[b-greek] Re: The interaction of Greek voice with other parts ofthe language

From: Iver Larsen (iver_larsen@sil.org)
Date: Fri Nov 02 2001 - 05:28:48 EST

Carl said:
> This is something that I, at least, have been talking about ad nauseam in
> the course of these threads; my position is that we don't really
> have three voice forms so much as we have two forms of the middle-passive,
> the earlier MAI/SAI/TAI,MHN/SO/TO forms that appear in most tenses and the
later -QH-
> forms that became more regular in the aorist and future--although we've
> been talking about some verbs that retained MHN/SO/TO forms in the aorist
> that are pretty clearly passive in meaning even there.

It may be the case that we only have two voice FORMS, but I think we should
maintain the underlying 3-way distinction between active, middle and
passive. As long as grammatical tagging is not only morphological, but takes
into consideration the syntax and semantics, then I believe we need to keep
those three tags: A, M and P. It might be useful to add a tag for
transitivity, since an A form of a verb may be intransitive, transitive or
ditransitive. This would help to separate voice from transitivity.

Thanks to Kimmo Huovila I have realized that Danish has a common verb form
characterized by a final -s attached to the verb. It is related to passive,
but still different. My wife tells me that this has in traditional Danish
grammar been called a passive, but the only way I can sensibly describe it
is to call it a middle, because it is in the middle between active and
passive. Sometimes it is reflexive in meaning, the agents act upon
themselves. One of the differences to passive is that we can easily add
the -s to intransitive verbs whereas the normal passive transformation
cannot be applied to an intransitive verb.
I won't give many examples since most people on the list do not understand
Danish, and this is not a list on general linguistics. I have been using
this 3-way distinction as a native speaker, but I have never before tried to
make a linguistic analysis of it.

To maybe give you a little glimpse of what I am talking about, let me take
just one verb at random, the verb "se" which means "see":

Han se-r det - He sees it common active
Det blev se-t - It was seen common passive
Det se-s klart - It is clearly seen, it is obvious - Middle form

The common active normally has the full case frame which puts somewhat equal
weight on the agent, the activity and the patient.
The common passive suppresses the agent, and thereby indirectly puts more
focus on the patient which is the former object, now the subject.
The middle here focuses on perception, that the people concerned actually
see and understand what has been explained. That they take it in, so to
For other verbs, the exact meaning of the middle form which is marked by the
final -s suffix, may be similar or different. This makes it hard to pinpoint
the meaning of the middle, because the meaning depends so much on the actual
verb being used.
I think the general idea is that the middle involves the participants deeply
in the action. This can be illustrated by the verb for "hit" in Danish which
is "slaa":

De slaa-r ham - they hit him
De slaa-s - they are fighting (hitting one another continually)

The reason I raise the point is that my hypothesis is that the 3-way
distinction between active, middle and passive may well be a very basic
feature of IE languages when it is still current in Danish and has vestiges
in English. (Unfortunately, almost everything is lost in English, probably
the grammatically most degenerated and simplified language of all IE ones).
The 3-way distinction may never have been full-fledged over all verbs. In
fact, due to the nature of the distinction, it only would apply to certain
verbs. The fact that middle and passive have not always been distinguished
in the morphology does not mean that they are semantically and underlyingly
the same concepts.

This is why I would suggest we keep the underlying 3-way distinction as a
basic part of how the Greek person was thinking. Then we will have to sort
out the morphology as a separate issue.

Iver Larsen

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