Louise Cornells |
Centre for Language and Communication Universiteit Utrecht.
Good writers intuitively make the right choices in writing. The book Formuleren ('Formulating'; Onrust et al. 1993) promises to analyse and teach the system on which these choices are based. This paper takes a look at Formuleren's analysis of and advice on the use of the passive, which is, if anything, a highly original approach to a much discussed construction.
Formuleren's analysis of the passive is based on the contribution of the auxiliaries worden ('to become') and zijn ('to be') and the past participle, which are said to make the construction more static than its active counterpart, with zijn-passives being more static than worden-passives. In addition, the actor or agent is backgrounded: the event is not presented from the perspective of the agent. The problem with many (zvorden-)passives is that although writers background the perspective of the agent, it is still implicitly there. In order to avoid the often problematic use of the passive, Formuleren suggests that one should look for other verbs that can express roughly the same content but that leave the agent completely out of sight, thus keeping the sentence static, while not presenting it from the agent's perspective.
This advice is rahter ambitious. In an experiment, Formuleren's advice to rewrite sentences was tested to find out whether it might perhaps be too difficult for the intended readership of the book (students of Dutch composition and others with a professional interest in written Dutch). This turned out not to be the case; the subjects in the experiment were able to apply it quite well. In fact, they may have applied it too well: some of the subjects remarked that changing all sentences from passive to a Formuleren-altemaúve is no guarantee for a well-written text either. Indeed, some passives are useful and should not be rewritten; however, Formuleren still leaves it to a writer's intuition to determine when to rewrite and when not. In the last paragraph, I suggest a few uses and contexts where the passive functions perfectly well.
Article language: Dutch