Lesson 21: More on the Aorist Middle and Passive

I have added lesson 21 (Aorist Middle/Passive) to the online grammar. Because I am working late at night—rushing to get it up and running before I go back to work tomorrow—I’m sure there will be a few typographical errors that I will need to correct over the next few days. Still, I thought it would be best to get the text “out there” so you can have a look at it and give my any feedback you would like.

As I have done with other lessons recently, I have uploaded it without the automated practice exercises. I will get to those soon (I hope!).

Lesson 21: Verbs: More on the Aorist Middle and Passive

Progress on Lesson 21 (Aorist Middle/Passive)

I spent some very good time this morning at a coffee shop working on lesson 21. I’m writing the Reading and Translation section now. I’m working against the clock since I have to go back to work on Monday, and I’ll be out of town a good part of the weekend. As soon as I finish the lesson I’ll post a notice here.

Lesson 20: The Middle Voice, The Aorist Middle

Well… After a very long wait, I’ve finally uploaded my lesson on the Aorist Middle. As I have done with a few other lessons, I’ve uploaded it without the automated practice exercises. I hope to finish those over the next few days. For now, I’d love to have your reaction to the discussion and the particular examples I’ve chosen.

Feel free to criticize, suggest revisions, etc.

Back to Greek tomorrow

I spent the day today in a training seminar on teaching English to speakers of other languages. I’ll be back to working on Greek tomorrow.

I spent Monday working on the next lesson for the online grammar, dealing with the middle voice. I hope to finish it in the next few days.

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

What's Next for the Online Grammar?

Well… It’s been a long time since I’ve made any substantive changes to my online grammar. In part this has been because responsibilities at work have taken too much of my time. Another reason, though is that I’ve been struggling with what to do with the issue of voice.

My original intention was simply to convert to a form suitable for the web the old grammar that I wrote in the early ’90s. I intended to do very little editing. Shortly after I posted the lesson on passive voice, though, I realized that this is not a workable option. My views on voice have changed too much to simply post what I wrote back then. So… I have delayed further progress on the grammar till I can see how revising this part will affect the remainder of the lessons.

In the mean time, I hope to post here a few thoughts on particular verbs, especially ones that have middle voice lexical forms (present tense/aspect), but active voice forms for other principal parts. Take ἔρχομαι, for example. While it’s meaning fits nicely with the semantic value of the middle voice, and it consistently has middle voice forms in the present, its aorist forms are typically active voice (ἦλθον, etc.). If we dispense with the notion of “deponent” (as I think we should), how do we account for this variation of voice forms between tenses/aspects without going into too much detail for an introductory grammar?

Renaming the Greek "Middle" Voice?

I agree with Carl Conrad that the term “Middle Voice” creates the false impression that the real contrast in Greek is between active and passive and that the “middle” voice is something of a misfit in an otherwise clear system. I have been thinking about what term could be used to replace “middle” that would avoid this implication and better fit the actual usage of what we have all been calling the “middle” voice.

Here’s my problem: The Greek middle voice is clearly NOT equivalent to the English reflexive construction, but it IS very much like the reflexive of some other IndoEuropean languages. I happen to be a fluent speaker of Spanish, so examples from that language are very easy for me to produce, but the same is true for French and Italian according to what I have read on those languages.

Here are a few Spanish reflexive constructions with English equivalents. Notice that there is a good deal of difference between the two languages in their use of reflexives. All of the Spanish sentences have reflexive constructions. Many of the English equivalents do not.

Me corté.
I cut myself.
Me corté el dedo.
I cut my finger.
Me voy.
I’m leaving.
Me compré un nuevo reloj.
I bought myself a new watch.
¿Te diste cuenta que Alfredo ya llegó?
Did you realize that Alfredo has arrived?
Se despertó el bebe.
The baby woke up.

Of course I could write hundreds of these examples easily, but I think this is enough to make the point. Reflexive constructions vary widely between languages. The Greek “middle” voice is very much like the reflexive of Romance languages, but quite unlike the English reflexive. If I were writing a Greek grammar in Spanish, there’s no question of what I would call the “middle” voice: la voz reflexiva. But calling it the “Reflexive Voice” in English could cause serious confusion since many “middle” voice Greek verbs require active voice English translations, not reflexive ones.

So, what should we call the “middle” voice to avoid the confusion caused by the term “middle” and also avoid the confusion that could be created by calling this voice “reflexive” in English?

Carl Conrad's "Understanding Ancient Greek Voice"

Several links in the discussion below have ceased to work, so I have disabled them. You can now find the papers referenced in this post at Professor Conrad’s Ancient Greek Voice page at Washington State University.

If you are interested in the topic of Voice and the problematic issue of deponency, you should read Carl Conrad’s “Active, Middle, and Passive: Understanding Ancient Greek Voice.” It’s available as a PDF download from http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad.

For further discussion of the same issues, see his “New Observations on Voice in the Ancient Greek Verb.” This 21 page discussion provides wonderful detail and clear reasoning. He raises compelling questions about the semantic import of the morphological distinction between what have traditionally been called the aorist middle and passive forms.

You can find the paper at http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad.

It’s wonderful to have both his and Pennington’s views on the topic available online for free!