Toward a functional typology of agent defocusing

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his paper proposes a preliminary system for categorizing the various functions served by constructions (e.g. passives) having agents that are defocused syntactically and/or pragmatically. These are divided into discourse functions and semantic functions; the discourse functions consider the humanness, person, number, and specificity of the agent, while the semantic functions involve affectedness, agentivity, anteriority, ability, and responsibility. The primary data are taken from Biblical Hebrew, English, Javanese, and Chinese, with a smaller amount of data from other languages. It is shown that there is considerable variation from one language to another concerning which agents are defocused and which are not; therefore, it would be premature to attempt to posit general human cognitive structures accounting for agent defocusing as a general phenomenon, until we have a better understanding of cross-linguistic variation in the factors controlling agent defocusing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)799-844
Number of pages46
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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