Lesson 19: Semantic Roles and Voice, The Aorist Passive

I’ve uploaded a slightly revised version of Lesson 19: Semantic Roles and Voice: the Aorist Passive.

The changes are designed to make it clear that what has traditionally been called the Aorist Passive is a set of forms that, while they often suggest a passive interpretation, are not exclusively (or even primarily) passive.

The middle voice will be introduced later, and at that point I will have more to say about Greek voice, and I’ll introduce the notion of transitivity. My goals for this lesson are simply to introduce the notion of the semantic roles AGENT and PATIENT—establishing their independence from specific morphological Case forms—and to introduce the forms traditionally called aorist passive.

I would love to hear from readers about how well you think I have accomplished these goals and about how clearly (or unclearly) I have handled the issue of insuring that students do not equate these forms exclusively with passive voice interpretations.

Lesson 19: Semantic Roles and Voice: the Aorist Passive

5 Replies to “Lesson 19: Semantic Roles and Voice, The Aorist Passive”

  1. This is much improved. I do note, however, that you use the future χαρήσομαι which does indeed have the aor. passive FORM, but is clearly a middle future based on the aorist ἐχάρην. That is to say, it’s not passive at all. I really wish we could find a better term to describe the θη forms — my term “MP2” is only a stopgap term, although it’s more accurately descriptive of what the form is: a second paradigm for middle-passive semantics. I note also a typo: ἁμάρτωλος is spelled in your vocabulary ἁμάρτολος. Finally, a quibble over Englishing of  ἠγέρθη: “arose” seems awkward and archaic; don’t we more commonly say now, “got up”? This is a matter of current idiomatic usage, I think.

  2. Thank you, Carl. I did include the future middle form χαρήσομαι in the vocabulary list without having provided any discussion of such forms yet. That was perhaps a mistake. At this point in the grammar I’m including the first two “principal parts” for all verbs. Perhaps I should move χαίρω/ἐχάρην to a later lesson so that the future form will make more sense.

    On a different note, I’m trying to walk the tight rope of being faithful to what we now know about Greek voice and still equipping students to use the older tools (lexica, reference grammars, analytical texts, etc.) with understanding. When I get to what are traditionally called “deponent” verbs, for example, I plan to call them “lexical passives” and “lexical middles” depending on their form and explain in a text box to the side that these are called “deponent” in older discussions. I’ll explain the newer terms and the reason for their use, but without going into too much detail for a beginning grammar.

    As to the terminology for the θη forms, I intend to deal with that in the lesson on the aorist middle. I’ll review the θη forms there and present some cases where they are clearly middle rather than passive. At that point I’ll get into better terminology.

    Frankly, I like your term MP2. While I have a general aversion to acronyms, I like the way MP2 clearly communicates that these are alternative MIDDLE forms. By the time I get to writing the new lesson on aorist middle, I may be able to come up with something appropriately short that will communicate the same thing without the need for an acronym, but I doubt it.

    1. On a different note, I’m trying to walk the tight rope of being faithful to what we now know about Greek voice and still equipping students to use the older tools (lexica, reference grammars, analytical texts, etc.) with understanding.

      I’ve been finding recently in reading the old grammars that the now common definition of deponency that we find today, “middle/passive in form, active in meaning,” doesn’t occur. Its not in Robertson. Nor is it in Thackeray’s translation of Blass, James H. Moulton’s Prolegomena, not even in W. F. Moulton’s translation of Winer (1882). The earliest reference to it or something similar in New Testament Grammars is in James H. Moulton’s Introduction to the Study of New Testament Greek from 1898 (4th ed. 1911), but even then Moulton includes an important word that we don’t see in Mounce, or Wallace, or Porter, or Young: deponents are middle/passive in form, but *practically* active in meaning. As far as I can tell, over time this word dropped out and a beginning grammar ended up having more influence on how we talk about Greek voice than the reference grammars ever did, which, unfortunately, isn’t surprising.

      1. But even “practically active” is not sufficiently clear. More useful, I think, is Rijksbaron’s usage of the term “agentive” for a process initiated by the subject. One major difficulty here is that “middle” verbs include both “transitive agentive” verbs and intransitive verbs.

      2. Agreed. It is not sufficiently clear. And we can only wonder how Moulton taught his class. But I would hypothesize that it was still a failure to pay attention to that word and give priority to an introductory discussion such as this that has put us in the position we’re in today where even the insufficient “practically” has disappeared from not only our beginning grammars, but also our intermediate ones with no true advanced reference grammar yet in sight.

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