Voice and Morphology (was hHKW/hHKASIN)

From: Ward Powers (bwpowers@eagles.bbs.net.au)
Date: Thu Oct 23 1997 - 01:10:23 EDT

At 13:55 97/10/18 -0500, Carl Conrad wrote:
>At 10:27 AM -0500 10/18/97, Ward Powers wrote:
>>At 08:29 97/10/15 -0500, Carl Conrad wrote:


>Obviously I must watch my language in e-mail or I'll end up being
>prosecuted for electronic assault and battery. I regret very much that I
>seemed to imply a contempt for verb morphology and seemed to suggest that
>it is a silly game. That is not what I meant. I hasten to add that I do
>indeed spend hours teaching students both forms and a procedure for
>analysis of complex forms into constituent morphological elements so that
>they can recognize which elements within the word add which particular


Your contributions always demand a considered and thoughtful reply. I hope
you are getting used to the lapse of a few days while I reflect on your
posts before I can respond with a post of my own that gives them the
respect and attention they merit.

My concern (if that is not too strong a word) about your (unfavourable)
comment on morphology was lest it have a detrimental affect upon the
impressionable and gentle types amongst us who are in the early stages of
attempting to come to terms with Greek. It could set up in them a mental
attitude of seeing morphology as something to be feared, deplored, and
ignored - whereas morphology is to be welcomed, explored and adored. Well,
maybe not quite adored, but certainly warmly embraced as a great friend and
ally in understanding Greek. As I said earlier, Praise the Lord for the
wonderful regularity of Greek morphology. I look upon it as one more
example of his gracious providential will which encompasses all things for
our benefit.

Fellow-greekers: you will find the study and use of Greek morphology a
great boon in your labours.

>You have probably missed my harangue on the way voice is
>traditionally taught. I expounded my views on this rather thoroughly
>several months back (Tuesday, May 27, 1997) and won't repeat any of that

In fact, I caught it all (actually the issue has come up several times
during the period I have been on this list). That is not to say, however,
that I as yet have fully understood and totally been convinced by your
thoughts about deponents. But perhaps that difference of viewpoint between
us is less than it might seem: the difference between the rigorous language
scientist, with an eye on meaning and sources and history, and the
pragmatist who is looking always for the clearest and simplest ways of
enabling the next generation to begin reading the GNT.

(When you receive your copy of my book, you must tell me what you think of
my treatment of Voice [Lesson Six].)

>what I find most confusing in the traditional
>doctrine of Greek voices is (a) a misleading notion that the middle voice
>is some sort of aberrant halfway house between the "real" voices, the
>active and passive, so that we describe a verb like ERCOMAI as a "deponent"
>and, even if we don't say it, we imply that it really ought to be active
>but it is middle for no reason that anybody can think of; and (b) the
>misleading notion that -QH- is essentially and primarily a passive-voice
>indicator rather than an formative infix for athematic aorists that OFTEN
>BUT BY NO MEANS ALWAYS bears a passive sense. The "morass" of which I
>spoke, apparently too glibly, had to do with the way we have to hem and haw
>when talking about at least three different kinds of aorists (Sigmatic,
>Thematic, Athematic--and the Kappa aorists of DIDWMI, TIQHMI, and hIHMI
>don't really fit into any of these) and about "middle deponents" and
>"passive deponents" to explain that a form like ELECQHSAN really is passive
>in meaning while EPOREUQHSAN is not--and our explanation tends to suggest
>that there's something irrational about EPOREUQHSAN.

Morphologically, the active and middle voices are basic in Greek, and the
passive is a later invention which was only partially introduced into the
language. To explain:

The first thing we need to note is that every Greek verb has four
subsystems, one related to time (the future, without inherent aspect), and
the other three to aspect. I hope it is safe to say this without
reawakening the long-running aspect debate. My terms for these aspects I
simply take over unaltered from the major standard grammars of this
century: durative (present and imperfect tenses); punctiliar (the aorist);
and perfective (the present perfect and pluperfect tenses).

Now, when we examine the tenses/voices found in Greek, we observe that two
of these subsystems have genuine and distinctive passive forms, and two do
not. That is, in regard to voice, two are complete and two are incomplete.
The two that are complete are of course the future and the punctiliar. So
we have:


To be precise: When you want to express a passive in the future or
punctiliar, you have the forms available, containing QH (in the subjunctive
and participle, this is in the short-vowel form QE - an allomorph of QH).
There is a one-to-one relationship between the forms used to express the
passive future or aorist and the presence of QE/QH in all such forms: so
QE/QH is the passive morph. (Carl, about "deponent passive" aorists - I'll
get to that shortly.)

The other side of this coin is that the pronoun endings which LUSOMAI and
ELUQHN have in all their forms, across the board, are to be recognized as
being MIDDLE endings, which distinguish these forms from active and passive

But when you want to express a passive in the durative or perfective, you
do not have separate, distinctive forms available, because the language did
not develop them. What Greek did was: use the middle forms with passive

It is my contention that THAT is how voice forms should be taught to Greek
students: that is, that of the four subsystems which exist in the Greek
verb, two have passive forms and two do not. The two that do not, durative
and perfective, use MIDDLE FORMS with PASSIVE MEANING when passive meaning
is required.

Thus I register a protest against teaching (say) LELUMAI as being the
passive perfect of LUW. There are three faults with this. First, students
miss seeing (or at least, are not being taught to see) the middle ending
patterns which run across all four subsystems, with of course the variants
between the "past forms" set of endings (imperfect, aorist, pluperfect) and
the "non-past" set of endings (present, future, present perfect).

Second, students are having to learn forms and paradigms as separate and on
their own, instead of seeing them as part of the greater whole (LELUMAI as
part of the total MIDDLE structure) and allowing the identification of
morphs in the word to guide them. (On this approach, you cannot use MEQA to
simply tell you "1st p. plural middle" if you have learnt LELUMEQA as being

Thirdly, your initial reaction to seeing such a form will be to take it as
a passive and you may not even think to take into account that it could as
easily be a middle.

So this I recommend:

1. Teach students to recognize all middle forms as morphologically middle,
across all four verb subsystems.

2. Teach them that when they encounter a middle form (which they can be
shown to recongize from its morphs), check if the form contains QHS-. If
so, the sigma in Slot 6 indicates "future", and the QH, the passive morph
(in Slot 5), switches what would otherwise be a middle to being passive.

3. Next (if it is not future passive) they identify the aspect of the form.
If it is durative or perfective, then the form (though middle
morphologically) may be being used with passive meaning: so assess BOTH
possibilities in context.

When it comes to your comments on "deponents", this is the place I get left
behind. With regard to EPOREUQHSAN and such others as APOKRIQEIS: my
present feeling is that the best way to handle them pedagogically is to
teach the "deponent" approach: some verbs which have middle forms or
passive forms in Greek (morphologically speaking) can have active meaning
in English, and we can (for convenience) refer to these as "middle
deponents" or "middle/passive deponents". I am open to further insight as
to how to handle these forms.

With regard to your references at this point in your post to sigmatic,
thematic, athematic and kappa aorists: this is a different (though related)
topic, and I will respond to it separately, on the kappa aorist thread.


>it must be confessed that one continues for the rest of one's life
>to learn new and unexpected things about the orneriness and peskiness of
>Greek verbs that all too often do not behave or conform to the paradigms
>that we teach and that we ourselves have been taught.

Sadly true. One must however choose some principle upon the basis of which
to work. Mine is: Discern the linguistic pattern. If it is followed "often"
but nowhere near "always", then one can refer to it as a "tendency" in the
language which you may find helpful to note when you observe it. Into this
category we can put for instance some of the features of word order
(discussed in another thread).

However, if this observed pattern is followed "almost always", then it can
be given the status of a rule, and taught to students as such. That is,
"This is what we can expect to encounter in the normal course of events."
Students can then be (a) told that there are some exceptions (this will not
usually surprise them); (b) given some idea of how many/how common are the
exceptions, and (c) either told the exceptions straight off or told that
the exceptions will be dealt with when encountered, whichever seems best in
the judgement of the teacher in relation to a particular rule.

But we do not decide not to teach any rules just because most rules have
exceptions. If we were teaching English to non-English speakers, we would
not decide against teaching when to add "s" or "es" to form an English
plural, just because we know that there are twenty common words that do not
do this.


>every time I begin to teach a
>class of intermediate Greek students, I find and they find that the
>morphological paradigms that they have worked so hard at learning are no
>more than the first step toward really understanding the Greek verb.

I can only agree - but true though this is, it does not mean either that it
was unwise or unhelpful to teach them that morphology in the first place,
and also it does not mean that they have to "unlearn" any morphology they
were originally taught (assuming the morphology they were taught was an
accurate representation of the structure of Greek - not always a valid
assumption, sad to say). Further understanding of the Greek verb will come
from refining and sharpening the focus of (correctly taught) basic morphology.


Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International): 61-2-9799-7501
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email: bwpowers@eagles.bbs.net.au

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:34 EDT