Here’s an excellent and hilarious quick primer on the history of the English language, brought to you by the Open University:
There’s an excellent essay by Geoffrey K. Pullum over at Language Log, in which he explains — in a way that anyone can understand if they try — what a passive construction in English is.
Our grumbling about how these people don’t know their passive from a hole in the ground, we have received mail from many people who want a clear and simple explanation of what a passive clause is. In this post I respond to those many requests. I’ll make it as clear and simple as I can, but it will be a 2500-word essay. I can’t make it simpler than it is.
Pullum and others at the Log rightly ridicule overzealous application of the “grammar rule” that the passive should be avoided at all times. I actually find the “rule” useful, and this is not incompatible with my agreeing with Pullum’s post. The passive is often used for blurring agentivity (even as it can be used for the exact opposite) or for sounding official/smart. As long as common sense (i.e. a native speaker’s intuition) comes first, I find I can actually make my writing simpler, more direct, and a better read by eliminating passives that only snuck in because part of me thought they sound smarter or something.
Also, when writing for EUDEC, I often find myself tempted to say something like “the wug1 was selected because…”, in order to glaze over the fact that the ones doing the choosing were, in fact, the Council I’m writing for. (I happen to always be a bit uncomfortable with our role as elected representatives, and I wish EUDEC were more of a direct democracy.) But having written something like, and being aware of the tempting perils of the passive, I often correct it to “we chose the wug because…”, which is both more honest and, I think, easier to read.
Anyway, Pullum’s essay will surely be a long-lasting contribution to the Internet war between descriptivists and prescriptivists, and is an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to find out, in just 2500 words and without needing a linguistic background, what the passive is. It’s also a neat example of the kind of thing linguists look into. So check it out.
This is the first time I write here about linguistics. So far I have not considered myself qualified to say much about the topic, but finishing my third semester of undergraduate studies now, I feel I can start writing about it a little bit.
Language is all around us. It is everywhere, everyone uses it, and people are interested in languages wherever you go — people like languages. I get into spontaneous conversations about language with non-linguists several times a week. But when I tell people that I study linguistics, and moreover, that I’m into grammar theory, many are nearly shocked. “Grammar theory?! Why? Grammar is so boring!”. This post is an attempt to explain why, of all things, I love grammar. Continue reading Why Grammar?