Trevor & Julie Peterson 06peterson at cua.edu
Sat Oct 27 08:02:56 EDT 2001

I've been watching this discussion from afar but with some interest. I've
always thought Carl raised some good points about the deponency, and I've
tried to incorporate them into my own teaching on the subject. At the same
time, I'm starting to teach a small group right now using Ward's grammar, so
I was interested to see what he had to say.

Anyway, enough about my personal interest in the issue. What I wanted to say
was that I've been struck in the course of this discussion, both before and
especially after Iver's comments, by the possibility that we ought to be
moving in the direction of using something similar to the nomenclature of
Semitic languages in describing Greek verb forms. (By that, I mean the newer
terminology, not the classical terms like Piel, Aphel, etc.) Semitic verbs
have long been described in terms of "state (or tense)" and "stem." I'll
leave aside the sticky issue of state, since it doesn't seem germane to this
discussion anyway, but it's stem that interests me. In Semitic languages
most verbs seem to derive from a triconsonantal root, which is then
developed into different stems by patterning different vowels, lengthening,
prefixes, infixes, and suffixes. Traditionally, the stems were identified
strictly on form, for instance in Hebrew: Qal (meaning "light," the basic
stem), Piel, Pual, Hiphil, Hophal, Niphal, Hitpael, etc. The latter forms
are all built from a paradigmatic root P(L, and show how the stem patterns
result in different verbs on that root. More recently, and especially in
fields like Assyriology where there is no traditional nomenclature,
Semiticists have moved toward letter-codes to describe forms. So, in
Akkadian, you would have a G (Grundstamm=Ger. for basic stem), D (doubled
middle consonant), $ (prefixed $), Gt (infixed t on the basic stem), etc.
These still tend to be morphologically based labels, but it has been
possible to apply many of them more broadly to Semitic languages. There are
exceptions to the morphological rule, like the C stem for causative or the
Dp for passive doubled, but even those categories are generally recognized
as working the same way.

It is the way the system works that interests me for the present discussion.
Since it is understood to be a basically morphological categorization of
stem-forms, it has a lot less assumed connection to particular semantic or
grammatical categories. That's not to say that students don't still draw
wrong conclusions, but it does seem to allow for more flexibility in the way
the forms are handled. Each stem seems to have certain tendencies in what
its verb form means, so yes, a large proportion of C stem forms are
causative of the action in the G stem, but not all. Some have no form in the
G stem. Many are denominative (a verb derived from a noun) or de-adjectival.
Each form has to be learned separately, since these are derived forms, not
inflected forms.

Now, I'm not saying that Greek would be exactly the same, but maybe the move
should be toward something like a G stem (usually called "active"), an M
stem (usually called "middle/passive," but the M is really for -MAI), and an
H stem (usually called "passive"). With that kind of nomenclature, students
could all learn the same terms, but Carl could present it in terms of M and
H being distinguished historically and Ward could stress their semantic
differences, but more importantly, we could all feel free to explore what
happens with a given verb on an individual basis, and to explain the
meanings of the stems as fluid, having certain trends but doing unique
things with different verbs. Students would learn the meaning of the G stem
as their basic pedagogic starting point, but they would also have to learn
the derived stems, especially when the meanings don't fit easily predictable
patterns. More importantly, they would learn that parsing is an act of
morphological analysis, which then has to be used in further exploration to
find the significance of the components.

The approach used in Semitic languages is just a model of course. There's
probably something better and more specific to the needs of Greek. But it
seems like we do need to get away from terminology that gives the impression
of inextricable morphological and semantic force. Then again, maybe I'm just
seeing things through Semitic glasses :-)

Trevor Peterson

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