[b-greek] Voice: Names & Frames of reference (was "Re: The interaction of Greek voice ...")

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Fri Nov 02 2001 - 08:40:17 EST

At 11:28 AM +0100 11/2/01, Iver Larsen wrote:
>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.

I think this is essentially reasonable, but I think that the existing
categorization of ancient Greek voice needs fundamental re-casting into a
more accurate and more intelligible scheme, and this scheme requires new
designations--"names" for some basic categories. so that the associations
traditionally attached to some of the categories may be dislodged from the
implicit assumptions of students and scholars of Greek. We may have to work
at formulation of the right names for the "morphoparadigms" especially, but
I have become convinced that the following steps need to be taken [is that
clause 'middle' or 'passive'?] if an intelligible and clear (i.e.
unambiguous) "taxonomy" of the ancient Greek "voice" system is to emerge
from the existing obscure and arcane mumbo-jumbo of terminology and

(1) Both term and concept of "Deponency" should be eliminated forever from
formal categories and thinking about ancient Greek voice. The reason for
this (if it is not yet clear to some) is that

(a) it simply cannot be demonstrated that the "middle" or "passive"
morphoparadigms of any verbs have supplanted/replaced some prior "active"
morphoparadigm; all evidence seems to indicate that such verbs as DUNAMAI
and POREUOMAI never had any "active" counterpart;

(b) It is commonly but wrongly assumed that "deponent" verbs have "middle"
or "passive" morphoparadigms but "active" meanings; in fact verbs that have
been called "deponent" are often intransitive, and even when their meaning
corresponds with a verb that is active in an interpreter's native language,
the Greek verb should not be deemed somehow "deviant" from normal Greek

(c) It is commonly but wrongly assumed that the "active," "middle-passive"
and "passive" morphoparadigms in ancient Greek are essentially transitive
and linked to "active," "middle" and "passive" semantics respectively,
although "active" verbs can be intransitive or even "passive" semantically,
and both "middle-passive" and "passive" morphoparadigms in ancient Greek
may be intransitive or active or passive semantically. The term and concept
of "Deponency" carries with it too much confusing and misleading baggage to
be useful to those seeking to understand the Greek verb.

(2) While the SEMANTIC distinction between "active," "middle" and "passive"
should indeed be retained, we must dispense with the assumption that there
is a necessary linkage between these voice semantics and particular
morphoparadigms of the Greek verb.

(a) In particular traditionally-termed "active" morphoparadigms may be
intransitive, active, or in some instances even passive semantically; most
verbs with "active" morphoparadigms are in fact active, but in all
probability the "active" morphoparadigm is a "default" forms, one that is
"unmarked" with regard to voice semantics, and by far the great majority of
verb forms in actual use ARE semantically active; nevertheless the
assumption that this paradigm is necessarily linked to active semantics is
misleading and ought to be scuttled.;

(b) So too we must cease to view the "middle-passive" and "passive"
morphoparadigms as bound of necessity to the semantics suggested by their
names: either of these morphoparadigms may in a given verb be associated
with an intransitive sense, and the so-called "passive" morphoparadigm may
be associated with a "middle" semantic notion. We must, then, somehow
separate our recognition of the morphoparadigms from any assumptions about
the voice semantics that each one is necessarily representing.

(3) I personally think that the easiest way to do this would be to
designate the traditional morphoparadigms with new names that are in some
way suggestive of their authentic semantic range or at least not likely to
be misleading about the voice-semantics of the forms so designated;

(a) I have suggested that the morphoparadigm traditionally called "active"
should be renamed. I have suggested "default," or "standard" for this. Iver
Larsen has suggested "basic" would be a better name; my feeling is that the
'basic' form for some verbs (e.g. GINOMAI) is the one traditionally termed
"middle-passive." It now occurs to me that, inasmuch as by far the majority
of verbs found in this morphoparadigm are in fact, we might designate the
morphoparadigm as "quasi-active."

(b) I have suggested that BOTH the morphoparadigms traditionally termed
"middle-passive" and "passive" respectively should be categorized in a way
that makes clear that verbs falling into either of the two may be
intransitive OR semantically middle OR semantically passive. I once
suggested "subject-intensive" for these verbs and have more recently
thought that "subject-focused" would be a better term for these two
morphoparadigms that are commonly associated with subjects that are
patients, experiencers, or beneficiaries. If a better term can be
discovered, I would be quite happy to see it employed. The reasons that I
have been expressing as a justification for the linking of these two
morphoparadigms into a single larger category including them both are:

(i) there appears to be sufficient historical evidence that the -QH-
morphoparadigms increasingly came to supplant the older -MHN/SO/TO
morphoparadigms in the aorist and the future tenses, although the older
morphoparadigms in MHN/SO/TO continued in use in the aorist and future for
many verbs in more common everyday use in the language;

(ii) the GNT database displays no more than three handfuls of verbs that
have BOTH the MHN/SO/TO AND the -QH- morphoparadigms in the aorist: and
some of these are clearly or at least arguably identical in meaning
-QH- morphoparadigm had already become the "standard" one for aorist
middle-passive, and that the -MHN/SO/TO morphoparadigm survived and
continued in use as a "strong" form simply because the verbs employing it
were in more common usage among Greek speakers and writers.

(c) Whatever name or designation may be assigned to what I am now terming
"subject-focused" morphoparadigms, it would be advantageous, I think, to
make clear by categorization and terminology that the -MHN/SO/TO
morphoparadigm is the older or "strong" form while the -QH- morphoparadigm
is the newer or "weak" form of what has traditionally been termed the
"middle-passive" in the aorist and corresponding future tense forms.

One final comment at this time: it may well be that MOST verb-forms in -QH-
are actually semantically passive, just as it is hardly disputable that
MOST verb-forms in the W/EIS/EI morphoparadigm are actually semantically
active. But even if that is true, it must be realized that there are great
numbers of verb-forms found in the -QH- morphoparadigms that are decidedly
NOT passive, are surely NOT displaced freaks that ought to have been
formulated in a different morphoparadigm (i.e. they are not "deponents"),
and they are not adequately explained in terms of some theory of the
passive as an "intransitivizer." So far as I can tell, the -QH- morphology
emerged originally as an extended form of the morphology of mostly
intransitive (or "quasi-passive) non-thematic ("third") aorists such as
EBHN, ESTHN, EFANHN, etc. which may readily function as aorist counterparts
for middle-passives in -MAI/SAI/TAI in opposition to CAUSATIVE aorist

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
Most months: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu OR cwconrad@ioa.com
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

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