Get over time: a longitudinal variationist analysis of passive voice in contemporary English

Date

2022-08-26

Authors

Allen, Caroline

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Abstract

The English voice system has two passive auxiliaries: the canonical be-passive, and the more recent get-passive. Accounts of the get-passive in the linguistic literature draw from descriptive, historical, corpus linguistic, and variationist perspectives. Much existing work on the get-passive from the former three traditions notes semantic dissimilarities from the be-passive, suggesting that these two forms are not interchangeable and therefore do not constitute a typical sociolinguistic variable. Nonetheless, variationist work has treated the be- and get-passives as alternants expressing the same function. This latter work has focused on social factors alone, setting aside purported linguistic differences. This thesis provides a variationist account of the be- and get-passives, considering not only social factors, but also operationalizing as linguistic factors previously noted semantic characteristics, demonstrating which factors constrain variation and providing a holistic picture of the get-passive in vernacular English. The speakers in this study span a birth range of 1865 to 1996, providing a longitudinal scope from which to view the grammaticalization of the feature. Following the principle of accountability (Labov, 1972), instances of be- and get-passives were extracted from 108 speakers born and raised in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada (N=1716). Distributional and inferential results show a substantial increase in rates of get-passive over the last 130 years, indicating an active and ongoing change in progress. Social and linguistic factors alike are shown to play meaningful roles in variant selection, revealing a (largely) longitudinally stable variable grammar. The longitudinal scope of the study illuminates grammaticalization pathways into the 20th century and reinforces attested semantic links between the contemporary get-passive and its proposed lexical source(s).

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Keywords

variationist sociolinguistics, passive voice

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