Re-conceiving the middle voice for Greek and Latin students (VI)

Well, I hope by this point, I’ve done a few things:

  1. Convinced you that Greek has an active v. middle voice system, in which the middle domain covers a range of different categories, all generally united by ‘subject affectedness’
  2. Convinced you that ‘deponency’ is not a useful concept for explaining verbs that do not appear with active morphology.
  3. Given you a reasonable account of most of those semantic categories, thereby giving an explicit account of why their ‘middleness’ makes sense.
  4. Shown that Latin deponents, by and large, represent historic middles from a PIE origin, and can be accounted for mostly under the same types of categories.
  5. Show that the ‘passive’ forms in Greek are also a category of middle-morphology.

But what does this mean for teaching and learning? I wrote these posts partly to force myself to work through some of the research, partly to make it clearer in my own mind, but also to try and bridge some of the gap between linguistics and general classical-language education. In my experience, a lot of this simply never makes it down to teachers, let alone students, of these languages.

For the grammar-translation context

If you teach in a relatively ‘traditional’ mode of grammar presentation, and translation as exercise, I think there are certain things you can do.

Firstly, change your terminology. Start referring to Greek as having an active vs. middle (or mediopassive) voice system. Explain that ‘middle’ means a range of categories that represent some form of ‘subject affectedness’, and that as your students encounter various types of middle verbs, you’ll point out what those categories are. Don’t try to present them as I have here! Rather, on a case by case approach, simply say, “here’s a new verb ἔρχομαι. It’s middle in its forms, because verbs indicating translational body motion are often middle.”

Greek students need to be met with the idea early that Greek voice is quite different to the Active-Passive system in English, and isn’t best understood with reference to English, but learning to accept it on its own terms. My mantra here, as elsewhere, is meaning comes first, then translation.

I think it’s worth adopting the language of media tantum (‘middle only’) for verbs that lack active counterparts. But I also think it’s worth adopting the language of middle-preferred or middle-primary for verbs that mostly and ‘by default’ appear in the middle, treating their active counterparts as the secondary/subsidiary form (e.g. causatives).

As students meet more middle-only and middle-preferred verbs, you can begin to systematise some of the semantic categories, and give more general explanations for why these verbs tend to show middle morphology as an expression of middle semantics.

It’s still worth preparing them/inoculating them, against the ‘deponent’ explanation, by giving a short historical rationale for why this language was used, and why you don’t. I often say, “middle in meaning active in translation”, to highlight that active translations in English reflect English voice and semantics, not Greek.

For Latin, I think a similar approach can be taken, except that there really is an active vs. passive voice system, and so when historic-middle verbs begin to appear in your classes, it’s worth stopping and giving a short historical explanation, “These are verbs that indicate subject affectedness and often changes-of-state, they have passive morphology because they were originally middle. etc..”

Communicative Language Teaching

In some ways, it’s actually far easier to teach these in a CLT approach. You simply introduce them without comment. You don’t need to explain why orior is an -r formation, or ἔρχομαι has a middle ending, any more than you need to stop and explain verb endings. You just introduce them in ways that are comprehensible, and it’s only if students begin asking questions that you need to pause and give, e.g. some pop-up grammar.

That could be as simple as, “oh, some verbs use these endings instead, because of what they mean.” The ongoing exposure to their usage in regular conversation, and readings, will make clear enough how they are used.

For students that persist, the same approach as any grammar-curious student – a short explanation on the spot, then follow up with a more detailed explanation outside the communicative context, or a written-up version (perhaps not quite the version I’ve done, though you can try!)

My own take-aways

For myself, reading through Kemmer, Allan, Aubrey, and bits and pieces elsewhere has helped crystallise my understanding of voice systems in both Latin and Greek. I have a much clearer understanding of Latin deponency, and a stronger articulation of Greek’s middle system, including how the ‘middle’ forms and the η/θη forms carve up the middle domain. From here on I’ll be using terminology such as mediopassive voice, middle-only, middle-primary, and explaining the selection of voice based on the semantics of the lexical items in question. And, in CLT contexts, I’ll be worrying less about “used-to-be-called-deponents” as being oddities, and treating them more as a normal and regular feature of the language.


A pdf of this whole series is available, slightly edited and formatted. You are free to distribute it under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 licence.

I’d be very happy to hear from you, if you have corrections, suggestions, additions, or just generally in response to this series of posts!

Re-conceiving the middle voice for Greek and Latin students (V)

So, about Latin then 

All through this series (one, two, three, four) I’ve been careful to include Latin examples of the various semantic categories covered. That’s because I’ve often wondered about Latin – does it really have deponent verbs? The answer is, it’s complicated.

It’s complicated by two factors: firstly, how we define ‘deponency’, and secondly how we understand the Latin middle-only verbs. However, by the traditional description of “passive verb with active meaning”, and “verbs that ‘set aside’ (deponere) their active forms”, no. That’s not true.

But if we mean simply ‘defective paradigms’ or ‘form-function mismatch’, that does appear to be sometimes the case in Latin, because Latin is not Greek. Latin does have an active vs. passive morphosyntactic opposition, not an active vs. middle. So the passive only verbs in Latin are more anomalous. For the most part, they appear to be verbs that were historically middle in an earlier stage of Latin’s development from PIE, and so one can usually see that categorisation at work, though for some verbs it remains elusive (see earlier discussions on loquor for instance). However, Latin deponents often take active morphology for participle and gerundive forms.

Late Latin, however, may be a different situation. There you see verbs switching from active to ‘deponent’ (at least, true deponency!) or vice versa moving from passive-only to active morphology. Generally however the trend is for deponents to become active-morphology verbs. This might be linked to the loss of synthetic passives in place of novel analytic forms.

At the end of today’s post I give a lengthier list of Latin deponents and the kind of middle semantic category I see them as.


“Semi-deponents” are the label often used for verbs that appear to have regular active morphology in one tense-form, but switch to a middle (or passive, in Latin) form in another tense system.

Much as I dislike the term ‘deponent’, I am going to keep using ‘semi-deponent’ at least for this post. There are two categories of semi-deponents, as I see it. The first are words where the paradigm is in fact suppletive. That is, the stem used in one tense is altogether different from the stem used in another. The second, then, are words that do not involve suppletive formations.

Suppletives: ἔρχομαι and ἦλθον

Probably the most well-known Greek example of suppletion is ἔρχομαι. This verb, as most students encounter it anyway, means ‘to come’ (though, a read through LSJ will make you a bit wiser on that score), and its aorist is supplied by ἦλθον, its future in Attic is supplied by present-forms of εἶμι. I’m only going to talk about the present v. aorist alternation here.

Now, the fact that ἔρχομαι is middle-only we referenced back in our second post. It’s a type of translational-body-motion middle, and ἔρχω is found only as a barbarism or as a point of discussion by grammarians. One may translate it regularly as an intransitive active in English, but that’s beside the point, its Greek semantics are middle.

Why then is ἦλθον morphologically active? I would suggest the reason is this: the semantics of that stem encode different features.

Now, let’s do some analogising to see how this works and how you might explain it, to yourself or to students.

Firstly, just because many verbs of translational bodily motion are middle, doesn’t mean that they have to be middle. βαίνω and βαδίζω involve the same idea, but they are active in morphology.

Secondly, in English we have but a few words that involve suppletion. go/went is a nice example. We teach people that this is ‘irregular’, but really ‘go’ and ‘went’ are formed from two separate stems and the past tense of ‘go’ was replaced, with went, in about the 15th century as I understand it.

Thirdly, in English we also have words that occupy roughly the same semantic space. I’m going to use devour and eat as my example. In normal usage, eat can take an object, but it can be omitted (some would call this ‘ambitransitive’. So James eats the apple and James eats are both fine. devour is necessarily transitive. James devours the apple is fine, but *James devours is not normally acceptable (yes, I realise that there are some meanings of devours for which this seems okay, don’t write to me about it).

Now… (imagination caps on): imagine that in the 15th century we’d stopped using the present of devour and we’d also stopped using the past of eat. So we started to supply devoured as the past of eats.

James eats the apple

James devoured apple

James eats

*James devoured        (better>) James devoured the meal

So that we considered it incorrect English to express the past without supplying the object.

Do you see how this is a case where two roots can be used together with suppletion, but different syntactical entailments? I know it’s a little bit of a stretch, but I hope you got there.

This, I think, is the best way to conceptualise ἔρχομαι/ἦλθον. The present derives from PIE *h₁ergʰ- , the aorist from *h₁ludʰét, and the two roots encode different voice.

Non-Suppletives: the Greek ‘middle futures’

While the prior explanation of why some verbs are middle in some tense/aspect systems but not others works with suppletive verbs, it does not explain why some verbs are active in one system, but middle-only in another. In particular, a reasonably large number of Greek verbs become middle in the future. I confess, I found this puzzling, and while I have come across some answers, they are not entirely satisfying.

I first turned to R.J. Allan’s thesis on the middle voice. Again, I don’t have published book version, perhaps he had more to say in that than in the thesis. Nevertheless, at the start of chapter 4 on the future, he has this footnote:

Another interesting issue is the occurrence of middle future forms of – mostly intransitive – active presents (εἰμί – ἔσομαι). From a synchronical point of view, the middle inflection of these futures can be explained by their semantics. All verbs in question involve a physical or mental affectedness of the subject, e.g.. perception ἀκούσομαι, motion βήσομαι, receiving λήψομαι, change of state θανοῦμαι. Ἔσομαι appears to be the only exception. Historically, these middle futures may be explained as former desideratives. The middle voice, then, expressed the mental involvement of the subject. For further details, I refer to Rijksbaron (2002: 156).

Now, for the most part that makes some sense. (a) It’s common to say that the future system (and the subjunctive) developed out of a desiderative (< desire, for those who don’t love jargon) form at an earlier stage of the language (aka PIE), and (b) you can see that all (really, all?) the verbs involved in this form of semi-deponency fit into the semantic categories already established: subject affectedness, especially mental involvement, which is heightened in the desiderative, enough perhaps to ‘tip’ an active into a middle only.

Rijksbaron does treat this, on pages 156-57 of his The Syntax and Semantics of the Greek Verb (an excellent read, by the way). For his part, he classifies them as verbs “denoting essential functions of body and mind”, in categories related to sound, various types of excretion or extrusion, physical-and-mental grasping-and-taking, movement, and bodily affection. You can see how most of these are close to the ‘middle’ domain already.

He then says, “This phenomenon” that is, the middle only/dominance in the future) “is not easy to explain”. Following C.J. Ruijgh, he attributes it to the σε/σο suffix for these having an originally desiderative value, and thus also have a preference for middle endings. Thus, the diachronic development hypothesised is that the σε/σο suffix preferred middle endings first, and then was applied to corresponding active forms, but only when the active form would have a meaningful opposition to the existing middle form.

That, I have to say, is quite interesting, if only because of the way the middle form is prior and primary in the diachronic development. Is it true? Hard for me to say. Does it have some explanatory power for middle-only futures? Yes, it seems to.

Although, at the end of the day (and this post), it’s worth remembering that in trying to understand the middle (or any apparently unusual feature of a language), we’re trying to describe what is, and it’s not up to a language to give us some neat system that justifies its logic to us. Yes, often there is a logical explanation for why linguistic phenomenon X is X, but there doesn’t have to be some kind of “this is the way the language thinks about this thing.” Sometimes you just have to say, “well, it’s just like that”.


Non-Suppletives: the Latin perfects

There’s a third set of semi-deponents which I confess have resisted my attempts to find a good accounting of. These are the Latin perfects. They are few, being primarily audeō, fīdō, gaudeō, soleō, and their compounds, which switch to a periphrastic passive in the perfect system: ausus, fīsus, gāvīsus, solitus + sum.

I don’t have any answer for these. I’ve tried a few avenues of exploration, but have so far come up empty-handed. I’m very open to hearing from someone a historical-linguistic explanation for these!

Latin middle-only verbs categorised

abitror to think Cognitive, Mental Process
cōnor to try, attempt indirect reflexive (cf. ἐργάζομαι – e.g. self-exertion for benefit)
hortor to encourage, urge Emotive Speech
moror to delay Body motion?
mīror to wonder at Perception, or cognitive
testor to witness Emotive speech
polliceor to promise Emotive Speech
videor to seem Sp-Pr, or Passive-Middle
vereor to fear Mental Process, Emotion
mereor to deserve, earn Indirect
loquor to speak << derived from colloquor ??
colloquor to converse Reciprocal
patior to suffer Passive-Middle
queror to complain Emotive speech
proficīscor to set out, depart Translational body motion
aggredior to approach, attach Translational body motion
congredior to meet, come together Collect. Motion M.
ēgredior to go out, disembark Translational body motion
prōgredior to advance Translational body motion
sequor to follow < PIE chaining-middle ?
ūtor to use, make use of Indirect Reflexive
morior to die Sp-Pr
nāscor to be born, be found Sp-Pr
revertor to go back, return translation body motion? or
orior to rise, arise Sp-Pr (but also, change of body posture?)
potior to get possession of Indirect Middle
opperior to await, wait for ?
ordior to begin ? cf. ἄρχομαι
osculor to kiss naturally reciprocal
conflictor to fight naturally reciprocal
amplector to embrace naturally reciprocal
luctor to wrestle naturally reciprocal
altercor to wrangle naturally reciprocal
copulor to join, be linked naturally reciprocal; stative
misceor to assemble, unite naturally collective
congregor to gather, assemble naturally collective
colligor to gather naturally collective
venor to chase < PIE chaining middle.
consolor to take consolation Mental Event: Emotion
delector to delight in Mental Event: Emotion
misereor to pity Mental Event: Emotion
illacrimor to weep over Emotive Vocalisation
fateor to confess Speech Act
meditor to ponder, meditate Simple Cognitive
interpreter to interpret Simple Cognitive
comminiscor to think up, devise Simple Cognitive
conspicior to perceive, descry Perception
odōror to smell Perception
obliviscor to forget Complex cognitive
polliceor to promise commissive/intentive (complex mental)
scindor to split (intr) spontaneous event
tremblor to tremble spontaneous event, non-volitional movement

Re-conceiving the middle voice for Greek and Latin students (IV)

We’ve spoken so far about a range of various ‘middle-domain’ events and actions, and in this post I focus in on our final group, related to Spontaneous Processes and Passive-Middles

(See posts onetwo, and three to get up to speed. All this work derives primarily from Suzanne Kemmer and Rutger Allan, with some others thrown in for fun)

Spontaneous Process events and the Passive-Middle

Kemmer moves on in her monograph to cover a range of ‘other’ categories that “impinge” on the middle (142), the categories of the “spontaneous events” and the “passive middle”.

A spontaneous event is one in which “the entity undergoing the change [of state] is the chief nominal participant” and “in which no Agent entity receives coding.” That is, there’s a subject, who undergoes a change of state, and no agent is mentioned. There may or may not be a ‘conceivable’ agent.

Allan notes that a spontaneous process thus differs from the passive-middle, because the latter implies an unspecified agent, the SP tends to exclude one. SP often have active counterpart verbs in Greek that are causative.

This includes various possible subcategories. E.g. biological processes: dying, growing, aging; physiochemical: melting, freezing, rusting; changes in properties: ‘greening’, ‘squaring’ (okay, I made that one up, but presumably there exists a language where you can regularly form a verb from the adjective ‘square’ and express the change of state that results in a square).

ἀπόλλυμαι – die
αὐξάνομαι – grow
γίγνομαι – come into being
τρέφομαι – grow up
φύομαι – grow
καίομαι – burn
τήκομαι – melt
λευκαίνομαι – become/grow white
θέρομαι  – become warm
φαίνομαι  – appear (Allan includes verbs of appearing & disappearing)

Allan also outlines reasons to adopt the “Spontaneous Process” label in preference to anticausative or similar (44) in that the middle form here is not secondary and derivative to a causal version or an active.

For Latin, we find

morior – to die
scindor – to tear, split
nascor – be born
orior – arise    (possible, certainly in its existential sense rather than posture)

Kemmer explores why these are middle in terms of the choice between portraying such an event as having an external Initiator (not always possible), or otherwise selecting the Patient as the chief participant and thus the event as ‘autonomous’.(145) In the case that there is an external Initiator, that participant is deemphasised. So “I die” might be an autonomous spontaneous process, or I might be killed by an angry proponent of grammar-translation, but even in the latter case, I have deemphasised the agent of the action.

Some types of non-volitional movement (e.g. shaking, cf. tremblor) may also be treated under this category; as well as generic ‘happen’ type verbs (γίγνομαι).

Kemmer goes on to consider passive-middles, in which an agent is understood to exist, but is deemphasised, whereas Allan treats that category prior to the SM. Allan also helpfully notes that several verbs in the SP category can be considered to occur with or without an external agent, and so categorisation is difficult in absolute terms. Nonetheless, in both cases, the Patient, and the change-of-state event, are the highlighted or dominant features of the presentation.

That basically concludes all the semantic categories treated in Kemmer, and mostly in Allan. And, I hope by now, you have some sense of how most Greek middle verbs readily fall into these categories.

The η/θη “passives” in diachronic and semantic focus

In the rest of today’s post I want to highlight the work of Allan, and Rachel Aubrey, in considering the η / θη aorist and future “passive” forms.


Allan’s work is broader, considering various morphological realisations of η vs θη as well as sigmatic aorists vs ‘passives’. In particularly, he does several interesting things: (1) considers the semantic distrubtion of alternatives, i.e. which categories of middle usage are found with which markers, (2) the morphological distribution, i.e. which stem-formations take which endings, (3) the diachronic development, i.e. how these forms shift over time from Homer onwards.

In Homer, he finds that SP favours η, passive or body motion favours θη. In classical, the distribution of all formation types shifts heavily from η to θη.

Over time, the collection of ‘middle-type’ categories, including the ‘passive-middle’, which are represented by the η/θη types, expands across the middle domain. Notably, Allan finds that the sigmatic aorist middle does not occur for Spontaneous Process or Passive-Middles in Homer, (111) but rather for animate subjects with volitional actions (111). There is overlap for mental process, collective motion, and body motion (112). By the classical period, the sigmatic is being used primarily for (indirect and direct reflexive, perception, mental activity, speech act, and reciprocal action), the θη type for (passive, spontaneous process, mental process, body motion, and collective motion) (117).

Why does this matter? Well, (1) the θη types are not a morphologically encoded passive as opposed to the sigmatic middle. Rather, the passive is a semantic subcategory. (2) that means there are simply two middle morphological forms in Greek, with the θη forms emerging from a “spontaneous process + passive-middle” core, but over time expanding to include other middle-type categories. (3) diachronically, the θη forms come to devour the sigmatic middles altogether; (4) in some verbs, contrastive sigmatic-middle vs. θη middle has semantic contrast, between different types of middle usage.


Rachel Aubrey, as I understand it, has been at work on a Masters’ thesis on the middle voice in Koine for some time, and I’m looking forward to it. She gives some anticipation of it in her article ‘Motivated Categories, Middle Voice, and Passive Morphology’[1]. She begins by highlighting the ways in which (θ)η forms break their expectations in not expressing passive syntax (566) and the fundamental problem with called (θ)η forms ‘deponents’ in expressing an ‘active’ meaning and ignoring the middle (567). On Aubrey’s construction (θ)η entered the language as expressing change of state, then extended to prototypical passives, and onward from there (571-2). Aubrey expresses it well in considering a semantic continuum, and that the sigmatic middles tended to express more agent-like or agent-active events, the (θ)η types as more patient-like. (573)

The -(θ)η- form is better understood as sharing a division of labor in the middle domain with the sigmatic middle forms than as an exclusively passive marker with defective, deponent exceptions. It marks the same set of middle event types subsumed within the semantic middle domain with respect to the other middle-passive morphology in the present and perfect paradigms.[2]

She also reaches further back, to PIE, in seeing the origin of (θ)η in the state-predicate marker *-eh1– which grammaticalizes into an aspect-voice inflectional marker (578-9).

Both Allan and Aubrey suggest that the (θ)η emerged in the aorist (and future) but not present because (θ)η is associated with telicity (i.e. the event has a conceptual ‘end-point’ which is reached), which the imperfective aspect forms (e.g. the present tense), do not.

Aubrey’s article goes on to give a robust prototypical explanation of semantic categories, participant roles, and the like, focused on the (θ)η forms. It concludes robustly with a reconsideration of the (θ)η forms along the same lines as Kemmer and Allan point us to.

Changing our categorization of -(θ)η- from the analogous English counterpart (passive) to a typologically attested middle form alters our view of Greek voice. Instead of seeing it as a passive marker with defective active outliers in an active-passive system, -(θ)η- is rightly treated as marking the less-transitive middle events—including passives—within a larger transitivity continuum in an active-middle system. The middle share of the space divides the labor across two morphological forms in the aorist and future compared to one in the present and perfect.[3]

And with that, I leave you for this post. In coming posts I will discuss some varieties of semi-deponency, talk about Latin’s voice system in more depth, and conclude with some application for reading and for pedagogy.


[1] Rachel Aubrey, “Motivated Categories, Middle Voice, and Passive Morphology,” in The Greek Verb Revisited: A Fresh Approach for Biblical Exegesis, ed. Steven E. Runge and Christopher J. Fresch (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), 563.

[2] Rachel Aubrey, “Motivated Categories, Middle Voice, and Passive Morphology,” in The Greek Verb Revisited: A Fresh Approach for Biblical Exegesis, ed. Steven E. Runge and Christopher J. Fresch (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), 575.

[3] Rachel Aubrey, “Motivated Categories, Middle Voice, and Passive Morphology,” in The Greek Verb Revisited: A Fresh Approach for Biblical Exegesis, ed. Steven E. Runge and Christopher J. Fresch (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), 620.

Re-conceiving the middle voice for Greek and Latin students (III)

We’ve spoken so far about direct reflexives, and grooming actions, and three categories of body-action middles, including changes in body posture, non-translational motion, and translational motion.

(See posts one and two to get up to speed. All this work derives primarily from Suzanne Kemmer and Rutger Allan, with some others thrown in for fun)

In this post I’m going to talk through (i) Indirect reflexives, (ii) naturally reciprocal events, including collecting and chaining events, and the (iii) cognitive middle. In a 4th post, we’ll cover the important category of change of states and spontaneous processes, and a few odds and ends. A 5th post will treat some categories of semi-deponency.


Indirect Reflexives

A prototypical transitive event involves A (Agent) acting on B (Patient). While a direct reflexive occurs when B is also A.

Similarly, a prototypical indirect event involves A (Agent) acting on B (Patient), where C is a recipient or beneficiary. This becomes an indirect reflexive where C is, in fact, A. Kemmer treats this in pages 74-81. It becomes an indirect middle where the action involves is normally, usually, or typically undertaken with A as the beneficiary or recipient. E.g., just as direct reflexives tend to be marked with a reflexive marker (‘oneself’) unless customary/habitual/usual, so too indirect reflexives. She writes, “the indirect middle situation type comprises actions that one normally or necessarily  performs for one’s own benefit”.


αἱρεῖσθαι         to choose
κτάσθαι           to acquire for oneself

εὔχεσθαι          to pray


liceor              to acquire by bidding
apiscor            to get, acquire
potior              to get possession of

Allan has a fuller list of Greek verbs, which importantly includes δέχομαι, ἐργάζομαι, ἰάομαι, and ῥύομαι (at least in Homer). The ‘healing/preserving’ verbs may originally, he suggests, have had a sense of self-benefit built into the action.

In all these cases, the middle (and it’s very often a middle-only verb in view), indicates without any particular emphasis, that the subject stands as beneficiary and/or recipient.

Naturally reciprocal events

These are events which, by the very nature of the action itself, involve reciprocity. That is, whatever A is doing to B, B is doing to A. This draws on Lichtenberk (1985), and then expanded by Kemmer (p96-9101) to cover collective and chaining type events as well (see below).

Personally, I find the ‘fighting’ verbs a great example of this. In Greek, verbs like μάχομαι, ἐρίζομαι; but the category is not limited to fighting, as evidenced by the inclusion of διαλέγομαι and similar in this category.

Kemmer also considers actions such as meeting, joining, touching, kissing, etc., and the way that a difference in meaning may appear between expressing these with middle marking, versus explicit reciprocal marking. E.g. “They lovers kissed” vs. “The lovers kissed each other” (see page 111-4 for an in-depth discussion of the distinguishability of kisses)

Into this category fall Latin verbs such as:

osculor            to kiss
conflictor        to fight
amplector        to embrace
luctor              to wrestle
altercor           to wrangle
copulor           to be joined


A collective event differs in that where a naturally reciprocal event involves A > B, B > A, in the collective event, the action as a whole “is carried jointly be the participants involved”, and yet not individually (that is, not a distributed action), but as a group (i.e. the participants have low distinguishabilty from each other). Allan focuses in on particularly collective motion (2.1.5), primarily gathering and dispersing. λύομαι, interestingly, falls into this category, as do similar verbs of dissolution, as does (συλ)λέγομαι .

For Latin, examples such as misceor, congregor, colligor may be adduced.

This is an appropriate place to stop and discuss the troublesome Latin verb loquor. There’s no straightforward category for loquor to fall into. It doesn’t appear to be an emotive speech act (a category coming up…), nor is it easy to categorise as a speech act in which the Agent is normally the indirect beneficiary. It may be derived from a naturally reciprocal verb.

Thus Latin loquo-r, instead of containing an arbitrary instance of -r, can be explained as descended from an old verb of the naturally reciprocal type, possible meaning ‘converse (with each other)’. [Seumas: colloquor?] If this semantic reconstruction is correct (it must be noted there is no direct historical evidence for it) then the Latin verb at some point lost the sense of mutuality and began to occur with singular subjects with the meaning ‘speak’. A similar hypothesis could be invoked for the Latin deponent fo-r ‘speak’. (Kemmer, 108)

Of course, a reconstruction without any evidence is speculative, but it does account for a rather odd middle-only form in Latin.


I find this a fascinating subcategory. Instead of a relationship of where A stands to B as B stands to A, or a collective in which individual participants acts as a whole, this is the situation where A stands to B, as B stands to C, as C stands to D. There are not that many verbs (or situation-events!) that typically encode this idea. But one that consistently does so across Indo-European languages is ‘follow’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is sequor in Latin, and ἕπομαι in Greek, both media tantum forms. Even Old Irish maintains this as a middle form. Sihler, we may as well note, thinks its PIE root meant “keeps in sight” and is related to hunting (New comparative grammar of Greek and Latin, 449). Kemmer sees a different hunting connection, in that venor may have a similar ‘chain’ type semantics.


The cognitive middle

We now come to a rather broad category, which appears to depart from the kinds of ‘middle domain’ situations that can be easily related to the direct and indirect reflexives. What is it about these that tends to create middle-dominant or middle-only verb usage?

Kemmer begins with simple events, and the type of event going on. We have an Experiencer (i.e. the animate being having the mental experience), and a Stimulus (which brings about the mental event). The Stimulus may not be expressed, encoded, or it may be internal to the Experiencer. In any event, the entity involved as Experiencer is decisively the Endpoint for the event, and to a greater or lesser degree, they are (often) the Initiator. That is, it very often tends to be an event that the Experiencer initiates (hence middle), or else passively experiences (a kind of mental passive event, which Greek would encode as morphologically middle anyway).

This meta-category includes emotion events (conolor, delector, misereor, vereor), emotive speech-acts (queror, testor, ὀλοφύρομαι, μέμφομαι, αἰτιάομαι, ἀρνέομαι).

We might note here that Allan splits emotive speech acts from the cognition middle, and treats speech acts as their own category altogether, very often with the Subject as beneficiary or recipient, hence a form of indirect middle. Under that umbrella, he includes verbs of promising, commanding, asking, answering, and begging (e.g. εὔχομαι, ὑπισχνέομαι, ἐντέλλομαι, ἀποκρίνομαι, πυνθάνομαι, δέομαι). But neither are these absent from Latin, e.g. frustror.

Simple acts of cognition fall here too (meditor, interpreter, comminiscor, ἡγέομαι, βουλεύομαι, σταθμάομαι, and many more Greek verbs in Allan (p47)).

So too do perception verbs, especially (per Allan) where the subject is volitional in perceiving. ἀκουάζομαι, γεύομαι, θεάομαι, σκέπτομαι, though not necessarily, αἰσθάνομαι, ὀσφραίνομαι. Cf. also conspicior, odoror.

Complex mental events are those where there is a dependent event, normally expressed as a proposition encoded in a dependent clause (Kemmer, 137). e.g. English, “I forgot that I put my keys in my pocket”. There are two events here “I put me keys in my pocket” – the dependent event, and “I forgot X” – the primary mental event. Cognition type events (rather than emotion or perception, Kemmer p138) are most likely to be middle here.

Kemmer’s analysis differs from Allan’s in carving up the terrain of these various types of events. For example, what Allan takes as speech acts of promising, Kemmer treats as ‘commissive’ events in which the mental source initiates a dependent event. e.g. “I promise to learn how to use the middle voice properly” has a dependent event, “learn to use the middle voice properly” which I, as Mental Source, undertake to put into place. Hence, polliceor in Latin, ὑπισχνέομαι in Greek.

What’s key, in all these cognition middles, I’d say – and by way of concluding today’s rather expansive post – is that the Subject stands as Experiencer and so is “subject affected”. That, and the corresponding commonality that the Subject is very often the Source or Initiator of the event, is why these events are typically marked as ‘middle’. And that’s what this series is mostly about – unraveling the ‘logic’ of what types of events fall in a broad conception of ‘the middle domain’, so that you have a better grasp of that domain’s “realm” and all that falls in it.

Re-conceiving the middle voice for Greek and Latin students (II)

In today’s post, following on from the last, I’m going to walk through some initial semantic categories which Kemmer presents as mostly or typically used for middle-type situations. I had hoped to get through more categories, but it seems that will need a couple more posts.
I’ll provide some Greek and Latin examples, drawn from Kemmer, and from R.J. Allen’s work on Greek.


Kemmer starts with the Direct Reflexive. This is an event where one participant does the action to themselves.

e.g. Mike stabbed himself.

In English, we need to mark this with a reflexive form – Mike stabs implies that he stabs someone else (as a habit, probably).

In Greek (and Latin), actions that are normally performed on someone else (er, ‘stabbing’) take a reflexive marker. Allen gives this example:

ῥίπτει αὑτὸν εἰς τὴν θάλατταν (Dem 32.6)[1]   He throws himself into the sea.

But there are actions that are normally carried out on oneself that appear in the middle. These are “body action middles” including several sub-categories.

The first category are ‘grooming’ actions. Actions like dressing, bathing, shaving, decorating, etc.. Here we see typical middle-marking.

ornor               to adorn (oneself)
perluor            to bathe

κοσμοῦμαι      to adorn
λοῦμαι             to bathe

In all these, the participant is both acting upon themselves, but acting upon themselves using themselves. The sense in which you can distinguish ‘agent’ and ‘patient’ is low. For this reason, too, these verbs often lack an active. When you do find an active voice form, its usage is often contrastive – of course I might usually bathe myself, but I can bathe someone else. λοῦω v λοῦμαι shows that kind of contrast.

A second category involves various types of bodily movement. Between Kemmer and Allen you can see three sub-categories of this: change in body posture, non-translational motion, and translational motion.

  1. Changes in body posture involve actions like sitting up, standing, reclining. Again, here the agent is acting upon themselves, but in such a close unity that the difference between ‘agent’ and ‘patient’ is minimal, the event is unitary.
  2. Non-translational motion involves movement of the body but not along any ‘path’. Things like turning, twisting, bending, bowing, nodding, etc..
  3. Translational motion involves moving the body through space along a path.

κλίνομαι          lie down (CiBP)

στρέφομαι       turn around (nTrans-motion)

πορεύομαι       to go (translational-motion)

Where there is an active form it often has a causative meaning:

ἵσταμαι            to stand up/still           > ἵστημι           to cause to stand

στρέφομαι                                              > στρέφω        to turn (something else)

πορεύομαι                                              > πορεύω to cause to go

What’s common about all these verbs is that encoded in the verb is the sense that the Initiator and Endpoint are the same, with low distinguishability, and generally these actions do not involve an external endpoint.

There are less examples of these in Latin, though I think some appear to fall into this category. For instance, the –gredior compounds, e.g. progredior, as well as proficiscor. orior (to rise) seems to me a borderline instance, though it may also fall into the “spontaneous process” category.

This is a good place to stop and talk about deponency for a minute. Is πορεύομαι ‘deponent’? Not by traditional definitions because an active form exists. But the middle form is so prevalent that it may as well be learnt as the primary form. It hasn’t ‘assumed’ an active meaning that has been left vacant by a defective paradigm. Within the ‘logic’ of the Greek language, it’s a typically middle form.

Whether any particular verb is middle only or not depends, in part, just on attestation. If we had no instances of πορεύω, we’d conclude it was deponent. But that’s not really true, is it? ἔρχομαι seems deponent because we don’t have active instances of it. Except for grammarians saying things like:

οὐδεὶς γὰρ λέγει ἔρχω ἢ εὔχω ἢ πέτω ἢ δέχω ἢ ὀρχῶ καὶ τὰ λοιπά, ἐπειδὴ τὸ σημαινόμενον κωλύει.

For no one says “I ‘go’, or I ‘pray’, or I ‘fly’, or I ‘receive’, or I ‘depart’ and the rest, since the meaning prohibits it. (Georgius Choeroboscus, Prolegomena et scholia in Theodosii Alexandrini canones isagogicos de flexione verborum.[2])

The meaning of ἔρχομαι prohibits an active meaning. That’s why there’s no active, not because an active form has disappeared and the middle has picked up the meaning, but because the meaning of the verb is itself middle in its meaning, and an active does not make sense. One supposes that speakers could have coined an active version of this verb with a causative sense, but they didn’t. That’s why this, and similar verbs, are better termed media tantum, ‘middle-only’, rather than deponent. They lack a morphologically realised active form.

So, what does this mean for deponency and terminology? It seems best to lay to rest the term ‘deponent’ if we mean “a verb that has no active morphology but uses a middle or passive form with active meaning”. That’s not accurate to these verbs, especially if conceived of as verbs that actually ‘set aside’ their active forms. It’s far better to conceive of these verbs as media tantum, i.e. verbs that only have middle forms, never active. And then, you have verbs that are primarily used in the middle, where the active is less common precisely because what the active is expressing is less usual. Some verbs prohibit an active form, others disprefer an active form.

Lastly, at least for today, cautioning students that ‘active in meaning’ is not the same as ‘active in English translation’. Because English does not exhibit a ‘middle-voice’ system, in translation the best options will often be an English intransitive active, or an English reflexive. That’s about the best way to render something in English, not about what the Greek means.

In the next post in this series, I will cover some more semantic categories, and then talk more specifically about the Latin middle-only verbs.

[1] R.J. Allen, “The Middle Voice in Ancient Greek. A study in Polysemy”, PhD Thesis. 2002. 65. There is a published version of this but frankly I don’t have a copy.

[2] A. Hilgard, Grammatici Graeci, vol. 4.2, Leipzig: Teubner, 1894 (repr. Hildesheim: Olms, 1965): 19: 27-28.

Re-conceiving the middle voice for Greek and Latin students (I)

I’ve long been of the view that there’s no such thing as deponency in Greek, just verbs that are ‘middle’ and don’t have an active. But recently I was asked (twice) about deponency in Latin, and it got me reading again, which is a great thing. Personally, I’d been helped a great deal by R.J. Allen’s work on the Middle in Greek, and the elaboration of semantic categories. But to deal with Latin, I needed to do more.

And that meant reading the key work by Suzanne Kemmer, The Middle Voice, which “approaches the middle voice from the perspective of typology and language universals research” (1).

In this post and some subsequent ones, I’m going to do my best to translate Kemmer into some more accessible language, and at some point I’ll specifically talk through Latin deponents.

The problem with Greek voice

All my problems started, or continue to start with Greek students, and Greek grammars, especially pesky NT Greek ones. NT Greek courses do a particularly bad job at the nuances of Greek, I find. So, students are very often taught, or at least end up with, a view of Greek that is:

Active:            I hit Mike.

Passive:           Mike is hit by me.

Middle:           “something vaguely in the middle where I am benefited by hitting Mike”

This is usually a very English (vel sim) -driven view, in that the middle is an awkward third-voice squished between the Active and Passive.

Two things, in my own long growth in Greek knowledge, helped get over this. Learning that (a) Greek has an active-middle voice system, and that “passive” is a semantic, not a morphological realisation. e.g. there are no forms that actually mark “passive” in Greek, there are just two sets of middle-voice in the Aorist and Future. (b) that middleness is basically some form of “subject affectedness” (the core of Lyons’ definition, see Kemmer, 1-4).

So, with Greek we are dealing with active v. middle. But even before we get to Greek, let alone Latin, Kemmer helps lay out a broader semantic understanding of events and their participants which provides a lot of the basis for understanding how the “middle” works across various languages.

Kemmer uses a cross-language approach to map out the kinds of semantics associated generally with the middle voice. That is, what kind of meanings tend to be expressed with middle-type structures. She also lays out a bit of a map of how languages mark the middle.

One thing that I found exceedingly helpful was how Kemmer laid out a spectrum of events (at least their conceptualisation).

  1. One-participant
  2. Middle
  3. Reflexive
  4. Two-participant.

If we take the last category first, this is the classic situation where X does something to Y. Let’s use a made-up verb for a little while, grazhonks.

A reflexive event occurs when X grazhonks X. Here grazhonks is the event, and its Iniator and Endpoint are the same. So a language will mark this reflexively, if possible.

At the other end of the scale is the one-participant event. Either there is no Y, or Y is deleted. So, “X grazhonks” or “X bedtweeops”, where no external endpoint is, or can be, in view.

The middle then, as a constellation of subject-affected actions, lies between the reflexive and one-participant, in that an event occurs in which X acts on or with regard to X, but X is conceptualised as one participant, not “two” like in the reflexive.

What ends up in ‘the middle voice’ depends in part upon how a language marks different voice options. Is there a reflexive form, is there a middle form separate or related to a reflexive form? Greek, for the most part, has both an expansive middle system that is separate from reflexive, and which encompasses the passive. Latin, I would say, has an active-passive opposition, but the -r forms also mark some middle uses, especially among historic deponents.

In my next post I’ll walk through the semantic categories that tend to be expressed in the middle or with reflexives, and why that might be so. But let me finish with a nice English example that illustrates some of those 4 categories.

α) I hide
β) I hide the book
γ) I hide the book first, then I hide myself
δ) I was hidden by the rebel alliance.

α is an intransitive active, being used to express a middle-type meaning – an event in which initiator and endpoint are conceived as a single entity. But hide also works as a transitive verb, as in β. We also use it reflexively, as in γ, but primarily when we want to provide contrast (this matches with Kemmer’s observations about how languages with both reflexive and middle markings tend to use them in relation to each other). Lastly, to express the passive in English, we must switch to a passive construction, the intransitive-active-as-middle won’t cut it.

Reading all of LLPSI (extended remix edition) in 2019

I like plans. And I like ambitious ones.

In 2019 I intend to read, or re-read, all the various Lingua Latina per se Illustrata books, including the Ørberg supplements and the not as official Ørbergesque supplements. I’ve read some of this material in the past, certainly the core books, but not that much in the supplements.

Here’s a list:

Familia Romana
Colloquia Personarum
Fabulae Syrae
Epitome Sacrae Historiae
De Bello Gallico
Sermones Romani
Roma Aeterna
Ars Amatoria
Elegiae (Tibullus)
De Rerum Natura
Bucolica (Vergil)
Cena Trimalchionis

That’s a lot of reading. I still have to work out how to get hold of DRN and the Bucolica. They are  Accademia Vivarium Novum editions, and among other things I’d like to order through Alas, Amazon’s policy of not shipping from any international site to Australia makes that impossible. I’ve been exploring other options, but no success yet.

Anyway, regardless. Perhaps you’d like to read along with me? I’m always up for various types of shared reading.

And, as always, a great way to start a ‘new year’s resolution’ is to start it in November…

Apud Rusticationem Australianam Primam (et Optimam)

I’ve just returned from the first Rusticatio Australiana, where I have spent the week speaking Latin and nothing but. In this post I am going to give part-narration, part-reflection on the week just gone (look for another post in the coming weeks though!)

Firstly, what’s a Rusticatio? Rusticationes began some 20 years ago as the brain-child of Nancy Llewellyn, as a week-long ‘camp’, ‘retreat’, ‘intensive’ in a somewhat rural environment, where participants could learn to speak Latin as a living language. For which we are all grateful. They have been occurring, and multiplying, across the United States for the last 20 years, and going from strength to strength. (There are similar things in Europe, for those that live there, though not associated with SALVI).

This was the first Rusticatio held in Australia. Our good sir, Anthony Gibbins, who had participated in not a few over in America, and is the author of Legonium, began to dream of holding one in Australia and over the past couple of years that has gone from dream to reality.

So, the week itself. We arrived at a lovely retreat centre in the Kangaroo Valley (not that far for me, as a Sydneysider and being from Wollongong, gratias ad Deo), on the Monday around midday. The site was quite a comfortable one, with plenty of cabins (casulae) to house us all (nisi fallor, 30 participes, 6 magistri/aeque).

The initial meet & greet, and lunch (which I hadn’t expected, and so was doubly grateful for), was primarily in English. Having spent the drive down listening to some Latin podcasts, I was ready to Latinize, but I definitely appreciate that not everyone wants to turn up and immediately be confronted with Latin only!

After some introductions by our leaders and general advice/counsel/information about the week to follow (including incredibly important tips on self-care, “full”, etc..), we held a ceremony and pledged to only talk Latin for the rest of the week (with a few, minor, exceptions).

The Latin-only aspect seems a crucial factor here to me. A language like Latin means that, in most (not all!) contexts, participants would always find it easier to converse in another language (e.g., their native tongue). This is a way to force a communicative necessity to use Latin, by creating that necessity by consensual, and somewhat formalised, compact. Adherence was extremely high, and it creates also the kind of condition, that I’ve experienced by reality not be agreement, where you simply have to either work your way around a communication impasse, or just give up.

Each day consisted of a fairly regular schedule, with variation. A good balance of sessions and breaks, busy but not packed, and with some flexibility. Sessions included ‘all-in’ oral exercises and games, readings and discussions in smaller groups, some targeted vocabulary sessions, and working on a drama together (performed with great gusto and laughter on our penultimate day). Overall, the combination of naturalistic learning outside classes, with various types of directed learning in them, and group-bonding dynamics, created a robust experience and lead almost everyone (I dare say, I obviously cannot speak for all), to move along in their Latin speaking ability. And indeed, for many Australians and our New Zealander attendees, this was their first experience of speaking Latin at all.

There were some aspects of exercises that, strictly speaking, I’d disagree with from a theoretical perspective (as I understand the research); namely oral repetition of forms. But, based on my own anecdata, there just is something about getting the mouth moving, elevata voce, that pertains to developing speaking, not merely listening, proficiency.

The Americans that came out to kick-start this in Australia were, frankly, marvellous. Industrious, good-spirited, indefatigable, kind, experienced, and prodigious in their Latin.

Our evenings were also filled with various more-optional activities, including pelliculae, ludi, a concert (some fantastic Beatles’ songs performed in Latin). On the last evening there was campfire singing and, ut credo, an episode of Quomodo Dicitur with Jason, which pro dolor I was absent from.

So, indeed, let me say a little bit about D&D in Latin (I plan to write a whole separate post on this). A few of us had discussed the idea of this via email beforehand, and committed ourselves to making it happen. Being in different ‘groups’ meant our first planned session time wouldn’t work, since our Game Master was on kitchen duty. eheu. Still, we made some characters. And this was quite useful, since of our 4 players, 2 had never played D&D before at all. This meant that the only time left to us was our penultimate night. (Hence, I didn’t make it to podcast-recording). It was a good experience and I have a lot to reflect on from that.

It had been a desire of mine to get to a Rusticatio or similar for many years, but the distance and costs off getting to America or elsewhere have always been ridiculous. It basically means doubling or tripling the cost, and adding 4 days of travel. So this was an opportunity long desired, and not to be missed. In no way did it disappoint.

On top of that, so much of my own impetus for interest in Second Language Acquisition, and especially for Greek, came out of listening to US Latin teachers. I don’t teach that much Latin week to week, if at all. But I have done more than some speaking before. Nonetheless, this really gave me a huge confidence boost. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself more competent than I’d perhaps perceived, and the cumulative effect of a tantum latine environment, and the snowball effect of day after day, meant that by the end I was really ‘buzzing’. Indeed, so much so that when English was ‘permitted’ after our final closing ceremony, I found it difficult to transition back to English. I’ve had that experience before, with say Mongolian, and even Gaelic at times. That’s a great sign for me personally. (I know that for others, they were incredibly relieved to speak English again! And, of course, people hit ‘full’ at different rates, on different days, and not just from language input. That’s one reason why ‘full’ and ‘full-checks’ are such an important technique! Self-care but also interpersonal care, because language is about community).

I can’t say enough good things about Rusticatio Australiana. It was a dream come true, exceeded practically everyone’s expectations, and I think it will go down as not only a huge success, but the start of more and more, here down under. Vivat Lingua Latina!


(and, I dream of the day this might be done for Greek, but that’s for another day…)

Epistola ad Praeconem Latinum (editum a Arcadio Avellano), scripta missaque a Albin Putzker, 1895

Amicus noster, in pipiatione nuper hoc misit, atque hic quoque ponendum esse dixit.

Here’s a wonderful letter from Albin Putzker, in 1895. plus ça changeplus c’est la même chose. You can see the original in situ. The footnotes, nisi fallor, are Arcadius Avellanus offering his own thoughts.


Univ. of Cal, Berkeley, Oct., 7th, 1895.


Your last “Praeco” was particularly good. How can one read with feeling and emotion Latin master-pieces and Latin poetry, if one has not that instinctive knowledge of the language which comes alone from the power of speaking it?–If you read through translations, the best element is lost[1].–The claim that the study languages for the “mental training” is all talk; it is not true[2].–We study languages chiefly to realize, to feel the beauties of the great thoughts, as put by the best minds; in that should the training consist[3].–Let us have life, not more dissection of corpses; living language for living thought. –Of course, mere conversation as such no body advocates. If teachers could speak Latin, the objection would not be made[4], and the teaching would assume a different character; routine would make room for living interest. –Would that we had the right kind of simple, interesting, strictly progressive reading material for the lower schools, such as we have in German and in French[5]. There is much room for improvement in this respect, and a great Latinist could render great service on these lines. – Your article on poor Ulrichs was read by me with deep sympathy; I should like to learn much more about him. Could you not rite more about his life?[6]

With the best wishes for your success,

I am, most truly,

Albin Putzker



[1]Praeterea, versiones prostant pro 50 libellis.

[2] Bene mones; est mendacium.

[3] Veritas aurea. Quod, per Deos Immortales posset esse absurdius, quam Tullium Hratiumque de ablativis, de “hidden quantities,” de radicibus Sanscriticis, aliisque vercordiis disserendo profanare & desecrare? Classicos sic polluens est quasi sus in hortum elegantissimum irreptus, qui flores devorat, rubos conculcat, gramen depascit, atque proboscides cuncta susque-deque vertit ac convellit.

[4] Sane, minime gentium! O si scirent, quam diverse arguerent!

[5] Habebimus in Tusculo!

[6] Faciemus proxime.

What I’m currently listening to (Latin podcast mini-reviews)

Lately, I’ve been really getting into…. podcasts.

Previosuly, I’d never quite had a good ‘set-up’ in my life to make listening to them useful, but that changed and now I’m on the bandwagon. I mostly, though, listen to target language podcasts and similar. Here I talk through those I currently listen to…


Quomodo dicitur (punct dot com)

There’s a lot to love about listening to Justus, Iason, and Augustus discuss ‘quomodo libet’ for 20 or so minutes a time. The general comprehensibility is high, the discussion flows well, audio quality is also good, and the conversation itself is iucundissimum and salsum; after a good 10 episodes you’ll be hooked for life. Recurring jokes, group dynamics, guests, on-location episodes, and longevity of the program all make it ideal listening.

Sermones Raedarii, by Alexander Veroniensis

Alexander is a Latin and Greek teacher and records this wonderful monologues, as he talks to himself, I mean to us, while driving (originally, now when walking!) to and from school (and other places, I would suppose). Alexander’s Latin comes with a beatiful Italian accent, which makes a nice difference if you’re mainly used to NorthAm speakers. He ranges across all sorts of topics, from the quottidian, to issues of singing latin, and pedagogical positions.

Satura Lanx,

Is a twice-monthly podcast coming from an Italian magistra now teaching in Belgium, “about Latin books, education and much more.” Another monologue style podcast, but more reflective and a little less fast-paced than Alexander’s!

Legio XIII, by Magister Craft & L. Amadeus Ranierius

I’ve only recently started listening to this one. It’s interesting, it’s good to have other speakers! Magister Craft is well known from YouTube. And, I can’t say any more until I’ve listened more.



βαρβαρισμός , by Alexander Veroniensis

Buried in the sequence of Sermones Raedarii, our Veroniensis amicus aforementioned also recorded some Greek episodes (albeit only 10, I think). You can tell immediately that he is more more ‘fluid’ (let’s not talk fluency) in Latin than in Greek, but he still speaks well, clearly, and comprehensibly. Given the sheer paucity of anything in Greek, it’s worth taking the time to listen to these.


Tea with BVP

Run as a live call-in talk-show with Bill Van Patten, a leading SLA researcher, and two co-hosts. The show ran for about 3 years, and ended recently, but the episodes are still great value. They do have a lot of ‘radio’ padding, and Bill is a bit of a comedian. Nonetheless, I’ve been getting a lot out of listening through the archives.

Ørberg’s Lingua Latina: an introduction for the uninitiated

Alright, let’s get to a textbook I really enjoy. Hans Ørberg’s Lingua Latina per se Illustrata: Pars I: Familia Romana

This is, without exaggeration, the best Latin textbook on the market. It’s not perfect, it’s not the be all and end all, but there’s simply nothing better as a book to teach/learn with.

Firstly, how I came across it and used it. It was towards the end of my 4 year sequence of Latin at university, and a sense of growing frustration that modern language students would be reading their languages ‘fluently’ by this stage, but here I was painstakingly analysing/translating my way through Roman literature. What had gone wrong?? Like many products of the philological tradition and Grammar/Translation methodology, I knew a great deal about Latin, but I couldn’t read Latin straight.

At the time I started listening to Latin teacher online a great deal, and that’s how I first got plugged-in to the world of comprehensible input, communicative methods, etc., etc.. And that’s how I heard about LL – a holy grail of textbooks, in that it taught Latin entirely through Latin. I ordered a copy post-haste.

I recall reading the first chapter and being a little in awe both at how much I understood, and how well it is paced. Of all the “readers” that exist for classical languages, LL truly accomplishes its goal of initiating the student into the language without recourse to outside aids or a second language. From page 1 it is possible to go all Latin, all the way.

The text carries the student from the fundamentals of Latin ‘grammar’ through everything they would cover in a standard class, over 34 chapters. Plenty of repetition of vocabulary and structure helps too. “Grammar” is not entirely neglected, as each chapter ends with grammatical notes in Latin. Exercises end each chapter, of three types: fill in the ending, fill in the word, and respond to latine questions, with answers latine.

Some criticisms can be made: it’s still a textbook, and some students will not find the text engaging. It proceeds by a ‘grammar’ sequence, not a natural one. It introduces too much vocab, too quickly, and this is a slight problem. It wasn’t written for active, communicative Latin (Ørberg himself expressed surprise in learning that students were using it for this! He envisaged it as a direct method text for reading).

Nonetheless, it remains unsurpassed. It always tops my recommendations, and I’d teach from it at the drop of a hat. Even advanced students would benefit from ‘going back’ and picking it up to increase their reading fluency.

Today’s review really only treats of volume 1, Familia Romana. I’ll talk a little about the other volumes and resources another time.

Oxford Latin Course: a brief review

The Oxford Latin is not quite as well known as the Cambridge Latin Course, the latter appearing firs tin the 70s, the OLC not until the 80s. It is primarily the work of Maurice Balme, and James Morwood. I had the pleasure of meeting Morwood a few years back. As I recall, he said that the OLC was produced really to ‘fix’ the problems they perceived in the CLC. Regardless, the OLC is now one of several ‘staples’ on the Latin market, and enjoys particularly wide usage in schools.

My own experience of it is linked to this. I tutor a student whose school utilised OLC and I teach him likewise through these materials.

As with CLC, OLC attempts to adopt a reading-based approach, mostly inductive. However, I have to say that the main difference between ‘inductive’ and ‘deductive’ reading approaches is whether they place the grammar before or after the reading. OLC is divided intro three main Parts, with a main storyline following Horace’s life, interwoven with related passages. In the final text, now a 4th volume, there are selected reading passages from Classical authors.

Each chapter begins with a short cartoon, which frankly does little to engage the reader and mainly serves to illustrate a grammar point. It is then followed by a reading, with both ‘new vocab to learn’ on the page, and ‘necessary vocab helps’ on the side for things needed in the reading, but not needing to be learnt yet. The reading is followed by a few (not enough) questions in Latin responding to the content of the text. Then a secondary, related, reading is given, with some questions on content in English. Finally, most chapters then have a page or two of History/Culture notes.

In the rear of the book is found the Grammar and Exercises. The procedure through the grammatical concepts of Latin is much the same as most courses. Exercises include standard fare: translation Latin > English, and English > Latin, parsing, manipulating forms.

Overall OLC is a pleasant, and reasonably well-executed textbook in its style. Its faults, then, are the same – the pacing of material is probably too quick, the space for repetition and exposure too little, the exercises not enough and too traditional. The narrative itself does benefit from being based (except for the childhood) on Horace, and helps students to grapple with the main historical events of the death of Julius Caesar and the rise of Octavius; likewise having a single continuous narrative is a positive.

Verdict: The Oxford Latin Course does what so many of its vintage tried to do: combine ‘newer’ reading-based approaches with traditional pedagogy. It succeeds as well as most of its rivals did, which is to say not-quite well enough.

It does make for a pleasant read for the experienced Latinist though.

Another chance to learn Latin with me

Over at Conversational Koine Institute a new term is about to start up, and there ought to be a Latin 1 and 2 class this term.

We had a great little group last term, and if you’re interested in picking up some Latin in a conversational manner, with an emphasis towards communication and reading, I’d recommend you hop along and enroll. Sessions will be Monday evenings (US time), which is Tuesday morning if you happen to live in the blessed Terra Australis.

Hilary, verse-flipping, and the true Scotsman.

No true Scotsman is a form of (informal) logical fallacy, of the type where having set up definition X of something, e.g. “A scotsman is blah, blah, blah”, and faced with a particular example, “Well then, so-and-so is a scotsman, based on your definition”, the interlocutor moves the goalposts, “Well, no true scotsman would (insert characteristic of aforementions so-and-so”), thus excluding them from the refined definition X1.

A similar thing is going on in Hilary’s debate(s) with (unnamed) opponents, which he tackles in Book 5 of his De Trinitate. Having spent Book 4 tackling the confession drawn from the Letter of Arius, and arguing from the Old Testament that the Son is God, he then spends Book 5 arguing that the Son is verus Deus, “true God”, against the contention that the Father alone is verus Deus.

In sections 25-31, Hilary turns his attention to the combination of Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One” (audi, Israel, Dominus Deus tuus unus est) Isaiah 65:16 “they will bless [you] the true God” (benedicent [te] Deum verum). Modern translations render the Hebrew of that verse differently (So that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth (ESV) Whoever pronounces a blessing in the earth will do so in the name of the faithful God (NET)), but let’s stick with the Latin for now.

Hilary’s response is very interesting. Firstly, he suggests that te is an addition, and a very problematic one. “if te is read, the pronoun appears to signify a second person; otherwise if the pronominal word is absent, then the noun[1] refers to the speaker of the statement itself.”[2] Now, actually, Hilary is very interested in two related questions every time he does this kind of exegesis: who is the Speaker, and who is the Addressee. Furthermore, when the Speaker is God in the Old Testament, and the Addressee is called ‘God’, Hilary understands this to be indicative of the difference in the Trinitarian persons, for otherwise God should (properly speaking) refer to himself in the First person alone.

The next thing Hilary does is to quote Isaiah 65:13-16 at length. He does this because he considers proper interpretation to depend upon proper contextualisation. (To those who think the Ancients didn’t know anything about exegetical method, take note!) The introduction of this passage clearly indicates that the Lord is speaking through the Prophet. Hilary further argues for why the adjective ‘true’ is supplied here, and argues that it is in reference to the ignorance of the Jews who worshipped God simpliciter, not as Father, and so were ignorant of the Son and did not recognise him as God in his incarnation.

Then (wait for it…) he commences a clause-by-clause analysis of the whole passage, giving his thoughts on what each element means. Especially important is his understanding of verse 15, “You will leave your name for a rejoicing unto my elect, but the Lord will kill you” [3]. Anyway, differences aside, Hilary interprets the first part of this in terms of Romans 2:29 and the elect, i.e. Christian believers, as the new Israel. The second part, “The Lord will kill you”, he interprets in line with his principle that a mention of God by God must indicate a difference of persons. Thus the Dominus who will kill is the Son. This allows him to take the ‘new name’ of Isaiah 65:15b, “but my servants will be called by a new name”, to refer also to Christ. All of which leads to the key verse, 65:16. Having established by the context that the God referred to within the passage is God the Son, the words verum Deum refer not back to God the Father, Deus solus verusque, but to God the Son. Thus one cannot use the adjective verus to exclude the Son, for the very verse they call upon to do so, actually refers to the Son as Deus verus!

[1] i.e. Deum

[2] Personae enim alterius videtur esse pronomen, ubi te est: caeterum ubi pronominis syllaba non erit, ibi ad auctorem dicti refertur et nomen. V.26 with a slightly freer translation.

[3] Relinquetis enim vos nomen vestrum in laetitia electis meis, vos autem interficiet Dominus; again, significantly different from Modern translations, such as “You shall leave your name to my chosen for a curse, and the Lord God will put you to death (ESV)”;  “ Your names will live on in the curse formulas of my chosen ones. (NET)”