Monday, August 26, 2019

Suffering Passive

WIP : this article is incomplete and might change in the unforeseeable future.
In Japanese, the suffering passive is when a sentence in passive voice has a subject that's negatively affected by an action without being directly involved in it. For example:
  • Tarou ga ame ni furareta
    Tarou is suffering because:
    • ame ga futta
      The rain fell from the sky.
      The rain is raining.
      It's raining.
    • Implicature: Tarou is inconvenienced by the rain.
  • Tarou ga Hanako ni shinareta
    Tarou is suffering because:
    • Hanako ga shinda
      Hanako died.
    • Implicature: Tarou was a friend of Hanako.

They're also called adversity passives or "indirect passives," kansetsu-ukemi 間接受身.


Suffering passives are so called due to a tendency of the passive voice to be used when an action negatively affects a subject.

In principle, all the passive voice does is say the subject doesn't exert control over the action, despite being affected by it.

With direct passives, this means they're directly participating in the action. They have a theta-role specified by the verb, such as agent or patient. And an active-voice sentence can be construed with the same meaning as the passive sentence.
  • ninja ga Hanako wo koroshita
    The ninja killed Hanako.
    • ninja ga - subject, agent.
    • Hanako wo - object, patient.
    • korosu - transitive verb.
  • Hanako ga ninja ni korosareta
    Hanako was killed by the ninja.
    • Hanako ga - subject, patient.
    • ninja ni - agent.

With indirect passives, the subject is affected by the action but doesn't participate in it directly. It doesn't have a theta-role specified by the verb.

For example, above we have a transitive verb, which means it takes two arguments: subject and object. The verb "to kill," in particular, specifies two theta-roles: the agent (killer) and the patient (victim).

Since we already have those two filled above, there's no theta-role left for a third argument. Nevertheless, we can add an extra "sufferer" argument in the indirect passive. This sufferer has nothing to do with the killing action, but still somehow suffers from it.
  • Tarou ga ninja ni Hanako wo korosareta
    Tarou suffered: the ninja killed Hanako.
    • Implicature: Tarou was a friend of Hanako.

Since Tarou had nothing to do with the killing, we have to figure out how is Tarou supposedly affected by it without being involved in it. This leads to assumptions and implicatures.

A common implicature is that the patient of the action is somehow related to the sufferer. For example: we assume that Tarou suffers because he knows Hanako.

A variant of this is called the possessive passive, where the patient is assumed to be possessed by the sufferer.
  • Tarou ga ninja ni musume wo korosareta
    Tarou suffered: the ninja killed the daughter.
    • Implicature: the ninja killed his daughter.
  • Tarou no musume ga ninja ni korosareta
    Tarou's daughter was killed by the ninja.

In general, suffering passives implicate adversity, inconvenience or sadness. An action you don't have control over, that you didn't consent to, and that affects you is probably going to be bad for you in a way or another.
  • saifu wo nusumareta
    [I] suffered: [someone] stole [my] wallet.
  • rikoodaa wo namerareta
    [An anime school girl] suffered: [a pervert] licked [her] recorder.
    • Note: a recorder means an English flute.

However, that's not necessarily always the case. An indirect passive can have a positive effect on the sufferer despite being out of his control.
  • Tarou ga sensei ni musume wo homerareta
    Tarou suffered:
    • sensei ga musume wo hometa
      The teacher praised [his] daughter.
    • Implicature: Tarou is happy because the teacher praised his daughter.

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