Towards a semantic definition of Greek Middle

Iver Larsen iver_larsen at
Tue Oct 30 02:25:53 EST 2001

Your historical comments and insights are invaluable. Thank you.
Just a brief comment below:

You said:

> (a) I assume that there is no assertion of logical or semantic priority of
> (A) over (M) or vice-versa. Historically, both are apparently present in
> proto-IE, whereas the "passive" is a secondary development that assumes
> quite different forms in different IE languages. I do think
> there's often a
> causative aspect to the active form of a verb where the middle is
> essentially expressive of undergoing a process. You've referred to ENDUW
> and BAPTIZW, and I think your analysis of BAPTIZW is fundamentally right.
> My sense is that ENDUOMAI is the standard form of this verb and that the
> active ENDUW is the rarer form. An even more obvious instance is STH/STA
> with its middle hISTAMAI to express the process of standing up, while the
> active hISTHMI is causative: "make to stand, establish." But what I find
> especially interesting in this verb is that in the Aorist the causative
> (active) form is ESTHSA, while the form corresponding to hISTAMAI
> is ESTHN.

When I talk about "derivation" in connection with A, M and P, I am usually
not thinking in historical or morphological terms. It is common in
linguistics to "derive" the passive form from the active, but this is a
theoretical, synchronic derivation, not a historical-comparative linguistics
derivation. Some languages have a causative affix corresponding to a
synchronic causative derivation. In that sense the M would be more basic and
A would be derived from M. However, I am not saying that this is the case
for Greek, as little as I would said that "raise" is derived from "rise". It
is probably better to talk about a correlation or a relationship between A
and M forms of the same verb. Did Greek ever have anything like a causative

Your comment about the historical development of passive in IE is very
helpful. I didn't know that. Is anything known about when the passive
developed in Greek? Or are you saying that the meaning of passive has always
been there - it is a very basic linguistic notion - but that in earlier
times there was no morphological distinction ever between the concepts of
middle and passive? In that case, the Greek speakers would have to infer the
meaning differences between middle and passive from context. Or would they
not see a meaning difference at all between "having risen" and "being
> (b) I am still inclined to think that the so-called "passive" paradigms in
> -QH- are a later development of an aorist and future paradigm supplanting
> the older MHN/SO/TO and -SOMAI/SHi/SETAI paradigms but bearing essentially
> the same kinds of ambivalence as the "middle-passive" paradigms of the
> other tenses.

This may well describe some of the problems we have when what should be a
middle appears to have a passive form with the QH. It looks odd to me that
the present imperative POREUOU corresponds to an aorist imperative

By the way, can anyone give me a list of Greek verbs in active that are
intransitive? Or just a few examples?

Iver Larsen

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