artificial language.

Keywords: passive; voice; verb; morphology; syntax; artificial language



Bartlett, P. 1998. Frater2. Available at URL < bartlett/ frater2.html>.


Cárdenas, C. 1923. Hom-Idyomo (2nd edition). Leipzig: Fischer & Wittig. Comrie, B. 1988. Passive and Voice. In Shibatani (ed.), 1-23.


Couturat, L. & L. Leau. 1903, 1907/1979. Histoire de la Language Universelle and Les Nouvelles Langues Internationales. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag.


Dixon, R. 1977. A Grammar of Yidin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Dominicus, R. 1982. SPL. Wisconsin: Dominicus Publishing House.


Donisthorpe, W. 1913. Uropa. Guildford: W. Stent & Sons.


Durie, M. 1988. The So-called Passive in Acehnese. Language 64, 104-13. Dutton, R. 1951. Teach Yourself Dutton Speedwords. London: The English Universities Press.


Elam, C. 1932. The Case for an A Priori Language. Cincinnati, OH: The Open Sesame Press.


Foley, W. & R. van Valin. 1984. Functional Syntax and Universal Grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Foulk, R. 1937. Americai Spek. New York: J. J. Little & Ives.


Giles, A. 2000. Gilo Grammar. Available at URL <http://users.classicfm. net/alangiles/Grammar.htm>.


Givón, T. 1979. On Understanding Grammar. New York: Academic Press (cited in Palmer 1994).


Gleitman, L. & M. Liberman. 1995. The Cognitive Sciences of Language: Introduction. Language: An Invitation to Cognitive Sciences 1. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Gode, A. & H. Blair. 1951. Interlingua: A Grammar of the International Language. New York: Storm Publishers.


Haig, H. 1982. Passivization in Modern Western Armenian. In Hopper & Thompson (eds.), 161-176 (cited in Palmer 1994).


Hashimoto, M. 1988. The Structure and Typology of the Chinese Passive Construction. In Shibatani (ed.), 329-354.


Haspelmath, M. 1990. The Grammaticalization of Passive Morphology. Studies in Language 14, 25-72.


Hopper, P. & S. Thompson. (eds.). 1982. Studies in Transitivity. Syntax and Semantics 15. New York: Academic Press (cited in Palmer 1994).


Huddleston, R. & G. Pullum. 2002. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Jacobs, R. 1976. A Passive Continuum in Austronesian. Papers from the Parasession on Diachronic Syntax 118-25. Chicago, IL: Chicago Linguistics Society (cited in Shibatani 1985).


Jespersen, O. 1924. The Philosophy of Grammar. London & New York: Allen & Unwin.


Jones, L. 1972. Eurolengo. Newcastle upon Tyne: Oriel Press.


Keenan, E. 1972. Relative Clause Formation in Malagasy and Some Related and Some not so Related Languages. In Peranteau et al. (eds.), 169-189.


Keenan, E. 1985. Passive in the World's Languages. In Shopen (ed.), 243-81.


Kimenyi, A. 1988. Passiveness in Kinyarwanda. In Shibatani (ed.), 355-86. Kozinsky, I., V. Nedjalkov, & M. Polinskaya. 1988. Antipassive in Chuckchee: Oblique Object, Object Incorporation, Zero Object. In Shibatani (ed.), 651-706.


Kuno, S. 1973. The Structure of the Japanese Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Lee, D.-Y. 2002. A Comparison of Unish Grammar with Esperanto. Journal of Universal Language 3.2, 57-74.


Libert, A. & C. Moskovsky. 2002. On the Form and Function of Reflexives in Artificial Languages. Journal of Universal Language 3, 97-132.


Libert, A. & C. Moskovsky. 2003. A Survey of Relative Pronouns and their Uses in Natural and Artificial Languages. Journal of Universal Language 4, 61-116.


Maslov, J. 1956. Očerk Bolgarskoj Grammatiki [Sketch of Bulgarian Grammar]. Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Literatury na Inostrannyx Jazykax.


Nedjalkov, V. & S. Jaxontov. 1988. The Typology of Resultative Constructions. In Nedjalkov (ed.), 3-62.


Nedjalkov, V. (ed.). 1988. Typology of Resultative Constructions. Amsterdam: Benjamins.


Nicholas, N. & J. Cowan. 2003. What is Lojban? The Logical Language Group. Available at URL < brochure/book1.html>.


O'Connor, C. 1917. American: The New Pan-American Language. Buffalo, New York: Hansauer-Jones.


Palmer, F. 1994. Grammatical Roles and Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Peranteau, P., J. Levi, & G. Phares. (eds.). 1972. The Chicago Which Hunt. Chicago, IL: Chicago Linguistics Society.


Pleyer, M. 1990. Unitario per Medio de Pictoroyn. Bensheim: Unitario Press.


Ringbom, H. 1987. The Role of the First Language in Foreign Language Learning. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.


Rosenblum, B. 1935. Fitusa: Die Geburt einer Sprache. Self-pulbihsed, Basel.


Shibatani, P. (ed.). 1988. Passive and Voice. Amsterdam: Benjamins.


Shibatani, P. 1985. Passives and Related Constructions. Language 61, 821-48. Shopen, T. (ed.). 1985. Language Typology and Language Description. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Siewerska, A. 1988. The Passive in Slavic. In Shibatani (ed.), 243-89.


Song, N. 1987. Empathy-based Affectedness and Passivization. Transactions of the Philological Society 1987, 74-89 (cited in Palmer 1994).


Talmey, M. 1925. Arulo: Text Book of the Universal Language. New York: Ilo Press.


Wald, M. 1909. Pan-kel (4th edition). Self-published, Gross-Beeren.


Weferling, E. 1974. Standard-Gramatika del International Auksiliari Lingue (6th edition). Self-published, Braunschweig.


Weisbart, J. 1972. Europal (Europäisch): Kurze Grammatik und Begrundung. Berlin: Michaelis & Neumann.


Wennergren, B. 2003. PMEG: Plena Manlibro de Esperanta Gramatiko (version 12.2). Available at URL <>.


Williams, M. 1989. Vygotsky's Social Theory of Mind. Harvard Educational Review 591, 108-126.