An English "Deponent"

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Stephen Carlson
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An English "Deponent"

Post by Stephen Carlson » March 26th, 2015, 5:10 pm

Sometimes in teaching Greek it is useful to point analogous phenomena in the learners' own language. So-called "deponent" (or more properly media tanta) verbs are one example.On the the Lingua Franca blog, Geoffrey Pullum mentioned an English example:
The verb rumor has no active form, so we have to say The count is rumored to be a vampire; the active counterpart *People rumor the count to be a vampire is not grammatical.
Of course, the phenomenon is considerably more rare in English, but there it is nonetheless.

ETA: Pullum's post was taken down since my posting this.
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Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
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Jonathan Robie
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Re: An English "Deponent"

Post by Jonathan Robie » March 27th, 2015, 9:15 am

English tends to go the other direction. Ergative verbs require the logical subject to be absent in sentences like these:

The book sold 100 copies
* The book sold 100 copies by the book store

The boat sank
* The boat sank by the man who submerged it

The window broke
* The window broke by the burglar

Also consider:

The school graduated him (less common usage today)
He graduated from the school
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

cwconrad
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Re: An English "Deponent"

Post by cwconrad » March 27th, 2015, 10:00 am

Jonathan Robie wrote:English tends to go the other direction. Ergative verbs require the logical subject to be absent in sentences like these:

The book sold 100 copies
* The book sold 100 copies by the book store

The boat sank
* The boat sank by the man who submerged it

The window broke
* The window broke by the burglar

Also consider:

The school graduated him (less common usage today)
He graduated from the school
I think that the agent-phrases, "by the book store", "by the man who submerged it", and "by the burglar" are not normal English usage (not normal American English usage, at least). I think too that what we call "active voice' in English is pretty much like what we call "active voice" in Greek: a default form for verbs that may be transitive, intransitive, impersonal. Usages of "sell", "sink", and "break" in the English sentences cited by Jonathan might be conveyed by Active or by Middle-Passive forms, depending on the individual verb. Voice usage in the English verb is not very clearly described in conventional (traditional school) English grammar. I think that "ergative" is the right term for several of these verbs which are clearly semi-reflexive -- like many Greek middle-voice verbs.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

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

Jonathan Robie
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Re: An English "Deponent"

Post by Jonathan Robie » March 27th, 2015, 10:22 am

cwconrad wrote:I think that the agent-phrases, "by the book store", "by the man who submerged it", and "by the burglar" are not normal English usage (not normal American English usage, at least).
Agreed. The asterisk marks usages that are not correct English. That's a convention that linguists use.
cwconrad wrote:Voice usage in the English verb is not very clearly described in conventional (traditional school) English grammar.
I wonder if voice is clearly described in conventional grammars for any language. Someone on this list might know a language for which it is.
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

cwconrad
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Re: An English "Deponent"

Post by cwconrad » March 27th, 2015, 12:39 pm

Jonathan Robie wrote:
cwconrad wrote:I think that the agent-phrases, "by the book store", "by the man who submerged it", and "by the burglar" are not normal English usage (not normal American English usage, at least).
Agreed. The asterisk marks usages that are not correct English. That's a convention that linguists use..
OK; being neither a linguist nor the son of a linguist, I use the convention of conventional English: [sic!]
Jonathan Robie wrote:
cwconrad wrote:Voice usage in the English verb is not very clearly described in conventional (traditional school) English grammar.
I wonder if voice is clearly described in conventional grammars for any language. Someone on this list might know a language for which it is.
It's hard enough to find it clearly described in unconventional grammars.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

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

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