de-nothing (middle-reflexive)

From: Mari Broman Olsen (
Date: Tue Jan 21 1997 - 15:42:39 EST

I've enjoyed following the middle discussion (since I get the digest,
I've had to follow it through 700+ lines of other text, but I should
check the archives). Carl Conrad writes:

My only objection to this account would be with the term "deponents."
What I think the above list of characteristics actually describes is
the range of meanings that can be and are conveyed by middle/reflexive
forms of the verb including both those that also have active forms and
those that have ONLY the middle/reflexive forms.

I agree, and support his call to look for the meaning of the forms in
themselves, rather than the translation. However, looking at the
middles cross-linguistically can be helpful. Especially see (and I
think I referred Carl or the list to this work before: anyone have
the chance to check it out) Suzanne Kemmer's book on _The Middle
Voice_ (John Benjamins, 1994?). She claims (and I again feel like I'm
repeating myself: pardon) that languages that mark a middle will have
the form on verbs that express nontranslational motion (wiggle,
tremble), verbs of change of position (sit, stand), and verbs of
grooming. She also has a nice discussion separating out the middle
from the reflexive and the middle from intransitives. She provides
evidence for a continuum of transitivity including (at least):


One could also locate other constructions on that continuum, for
example (from more intransitive to more transitive) the cognate object
construction (She danced a little dance), indefinite implicit objects
(She ate [something]), and definite specified objects (She won [the
game]). For more on the continuum and the features that contribute
thereto, see: Hopper, Paul and Sandra A. Thompson. 1980.
"Transitivity in Grammar and Discourse." Language 56:251-295.

I'm about to look at the Spanish middle and reflexives in this
framework (in comparing to the English intransitives, etc.). That's
what I'm getting paid to do. But this discussion is making me itch to
work on the Greek again. So I'd love to hear more from anyone who is
interested in a potential transitivity continuum in Greek (Carl, how
goes the seminar on the middle?).


Mari Broman Olsen
Research Associate

University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies
3141 A.V. Williams Building
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742

(301) 405-6754 FAX: (301) 314-9658


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