Feedback on Greek Voice Tagging and Rationale

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Feedback on Greek Voice Tagging and Rationale

Postby cwconrad » April 14th, 2014, 2:09 pm

I want to pose three questions bearing on our understanding of ancient Greek voice and the terms used to indicate what I call “morphoparadigms” – the paradigm groups of forms that are distinguished by the traditional active, middle-passive, and passive voice markers. By way of preface, here’s a bit about my work over the years on these questions.

Veteran B-Greekers know that Greek verbal voice has been my hobbyhorse for a decade and a half; I have regularly shared – ad nauseam -- discoveries and concerns (my first foray into the matter was in May of 1997: http://www.ibiblio.org/bgreek/archives/97-05/msg00491.html I am fundamentally a teacher, not a scholar. I have a solid grounding in traditional grammatical lore, but no grounding at all in Linguistics; I tend to be rather skeptical of both, perhaps overly so. After years of observing, comparing, reading and thinking about voice forms and usage, I am convinced that middle and passive morphology both are distinctly marked for subject-affectedness, while active morphology is not so marked. I’m also convinced that in later Greek aorist θη forms gradually supplanted older aorist –μην/σο/το forms (ἀπεκρίνατο became ἀπεκρίθη, ἐγένετο became ἐγενήθη) and I believe this change was evidently taking place as the text of the GNT was emerging. I urge “laying aside” the “deponency” doctrine which holds that verbs wanting active-voice forms in the present-indicative are somehow defective, that they may once have had active forms but have “laid them aside” (that’s what “deponent” means). I’ve been pleased to find my observations and hypothesizing confirmed in the work of Suzanne Kemmer, Rutger Allan, and others. I confess that I still do not believe that all of the observed facts fall readily into a wholly satisfying framework, but I believe it is time to drop the traditional pedagogical account of Greek voice and the notion of “deponent” verbs as a sort of misfits in an otherwise intelligible framework of morphoparadigms bearing discernible active, middle, and passive semantic force.

I now seek feedback regarding a brief rationale that I have written for the Friberg Analytical Greek New Testament (AGNT). AGNT is one of several parsing tools available for students, pastors and others providing basic details of every inflected word in the GNT. I have volunteered for some time as a consultant to the AGNT project, while continuing to oppose tagging GNT middle-voice verbs as deponents. Below are two downloadable documents; the first is the current rationale for voice tagging in AGNT; the second is my own alternative rationale for dropping the notion of “deponency” and adopting a simpler tagging of morphoparadigms.

I argue that the morphoparadigms for voice should be tagged by using the characters A, M, and P without any implication of semantic force of verb-endings including μαι/σαι/ται κτλ. or θη. I maintain that middle-passive and passive morphoparadigms are both marked for subject-affectedness, and that the “active” morphoparadigm is employed for semantically active, intransitive, and even some passive verbs, but is unmarked for subject-affectedness, and I endeavor to show how centuries of linguistic change have impacted a Greek voice system that evidently did not trouble native users but tends to confound learners.

Here are the original account (from current print and digital editions of AGNT) and the alternative account that I have prepared:

ORIGINAL AGNT 5.3 on VOICE.pdf
(1.59 MiB) Downloaded 17 times

ALTERNATE AGNT 5.3 ON VOICE.pdf
(87.08 KiB) Downloaded 26 times

Question 1: Is my own rationale (ALTERNATIVE AGNT 53 ON VOICE) for tagging Greek verbs for voice as A, M, P clear/intelligible and persuasive? What in particular needs clarification? How might it be improved without expanding it considerably?

Question 2: Is the ORIGINAL AGNT 5.3 ON VOICE still intelligible and persuasive? Does it make a clear and convincing case for classifying verb forms as “deponents”? Can the traditional notion of deponent verbs be defended in this day and age?

Question 3: Finally, how should we best tag Greek verb forms for voice? I would prefer to designate both “middle-passive” and “passive” morphoparadigms with the Greek phrase ἑαυτικὴ διάθεσις and the “active” morphoparadigms with the Greek phrase κοινὴ διάθεσις; that, I think, would be too radical a change for those who learned Greek voice the old-fashioned way; my “halfway-house” alternative – employing “A” for “active” morphoparadigms, “MP1” for “middle-passive” forms in μαι/σαι/ται κτλ. and “MP2” for “passive” forms in θη (since verbs containing θη are also ambivalent with regard to voice) may likewise seem too radical. Another suggestion is using α, β, and γ to designate the three morphological paradigms, thereby freeing them all from any name implying a semantic force to be associated with the morphology. What do you think?
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Re: Feedback on Greek Voice Tagging and Rationale

Postby Eeli Kaikkonen » April 14th, 2014, 4:12 pm

"Middle marking indicates that the subject is somehow involved in the action or process to
which the verb refers."

This is explained right away, but the statement itself is ambiguous. This could be said about every active transitive verb, too. If I εγειρω something I am involved in the action, am I not?
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Re: Feedback on Greek Voice Tagging and Rationale

Postby Eeli Kaikkonen » April 14th, 2014, 4:24 pm

I'm trying to find an informal description for myself.

"If I do it, something (which is in the meaning of the verb) happens to me." If I raise someone, the thing which the verb describes happens to someone else. If I rise, it happens to me. The former is active in Greek, the latter is medio-passive.
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Re: Feedback on Greek Voice Tagging and Rationale

Postby Jonathan Robie » April 14th, 2014, 5:03 pm

More useful than older categorizations of types of “deponent” verbs is discernment of several recurrent patterns of verbs in terms of middle-voice function in each: (a) Transitive verbs that are regular display the full gamut of forms: Active present ποιεῖν aorist ποιῆσαι, Middle present ποιεῖσθαι aorist ποιήσασθαι Passive aorist ποιηθῆναι; (b) Intransitive verbs of one common type may display a present middle δύνασθαι, πορεύεσθαι and an aorist passive δυνηθῆναι, πορευθῆναι; (c) Intransitive verbs of another common type may display middle forms in both the present and aorist (γίνεσθαι, γενέσθαι; κτᾶσθαι, κτήσασθαι; (d) Some older irregular verbs display middle forms in the present and intransitive active forms in the perfect (πείθεσθαι, πεποιθέναι; γίνεσθαι, γέγονέναι; ἵστασθαιι, ἕστηκέναι.


Very clearly written, and reasonably easy to read.

What I would really like is a more complete list of verbs classified according to this scheme...
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: Feedback on Greek Voice Tagging and Rationale

Postby Stephen Carlson » April 15th, 2014, 9:02 am

cwconrad wrote:Question 1: Is my own rationale (ALTERNATIVE AGNT 53 ON VOICE) for tagging Greek verbs for voice as A, M, P clear/intelligible and persuasive? What in particular needs clarification? How might it be improved without expanding it considerably?

I agree with Jonathan that it is very clear written and I agree with Eeli's reservations over the term "involved." At one level of vagueness it might refer to any argument of the verb, including transitive agents, etc. In fact, I remember reading one linguist essentially the defining a middle as a passive in which the subject is also involved in the action. In that usage, "involved" takes on a more active, agentive meaning. "Marked for subject-affectedness" is probably the best we can get. I think it is also good to point out that many reflexive usages in Greek are handled with morphologically active verbs and reflexive object pronouns.

cwconrad wrote:Question 2: Is the ORIGINAL AGNT 5.3 ON VOICE still intelligible and persuasive? Does it make a clear and convincing case for classifying verb forms as “deponents”? Can the traditional notion of deponent verbs be defended in this day and age?

Upon reading it, I realized just how much of a kludge deponency is. All those rules about identifying which kind and no real insight into their meaning. Fie!

cwconrad wrote:Question 3: Finally, how should we best tag Greek verb forms for voice? I would prefer to designate both “middle-passive” and “passive” morphoparadigms with the Greek phrase ἑαυτικὴ διάθεσις and the “active” morphoparadigms with the Greek phrase κοινὴ διάθεσις; that, I think, would be too radical a change for those who learned Greek voice the old-fashioned way; my “halfway-house” alternative – employing “A” for “active” morphoparadigms, “MP1” for “middle-passive” forms in μαι/σαι/ται κτλ. and “MP2” for “passive” forms in θη (since verbs containing θη are also ambivalent with regard to voice) may likewise seem too radical. Another suggestion is using α, β, and γ to designate the three morphological paradigms, thereby freeing them all from any name implying a semantic force to be associated with the morphology. What do you think?

I think A, M, and P for active, middle, and passive is fine. They are the traditional terms and they cover the prototypical uses. Just because some non-typical uses don't fall under the umbrella doesn't necessary that it is a bad time. It is the same way with tense: the past tense isn't always past time but still an appropriate name.
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke, New Testament)
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Re: Feedback on Greek Voice Tagging and Rationale

Postby Jonathan Robie » April 15th, 2014, 9:10 am

Stephen Carlson wrote:
cwconrad wrote:Question 1: Is my own rationale (ALTERNATIVE AGNT 53 ON VOICE) for tagging Greek verbs for voice as A, M, P clear/intelligible and persuasive? What in particular needs clarification? How might it be improved without expanding it considerably?

I agree with Jonathan that it is very clear written and I agree with Eeli's reservations over the term "involved." At one level of vagueness it might refer to any argument of the verb, including transitive agents, etc. In fact, I remember reading one linguist essentially the defining a middle as a passive in which the subject is also involved in the action. In that usage, "involved" takes on a more active, agentive meaning. "Marked for subject-affectedness" is probably the best we can get. I think it is also good to point out that many reflexive usages in Greek are handled with morphologically active verbs and reflexive object pronouns.

cwconrad wrote:Question 2: Is the ORIGINAL AGNT 5.3 ON VOICE still intelligible and persuasive? Does it make a clear and convincing case for classifying verb forms as “deponents”? Can the traditional notion of deponent verbs be defended in this day and age?

Upon reading it, I realized just how much of a kludge deponency is. All those rules about identifying which kind and no real insight into their meaning. Fie!

cwconrad wrote:Question 3: Finally, how should we best tag Greek verb forms for voice? I would prefer to designate both “middle-passive” and “passive” morphoparadigms with the Greek phrase ἑαυτικὴ διάθεσις and the “active” morphoparadigms with the Greek phrase κοινὴ διάθεσις; that, I think, would be too radical a change for those who learned Greek voice the old-fashioned way; my “halfway-house” alternative – employing “A” for “active” morphoparadigms, “MP1” for “middle-passive” forms in μαι/σαι/ται κτλ. and “MP2” for “passive” forms in θη (since verbs containing θη are also ambivalent with regard to voice) may likewise seem too radical. Another suggestion is using α, β, and γ to designate the three morphological paradigms, thereby freeing them all from any name implying a semantic force to be associated with the morphology. What do you think?

I think A, M, and P for active, middle, and passive is fine. They are the traditional terms and they cover the prototypical uses. Just because some non-typical uses don't fall under the umbrella doesn't necessary that it is a bad time. It is the same way with tense: the past tense isn't always past time but still an appropriate name.


I agree with Stephen's answers, but I would expand on the answer to Question 3. You have yourself argued that the differences in meaning are lexically based. That means that the lexicon should make these distinctions, or we should make lists of verbs according to their semantics with respect to voice.
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: Feedback on Greek Voice Tagging and Rationale

Postby cwconrad » April 15th, 2014, 9:29 am

Eeli Kaikkonen wrote:"Middle marking indicates that the subject is somehow involved in the action or process to
which the verb refers."

This is explained right away, but the statement itself is ambiguous. This could be said about every active transitive verb, too. If I εγειρω something I am involved in the action, am I not?


Eeli Kaikkonen wrote:I'm trying to find an informal description for myself.

"If I do it, something (which is in the meaning of the verb) happens to me." If I raise someone, the thing which the verb describes happens to someone else. If I rise, it happens to me. The former is active in Greek, the latter is medio-passive.


That’s helpful. The troublesome sentence might be reformulated to include these elements: “Middle marking indicates that the subject is somehow involved in the action or process to which the verb refers. The subject may be an agent and also a patient (direct reflexive), or an agent and also a beneficiary (indirect reflexive). The subject may be a patient affected by an external agent or instrument (passive). The subject may be an experiencer receiving sensations or responding emotionally or engaging in a cognitive process or interaction with another or others. The subject may be an undergoer of an internal process, whether spontaneous or voluntary (birth, growth, change,body movement, spatial movement).”
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Re: Feedback on Greek Voice Tagging and Rationale

Postby cwconrad » April 15th, 2014, 9:36 am

Jonathan Robie wrote:What I would really like is a more complete list of verbs classified according to this scheme...

Rutger Allan’s dissertation offers several lists of verbs by category drawn from Homeric and Classical Greek. For illustrative purposes I’m uploading below another PDF, an article by Neva Miller originally published in the appendix to the Friberg Analytical Lexicon of the GNT (ANLEX) in 2000. The author was thinking about “deponency” along the same lines as I was thinking. A helpful feature of her article is a categorized list of middle (“deponent”) verbs. I am preparing a similar listing of GNT verbs for inclusion in an appendix, but I’ll be employing categories more closely following those of Suzanne Kemmer.

Neva_Miller_deponent_verbs_032814.pdf
(600.98 KiB) Downloaded 17 times
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Two "feeler" questions

Postby Stephen Hughes » April 15th, 2014, 12:25 pm

Are either of these things you would like to discuss further?

1) Your presentation labours because you are arguing from form to meaning when what you are essentially saying is meaning can be expressed in a number of forms.

Modern languages are generally presented from meaning to form, because their aim is that students will recognise and use language as fulfilling various parts of the communication process, rather than that the student will be able to passively decode forms. The teaching of Greek will eventually catch up - I hope - will your thoughts be there to meet learners when it does?

Are you interested in a reorientation to argue from meaning to form?

2) What is the tenor of the other sections of th's introduction? Yours is apologetic and aimed at a readership converwant with the status quo, whose opinion you would like to change. I think that type of transitional piece - fitting into the time between ideas in the history of ideas belongs now in a journal and later in an appendix.

Who are the people who use books like the one you'try writing for? I guess that their tabulates is for the most part rasa. For them, you can write as if your ideas are correct, credible and convincing.

Are you interested to write your ideas; for learners as if it's the accepted view-point and a separate short appendix explaininformation how people used to have deponents, and what correspondence or difference there is between your current system and defunct system that will certainly cone across?
Stephen Hughes
"If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself."
(Attributed to Albert Einstein)
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Re: Two "feeler" questions

Postby cwconrad » April 15th, 2014, 1:39 pm

Stephen Hughes wrote:Are either of these things you would like to discuss further?

1) Your presentation labours because you are arguing from form to meaning when what you are essentially saying is meaning can be expressed in a number of forms.

Modern languages are generally presented from meaning to form, because their aim is that students will recognise and use language as fulfilling various parts of the communication process, rather than that the student will be able to passively decode forms. The teaching of Greek will eventually catch up - I hope - will your thoughts be there to meet learners when it does?

Are you interested in a reorientation to argue from meaning to form?

The document to which I'm seeking feedback here is intended to serve a narrower objective, namely, explaining why tagging verbs in terms of voice inflection only is more helpful to users of a parsed text than the existing tagging of verbs in terms of a convoluted scheme of unpredictable and scarcely-intelligible mixtures of form and meaning. If that sounds like gobbledy-gook, it's because I'm trying to replace the gobbledy-gook with a clearer accounting for the kinds of meanings that are implicit in the inflected forms of Greek verbs.

More to the point of your question, this is not a pedagogical document but rather a section in a lexical reference work -- specifically, it is an explanation of a parsing scheme for users thereof. A presentation of this understanding of ancient Greek voice in a classroom setting would be very different; so also would a monograph or lecture setting forth my understanding of ancient Greek voice inflection and meaning. At this point, however, I am more interested in understanding -- and helping others to understand -- how voice forms and meaning function in ancient Greek. In another discussion on how best to teach ancient Greek voice forms and usage I would have several other suggestions -- but that's not this discussion.

Stephen Hughes wrote:2) What is the tenor of the other sections of this introduction? Yours is apologetic and aimed at a readership conversant with the status quo, whose opinion you would like to change. I think that type of transitional piece - fitting into the time between ideas in the history of ideas belongs now in a journal and later in an appendix.

Again, my section §5.3 is part of an explanation of the tagging system employed in AGNT (as explained in my opening statement). Each section sets forth an explanation and a rationale for the tagging scheme for that element in the tagging scheme. I agree that a fuller exposition of linguistic change and apparent mismatches of inflected form and meaning with regard to voice in the ancient Greek verb belongs elsewhere than in the introduction to a parsing guide. Nevertheless, that issue cannot be left out of consideration even in the introductory material of a parsing guide. AGNT users will have the opportunity to toggle, as they choose, between the traditional tagging for voice and my alternative scheme. The two documents posted in my initial message are expositions of each tagging scheme.

Stephen Hughes wrote:Who are the people who use books like the one you'try writing for?

I think that question was answered in the initial post. The users will be, I think, chiefly those who have not yet mastered and perhaps are not likely ever to master Greek morphology so as to recognize an inflected-form at sight and grasp its intended semantic force at once. They will be beginners who haven't passed beyond the beginning and those who want to "consult" or "use" the text of the GNT without really "knowing" the language. Some of these will never get closer to the Greek text of the NT than what they can glean from an interlinear. We may hope, however, that some of them will ascend from the cave ...

Stephen Hughes wrote:Are you interested to write your ideas for learners as if it's the accepted view-point and a separate short appendix explain information how people used to have deponents, and what correspondence or difference there is between your current system and defunct system that will certainly come across?

I may have answered this question above, but I'm not altogether sure what you are asking.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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