Future Middle and Passive

Sky Scape of Lima, Peru
Sky Scape of Lima, Perú by George Miquilena (adapted by Micheal Palmer)

I’m enjoying the 67° weather (19.4° C) in Miraflores, investigating the future middle and passive in Ancient Greek. My goal is to read every occurrence of the future non-active forms in the Greek New Testament before returning to the US in a few days. It’s time I wrote lesson 24 for the online grammar!

Updates to lessons 22 and 23

I have updated lessons 22 and 23 (Present and Imperfect Middle/Passive). The changes to lesson 22 are very minor—just a few wording changes. The main change to lesson 23, though, is the deletion of the discussion on transitivity. I will introduce that topic in a later lesson with much better examples. This change helps unnecessary complication, tightening the focus on the issue of voice.

I also made a few changes to the course lexicon (cumulative vocabulary list) to improve entries for some of the verbs presented in these lessons.

Recommended post at ΕΝ ΕΦΕΣΩ

I highly recommend reading Mike Aubrey’s recent post on Dionysius Thrax over at ΕΝ ΕΦΕΣΩ.

He’s also posted his first installment of thoughts on the SBL panel discussion on Deponency. I was unable to attend this year, but am glad to hear that a consensus appears to be arising around the approach to Greek voice that I have tried to reflect in my lessons on the Aorist Middle and Passive (Lessons 19, 20, and 21).

Deponency and Greek Lexicography, by Bernard Taylor

I just finished reading “Deponency and Greek Lexicography” by Bernard A. Taylor, in Biblical Greek Language and Lexicography. He works slowly up to the argument that we should dispense with the notion of “deponent” verbs altogether, arguing that this designation comes from Latin rather than Greek and no ancient Greek grammarian ever mentioned a similar notion.

He also argues for basing lexical entries on the aorist rather than the present. This is a notion we have kicked around here as well. Using the aorist infinitive would emphasize the “default” form of the verb. It’s nice to see a discussion already in print as of 2004 making this argument.

In the conclusion to his article, Taylor proposes a need to broaden the textual base for a lexicon of the Septuagint. Pointing to the work Frederick Danker has done in including non-Christian and non-Jewish works in the new version of BDAG (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition), Taylor urges a similarly broad base for a new lexicon of the LXX.

I hope to someday see that kind of broad base both for a new lexicon of the LXX and for a new Hellenistic Greek lexicon more broadly.

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.

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!