The Passive Voice and English mentality

Hello everybody,
I would like to ask you about the passive voice. But it isn’t concerned with grammar. Once while reading my coursebook, I realised that the passive voice in the English language and the passive voice in Russian are different.I don’t mean that Russians use less passive. But It is concerned with our mentality, the way we think, the way we see different things. In connection with it my questions are: What does the Passive voice give to English people? What can they say that Russians can’t? What ideas can English people express which Russians can’t because our language doesn’t allow us ?
Or vice versa…
Thank you for your help, Look forward from hearing you.

Well, this thread looks familiar…

I’m not sure what the passive voice is but I believe anything can be expressed in any language. For example, while in Russian you have no verb for “to have”, you use a phrase which literally means something like “near me is…”(У меня есть).

Another way to show that everything can be expressed is to look at lists of supposed “untranslatable” words (like this one: 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words From Around the World). If there is no way for them to be translated, why do we get told what they mean? While it may not be a word-for-word translation, we nevertheless are still able to understand them.

Finally, asking people if there is anything that they can’t express in their language is a bit of an odd question, as how would we know? If we can’t express it, then we can’t explain and aren’t aware of it.

I hope I’ve answered you question and that it makes sense.

A very useful thing they politically-minded can do with the passive is avoid blame. Mistakes were made. I’m not saying who by (and I’m certainly not admitting that I made them), I’m just admitting the existence of mistakes in general.

Academics also love the passive, because for them the person who does something is not as important as the thing they are doing. Eg a cure for cancer is being sought, for which funding has been secured.

@James: Sure there’s a verb that means “to have” in Russian, but it’s not always used the same way as we use it in English.

Direct correspondence:

I have an opinion — Я имею мнение
I don’t have anything against it — Я ничего не имею против этого

No direct correspondence:

I have a book — У меня есть книга (lit. “At me is a book”).

Incidentally, this structure is not unique to Russian. In Irish, “I have a book” is Tá leabhar agam, which literally means “Is a book at me.”

As someone who has studied Russian as well as a number of other languages, I agree with James. I find that we can pretty well express whatever we want in any language. In some cultures people are more direct in communication, and in others they are more indirect or polite. The languages reflect this. However, I have not found that the use of the active or passive mood is a factor there. It is possible to be quite direct using the passive mood, or so it seems to me.

@Astamoore- Interesting. I’ve always been lead to believe that it is У меня есть which you have to use to say I have.

@James: Right, but not exclusively so.

The use of the passive voice in English and in Russian is a very interesting question.

I have been told by writing teachers (in English) that I use the passive voice too much, and that I should not do this. Certainly, in English style, there is a clear preference for the active voice. I wonder if any Russian writing teacher would ever say such a thing. I suspect not, simply because the Russian grammatical construction is fairly simple. Fairly simple, and therefore fairly common. But in English, use of the passive voice leads to complex sentences, which are hard on the reader.

Can one express an idea in English, but not in Russian? I think rather the opposite. Certainly I have run across sentences in Russian that I understand easily, but cannot easily translate. English is constrained by word order. Russian is not. In Russian, one can associate many adjectives, and adjectival phrases, with a noun, without losing track. The common endings signal the relationship. Of course, one can translate into English by using several sentences. But some of the subtle meaning will be lost.

We British can’t express emotions in English. There just doesn’t seem to be the vocabulary available, or the possible sentence constructions.

What’s remarkable is that the Americans seem to manage it just fine, using exactly the same language.

Well, my first and main question wasn’t answered. Maybe It’s because I 've written too much or because my level of English is not high enough to speak on such things . Of corse we can pretty well express whatever we want in any language. I won’t argue. But! We mean different things when we use passive in Russian. for-ex: I say in English “The door was opened” and use passive, but while translating in Russian I can say “Дверь открылась” аnd I use active.I could understand if there was no passive in Russian. But there is! Russians use passive less than English people and in another situations. so my question is about advantages which the passive voice gives to the English. How are the english language and the english mentality (thinking) connected by example of passive?

I think some people don’t take ideas such as “the Russian mentality” or “the English mentality” seriously. Any language is malleable to the idiosyncratic needs of the moment.

I do not take ideas such as “the Russian mentality” versus “the English mentality” seriously either.

However, I did thought that languages like Russian and many others, that ascribe male or female gender to things and thus personify them, are in a way closer to the perception of the world by a child. Because the thing having a human gender is alive and may act on "her/his’-self

MissBoss’s example of “The door was opened” versus “Дверь открылась” to me is more about that, than about passive versus active. I am not sure if it would be a correct English, but I can say "the door gets opened’ or ‘the door has opened’ and it becomes more close to the active
Russian “Дверь открылась”). However when the Russian with the female gender opens itself, as iis the case, it is even more alive in my perception. Shame at dead English doors.

Btw MissBoss, you write: “Well, my first and main question wasn’t answered.” Who could have guessed it was that important to you? People just comment or write whatever they want here. Still, do not give up, let us ask together: " Hey there! What does the Passive voice give to English people? ".

OK, now I am confused about the doors.

“Дверь открылась” doesn’t really mean “The door was opened” . Or does it? I thought “Дверь открылась” means something more like “The door opened itself” or “The door opened up by itself”.

In other words, in the English phrase, there is the possibility of an actor, as “The door was opened by the boy.” But if I wanted to include the boy in the Russian phrase, I could not say “Дверь открылась мальчиком”. Or could I? My knowledge of Russian is modest at best.

I’m not sure that either construction is a reflection or some underlying attitude in the minds of the speakers. It’s just the way that these events in the world are captured in words.

Do Russian speakers feel like they do not “have” an object as much as English speakers when they utter “У меня есть” ? Because the literal words are simply saying “at me/by me is…” ?

My guess is that they feel just the same, and that we actually pay very little attention to the words in many common constructions .


Do you really think Brits can;t express emotions in their own language?

“The door opens”, “the door was opened”, I don’t think it matters. In Chinese the verbs basically don’t change, I go today, I go tomorrow, I go yesterday, but we understand the concepts of tense from the context and other words.

There are some expressions in certain languages that are not exactly translatable, but the general meaning can be conveyed. I don’t think there is much of an issue of mentality differences.

@ lastsafari "I thought “Дверь открылась” means something more like “The door opened itself” or “The door opened up by itself”. --you are absolutely correct. Better even “The door has opened up by itself”, because you see the door in action or the result of a recent action.

MissBoss’s translation of “Дверь открылась” as “The door was opened” is not precise.

Instead of the “Дверь открылась мальчиком”, which is wrong, the Russians say, using the passive a shamelessly as you, “Дверь была открыта мальчиком”.

@ maths. "Do Russian speakers feel like they do not “have” an object as much as English speakers when they utter “У меня есть” ? Because the literal words are simply saying “at me/by me is” - We do feel we have it and we possess it, you are right.

I agree with Steve about all this not being an issue of mentality differences. I didn’t see his post.

I think I know what the passive is now. I don’t think that the use of certain grammatical aspects show the way people think or their mentallity. That’s like saying that the English are less doubtful than Europeans because we don’t use the subjunctive. It’s just not true.

Although all modern languages from developed societies can express pretty much any concept that can be expressed in any other language, certain languages lead the speaker to think in a particular way. For example, the differentiation between transitive and intransitive verbs in Japanese gives whole new scope for subject avoidance without using the passive. And the use of a null subject means that even an active sentence can have an ambiguous subject.

None of these things expresses anything that can’t be expressed in English, but they do make for interesting word play that a speaker of English would not even consider.