[B-Greek] A new stab at voice

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Tue Oct 16 16:15:30 EDT 2007

On Oct 16, 2007, at 2:13 PM, Kimmo Huovila wrote:

> Thanks for your response. The bibliography was excellent. If only I  
> had the
> extra time to read more before I give a lecture on Greek voice :-(

All you need do, of course, is state at the outset that you're not  
giving anything more than a progress report on a work in progress.  
That's the advice I used to give candidates writing dissertations who  
supposed that they were supposed to settle the questions they were  
writing about definitively and for all time.

> On Tuesday 16 October 2007, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>> "Subject-affectedness" rather than transitivity is the chief feature
>> distinguishing the voice-forms in ancient Greek. Verbs with "active"
>> morphology are UNMARKED, while verbs with "middle" or "passive"
>> morphology are MARKED for subject-affectedness. But transitivity is a
>> factor in the differentiation between "middle" and "active" forms of
>> quite a few verbs: there is a sizable category of middle-voice verbs
>> of Spontaneous process, Mental process, Body motion, and Collective
>> motion that are intransitive but that have active-voice causative
>> forms that are transitive (e.g. hISTAMAI/hISTHMI, AGEIROMAI/AGEIRW,
>> FOBEOMAI/FOBEW). Egbert Bakker's article cited above nicely sketches
>> out the interrelationship between voice, transitivity, and causality.
> How do you define subject-affectedness?

Well, you've said that "The subject of a middle fulfills two roles in  
the sentence." If the subject is an Agent, then he/she may also be a  
Beneficiary, Recipient, Experiencer, or a Patient; but the subject  
may also undergo a change of state as a consequence of the action/ 
process indicated by the verb. If the subject is not an Agent at all,  
then he/she/it may be the Patient undergoing a process of change. At  
any rate, the subject of a Middle verb must be more than an Agent; he/ 
she/it must be a Patient, Beneficiary, Recipient, or Experiencer. Any  
one of these roles implies that the subject of the verb is affected  
by the action/process.

>> It would, I think, be better to speak of "agentive" and "non-
>> agentive" verbs and to note whether the action/process indicated by
>> the verb is voluntary or involuntary (spontaneous). I would
>> personally say that EBAPTISQHSAN ought not to be understood as a
>> "passive verb" in the sense that the subject is solely the patient;
>> rather I agree with Kimmo that willing participation in the process
>> is clearly involved here. The difference between the form EBAPTISANTO
>> and EBAPTISQHSAN lies in the fact that the former indicates the
>> subjects performs the action of baptism upon persons other than
>> themselves, whereas the latter indicates that the subjects have
>> themselves undergone the action of baptism, presumably voluntarily
>> (for if not, what validity would the baptism have?).
> If EBAPTISQHSAN is semantically passive, the willing participation  
> is only
> assumed based on context. It is not stated. If it is semantically  
> middle, the
> participation is more foregrounded in the expression. Either will  
> do in at
> least most contexts, so there is some room for argument. However,  
> the fact
> that usually the verb is morphologically passive may be an  
> indicator that the
> Greeks did not care to make the distinction here (the middle was  
> not a common
> option, so it is much more marked; perhaps the passive did double  
> duty). The
> middle is found in Mark 7:4, where it is quite clearly middle  
> semantics (and
> the object is not another person). I do not know where else the  
> middle is
> found (but I have not really searched much). You must have thought of
> different examples.

But why should we suppose that EBAPTISQHSAN is unconditionally  
semantically passive? Morphologically speaking, its form would  
represent middle or passive semantics -- or both: the subject may  
function as voluntary patient. For what it's worth, let me simply  
ask: if the subject of a baptismal process does not voluntarily  
undergo the process, can we conceive the action/process as having any  
efficacy? Or when Peter in Acts 2:38 says, βαπτισθήτω  
ἕκαστος ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι  
Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν  
ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν καὶ λήμψεσθε τὴν  
δωρεὰν τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος (BAPTISQHTW  
suppose that the imperative BAPTISQHTW hEKASTOS hUMWN means that the  
persons addresssed are passive involuntary objects of action  
performed by some other?

>>> HGERQH." should
>>> not be strange, as it would be if HGERQH was semantically passive.
> My typo. HGERQHN, of course.
>> Bakker (cited above) rightly notes the importance of
>> Aktionsart and transitivity in relationship to the semantic force of
>> the morphoparadigm representing the action/process in particular
>> instances.
> How does he see the relationship between Aktionsart (a term we  
> should dispose
> of, IMHO) and voice? -QH-paradigm more perfective (or bounded or  
> aoristic)
> than the middle paradigm or something else?

You'd have to read his article. Let me just cite this:

"Inherently punctual vs. inherently durative event-types: aorist-stem  
roots vs. present-stem roots: “Event-types like ‘die’ or  
‘arrive’, for example, are inherently punctual, so that verbs  
denoting these event-  types in discourse are overwhelmingly aorist.  
The aorist stem of these verbs is morphologically unmarked and   
simple and as such the preferred realization of the verb in  
discourse; the present/imperfect stem of such verbs, on the other  
hand, is morphologically marked and complex:
aor. ἀφικέσθαι (AFIKESQAI) vs. pres.  
ἀφικνεῖσθαι (AFIKNEISQAI)."

>> Thank you, Kimmo, for a stimulating report. Keep at it!
> I'll keep thinking about it at least until my lecture. Afterwards I'll
> probably find other things to think about :-)

Pity: you should tell them you'll have more to say in your NEXT lecture!

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Ret)

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