v36: slopas

Grammar is the set of rules that govern the structure of sentences, whereas semantics refers to the meaning of the sentence. In grammatical terms, verbs have subjects and objects, whereas in semantic terms, verbs have agents and patients (and more). The relationship between the grammar and the semantics of verbs is called voice. With me so far? Here are some examples:

1. I am opening the door.
2. Ida is opening the door.
3. Ida is opening the doors.

4. The door is opened by me.
5. The door is opened by Ida.
6. The doors are opened by Ida.

In 1., I is the subject, door is the object. In 2. and 3., Ida is the subject, door/doors is the object. You can see this because English has (limited) subject-verb agreement, so am/is changes when the subject changes, but not when the object changes. By similar reasoning, one can see that in 4., 5. and 6., door/doors is the subject and me/Ida is the object. But all these sentences describe the same action: a person opens a door. Semantically, the person is the agent of the verb, and the door is the patient. In 1., 2. and 3., agent = subject, so the verb is in the active voice, while in 4., 5. and 6., patient = subject, so the verb is in the passive voice.

As demonstrated above, English has a periphrastic passive, that is, the passive is formed by the use of additional words. This gives you a clue that something different is going on. Compare different ways of expressing the past in English:

7. Ida opened the door.
8. Ida did open the door.

7. is a grammatical past tense, whereas 8. is a periphrastic past.

As with English, Swedish also has a periphrastic passive:

Dörren blir öppnad (av Ida).
The door was opened (by Ida).

But the commonest way of forming the passive in Swedish is by using the s-form of the verb:

Dörren öppnas.
The door is opened.

Dörren öppnades.
The door was opened.

I find the s-form confusing because it looks just like an English 3rd person singular present tense (as if I am expecting to see an English word in the middle of a Swedish sentence; then again I find the Swedish present tense confusing because it reminds me of a French infinitive). So in the following example, from a letter I received from Transportstyrelsen, I initially thought the kontrollmärke (car registration sticker is a close as I can get) was doing something, whereas it is in fact the semantic patient:

Kontrollmärke slopas
Registration sticker is abolished

You’ll note I’ve called it the s-form rather than the passive form. That’s because the s-form of the verb has a whole lot of other interesting uses, more about which in the very near future.

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Published in: on October 19, 2010 at 12:26  Comments (1)  
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