This is a series of posts blogging my way through the very recent MA thesis of Rachel Aubrey on ‘HELLENISTIC GREEK MIDDLE VOICE: SEMANTIC EVENT STRUCTURE AND VOICE TYPOLOGY’ available here. I’m not a linguist, but I do my best to help non-linguists understand linguistic content. In this post I cover only the very first introductory section.
Aubrey’s introduction neatly highlights the problematic approaches to the middle voice in Greek (the thesis focuses on Hellenistic Greek, understandably, and I will shorten this to ‘Greek’ throughout except where other periodisations are required). Primarily, the middle voice is ‘multifunctional’ (1) and so resists attempts at ‘simple generalizations’ (1). In particular, standard approaches in traditional NT Greek grammars are rooted in a classical (and grammarian) tradition (not a linguistic one). Two problems in particular stand out: portraying the middle in terms of an active-passive dichotomy, and focusing on morphosyntax as a descriptive (and even diagnostic) framework.
The consequences of such an approach, Aubrey writes, are a neglect of a typological approach; an oversimplification of middle semantics, either by (a) discretely compartmentalising usages, or (b) too simplistic generalisations). The outcome of these consequences, in turn, is a dual failure of NT Greek grammars in both typology and paradigm.
Aubrey’s approach (2) is (a) typological, (b) contrasts active-middle counterparts, (c) uses ‘semantic transitivity’ as a lens to understanding.
What’s semantic transitivity? At least so far as I understand it, the analysis is going to consider transitivity as a ‘scale’, rather than the binary that English oriented grammar often works with (transitive vs intransitive), so that we are considering transitivity as a spectrum of ‘action directed upon an entity’. In particular, we are interested in transitivity as encoded in the meaning of verbs, and the presentation of event types, rather than the morphosyntax per se.
Aubrey then moves on in the introduction to outline the thesis structure itself. That is, a review of current approach to the Greek middle (chapter 1), language typological considerations (chapter 2), a diachronic perspective (chapter 3), before presenting her own unified approach (chapter 4).
She also highlights in the introduction some of the benefits of this work. In particular, a much better framework for putting to rest (6 foot under), the notion of deponency, but also providing a language-specific account which handles the idiosyncrasies of the middle voice, in a way that reflects languages with middle voices, not the framework of an active-passive voice language.
Personally, I’m really looking forward to reading this thesis in depth. Having read both Kemmer and Allen’s work on the middle voice, and having heard enough hints about Aubrey’s thesis, I strongly expect this to be the newest and hottest treatment of the middle voice in Greek, and if widely read, set to reshape the way we understand, and teach, voice in (Hellenistic, at least), Greek.