Re: default aorist, middles

Carl W. Conrad (
Fri, 1 Nov 1996 10:13:24 -0500 (EST)

At 9:13 AM -0600 11/1/96, Mari Broman Olsen wrote:
>And for all you working on middles and deponents out there, I'd love
>to see someone investigate the Greek middle in the light of Suzanne
>Kemmer's _The Middle Voice_ (1993, John Benjamins). Kemmer examines a
>wide variety of languages with middle forms of various types
>(including those that do and do not distinguish middles from
>reflexives). She provides a semantic description of the middle (along
>the lines of discourse representation theory and cognitive grammar)
>that places it on a continuum with 'true' intransitive and true
>ditransitive verbs at either end. According to her, the relevant
>distinction is the relative distinguishability of participants in the
>event. THe intransitive (John laughed) has one participant, whereas
>middles and reflexives split apart the single participants into two
>entities. Kemmer shows that this distinction allows for implicational
>universals to be described, predicting a range of verbs that will have
>middle marking, if a language has it. Good middle candidates are
>verbs of grooming (shave onesself), nontranslational motion (wiggle),
>change in body position (sit, stand) and verbs denoting mental
>commitment (decide, promise vow).
>This work has impact on (another line of) my current research, which
>involves relating syntax and semantics: to what extent can semantics
>(e.g. whether a verb has 'middle' or 'transitive' semantics) predicts
>syntax (whether a verb has a second (object) argument). If anyone
>DOES work on this in Greek, I'd be interested in hearing from him/her.

Hey, thanks a lot for those comments on middles; I am particularly interested in them but don't have any more grounding in linguistics since I did the Comparative Greek & Latin grammar courses in grad school at Harvard back at the beginning of the 60's! A colleague and I are going to be doing a one-semester probe of historical phonology, morphology and syntax of Greek and Latin for 4-5 grad students next term here at W.U., and I thought this might be an opportunity for me to explore my ideas about the middle-voice and secondary emergence of a passive in Greek in a little more depth. I very much appreciate the bibliographic leed to Kemmer you've just made. By the way, have you seen the (relatively) new work by Sihler, _New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin_? It looks primarily like an update of the work of 75 years ago of Carl Darling Buck with some notes on more recent work in proto-Greek. If you have looked at it, I'd be curious about any comments you may have.

It's awfully good to have your input into some of these questions that clearly transcend the standard categories and perspectives upon those categories.

Regards, cwc