Collins, Peter
University of New South Wales

Peter Collins
(Associate-Professor, Linguistics)
Linguistics Unit
School of Modern Language Studies
University of New South Wales
Sydney 2052

Strand: lexicogrammar English

Title: Get-passives in English

This paper examines the nature and distribution of the get-passive construction in English. Findings are based on an investigation of several corpora of contemporary Australian English, British English, and American English. The results indicate not only that the construction has won considerably less acceptance in British English than in the other two varieties, but also that in all three varieties its occurrence is strongly determined by stylistic factors (the favoured registers being informal and spoken). Investigation of a range of grammatical, semantic and pragmatic properties in the data suggests that get-passives are rarely in free variation with be-passives. By comparison with be-passives, for example, get-passives occur more frequently with an agent phrase, more frequently in imperative clauses, and more frequently with a human - or at least animate - subject. These findings all provide support for the claim that has been made by some writers that the get-passive is preferred when some measure of responsibility, initiative or intention is attributed to the subject-referent. Get-passives are, like be-passives classifiable into subtypes which may be plotted along a gradient determined largely by how 'verbal' or 'adjectival' the past participle is considered to be. The correspondence that one finds in be-passives between verbal subtypes and dynamic meanings, between adjectival subtypes and stative meanings, is less predictable with get-passives. In fact in adjectival get-passives there is always an incohative component of meaning which prevents them from expressing purely stative meanings, and this same incohative component is often present with verbal get-passives, preventing them from expressing purely dynamic meanings. A close inspection of the contexts in which get-passives occur provides support for the view advanced by some linguists that get-passives generate special implicatures which are generally absent from be-passives. To be more precise, get-passives convey the speaker's attitude towards the situation being described, whether s/he regards it as having either an adverse or beneficial effect upon the subject-referent. The nature and source of these implicatures are discussed.