Subject subordinate to Predicate

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Brett
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Subject subordinate to Predicate

Post by Brett » October 23rd, 2011, 11:40 am

I came across a perhaps over simplified chart on the semantics of Voice and wanted to get some feedback on it. My interest is primarily with the Middle Voice. I'll put the chart in definitional form:

Active: Subject Subordinate to Predicate, emphasis of Verb/Action located in Predicate, Can be made Passive
Middle: Predicate Subordinate to Subject, emphasis on Verb/Action located in Subject, Can NOT be made Passive

The last item in each list makes a statement about the capability of each Voice's ability to be transformed into a Passive. I'm curious about this since the Middle and Passive have the same Forms. Can the Middles occupy the same Forms as the Passives since they are not "convertible"? I've always seen a closer affinity between the Active and Middle than the Passive and Middle and I've been trying to get below the surface to see what drives the usage of these Voices.

Brett Williams
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Brett Williams

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Re: Subject subordinate to Predicate

Post by cwconrad » October 23rd, 2011, 1:10 pm

Brett wrote:I came across a perhaps over simplified chart on the semantics of Voice and wanted to get some feedback on it. My interest is primarily with the Middle Voice. I'll put the chart in definitional form:

Active: Subject Subordinate to Predicate, emphasis of Verb/Action located in Predicate, Can be made Passive
Middle: Predicate Subordinate to Subject, emphasis on Verb/Action located in Subject, Can NOT be made Passive

The last item in each list makes a statement about the capability of each Voice's ability to be transformed into a Passive. I'm curious about this since the Middle and Passive have the same Forms. Can the Middles occupy the same Forms as the Passives since they are not "convertible"? I've always seen a closer affinity between the Active and Middle than the Passive and Middle and I've been trying to get below the surface to see what drives the usage of these Voices.

Brett Williams
It would be helpful to know where you found the chart to which you refer: is it accessible on the internet? I don't understand quite what is intended by describing the middle syntactically as involving a "predicate subordinate to the subject."

The question I have is: What is meant by saying that "the emphasis of Verb/Action [is] located in [the[ Predicate." Some relatively recent discussions of voice speak of middle-passive verb forms semantically as "subject-affected" -- meaning that the subject of such verb-forms functions either as a "patient" undergoing a process, whether willingly and/or deliberately or not (i.e. acted upon by an external agent or instrument) or as a "beneficiary."

Was the chart you found intended specifically to describe ancient Greek, or did it have reference to voice syntax as described in languages generally or universally?

I think it might be more helpful to distinguish first between transitive and intransitive verbs: transitive verbs certainly do involve explicit or implicit external objects that are acted upon by the subject of the verb, while intransitive verbs indicate a process or change of state undergone by the subject. Transitive verbs can take a passive transformation, while intransitive verbs cannot.

If we are talking about morphology and syntax of voice in ancient Greek, we have to note that middle-voice forms may be transitive if they are reflexive in nature, i.e. the subject is also the patient or beneficiary of an action performed by the subject,
or they may be intransitive in nature, i.e. the subject undergoes a voluntary or involuntary process of change. Verbs such as κοιμᾶται and ἐγείρεται may, in a given instance, be transitive (in the sense, "is put to sleep"/"is awakened") or intransitive in the sense "goes to sleep"/"wakes up'). The fact that a single morphology may function in both these ways is distinctive in ancient Greek (apparently in modern Greek also) and appears to be characteristic of Proto Indo-European languages generally. It's worth noting that this ambivalence is precisely what is involved in the fact that ancient Greek voice forms do not distinctly indicate middle or passive function -- it has become more fully recognized in recent years that the so-called future passive and aorist passive verb-forms are not distinctly passive but rather are middle-passive, just as are the forms in the other five tenses. That is to say, forms like ἠγέρθη and ἀπεκρίθη are referred to morphologically as passive -- but ἠγέρθη may have a middle sense ("awoke" or "got up", while ἀπεκρίθη is simply the standard Hellenistic aorist form of ἀποκρίνομαι (classical Attic still used ἀπεκρίνατο).

My own views on these matters are sketched out at: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/GrkVc.html; others in this forum have also posted on these matters, most notably Mike Aubrey, who might want to emend or correct what I've written above.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

Brett
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Re: Subject subordinate to Predicate

Post by Brett » October 23rd, 2011, 1:13 pm

Perhaps I had several thoughts running through my brain, but completely ignore the question:

Can the Middles occupy the same Forms as the Passives since they are not "convertible"?

I wonder if I meant: Why do the Middles occupy....? That is, they have this semantic distinction of non-convertibility and yet they have the same endings.

So sorry for that. I wrote it and can't make sense of it either.
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Brett Williams

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Re: Subject subordinate to Predicate

Post by MAubrey » October 23rd, 2011, 8:25 pm

cwconrad wrote:My own views on these matters are sketched out at: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/GrkVc.html; others in this forum have also posted on these matters, most notably Mike Aubrey, who might want to emend or correct what I've written above.
I don't know if I have much to add. Your familiarity with the language far surpasses my own.
Brett wrote: I've always seen a closer affinity between the Active and Middle than the Passive and Middle and I've been trying to get below the surface to see what drives the usage of these Voices.
I suppose I can say that I wonder if your tendency to see a closer affinity between the active and the middle than the passive and the middle arises from the tendency of some grammars (*cough* Mounce) to have users treat the vast majority of middles as if they were active.

As for your summary of the chart...
Brett wrote:Active: Subject Subordinate to Predicate, emphasis of Verb/Action located in Predicate, Can be made Passive
Middle: Predicate Subordinate to Subject, emphasis on Verb/Action located in Subject, Can NOT be made Passive
I think it confuses English voice with Greek voice. English voice involves the demotion of the Subject Agent to an optional by-phrase and the promotion of the Object Patient or Theme to the Subject position. An English middle (e.g. "The door closed") does not have an agent to begin with and thus cannot be passivized. Conversely, an active (and transitive) clause (e.g. "John closed the door") must have an agent subject and thus can be passivized (e.g. "The door was closed [by John]").

But Greek doesn't have the English voice system. For one, the Greek system is not syntactic like the English system. Its morphological (and perhaps even lexical). Carl's webpage details it better than I could here...
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Brett
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Re: Subject subordinate to Predicate

Post by Brett » October 23rd, 2011, 10:24 pm

Mike, you wrote:
I suppose I can say that I wonder if your tendency to see a closer affinity between the active and the middle than the passive and the middle arises from the tendency of some grammars (*cough* Mounce) to have users treat the vast majority of middles as if they were active.
Is Mounce referring to how a Greek Middle is translation into English?

As far as the affinity between the Greek Active and Middle, the Active and Middle both can have the Subject-Agent of the Verb performing the action; the Passive is on the other end of the spectrum. This was behind my comment on the affinity between the Active and Middle. The Middle of course may not be performing the action, but may be consenting to or endorsing the action (hence, not at all the Passive sense grammatically; of course, we may find out that a Middle Voice action led to the Passive construct ["they were condemned" may be true in virtue of the fact that "they brought about their own condemnation"]). The affinity between the Greek Middle and Passive is that they share the same Forms; otherwise, they are quite dissimilar when an Agent is involved.

As far as English grammar, I'm not aware of an "English Middle." To my knowledge, English grammars today do not acknowledge a Middle Voice. I think your example "The door closed" in English is grammatically unconventional, or perhaps an idiomatic expression. We all know what is meant (the door was closed by someone or something, such as wind or gravity), and if the awkward expression is unpacked, we end up with a Passive construct. In other examples in which one might try to create a Middle sense in English, you often will end up with an Active Voice.

Could you expand upon the notion that the Subject-Verb is an incomplete expression with a transitive verb, whereas the intransitive Subject-Verb forms a complete expression. What are some of the other characteristics of transitive and intransitive?

I learn best when someone corrects me, so please feel free to do just that.
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Re: Subject subordinate to Predicate

Post by Stephen Carlson » October 23rd, 2011, 11:23 pm

Brett wrote:I learn best when someone corrects me, so please feel free to do just that.
Hi Brett, I think the best way to understand where we are coming from about understanding Greek voice is to read Carl Conrad's materials linked above and go from there.

Stephen
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Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
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Re: Subject subordinate to Predicate

Post by MAubrey » October 24th, 2011, 12:47 am

I should preface all of this by saying that you should really work through Carl's stuff, as Stephen says.
Brett wrote:Is Mounce referring to how a Greek Middle is translation into English?
Most definitely. Little that Mounce says about Greek here exists in the language itself. It's all about translation because that's what his grammar teaches students to do: translate.
Brett wrote:As far as the affinity between the Greek Active and Middle, the Active and Middle both can have the Subject-Agent of the Verb performing the action; the Passive is on the other end of the spectrum. This was behind my comment on the affinity between the Active and Middle. The Middle of course may not be performing the action, but may be consenting to or endorsing the action (hence, not at all the Passive sense grammatically; of course, we may find out that a Middle Voice action led to the Passive construct ["they were condemned" may be true in virtue of the fact that "they brought about their own condemnation"]). The affinity between the Greek Middle and Passive is that they share the same Forms; otherwise, they are quite dissimilar when an Agent is involved.
Middle can, indeed, have agent subjects, but only when that agent subject is performing an action that somehow affects the agent. Considering the following clause (sorry its from Homer--it's my "go-to" example):

ἔς ῥ᾽ ἀσαμίνθους βάντες ἐϋξέστας λούσαντο. Homer, Iliad 10.576
‘Then having climbed into the well polished bathing tubs they...

The last word--the middle--could have any of the following meanings:
(a) washed themselves (direct reflexive)
(b) washed each other (reciprocal middle)
(c) were (automatically) cleansed (spontaneous process)
(d) were washed.’ (passive middle)
As you can see, even when there's an agent involved, its always affected--as Carl said, subject affectedness is the main point of the middle. The very fact that passivisity is a possible interpretation in a given middle for demonstrates the relationship between them--λούσαντο doens't necessitate an agent. The agency of the event for most middles is determined by the context, not by the inflectional form.

Here's an LXX example of the same verb:

καὶ αἱ πόρναι ἐλούσαντο ἐν τῷ αἵματι κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμα κυρίου, ὃ ἐλάλησεν.
"And the prostitutes washed (themselves in? each other in? were washed in? were cleansed by?) the blood according to the word of the Lord" 3 Kingdoms 22:38.

Yuck. Sorry. Gross example--and granted, the passive "were cleansed by the blood" doesn't work in context. But it is an interesting example of difference between the Hebrew and the Greek, nonetheless!

Other middle verbs require the subject be an agent by the inherent lexical semantics: πορεύομαι and its derivatives (traditionally termed "deponents."

Καὶ εἰσπορεύονται εἰς Καφαρναούμ. Mark 1:21.
And they went to Capernaum.

So here we have an agent. The problem is that English doesn't have anything like this, particular kind of middle--but it is extremely common in languages that have inflectional morphology for middle to use them for verbs denoting the bodily motion of the subject. A friend of my is working on middles in the Saharan language family, specifically on Beria. And his language has the very same phenomenon as Greek (again, unlike English). In Beria, intransitive verbs may be marked with an affix that denotes the subject is an agent or one that denotes the subject as a patient. And like Greek, bodily motion can be marked by the middle morphology precisely because such motion involves the affectedness of the subject. If you're interested in the middle across languages, I would encourage you to read either Kemmer (1993) or Klaiman (1991).

I suppose that I should also link to my own discussions of middle voice. Hopefully, its a useful supplement to Carl's quite excellent work:
http://evepheso.wordpress.com/studies-i ... diathesis/

...and my wife's thesis on the Greek middle will hopefully be completed by April...hopefully...
Brett wrote:As far as English grammar, I'm not aware of an "English Middle." To my knowledge, English grammars today do not acknowledge a Middle Voice. I think your example "The door closed" in English is grammatically unconventional, or perhaps an idiomatic expression. We all know what is meant (the door was closed by someone or something, such as wind or gravity), and if the awkward expression is unpacked, we end up with a Passive construct. In other examples in which one might try to create a Middle sense in English, you often will end up with an Active Voice.
Okay, so perhaps my sentence wasn't as great as I thought it was, though I'm not necessarily convinced that its unconventional, but I do know that English grammars do discuss middles--but English middles are lexical, not morphological, like Greek. The two English grammars that I own, both have discussions of them. There's a section middle verbs in Quirk, Green Baum and Svartvik (1985:735-6), though their example are transitive verbs where mine is intransitive:

"Jack doesn't possess a life insurance policy."

This sentence cannot be passivised--just like your chart says--you don't hear people saying: "A life insurance policy isn't possessed by Jack." This is probably what your chart was talking about--English middles. Not especially in this example that they provide that the subject is most definitely not an agent--there isn't any action for an agent to perform.

Consider also two more of my own:
"Porcelain breaks easily."
"The boat sank."

Pullum & Huddleston (2002) discussed the same concepts in their section on transitivity patterns (pages 297ff.), particularly where the object of one clause corresponds to the subject of another:

The sun radiates heat. vs. Heat radiates from the sun.
The bush sprouted new shoots. vs. New shoots sprouted from the bush.

English also drops reflexive objects from verbs that directly affect the subject (Pullum & Huddleston 2002:302):

I must shave.
...bathe
...shower
...undress
...pack

They limit the use of the term "middle" in English to intransitives. They're work quoting in full:
Pullum & Huddleston 2002: 307-8 wrote:In this case the transitive use is primary and the intransitive is interpreted as having an unexpressed causer. ... There are just two categories in the syntactic system of voice in English, active and passive. She doesn't frighten easily is active in form, but it has some semantic affinity with the passive, and it is in this semantic sense that it can be thought of as intermediate between ordinary actives and passives: we put scare quotes around the term [in their section heading] to signal that it is being used in an extended sense and is not interpreted as denoting a formal category in the voice system.

Intransitives like She doesn't frighten easily characteristically have the following properties:

i A causer (normally human) is implied but can't be expressed in a by phrase
ii The clause is concerned with whether and how (especially how readily) the subject-referent undergoes the process expressed in the verb
iii The clause is negative, or is headed by a modal auxiliary (especially will, or contains an adjunct of manner (such as well or easily).
vi. The clause expresses a general state, not a particular event.
But to some extent you're correct. The English middle isn't a participant of the voice system, but it's still very present in the language.

Kemmer, Suzanne. 1993. The Middle Voice. Typological Studies in Language 23. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Klaiman, Miriam H. 1991. Grammatical voice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Huddleston, Rodney D. and Pullum, Geoffrey K. 2002. The Cambridge grammar of the English language. Cambridge University Press.
Quirk, Randolph, et al. 1985. A comprehensive grammar of the English language. Harlow: Longman.
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