Re: Observations on Ancient Greek Voice

From: Paul Zellmer (
Date: Thu May 29 1997 - 09:38:01 EDT

Carl, et al.,

I join the bandwagon in thanking you for the excellent, concise
presentation concerning the ancient greek middle. It called out the
difference in the unmarked form between ancient greek and other (in
particular, latin-based) languages. The discussion about the
modification by hUPO also demonstrates how languages, in this case, the
greek, modify basic senses to state the concepts expressed by different
means in different languages. Greek can say what is said in latin--it
just says it in a different way. What was especially refreshing is that
it accomplished this without a lot of linguistic terms that frequently
are used in these type discussions. When I read it, I predicted that
the only strong objections to it would come from those who overemphasize
the benefits of latin in the understanding of grammatical forms. The
ones with wider exposure to languages of the world are not surprised to
a language that has a contrast between active and "reflexive" as opposed
to active and passive.

As for Jonathan's (and others') question about how to pass this on in
beginning greek classes made up of students whose only exposure has been
to English, we have to realize that teachers basically start with where
the students are already and move them on. Since the English-speaking
students look at verbs as being active and passive, the teacher would
use those type concepts, but should also hint at (lay the foundation
for?) the differences in the grammatical methods of the two languages.
Basically, to teach everything from the start would overload a student
who already is struggling with vocabulary, conjugations, and
declensions, so you let the student put these continue with his English
mindset with the understanding that the correction of the grammatical
viewpoint will be made on the second (or later) pass. Jonathan, I
suspect this is no different from how you learned German. Those of us
who have been with you on this list for the past year have seen that it
is how you have learned Greek.

Carl, since the "middle" does seem to be the unmarked "non-active" form,
is there anything to a blurring of our (Anglicized) clear independence
between activity and transitivity of verbs? This seems to be Bill
Thurman's question. My gut feel is still that transitivity is driven by
the root verb itself, but I confess I haven't done a real study on
this. Any ideas?


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