Passive Research

Subject: Passive Research
From: Karen Schriver <ks0e+ -at- ANDREW -dot- CMU -dot- EDU>
Date: Mon, 2 Feb 1998 11:23:20 -0500

Thanks to Michael Lewis for his pointer to other refs about the passive
voice and the given-new contract. Yes of course I recognize the
functional grammar school. I like M.A. Halliday's work very much. And
yes, I have talked to the infamous John Mackin about this topic for
hours. I agree that he is a convert (not to mention a wild and crazy
loveable guy!)

The functional grammar perspective has been popular in rhetorical
circles within our field for more than a decade. However, because much
of the perspective has been disseminated via theoretical discussion,
much the work is not well articulated for teaching or practice. When it
has, it has been vastly oversimplified. I'm looking for something
inbetween. Another quibble I have with this group is that it is hard to
discern what the current leading edge research question is. What is your

One reason I asked for the thesis details of Ms. Margaret FalerSweany
thesis is that she may have more recent articles on the topic and may
have thought about it from a tech com/document design perspective. And
if we're lucky, her examples will not be what cognitive psychologists
call "toy sentences" (cute examples that don't transfer across
naturally-occurring real contexts). And hopefully, she discusses the
meat and potatoes of the issue--that is, what to do over full passages
of text. (Even Joe Williams text on Style, which presumes a
functional/psycholinguistic perspective, does not address adequately how
to manage given-new, active-passive over lengthy multi-paragraph text.)
I'm always interested in research that integrates previous work; it
often adds a fresh dimension to something we think we already know.

karen schriver
KSA, Document Design and Research

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