Intransitivity and the Middle Voice in NT

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davidmccollough
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Intransitivity and the Middle Voice in NT

Post by davidmccollough » April 7th, 2016, 8:45 am

Is intransitivity marked by the middle voice in Koine for all verbs or only for some, such as παυω?

Eeli Kaikkonen
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Re: Intransitivity and the Middle Voice in NT

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » April 7th, 2016, 11:23 am

Many words in English can be used either transitively or intransitively, for example stop. "Stop!" means something different than "stop it!". "Stop" means that someone should stop moving or stop doing something. "Stop it" means for example that someone should push a button which stops a machine.

In Koine the mediopassive diathesis is marked for subject-affectedness. If someone stops moving or doing something he himself is affected by this stopping. Therefore the mediopassive diathesis fits well for this kind of intransitive action. It doesn't mean in itself that the verb is intransitive. And the active (default) diathesis can be also used for intransitive situations. But the active/mediopassive system is easy to use for transitive/intransitive situation pairs where the intrasitive means doing X (so that the subject is affected) and transitive means making or causing Y to do X (so that the object Y is affected). However, it doesn't mean that wherever you have this kind of semantic pair, active and mediopassive are actually used like this.

Eeli Kaikkonen
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Re: Intransitivity and the Middle Voice in NT

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » April 7th, 2016, 11:48 am

Compare for example grow and αὐξάνω. LSJ doesn't necessarily reflect well the Koine or New Testament usage, but it shows how there is one word, two diathesis and two intransitive (and at the same time subject-affected) meanings.

(It also shows how "passive voice" is misleading; it's just subject-affected mediopassive, one form of it.)
(P.S. There happens also to be a nice word for those who want to use Greek to discuss Greek grammar! I don't know if it's in any list of such words.)

davidmccollough
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Re: Intransitivity and the Middle Voice in NT

Post by davidmccollough » April 7th, 2016, 12:03 pm

Thank you! Your help is much appreciated!
So if I have a verb that has no direct object, I would consider it intransitive. Is this intransitivity then marked by a middle ending?

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Re: Intransitivity and the Middle Voice in NT

Post by cwconrad » April 7th, 2016, 1:15 pm

davidmccollough wrote:Thank you! Your help is much appreciated!
So if I have a verb that has no direct object, I would consider it intransitive. Is this intransitivity then marked by a middle ending?
Not so fast! Transitivity has to do with actions that impact an external object and alter it somehow; quite commonly, however, objects can be implicit rather than explicit, as in "This man is dangerous: he kills." Here no object of "he kills" is expressed, but it's clearly implicit that an implicit object is involved and that it's probably a plural. Here i think we tend to refer to the usage as absolute -- it's certainly not intransitive. On the other hand, in the sentence, "Joseph runs", the verb runs really is intransitive: the action of running has no impact on any external object -- unless, of course, someone is standing in Joseph's way and gets knocked down.

Gramamrspeak is called "metalanguage." Metalanguage is a double-edged sword: it can be and ought to be helpful in our effort to understand how language works, and in fact we can't really talk about how language works without using metalanguage. The problem is that metalanguage depends upon words used in a technical sense and on being clear about what those words are referring to. I sometimes think that there's more miscommunication in metalanguage than in language, but there's plenty of miscommunication in both language and metalanguage.
οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

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

davidmccollough
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Re: Intransitivity and the Middle Voice in NT

Post by davidmccollough » April 7th, 2016, 1:34 pm

That makes sense. So Matt 27:5b καὶ ἀπελθὼν ἀπήγξατο is not intransitive, but absolute, or at least the object, himself, is implied - Judas hung (himself).

If I was composing in Greek and I wished to write something intransitive, would I most naturally use the middle voice?
Perhaps I'm looking for a rule when there is none!

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Re: Intransitivity and the Middle Voice in NT

Post by cwconrad » April 7th, 2016, 1:47 pm

Eeli Kaikkonen wrote:Compare for example grow and αὐξάνω. LSJ doesn't necessarily reflect well the Koine or New Testament usage, but it shows how there is one word, two diathesis and two intransitive (and at the same time subject-affected) meanings.

(It also shows how "passive voice" is misleading; it's just subject-affected mediopassive, one form of it.)
(P.S. There happens also to be a nice word for those who want to use Greek to discuss Greek grammar! I don't know if it's in any list of such words.)
There is a list of ancient Greek grammatical terms, a "Wiktionary" (thanks for it are due Paul Nitz), accessible at https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/ ... edit#gid=0
It includes a term for "middle-passive" that I coined here:ἑαυτικὴ (διάθεσις); it's based on the reflexive pronoun, ἑαυτοῦ/ἑαυτῆς/ἑαυτοῦ to suggest the essential characteristic of middle-passive forms, "subject-affectedness." I would prefer to use it for both middle-passive (μαι/σαι/ται;μην/σο/το) forms and the θη/η passive forms, inasmuch as both morphological patterns are employed to indicate actions initiated within the grammatical subject or impacting the grammatical subject. Whether any particular verb-form in either of these morphological paradigms is middle or passive semantically depends upon the transitivity and aspectual nature of the particular verb. I've also suggested that we should use the term κοινὴ (διάθεσις) instead of the traditional term "active" -- for the reason that "active" voice is really the "common" or "undefined" morphological paradigm for voice in distinction from the ἔαυτική.

The whole metalanguage used to describe ancient Greek voice is, in my opinion, far from ideal. The term "voice" itself doesn't represent the Greek term διάθεσις at all. Better for διάθεσις would be "disposition" or "relational stance" -- but neither is adequate. Τhe earliest extant Greek grammarian, Dionysius Thrax, spoke of two διαθέσεις: ἐνέργεια and πάθος; these got "adjectivized" as ἐνεργητική and παθητική, by which DT surely intended us to understand "active" and both "middle-passive" and "passive" -- but then he added μεσότης. That is the apparent source of the traditional term "middle". In my opinion, that was unfortunate; he only meant to point to verbs that had forms in both paradigms, but the term came to be understood as a distinct morphological paradigm with a sense halfway between "active" and "passive". And in the course of a long tradition, DL's μεσότης has also had much to do with the unfortunate concept of "deponency." It's a long, sad story, and I'll hasten to add, a controversial one.
οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

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

cwconrad
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Re: Intransitivity and the Middle Voice in NT

Post by cwconrad » April 7th, 2016, 2:03 pm

davidmccollough wrote:That makes sense. So Matt 27:5b καὶ ἀπελθὼν ἀπήγξατο is not intransitive, but absolute, or at least the object, himself, is implied - Judas hung (himself).

If I was composing in Greek and I wished to write something intransitive, would I most naturally use the middle voice?
Perhaps I'm looking for a rule when there is none!
Sorry, that still doesn't quite work. ἀπήγξατο is middle. This verb is, in fact, transitive, In the active it would be used of an act of execution performed upon another person, presumably a criminal. In the middle it is a reflexive action performed by the subject upon himself. In this instance the subject is also the "patient" the person receiving the action of the transitive verb, the person upon whom the action is performed.

Middle voice has been defined (shall we say "classically") as polysemous. Verbs conjugated with middle inflection may be transitive or intransitive or even impersonal (ἐνδέχεται "it is acceptable, admissible").

I would advise students in the earlier stages of learning Greek not to get too immersed in grammatical "metalanguage" any sooner than they have to. It's far easier to learn the range of usage of middle-voice and passive voice in the course of reading exemplary sentences and observing voice usage in shorter or longer passages of Greek text. When you learn usage by reading, you tend to come to understand "how the words mean" through observation and recognition without pausing any longer than necessary for analysis of grammatical constructions. The "trouble" with grammar is that, however helpful it can be, it is often more confusing than it is helpful; that's especially the case when you attempt to draw out implications from a grammatical rule that's not really carefully formulated.
οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

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

davidmccollough
Posts: 25
Joined: June 27th, 2012, 5:33 am

Re: Intransitivity and the Middle Voice in NT

Post by davidmccollough » April 7th, 2016, 2:14 pm

Thank you very much. This has been very enlightening. It seems clear that the only way to successful understanding is voluminous reading of Greek texts!
Again, thank you!

Eeli Kaikkonen
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Re: Intransitivity and the Middle Voice in NT

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » April 7th, 2016, 3:47 pm

cwconrad wrote: (P.S. There happens also to be a nice word for those who want to use Greek to discuss Greek grammar! I don't know if it's in any list of such words.)
There is a list of ancient Greek grammatical terms, a "Wiktionary" (thanks for it are due Paul Nitz), accessible at https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/ ... edit#gid=0[/quote]

Thanks for the link. I actually meant the LSJ entry for αὐξάνω:
IV. of Verbs, take the augment, both Act. and Pass., Hdn.Epim.280; αὔξουσα (sc. συλλαβή), ἡ, augment, ibid. (Cf. ἀέξω.)
This is not in the mentioned list.

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