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home > Interpreting Voice

Interpreting Voice
― A Case Study in Lexical Semantics ―

Ryuichi Washio
First published:
1995 / 2 / 20
Price (in Japan only):
5,825 yen (Tax Not Included) (304 pages)


In this cross-linguistic study of the form-meaning correspondence in natural language, the author carefully examines the syntax and semantics of various voice-related constructions from a wide range of languages, including Japanese, Korean, French, German, Modern Mongolian, and the language of The Secret History of the Mongols. The author first observes that languages often use different constructions to express essentially the same sense. For example, the meaning expressed by a certain type of passive construction in Japanese cannot be expressed by the passive construction in languages like French, but such languages do have a means to fill in this gap, that being the causative construction in many cases: thus, instead of the impossible passive *Il a ete broye la jambe …, French uses the causative Il s'est fait broyer la jambe …, which is directly translatable into a well-formed Japanese passive. The passive use of the causative construction is possible, however, only if the subject is interpreted as “included” in the reported event. In French, this Inclusion Restriction can be observed from the fact that only pronominal causatives, with se functioning as the marker of Inclusion, are capable of expressing a passive sense. Languages such as Korean are similar to French in this respect, except that they lack an overt marker of Inclusion. The Inclusion Restriction is also shown to play some important roles elsewhere, e.g., in the distinction between adversative and non-adversative passives in Japanese, and in the explanation for the lack of intransitive passives in Korean. Extending Jackendoff's theory of Conceptual Semantics, the author explores the nature of the Inclusion Restriction, its relation to the semantics of passives and causatives, and, more generally, the way in which superficially distinct constructions in various languages nevertheless express a similar sense under similar conditions.


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