Future "deponents"

Randy LEEDY Rleedy at bju.edu
Fri Oct 9 17:20:08 EDT 1998

Carl Conrad wrote:

>>>Touché! I'm not sure whether I can make this intelligible or not. Perhaps
my notion is not a sensible one in the first place, and in any case, I am a
questioner in search of an answer rather than one offering a clear and
obvious solution. I certainly can't answer why ALL verbs in the future
shouldn't be middle/reflexive. My tentative suggestion is based on an
understanding that the future tense in Greek is a relatively late formation
and the fact that in Homer futurity is more commonly expressed by use of
the subjunctive, expressing an active WILL to perform the action of the
verb--while the classical future tense seems to develop from using a
desiderative infix -ES- with thematic endings added to a verb stem. I
rather think that the tendency toward middle-reflexive formulation is
something that shows itself in the future tenses in some instances, not in
others, and I think it must have something to do with the inherent meanings
of the verbs in question too. I don't really know, but I am intrigued by
the fact that some intransitive verbs seem to start moving to the middle in
the future, then in the course of time, migrate to the middle elsewhere:
like EIMI, ESOMAI in classical Attic, becoming EIMAI, ESOMAI in some
Hellenistic, etc. Why the intransitive verbs of motion like ERCOMAI and
POREUOMAI, and yes, BAINW/BHSOMAI (but aor EBHN comparable to such second "passives" as EBLABHN). Why is French "abandon," "leave behind" S'EN ALLER: indeed, why should "go" be reflexive at all? I don't really know the answer to this, but I'm not satisfied that the movement of these verbs to the
middle voice precisely in the future tense is purely arbitrary and
inexplicable, even if we're not quite sure what an adequate explanation
might be.

I think I can follow you fairly well here, and it seems that you are saying something along the lines that there may indeed be some element of self-projection inherent in the future tense. But I have one question about it that may perhaps serve as a little test. If futurity is expressed with the subjunctive in Homer, and if it involves this self-projection, it would seem to make sense that these constructions in Homer would appear in the middle voice. Do they in fact? Or are you saying that when futurity shifted from the subjunctive to the indicative there developed a sense that something voluntative had been lost and so now the middle voice somehow takes up that lack? This still seems strange to me; I don't think of the middle voice as ever being voluntative.

Anyway, I guess I tend to go along with James Barr's thought enough that I'm skeptical toward these "language and thought" type claims, and I incline to think of these vagaries in surface structure as a matter of arbitrary convention that we ought not to become over-subtle in analyzing. But, still, if what you're seeing really does constitute a PATTERN, then it's certainly appropriate for someone at least to make the attempt to account for it with a coherent theory, so I'm quite happy for you to make the attempt, and I'll try to follow your thought as you go.

In love to God and neighbor,
Randy Leedy
Bob Jones University
Greenville, SC
RLeedy at bju.edu

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