MIDDLE AND PASSIVE VOICE
Carl W. Conrad
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Wed Oct 24 07:46:47 EDT 2001
My apologies in advance for the length of this, but most of it is the text
of Ward's original message to which I am here responding.
At 1:38 PM +1000 10/24/01, B. Ward Powers wrote:
>Carl has been explaining to us his understanding of middle and passive
>voice in Greek, and in particular the significance of the -QH- morph in a
>verb. I would like to explain another (and more traditional) way of
>understanding voice in Greek.
My thanks to Ward for setting forth, as clearly as it CAN be set forth,
what is more or less the traditional understanding of the phenomena of
Greek voice morphology and semantics. In my own view, however, it is not
enough to say about that traditional understanding, "These distinctions are
not always consistently carried out in the actual functioning of the
language." Since Rod Decker called our attention (Thu, 18 Oct 2001 10:22:37
-0400) to Neva Miller's essay, "A Theory of Deponent Verbs" (pp. 423-430)
in the new edition of the Fribergs' _Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New
Testament_ (Baker Books, 2000), I have been heartened by her insights and
by noting the extent to which her observations run parallel to so many of
my own on this subject. In her very first footnote to the essay (p. 423),
she says, "The voice system used in AGNT and fully explained in its lengthy
appendix was developed to classify verbs as to voice and 'deponency'
according to 'majority perceptions.' Until there is a PARADIGM SHIFT WITH
REGARD TO VOICE [my emphasis], both AGNT's system and this essay may stand
as useful tools for enquiring users." I would agree with Neva Miller that
what is really needed is "a paradigm shift with regard to voice"; I
conceive of my own efforts as aimed at effecting such a paradigm shift,
although I must confess that I think it likely the U.S. will adopt the
metric system sooner than such a paradigm shift with regard to Greek voice
will affect the pedagogical establishment.
I'm going to comment only on a very few items in Ward's presentation
because I honestly believe more of it concerns explanation of exceptions to
the rule than clarification of the rules themselves. I don't mean to be
unfair, but that is my perception.
>First of all, what IS voice? The term "voice" refers to how a person or
>thing relates to the action of the verb. To state this in its simplest form:
>ACTIVE: I was the one who did it to him. "I saw the Lord." I.e., in the
>active the subject performs the action of the verb, and it normally has or
>implies an object of the action described.
>MIDDLE: I was the one who did it, and no one else was involved. I.e., I did
>something TO myself, or BY myself. Normally intransitive (without an
>object, or the object is oneself).
>E.g., the one who has bathed [that is, bathed himself] (John 13:10) hO
>Judas hanged himself (Matthew 27:5), APEGXATO.
>PASSIVE: I had the action done to me by something or someone else. E.g.,
>The Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35) OU DUNATAI LUQHNAI hH GRAFH;
>[the] heavens will be dissolved (2 Peter 3:12) OURANOI LUQHSONTAI
My chief problem with this distinction is that it confounds the morphology
and semantics of voice with the notion of transitivity--even when asserting
of the middle that it is "normally intransitive." In fact all three voice
forms may be intransitive (EIMI is active, although it's future is
middle--and already was so in Homer; its imperfect is beginning to shift
into the middle--1st sg. HMHN--and in modern Greek it is wholly middle;
EGENOMHN is middle aorist, but it cannot be demonstrated that the newer
Koine form EGENHQHN means anything semantically different from EGENOMHN).
>These distinctions are not always consistently carried out in the actual
>functioning of the language. Thus, in the Lord's command to Peter (Acts
>10:13), "Rise, Peter, kill and eat", there is no expressed object for "kill
>and eat", but obviously these verbs CAN have an expressed object, and an
>object of the action is implied even when not expressed: if you kill and
>eat, you kill and eat SOMETHING. So in the verse these verbs are active. On
>the other hand, "rise" is something you just do yourself: it is
>intransitive. So it would be a good candidate for being middle. In the
>event, all three verbs in this sentence are aorist active (the first is a
>participle form, the other two are imperatives): ANASTAS, PETRE, QUSON KAI
>And another quirk is that the future form of "eat" is middle, FAGOMAI,
>notwithstanding that it is transitive, taking an object: hOSTIS FAGETAI
>ARTON (Luke 14:15); KAI FAGETAI TAS SARKAS hUMWN (James 5:3). Altogether,
>fourteen verbs with active sense take middle forms in their future (e.g.,
>LAMBANW, PINW, TIKTW).
>Then the intransitive verb "come", ERCOMAI, has a middle suppletive in the
>future, ELEUSOMAI - but an active suppletive in the aorist, HLQON.
>And GINOMAI is middle in form in the present, future, and aorist - but
>active in form in its perfect, GEGONA.
>The SECOND issue is, then, How do you describe what is happening in a
>language in these circumstances?
>My contention, from a linguistic perspective, is: You identify the main
>patterns in the language, and then you seek to recognize and characterize
>departures from these patterns. These "departures" may be of a kind which
>can be described by a subordinate rule. [Example: the standard morph for
>the future is the addition of sigma after the verb root (in what I would
>identify as Slot Six of the verb's nine morph slots); but after a liquid
>this future morph is not sigma but epsilon, which then contracts with a
>following vowel in accordance with the rules of contraction.] Or, these
>departures may be of an unpredictable kind: in which case they are
>recognized as being irregular.
>In carrying out this process, one finds first of all a place where the
>differentiation of form and meaning is clearest. In Greek, this is in the
>aorist. Here one sees a differentiation between the paradigms of ELUSAMHN
>and ELUQHN, which can be correlated respectively with middle and passive
>meanings. Next, one can find a similar distinction of form in the future:
>the paradigm LUSOMAI is middle, while that of LUQHSOMAI is passive. Thus
>the morph -QH-, which is lengthened from -QE-. is the indicator of passive,
>where a separate set of forms is available for the middle. That is, in the
>future and aorist systems. (The lengthened -QH- occurs in the indicative,
>imperative and infinitive, and the unlengthened -QE- in the subjunctive
>[where it contracts], the optative and the participle.)
>Thus forms of the future and aorist tenses indicate morphologically whether
>they are middle or passive.
I have done only a preliminary tally of the forms of LUW in the GNT and
find that there are 42 hits; of these 15 are tagged as "passive" in
Accordance, not one as middle. The seven forms in the aorist are all -QH-
forms: 2 indicatives, 1 subjunctive, 3 infinitives, 1 participle. The three
forms in the future are all -QH- forms and are all indicative. So we may
well TEACH a paradigm including LUSOMAI and ELUSAMHN, but in fact these
forms don't appear in NT Koine Greek.
>But there are four subsystems of the Greek verb, the other two being the
>present (with the imperfect) and the perfect (with the pluperfect). The
>Greek language did not invent separate passive forms for these two
>subsystems. Instead, when Greek wants a passive meaning in the present or
>perfect tenses, the MIDDLE forms will be found used: the context must
>indicate which voice is intended.
>CONCLUSION: the starting point for ascribing meaning is: Whenever you
>encounter a future or aorist form in the middle or passive, you take it to
>have middle or passive meaning respectively, because both differentiated
>voice forms (i.e., middle and passive) are available for use. However,
>whenever you encounter a middle FORM of the present (+imperfect) or perfect
>(+pluperfect) - which you recognize as a middle form by its containing the
>middle indicator morphs - you recognize that its MEANING could be either
>middle or passive, because no differentiated passive forms were available
>in the language.
>The language provides these basic indicators. It is a great shame,
>pedagogically, not to recognize and use them as the starting point.
>But: how then does one deal with the undeniable fact that "it ain't
>necessarily so"? Which leads us to:
>THIRDLY, HANDLING THE EXCEPTIONS
>Every known language has language rules - and exceptions to these rules.
>The existence of the exceptions does not nullify the rules. The rules
>provide the basic pattern for most forms in that language, and the
>foundation on the basis of which you can identify, and handle, the exceptions.
>One factor in language is that, as Carl has pointed out, language is always
>in the process of changing.
>>Iver, I think that the language is always in a process of change from older
>>forms and idioms to newer forms and idioms; while that's happening, there
>>are concurrent forms and idioms performing the same functions. One common
>>one: there are "second" aorists that are conjugated partly with O/E
>>endings and partly with -A- endings Mt 12:2 has EIPAN but 12:24 has
>>EIPON--alternative 3 pl. forms with the same subject (hOI FARISAIOI).
>The example which Carl gives is indicative of a general (but gradual and
>partial) transition in the language, in which second and third aorist verbs
>were migrating some of their forms to first conjugation forms,
>characterized by -SA- or -A- in the aorist.
>Carl goes on to say:
>>There are quite a few verbs in NT Koine that still show aorist and future
>>middles with -MAI- forms, but far more that show -QH- forms in the aorist
>Carl's contention is that -QH- forms are best regarded as middle, though
>they can correlate with passive meaning:
>>hISTHMI/hISTAMAI is an interesting example showing concurrent
>>forms: of course the active means "cause to stand" and so we have aorist
>>and future forms in ESTHSA and STHSW, but in the intransitive sense we
>>have the more common ESTHN and the newer form ESTAQHN; the latter CAN be
>>passive but it isn't necessarily so. For example:
>>Mt 2:9 hO ASTHR ... ELQWN ESTAQH EPANW hOU HN TO PAIDION (ESTAQH
>>Mt 27:11 hO DE IHSOUS ESTAQH EMPROSQEN TOU hHGEMONOS (ESTAQH perhaps
>>Lk 24:3;6 ... AUTOS ESTH EN MESWi AUTWN ... (ESTH clearly intransitive)
>One could argue that in the first example (Mt 2:9) there is a definite
>element of the passive: the star was "stood" or "positioned" (by the
>workings of the providence of God) over where the child was. In Mt 27:11 it
>could well be that Jesus "was stood" (i.e., was positioned) before the
>governor (by the guard). Luke 24:36 does not involve the use of a formal
>However, I acknowledge that passive forms occur which have active or middle
>(and not passive) meaning; see below.
>There is no "one right way" of describing what is found in a language - all
>we can aim for is what you might call the "best fit" of a description. But
>I definitely do not believe that Carl's approach to middle and passive is
>the best way of approaching what we find in Greek, and teaching it.
>Rather, there is much more to be said for the following approach to the
>description of voice:
>1. Greek has active, middle, and passive voice. In the future and aorist
>subsystems of the Greek verb, these are fully differentiated
>morphologically (i.e., by the morph -QH- or -QE- for the passive). In the
>present and perfect subsystems, the middle forms can be used with either
>middle or passive meaning, and the choice of meaning must be made on the
>basis of context. Example: in John 13:10 the perfect participle LELOUMENOS
>refers to the one who has bathed himself (middle meaning); whereas in
>Hebrews 10:22 this perfect participle (here, plural) means "those who have
>been bathed" (passive meaning).
>2. Middle forms can occur with active meaning: sometimes, for a range of
>tenses for a particular verb, sometimes, just in the future tense. These
>are unpredictable in the sense that you cannot tell in advance, either from
>meaning or from the phonemes of a word, that this will be the case for a
>particular verb: we only know it occurs for a given verb from observing it.
>So that we can describe and talk about them, these forms can be termed
>"deponents" or "deponent middles". (The term is just a handle for a
>phenomenon; nothing more.)
>3. Similarly, passive forms (i.e., forms containing the passive morph
>-QH/QE-) can occur which have active meaning. Some verbs occur with both
>middle and passive forms with active meaning; the most common example is
>APOKRINOMAI, "answer" or "respond". These can be referred to as "passive
>deponents". Passive forms can occur with middle sense: e.g., EGERQEIS in
>EGERQEIS PARALABE TO PAIDION, "Rise up and take the child" (Matthew 2:13),
>followed by EGERQEIS PARELABEN (v.14).
>4. The occurrence of verb forms which morphologically are of one voice but
>in a given context (or even, all their contexts) have the meaning of a
>different voice, does not nullify the concept of the distinction or
>differentiation of voice. One can describe these as "deponent" or
>"irregular" usages of a voice form; the basic concept remains, and applies
>in the vast majority of instances of the vast majority of verbs. This
>includes understanding -QH/QE- as indicating passive in verbs forms where
>it occurs, unless the context gives a clear contra-indication.
The one point here on which I concur with Ward is that the examination of
individual verb forms with MP or -QH- endings must be done cautiously and
thoughtfully. Nevertheless, I think that the entire concept of "deponency"
is worse than useless, particularly insofar as it is based upon an
assumption that a verb originally had an active form that has been replaced
by the middle or passive form. Neva Miller (ALGNT, p. 425) rightly says,
"As a class, so-called deponent verbs probably never had an active form at
all and so never laid it aside." Nor is "defective" really an adequate term
for such verbs, unless it is understood clearly that these verbs are not
crippled or somehow deficient members of the fraternity of Greek verbs. Nor
is it valid or helpful to define, a 'deponent' verb as one that has middle
or passive form but 'active' meaning.
We really do need a "paradigm shift with regard to voice."
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
Most months: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu OR cwconrad at ioa.com
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