[B-Greek] A new stab at voice

Kimmo Huovila kimmo.huovila at helsinki.fi
Tue Oct 16 00:39:47 EDT 2007

I've been reading on voice, and am not very satisfied with most that I have 
read. I realize that it would take quite a bit of research to settle the 
matter. I know that there are others on the list that have done more studies. 
However, I sketched a few preliminary thoughts on voice for discussion, proof, 
or refutation, in hopes that it helps me get at the point of the matter. Any 

1) Transitivity is unrelated to voice and should not be confused with it. 
There is nothing inherently strange in an intransitive active verb or a 
transitive passive or middle verb.

2) There is nothing inherently strange for a verb to lack any of the voices. 
(It is admitted that some verbs regularly have more than 1 voice, for example 
transitive actives, which can very often be passivized. The point here is 
rather that it is not strange that there are SOME verbs with no active, 
middle, or passive. Naturally the verb frame and semantics matter.)

3) The subject of the active voice can be in almost any semantic role of the 
verb frame. However, it is not lower in the following hierarchy than the rest 
of the roles of the verb frame (agent>author>instrument>patient). Note that 
PASCW hUPO is not a counter-example, as the subject is an experiencer. This 
rule could probably be elaborated to cover more ground.

4) The subject of a middle fulfills two roles in the sentence. The other may 
be a beneficiary, in which case the semantic load of the middle (as opposed 
to the active) may be small. The middle may be reflexive or reciprocal.

5) The subject of a passive sentence can be (depending on the verb) in almost 
any other semantic role than the one usually filled by the subject in the 
corresponding active sentence. It may represent the accusative, genitive, 
dative or a prepositional phrase in the active if the verb is also used in the 

6) The subject of a passive verb is not the agent. It does not follow that the 
subject is a passive participant. The subject may have indirect control over 
the event. POREUOMAI is construed as the subject being the patient of 
conveying (done for example by horse). It could be construed as an agent 
(as in some languages like English 'travel'), but the Greek language happens 
to construe the semantics differently. The patient in this case is a 
participant, which usually has caused that he is conveyed, but he is not 
the agent of conveying (as a donkey for example would be the agent). The verb 
could be semantically middle, but it just happens to be passive. BAPTISQHNAI 
in the passive does not mean that the subject of baptism is passive in it. He 
may get himself baptized, but the expression does not focus on his role as 
being active, but as receiving baptism. There is no need to interpret either 
of these verbs as semantically middle (though a middle could do as well). 
There is enough overlap in the situations that can be expressed with a middle 
and a passive.

7) The substantial overlap in semantics contributes to the distinction not 
being strict. Sometimes the passive morphoparadigm is semantically middle. 
EGERQH- is often most naturally interpreted as having the subject as agent 
and patient. This is common middle semantics. "TI EPOIHSAS? - HGERQH." should 
not be strange, as it would be if HGERQH was semantically passive. Therefore 
the morphological distinction between the passive and the middle is not 

8) It does not follow from 7 that the distinction is not real or that there is 
no semantic difference between the morphoparadigms in some cases. Proof for 
the distinction is asymmetry: the passive morphoparadigm can be a passive of 
either the active or the middle morphoparadigm, but the middle morphoparadigm 
cannot be a passive for the passive morphoparadigm.

Any thoughts?


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