[b-greek] RE: The interaction of Greek voice with other parts of the language

From: Iver Larsen (iver_larsen@sil.org)
Date: Thu Nov 01 2001 - 12:07:54 EST

Mike said:
> 1. OK, I'm sitting here looking at a verb in my GNT. It is
> morphologically (A) or (M) or (P), pick one. If that
> morpheme doesn't tell me what it is, then what does? And I
> mean this to be a very serious question. I'm looking for
> guidance so that I can look at a GNT text (with its
> associated grammar and lexis) and tell from how the author
> has used that grammar and lexis how to interpret the
> morpheme. There is an interplay going on between the
> morpheme and other semantic pieces; what are those pieces and
> what's the interplay[1]?

Carl has already responded, and I would agree with virtually everything he

But let me approach the issue from the viewpoint of semantics. I have not
finished thinking through the issues, but I see some patterns which make
sense to me and also give me a feeling why for some verbs the middle and
passive overlap so much.

I am using the primary semantic roles of A (agent), E (experiencer) P
(patient). These are the basic primary roles and they are expressed in Greek
by actual cases. The A is in nominative, the E is in the accusative or the
nominative depending on factors that I'll mention later. The P is in the
accusative or in the nominative depending on the same factors.

Sometimes we have other primary roles like B (beneficiary) in the dative or
S (source) in the accusative or genitive. Then there are many options for
secondary semantic roles to be attached to the verb, but these all employ
prepositions in Greek, and the lexical meaning of the preposition and the
case it governs decide the role.

I shall use English verbs as examples in order to focus on the general
concepts rather than specific Greek lexical items and forms.

When I say: clothe(A,E,P) I refer to a semantic verb with the nuclear
meaning "to clothe someone in something". The case frame has three elements
or arguments: agent (in nominative), experiencer (in accusative) and patient
(in accusative).

There is a relationship between a basic verb form with a full set of case
frames, call it AF, and a verb form with a reduced set of case frames, call
it MF.
There is a different relationship between the basic verb, the AF form, and
another verb form with a reduced set of case frames, call it PF.

Let me look at the first relationship first. Let me try to give two columns
with AF to the left and the MF to the right and a few examples:

    AF MF
clothe(A,E,P) put on(E(A),P)
raise(A,E) rise(E(A))
lose(A,E) get lost(E(A))

While the verbs in the first column would be syntactically constructed in
their full forms with a subject and an object (and for the first one a
second object), those in the second column would be constructed only with a
subject, except that the first one would have an object, too. What has
happened is that the E role has merged with the A role and the case frame
has been reduced with one argument. The E role is in focus, but the A role
is still part of it. This means that I do something to myself, but what I
experience, or what happens to me, is more important than the fact that it
is me who is also the agent. Grammatically, the first argument is in the
nominative - except in the Greek infinitive with accusative - and the second
argument is almost always in the accusative. So, in the AF the E is in the
accusative, but in the MF the same E is in the nominative.

Now let me compare the same AF forms with the PF form:

    AF PF
clothe(A,E,P) be clothed in(E,P) (-A)
raise(A,E) be raised(E) (-A)
lose(A,E/P) be lost(E/P) (-A)
find(A,P) be found(P) (-A)
give (A,P,B) be given(P,B) (-A)

The extra hanging (-A) means that the agent role is not part of the case
frame, but it may be supplied by a secondary role mechanism, that is by use
of a preposition. In this respect it is no different from other secondary
roles that may be attached by way of other prepositions. If E or P refers to
a human, it is sometimes to hard to make a distinction between them.

When we compare the MF with the PF it is clear that for the verbs which
include an E role in the basic AF form, the MF and PF are indeed very
similar. With some verbs and in some contexts, the difference is so subtle
and unimportant that it is non existent. With other verbs and in other
contexts, the difference is more important.
Take the example of a child who got separated from her mother in the mall.
The child would be in the MF mode of thinking: get lost(E(A)). "I am lost",
"I feel lost". I may be the cause or my mother may be the cause, but the
important thing is: I experience lostness.
The mother would be in the PF mode of thinking: be lost(E) (-A). "My child
is lost". How did I lose her?

The verbs without an E role in the basic frame do not lend themselves to the
MF form, but as long as they have an A role, we can expect a PF form.

A verb like suffer(E) cannot have a corresponding PF form since there is no
A, nor can it have a corresponding MF form since it has only one case
argument (it is intransitive). It has a "passive idea" in the sense that the
role is E and therefore the subject is experiencing the suffering, but it
does not have an MF or PF form. By adding prepositions one can say many
things about the suffering. In Greek it can also have an accusative like "he
suffered many things", but I would be inclined to interpret this as an
adverbial accusative rather than the primary case argument P. If it was a P,
I would expect a PF form like "many things were suffered." If Greek can say
that, well, then it is a P. If not, then it is an adverbial accusative. I
could not find any M/P forms in the GNT of PASCW.

Some verbs do not have an AF form, but only occur in the MF and possibly
also in the PF form if the MF has two case arguments. A verb like go(E(A))
is an MF form because although the E is in focus, there is simultaneously an
A involved.

So, to try to give some kind of an answer to Mike's question, I would look
at both the lexical content of the verb and the case frames plus semantic
roles involved. From this I can have a good guess whether the verb will
appear in the AF, MF or PF form. In the Greek language of the NT it appears
to me that a few, very few, verbs may have maintained a 3-fold distinction
between AF, MF and PF, but for the vast majority of verbs the MF and PF
forms have become mixed and the morphological distinction that some of them
have does not appear to be significant, although there is a general tendency
for PF to have the QH forms in aorist and future and the MF to have the
middle forms. The distinction between MF and PF appear to be primarily an
underlying, semantic distinction.

I would also look at the difference between authors. For instance, only in
Acts do we find the future middle form of AKOUW. The other authors may well
use the future active with the same meaning.
I would also look for suppletive forms. For instance, the verb TIKTW - bear
a child - is basically active. Looking at the semantic case frames there is
no reason to have a middle. But all future forms are in the middle form
where I would have expected an active. The meaning is just like the active,
so for some reason the middle future is used instead of the active. All
semantically passive forms of this verb use the QH paradigm.

I am using this as a framework at the moment. It probably needs refinement
and further development, and it does not address all the questions of Greek
verb forms and the various anomalies that undoubtedly exist, especially
because of language change. There is enough here for an interesting major
research project.

Iver Larsen

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