The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

A Typological Study of Voice in the World’s Languages

Joint Research Coordinator NAKAMURA Wataru

Reserch Theme List


This project seeks to promote research on the role of voice in various languages from a cross-linguistic perspective. The focus is constructions which until now have been difficult as objects of research, and the objective is establishing a new standpoint for linguistic classification research.
Research on voice has generally focused on things like the passive voice such as is found in European languages. However, Austronesian languages, Mayan languages, Bantu and other languages are all reported to have an applicative voice, although comparisons among languages from different language groups have not been carried out to date. This project aims to look at languages for which the existence of these applicative voices have been reported. Specialists in languages with similar phenomena will gather together to investigate specific examples, reconsider the definition of the applicative voice, describe its general characteristics, and position it within the overall research on voice. In addition, we also have the objective of applying these results to the cognitive behavior of human beings, and the historical mechanisms for change within various languages, thus studying usage within broader contexts.

Research Results

We were able to arrange and show the special characteristics of the morphological syntax of applicative voice constructions and related constructions in Austronesian languages (Sumbawa, Bantik, Sedik), so as to broadly outline the special characteristics of categories for voice construction, including the applicative voice and applicative voice constructions. Our research showed that within the Indonesian-type voice structure, which Sumbawa shares, there is mutual action among the active voice, passive voice, inclusive constructions and subject constructions, which function together with the applicative voice construction. In Bantik applicative voice, constructions with specific instrumental case nouns and locative nouns are found, and in Sedik, one of Taiwan’s aboriginal languages, there are three voice constructions: agent voice, goal voice and conveyance voice. There were also reports on causative constructions that play a large role in the Chukchi language, and on how applicative voice constructions in the Ainu language account for part of ditransitive verb constructions. The research for this fiscal year highlighted how the applicative voice is not an independent voice construction, but in the broad sense, the applicative voice has importance in the consideration of the mutual interaction of voice constructions.