24 January 2014

Fear and loathing of the English passive

Fear and loathing of the English passive, by Geoffrey K Pullum, Linguistics and English Language, University of Edinburgh (version of 17 January 2014), to appear in Language and Communication, is currently available for download at this address.

And, to add my two cents worth from the viewpoint of the technical journalist and translator, it is interesting to observe in the endless and often, as Pullam points out, incompetent attacks on the passive voice how often critics simply gloss over the need  especially frequent in TJ&T  to describe past, present or future events without identifying the agent.

A quote from Pullam's conclusion:
It is right and good, of course, to instruct students and novice writers in how they might improve their writing. But handing them simplistic prescriptions and prohibitions is not doing them any favors. ‘Avoid the passive’ is typical of such virtually useless advice.
The claims about why you should avoid passives – the allegations about why they are bad – are all bogus, and the interesting point (the discourse condition) is always missed. The advice is often supplied by advice-givers who don’t respect their own counsel – though they are unaware of that because they are commonly hopeless at distinguishing passives from actives.

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