Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

A Functional Analysis of the Passive Structure in Persian

Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

A Functional Analysis of the Passive Structure in Persian

Article excerpt


This paper investigates the frequency of occurrence of the passive structure in two registers of Persian, i.e. short story and scientific articles, regarding their information structure. The quantitative and qualitative study of the data shows that the occurrence of the passive is much more frequent in scientific articles than in short stories. By undertaking a contrastive analysis of the samples, and considering criteria such as agent-orientation and information load of sentences in the two registers, it can be concluded that, in order to observe the principle of objectivity (which is integral to scientific researches and writings) writers tend to use passive sentences frequently, since traditionally, the passive is considered as one of the principal means of achieving impersonality and objectivity in a text, as it enables the removal of any explicit agency. On the other hand, in comparison with the short stories, in the scientific articles the information content is on a high level and the sentences are longer and more complex. As a consequence, the syntactic management of this information load requires the writers to use the passive structure in order to create a cohesive and coherent text.

Keywords: Passive structure, Persian, Register, Information structure

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1. Introduction

The type of discourse employed in different registers tends to influence the type and frequency of occurrence of syntactic structures used in such registers. One of these structures is the passive, which changes the unmarked information structure of a sentence. In other words, through this structure, the speaker or writer can focus on a part of his/her message, which seems more important to him/her and introduce the other part as background of discourse. On the whole, information structure refers to the arrangement and order in which the speaker or writer presents his/her message in a series of information units and so it makes the comprehension of speech easier and indicates which part of the message is more important.

According to Lambrecht (1996:5), information structure is "that component of sentence grammar in which propositions as conceptual representations of states of affairs are paired with lexicogrammatical structures in accordance with the mental states of interlocutors who use and interpret these structures as units of information in given discourse contexts." It must be remembered that information structure has different syntactic representations in language, since "the speaker is obliged to chunk his speech into information units. He has to present his message in a series of packages. He is, however, free to decide how he wishes to package the information. He is free to decide where each information unit begins and ends, and how it is organized internally" (Halliday, 1967 as cited in Brown and Yule 1983:155). In this regard, Halliday (1985) divides a clause into a theme and a rheme. The theme is what comes first in the clause and the rheme is the rest. On the other hand, he differentiates between new information and old information. It is worth noting that the first two concepts, i.e. theme and rheme, refer to the thematic structure of the sentence, whereas old and new information is addressee-oriented. In other words, old and new information is based on the addressee's background knowledge. As for new information, it is what the speaker or writer assumes the addressee does not know, but needs to know in order to follow the progression of an argument. By contrast, old information is the information which has already been mentioned somewhere in the text, or it is shared or based on mutual knowledge derived from the immediate context (Halliday, 1985:88). The configuration of information structure in Persian passives demonstrates how the frequency of passive structures in a text plays a crucial role in the formation of a specific register.

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