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Journal Article

Agent demotion through inverted word order: Syntactic passives in Ulwa


Barlow,  Russell       
Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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Barlow, R. (2019). Agent demotion through inverted word order: Syntactic passives in Ulwa. Studies in Language, 43(4), 1015-1037. doi:10.1075/sl.19010.bar.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-776B-C
Passivization has been characterized as a strictly morphological phenomenon. Some definitions of passivization even require the passive construction to exhibit special verbal morphology. Increasingly, however, there have been descriptions of languages that have “morphology-free” passive constructions. This paper presents data from Ulwa, a Papuan language of the Sepik region of Papua New Guinea, which forms its passive constructions through a syntactic operation. Specifically, passives are formed through the inversion of subject and predicate. Whereas the canonical transitive active sentence in Ulwa has the basic constituent order SOV, the corresponding passive sentence has the order VS, where the S of the passive corresponds to the O of the active. Agent arguments are optional; when they do appear in passive constructions, they are marked as obliques. The Ulwa data support claims that it is possible for passivization to be a syntactic phenomenon that operates on the level of the clause.