Reeli Torn-Leesik will defend her doctoral thesis titled "An Investigation of Voice Constructions in Estonian" on 27 January 2016 at 15:00 at the Senate Hall of the UT.
Supervisors: Professor Renate Pajusalu, dr Virve-Anneli Vihman (University of Tartu)
Opponent: PhD, Associate Professor Maria Vilkuna (University of Helsinki)
The dissertation examines the properties of Estonian impersonal and passive voice constructions, showing that the impersonal voice (forms such as joonistati pilte ‘one drew pictures’) is a distinct voice category and not a sub-construction of the passive (forms such as spioonid olid kinni püütud ‘the spies had been caught’) macro-construction. The author focuses on relevant aspects in written as well as spoken Estonian, contributing to four specific areas of study.
Firstly, impersonalization and passivization exhibit distinct lexical, semantic and morphosyntactic constraints. The impersonal accepts transitive as well as intransitive (including unaccusative) and modal verbs, while the passive is limited to transitives only. The implicit argument of the impersonal is typically interpreted as human, unlike the logical subject of the passive. The impersonal requires verbs that take nominative subjects while the passive requires telic verbs that are compatible with its resultative meaning.
Secondly, the author clarifies the constructional overlap between Estonian periphrastic impersonals and passives, proposing different sets of spell-out features for the -tud participle.
Thirdly, the thesis shows that the use of agentive poolt adverbials (such as meie sõprade poolt ‘by our friends’) in voice constructions is subject to constraints concerning the type of the noun referent and the transitivity of the verb. Agentive adverbials in general are infrequent in spoken discourse, and when used, are usually expressed in the adessive. In addition, the interpretative range of implicit arguments in impersonal constructions in spoken Estonian appears to be wider than previously acknowledged in grammars. Significantly, spoken Estonian uses the impersonal relatively often to express specific and identifiable actors.
Fourthly, the acquisition studies reveal that Estonian voice constructions, especially the impersonal, are acquired earlier than voice constructions in Indo-European languages. This can be explained by the high frequency of the contexts in which Estonian children hear them as well as by structural differences that distinguish impersonals from passives.