The use of was in Afrikaans passive constructions: a diachronic corpus study

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 4
  • Abstract:

    Afrikaans passive constructions have received significant attention in the literature for "almost a century. The matter of using was instead of is in past tense passives is regularly attended to, and usually condemned in certain contexts of use. This article explores three related topics regarding Afrikaans passives with the use of a corpus of Afrikaans from 1911 2010. (1) The topic of usage patterns of Afrikaans passives in general and was passives more specifically is explored by showing, among other things, a stable ratio between past and present tense verb forms and stable agentivity, as well as showing that was passives are fairly infrequent in the data and decreasing slightly. (2) The next matter concerns details of was passive use, and three different tense distinctions are found in the data: simple past tense, past perfect tense, and, somewhat unexpectedly, dissociated past tense. Some unexpected increases and decreases in usage are reported. (3) The possibility of English influence causing the incorrect uses of was in the passive as proposed by grammars are investigated; drawing on theory on contact–induced change and the corpus data, it is proposed that Afrikaans past tense copula constructions are more likely responsible for simple past tense was passives.