Voice in Morphology (definition)

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Voice, in its morphosyntactic sense, describes alternations in the alignment of thematic relations and grammatical relations within a clause. Traditionally, this includes active voice and passive voice, while Scottish Gaelic and other languages also have an impersonal voice. However, many linguists consider these voices to be part of a much broader category of valence changing operations.

1a) Jones painted a picture.
1b) A picture was painted (by Jones).

Consider some examples from English. (1a) is a sentence in the active voice. Active voice sentences align noun phrases which take the agent (or more agent-like) thematic relation with the subject grammatical relation. The passive version in (1b) changes this alignment; in the passive voice, noun phrases which are more theme-like are treated as subjects. Note also that the passive voice reduces the valence of the verb (i.e., the number of noun phrases it requires).

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External Links

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  • Crystal, D. (2008) Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics. 6th Edition. Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Carnie, A. (2013) Syntax: A Generative Introduction. 3rd Edition. Wiley Blackwell.