But didn’t you do grammar-translation?

I get this a lot, of variations on it. Yes, it’s undeniably true that I studied Greek and Latin via grammar translation methods. I did 5 years of Latin at university, all G-T. And I was taught Greek via G-T. And at the end of 5 years of Latin I wondered why I couldn’t read anything, and at the end of 4 years of Greek I was fine with a New Testament and lost without it.

And now I’m quite a few years down the track, and people both ask me, “well, aren’t you at the point where you are because you did grammar-translation and then you went on from there?” I think this is really a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc, and it’s a logical fallacy. But to recognise that you need to come to terms with at least one thing.

In all sorts of contexts I keep telling people that it’s entirely possible to learn ancient languages without learning ‘grammar’. And they don’t believe me. Which is understandable, because (a) most people have very little idea about how languages are acquired, but (b) most people think they understand how languages are learnt. (b) is really quite problematic precisely because people thing, ‘well, you learn some grammar, and some rules, and some vocabulary, and you get better and faster at internalising those things’. And, more often than not, this corresponds to their experience of language learning situations.

This is also compounded because people generally think learning a first language is radically different to a second language. Which, it isn’t. It’s a little bit different but the process is mostly the same.

So, let me bring you to a conversation I had recently with some Latin learners. This is an abstraction of a real conversation.

Me: You don’t need to know what an ablative is to learn Latin.
Them: what??
Me: well, you don’t. most native latin speakers probably didn’t have a specific notion of ‘ablative’ that they learnt.
Them: Ørberg doesn’t even introduce the ablative for a hundred pages or so.
Me: Except, chapter 1 of Familia Romana is full of ablatives!
Them: what? oh yeah, I didn’t even realise.
Me: Exactly. You understood in Italiā just fine, because it was comprehensible in context. You didn’t need to be told what an ablative was beforehand.

 

How is this relevant? Well, if you circle around to the initial point here, it’s that it’s not only entirely possible to acquire a language through comprehensible input, it’s that acquisition and explicit grammar instruction are such different processes that result in entirely different outcomes, that even if you do explicit grammar instruction, it doesn’t necessarily help language acquisition.

And, we have a whole field of research that supports this. That’s the whole field of Second Language Acquisition. And, at the very least the vast bulk of that research suggests that explicit grammar instruction aids very little to zero the process of acquisition. I’m very happy to concede that it may help somewhat, although some linguists in this field would say “no, not at all, at best it doesn’t hinder”, but well, let’s be generous at this stage.

That’s why I advocate for Communicative Language Teaching and for acquisition – because I read introductory material in SLA, and then I went on and read research papers, and I keep reading as much research as I can find time for. I’m interested in teaching in a way that produces acquisition rather than explicit knowledge, because I’ve experienced both, and I believe genuine acquisition is a more worthwhile goal, that sees students reading texts without translating, with direct access to the language, and understanding with fluency.

However, I do teach grammar. Sometimes, for some contexts:

  • When I have students who need grammar for their courses and employ me to help them learn grammar to pass a grammar-based exam.
  • When I have learners who have already done grammar, and find it useful to use grammar as a meta-language to illuminate things in a text. That’s precisely what grammar is useful for – talking about Ideally this can be done in the target language – then you’re both talking about language while still getting input in the language.
  • People often like to have grammar, in either language, so that they have an explicit knowledge of what they are figuring out implicitly. It is affectively helpful for them to feel like they know what’s going on. I’m fine with that, because I think ‘feeling like you are understanding’ is important for learners.
  • When I have learners who want to be equipped to deal with commentary-type material that uses grammatical meta-language. In this case, I am training learners to acquire a competency in a different area – how does one learn the explicit knowledge of language required to engage in conversations about explicit knowledge of language. To the extent that that’s a goal, that can be taught. It’s not acquisition though and it doesn’t lead to acquisition.

There are good reasons to teach grammar, so that’s why I sometimes do. At the end of the day though, neither research, nor my experience on both sides of grammar-translation and communicative-language-teaching (with historical and contemporary languages, as a teacher and a learner), suggests or supports that G-T leads to acquisition.

Maybe the key to teaching the perfect is not to teach it

As I’ve been working on Lingua Graeca Per Se Illustrata, I’ve had more of a chance to reflect on Ørberg’s methodology in LLPSI, but also principles of SLA, how to sequence a text, and how to shelter vocabulary and/or morphology for students. It also helps that there’s a current, live, and invested group of students currently being subject to the first draft of LGPSI.

If you’ve read LLPSI you’ll know that Ørberg puts off introducing any tenses beyond the present until pretty late: Chapter 19. Then he starts piling them on in a flurry. Which, is fine for what he set out to do and the principles he’s working in. Though, expecting that students can do a chapter, see every future perfect in context, understand them, and then know them, is not a principle or assumption I work with.

Now, what to do with the Greek perfect? It’s a relatively infrequently occurring tense. It’s difficult for students to pick up the nuance of its aspect. It’s often delayed, nay, relegated, to well into the final stages of a grammar-based curriculum.

What if one, er, I, just didn’t “teach” the perfect. Rather, just found an appropriate part of the course to start slipping them in, in contexts that made sense and usages that were perfectly normal. And when students say, “oh, what’s that verb form” you just say, “it’s a perfect, you can understand it to mean X” and move on.

And then when you’ve had another 20 chapters of LGPSI expanded universe, you can throw a table at them so they feel better about it.

Honestly, these days I try to teach grammar only when students ask for it, or to make them feel better about it. Because I know that the benefits, if any, of explicit grammar instruction are minimal to none for the outcome of implicit language acquisition.

So, no, LGPSI is unlikely to have a chapter that’s just “here’s a whole bunch of perfects”. Because ancient Greek speakers didn’t use perfects like that. And modern learners can’t get a robust enough representation from one chapter of input-flooding.

Could one write a communicative curriculum to cover Mounce?

I’ve been a bit behind in my blogging; I have some half-finished materials but the busyness of general life has been rather much lately.

This is a question that was put to me, and I thought it worth making into a post.

 

The answer is, “only if we unravel the question.”

Mounce, now in its 4th edition, is the market-dominant textbook for a traditional Grammar-Translation approach to New Testament Greek, widely employed in seminaries. It’s what I first used to tackle Greek when I did a year of self-guided study way-back-when. It’s great at what it does, that is it’s a book that is effective within its pedagogical scope of “explicit, grammar and morphology, learning.”

That’s… not what a Comprehensible-Input based approach is about though. CI-based teaching is neither an alternate way to reach the same goal, nor a better way to reach the same goal. It’s a principle of providing communicative input to language learners that enables acquisition – the internal, implicit development of a mental representation of a language, that allows the learner (over time) to process and understand pieces of language (words, phrases, clauses, paragraphs, discourses) in the target language.

At the end of Mounce, what can a student do? I know, because I was there! You can translate, with more or less helps, and you can parse. You can analyse, and you can talk meta-language about Greek.

At the end of [X amount of hours of CI-based input], what can a learner do? My goal is that at the end of a reasonable course of Koine-focused instruction (and, I should say, that this is only my goal in the context of teaching seminary students focused on New Testament Koine in particular; other contexts have other scopes), learners can pick up New Testament passages of appropriate difficulty, and read and understand them without analysis.

My secondary goal is to give them the tools to do what a G/T student can do, that is I am also aiming and providing resources for students to analyse and talk about language explicitly. But this is not a CI-based method or outcome.

Now, presuming that a well-designed CI-based approach gets students to an ability to read a reasonable amount of NT Greek, will they have covered Mounce? That question makes less and less sense. The goals are different, the method is different, because the type of learning is different.

But, I will say, that if a student gets to the end of 2 semesters of NT Greek with me, and has been reasonably diligent, that given enough hours, they’ll be able to read more than a Mounce student can. And, if they’re given a bit of grammar after the bulk of CI-based material, they’ll be able to apply that reasonably well to the language they’ve acquired.

 

I don’t think a CLT or CI-based curriculum should aim to cover Mounce, because I think any well-designed set of CI-based materials will be doing something different, and will cover what Mounce covers by-the-by.

Online courses starting in April (advance notice)

Well, we are just wrapping up week 7 of my first round of online small-group courses, and I think it’s gone rather well all things considered. You could ask my students though.

Here’s what I’m looking to offer as “Term 2” this year:

Athenaze A: this will be an ab initio course, the same as I have run this previous term. We’ll aim to cover chapters 1-6 of the Italian Athenaze. You must obtain a copy of this book yourself to participate.

Athenaze B: a follow-on course, starting around chapter around chapter 7 of Italian Athenaze. You don’t need to have done Athenaze A with me, but you should have covered those chapters, and be prepared for the class to be primarily in (simple) Greek.

Conversational Greek A & B: join me for simple stories, activities, and conversation in Koine Greek. Atticists are welcome too. These two courses are non-sequential, but also non-repeatable. That is, if you did A you shouldn’t do A again, because it’s the same basic skeleton of material. Whereas you don’t have to do A in order to do B.

Latin 1: this is a course in Latin starting from scratch. It requires you to have Lingua Latina: Familia Romana.

Latin 2: this is a follow on course in Latin, starting from around chapter 12, maybe 13, of Familia Romana

Lingua Graeca per se Illustrata: This is a beginners course in Koine Greek, utilising my own LGPSI text.

I’m open to running other things, provided I can get a minimum of 2 students to commit. So that’s a pretty low bar, if you have something in mind.

Follow-on courses will basically keep their current timeslots (if you’re one of my current students), other courses I will be timetabling over the course of the next month, looking to start around mid-April.

Same conversation, same text – a technique

One of the things I have been reflecting on recently, both in reading a fair bit, but also working on the composition of LGPSI, is how useful it is, and would be, to take the WAYK concept of “same conversation” and apply it at the text level.

Same conversation is a technique where you deliberately repeat the same conversation, on a familiar, habitual, repeated topic, practice, habit, occurrence. What might that look like for texts?

Well, take capitulum primum of Lingua Latina, it’s basically a geography lesson, that to some extent leverages of people’s ability to recognise major countries and cities, and of the visual prop of a map. That’s smart (good one, Ørberg!). LGPSI starts with the same basis, though less effectively (because fluvius, oppidum, insula do not work nicely in Greek, eheu).

But what if you did other geography ‘lessons’ after this. You’ve built some basic vocabulary and structures around these things, so you can ‘repeat’ this lesson with a text about somewhere or somewhen else. So, a map of the Mediterranean, but now it’s the 10th century. Or, a map of America. Or a map of the 1960s. And you can start to make things more complicated. Add a geographical feature or two. Build more complex relationships between entities. And so on.

This is the advantage of thinking about ‘reading sideways, but up a little’, you build on the same conversation, to revisit the same language, but a little bit more complicated, with different content.

Or, to be honest, you could come back to the exact same conversation/text, but later. E.g. what if there was a second volume of (e.g.) Familia Romana that was the same storyline and content as the first, but the language was all ‘scaled-up’ to reflect the fact that you’d read the whole book before.

These are some of the ideas floating around and looking for implementation in the broader vision of my LGPSI project. Multiple storylines in multiple times, gives the opportunity to do lots of ‘same conversation’ with different content, and growing complexity.

Reading… sideways?

One of the things I’ve become increasingly aware of as a strategy for developing greater comprehension and fluency, is what I’ve taken to calling ‘reading sideways’. In particular, this has crystallised for me lately while reflecting on my reading through the Lingua Latina Per Se Illutrata materials.

Because ‘reading forwards’ gets more and more difficult. Working through Ørberg’s main volume, Familia Romana, Ørberg introduces a whole new set of grammatical forms in a chapter, say a full set of present passive indicatives. And he uses the in context, with nice alternation, and really shows the learner how they differ and how they function. It’s quite masterful to watch. But, you read a chapter, and then if you are pushing forwards all the time, well for some learners it gets to be a bit of a slog.

Now, I always advocate to people to ‘read backwards’, i.e. any time you get stuck, you just back up as far as you can, and start reading forwards again (I know ‘backwards’ isn’t quite the right word here). By reverting to much easier material, you build up your ongoing exposure to the whole mass of language, and you get some repeated exposure to things that are new.

But this only serves you so well, because you know the material, you get familiar with the content, your brain isn’t trying so hard to understand the messages themselves.

This is why reading sideways is so valuable. And the two supplements Colloquia Personarum and Miraglia’s Fabulae Syrae do this really well. They are keyed to the chapters of FR, containing only modicums of new words and virtually no new structures, and they repeat the new material from the relevant chapter, but they tell entirely different stories. So you’re fresh material, but with the same ‘language’. This is ‘sideways’ – you’re not ‘progressing’ by adding more language, you’re progressing by seeing the same things over and over but in new and varied forms with new and varied stories.

This is, by the way, one of the reasons why my big-picture vision for LGPSI is to end up with multiple storylines. You can be reading multiple stories, all with similar progressions in vocabulary and grammar, mutually reinforcing the language you’re learning, but getting it in new formulations. But that’s a long way off. For now, look out for opportunities not to be reading ‘harder’ material, but just different material at the same level you’re already reading it.

The Greek Perfect, Learners, and you (part 1)

Having been asked about how you teach the Greek perfect, or even how you figure it out, I thought I’d start by surveying a range of books that I have to hand or easy access to, to see what they say about the Perfect.

 

The Greek perfect tense for learners

In the first of this mini-series, I wanted to look at how a number of introductory Greek texts introduce and explain the perfect forms.

 

Zuntz (English ed.):

“The Greek perfect, unlike the Latin perfect, does not refer to completed past actions. In Greek, such actions are referred to in the aorist. The Greek perfect refers, in a particular manner, to a situation now existing, and hence might appropriately be called the ‘present perfect’.

He focuses on the reduplication as conveying either a ‘feeling of intensity’, (πεπίστευκα ‘I firmly believe’, or ‘a state now reached and maintained, usually as the effect of a preceding action. e.g. ηὕρηκα.

JACT Reading Greek:

RG introduces it with

“At an early stage of the language, the perfect means ‘I am in the position of having -ed’. (§ 262)

In Classical Greek, the perfect also acquired the meaning ‘I have -ed’.” (§ 262)

Then, in § 418

“The ‘presentness’ of the original perfect arises because it was used to denote a state, in particular a present state resulting from a past action.”

But, it goes on to provide some ‘wrinkles’ –

  • states not involving past actions δέδοικα
  • presents which do not appear to be stative κέκραγα
  • ‘stative’ in the passive system ‘it is -ed’, γέγραπται
  • passive meaning in active morphology: κατέαγε ‘it is broken.

Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics

“The aspect of the perfect and pluperfect is sometimes called stative, resultative, completed, or perfective-stative. Whatever it is called, the kind of action portrayed (in its unaffected meaning) is a combination of the external and internal aspects: The action is presented externally (summary), while the resultant state proceeding from the action is presented internally (continuous state).(p573)

Wallace categorises uses into Intensive (Resultative) – emphasises the results or present state of a past action, and Extesnive (Consummative) – emphasises the completed action of a past action or process, from which a present state emerges. Then he includes ‘Aoristic Perfect’, ‘Perfect with a Present Force’ (e.g. οἶδα), Gnomic, Propleptic, Allegorical (?).

Athenaze (English) (chapter 27)

Athenaze, interestingly, introduces perfect middle/passive and participles first.

“enduring states or conditions resulted from completed actions” (p215)
“Greek thus distinguishes clearly between progressive, aorist, and perfective aspects”
“states or conditions existing as a result of completed actions. The state or condition described is ongoing or permanent” (p240)

Comment: This is really where I think Athenaze is the worst of all these. I know that it’s not uncommon to use the progressive/aorist terminology. But using ‘perfective’ for the perfect, is actually deeply misleading. The aorist system is perfective in aspect, and when you treat the aorist as ‘aoristic’ or ‘simple-past-time’ or ‘undefined’, you are confusing the Greek verbal system and confusing your students (if not now, then down the track).It is unfortunate that the English labels ‘perfect’ and ‘perfective’ are so close, and yet refer to quite distinct things in the Greek aspectual system.

Mastronarde (1993), p280-281

“the aspect of completed action with a continuing or permanent result”

In early Greek, “principally to the continuing state brought about in the subject of the action” e.g. μεμάθηκα. “In classical Attic, however, the use of the perfect was extended so that it could also express a permanent result affecting the object” e.g. τέθηκα.

Decker, Reading Koine Greek

Firstly, Decker is nice in that he uses perfective and imperfective labels throughout, though not always strictly correctly.

“The aspect of the perfect is stative: it describes a state/condition rather than an action – a situation described with no reference to change or expenditure of energy” (p329)

It is true, he concedes that a previous action is likely the cause, but Decker says that the verb implies nothing about that action, only about the condition that exists.

Mahoney First Greek Course (p174)

“The perfect tense has stative aspect. That is, it refers to a state that the subject is in, typically as a result of a prior action.” Or… “the perfect denotes the continuing consequences of a previous act.”

“τὸ βιβλίον γέγραφα means something like “I have the status of writer: I wrote the book and am therefore now a writer.”

Comment: I think this example is over-drawing the stative idea. Indeed, for γράφω I would think that the perfect normally applies to the completeness of the book, not to the state of the writer.

Köstenberger, Merkle, and Plummer, Going Deeper with New Testament Greek

p297, ‘Stative’, though their presentation draws from Porter, Wallace, Dana & Mantey, and focuses on the idea of (a) the state that results from a previous action, and (b) the combination of perfective and imperfective aspects. They then provide subcategories largely reflecting Wallace: Intensive, Consummative, Dramatic (Aoristic), Present-State, Gnomic, and Iterative.[1]

 

Conclusion:

There’s wide agreement among the intro grammars that the perfect is stative in aspect. How well that’s expressed varies though. I think some of these grammars struggle with how this actually contrasts with the imperfective and perfective aspects. In particular, the kind of approach in Athenaze is problematic, precisely because the perfect is not perfective, and I think having a schema that thinks Greek’s aspect system is progressive v aoristic v perfective is going to lead you astray.

Reading Greek has the advantage of recognising various ‘wrinkles’, but does nothing to help the learner sort them out.

Decker is good for using perfective/imperfective, though I think he overstates the fact that the perfect has no reference to a previous action. In verbs that are not themselves stative in semantics, I don’t see how you could suggest the stative does not necessarily entail prior action.

Wallace, and his not-quite-heirs, are useful in that sub-categorisation at least allows one to see the variety of usages and put them under some umbrella labels, though the general view that the Perfect is some kind of ‘combination’ of imperfective and perfective, I think is untenable.

 

In my next post I’ll turn to how I understand the Perfect, and some thoughts on teaching it.

[1] I think this last one is doubtful, based on their examples.

How to teach students the aorist vs. imperfect

Or, how to teach students aspect not time….

Here’s how 95% of Greek textbooks teach Greek verbs.

  1. Start with the present indicative. Explain it’s basically equivalent to your L1 present indicative.
  2. Introduce the imperfect indicative. Explain it’s basically equivalent to “was X-ing” or another L1 equivalent.
  3. Introduce the aorist indicative. Explain it’s basically equivalent to a simple past, “X-ed”.
  4. Introduce the present imperative.
  5. Introduce the aorist imperative.
  6. “Teacher, how can you have a past-time imperative?????????”
  7. Fail.

When you sequence your grammar to build students’ understanding of the Greek verbal system on tenses and start with the indicative where they do indeed carry temporal indications, then when you get out of the indicative, students struggle to make the leap. Because they learnt tenses and they associate them with time so they never know what to do with the aorist. So you need to ‘unlearn’ them – teach them “yes, I know that I said they are present and past, but that’s not actually what’s going on.”

Now, it’s not always a bad idea to introduce a simple version of what’s going on in a language, and then complicate it up later. But I think we can do better. And the best way to circumvent this problem is to start with imperatives early.

This is one reason I like the opening sequence in the Polis book. It starts with TPR and starts with commands. And most of those are aorist imperatives, because they represent perfective events: κάθισον. ἐλθέ. δεῖξον, κτλ. This also has the good effect of introducing aorist imperatives early and as ‘default’. But there are some presents in there too, τρέχε, περιπάτει, κτλ. And those represent imperfective actions.

Which means, if you stop and do a pop-up grammar, you can briefly explain that, e.g. περιπατεῖν is an ongoing, continuous, imperfective thing. κλεῖσον τὴν θύραν is by default a perfective, wholistic event.

And, voila, you’ve taught aspect before tense, and you can carry that forward. And every time you meet an non-indicative, you point them back to aspect. And you’re also a leg-up in teaching the indicative, because you can point them to aspectual contrast, e.g. in the past-time indicatives.

State of the Projects, Jan 2019

It’s been a long time since I wrote a post like this. But I think it’s time to resume an end-of-month personal reflection.

Language Logging

January was always going to be a bit weird on this spectrum. I logged 58’33” altogether. 6’31” for Gaelic (not very much), 38’60” for Greek, and 13’12” for Latin. This was skewed in a couple of ways – firstly I took a week of holidays to start the year. Technically I was working that week, but not very much. Then I taught a full intensive week of Greek, 5 hrs a day. So, that has certainly altered my stats.

In the coming month I am looking to increase some of these hours, but just as importantly, shift as many of the ‘quality’ categories up as possible. That is, the more of these I can make high-volume, high-comprehension, in-target-language as possible, the better.

 

Teaching and Tutoring

This year I’ve tilted a fair bit more to teaching and tutoring Latin and Greek. I only truly have a handful of students, a mix of online and a few in-person, high-school kids and independent adult learners. It’s nice to have some upper-level high-schoolers, because they are doing texts and that forces me/means I get paid, to read classical literature.

I’ve also kicked off this year with online group classes. I’m really excited about this, for several reasons. Firstly, the opportunity to teach a few things I’ve long wanted to explore more: (1)  a continuous course using the Italian Athenaze, taught primarily in Greek; (2) a more free-flowing communicative Greek class. Secondly, I’m pleased to be able to offer a somewhat more affordable option than one-to-one sessions. Thirdly, I’m interested in expanding it to a series of connected courses that range across the levels.

 

Apostolic Fathers

Tauber and I started work on a project to do a new, open access, version of the Apostolic Fathers. This is designed to feed in to some broader work on a Greek reading environment, particularly oriented to learners, but also as a project in its own right. Tauber and I have completed the initial work of correcting our text, which you can see here: https://github.com/jtauber/apostolic-fathers

Next will be the process of lemmatisation, morphological analysis, and then incorporation into some of our broader work.

It’s also been a good experience in some of the work that will go into resurrecting and moving my ‘Digital Nyssa’ project forwards this year.

Podcasting

Last (August?) I started a koine greek language podcast (https://odianuktosdialogos.podomatic.com) which has been going (strong) since then, weekly at any rate. But it has been quite a struggle. I struggle both with having enough linguistic competency to talk about things, and with having things to talk about. But it’s been a good experience overall and I intent to continue with it. I have some plans to improve things, but it will take some time (and effort)

 

The year ahead

This year I’m continuing with doing some online adjuncting for one college, and if a minimum class size is reached, teaching Greek for another. These help pay some of the bills. I enjoy teaching. I do not quite so much enjoy marking piles of student papers.

 

Research??

Sad to say there is precious little research being done by me. It took virtually a whole year for a good quality article to go through review, get a revise-and-resubmit, and then get turned down last year. I don’t get any funding, resources, or time to put towards research, and the nature of my work, and my home life, tends to eat up almost all my time.

Research, except for funded academics, is entirely unpaid labour. And, while I vocationally committed to carrying on genuine research, the simple conditions of labour more than anything else constrain what I can achieve.

 

That’s all from my office this month.

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

“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

So, you want to log hours of language activity

How can you practically do this? How will I be doing this?

This is a follow-on post from this one.

Firstly, let me address an issue raised by my wife, which is comparing my Latin experience with Mongolian is apples and oranges. Because time spent in Mongolia was overwhelmingly communicative exposure, not ‘book time’. That’s precisely my point, in terms of that’s why it took a couple of years not decades to become competent. It’s both quantity and quality of input.

Of course, it’s hard to measure everything, and I don’t want to create paralysis by analysis. So here’s how I’ll be tracking language time in 2019:

I have a spreadsheet set up with the following fields:
Date, Language, Category, Quality, Time, Notes

Category is a drop-down box of Audio, Video, Reading, Communicative, and Grammar. That is, what type of activity did I do during the time.

Quality is a subjective rating from A to E, or 1-5, as you prefer. So “A” is something like a communicative session where we were in the target hour 90%+ of the time. B is an Audio/Video/Reading block in which I stayed mentally in the target language and processed at a decent speed. Etc.. You need to work this out for yourself a little. Grammar is always E. maybe even F.

When I say ‘count hours’, I mean A-quality hours. So I plan to also use the Quality rating to produce “weighted hours”. e.g. B is worth 80% of A time.

Time is measured in minutes.

Notes is where I record what I actually did during that time period. e.g., listening to Latin podcasts, reading some easy Greek, working on a text with a student.

I think this, or a similar system, is easy enough for anyone to implement. I’ll be posting some monthly reports and analyses myself. So at the end of January you’ll see what a month of this looks like.

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).

Examples:
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

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.

Aubrey

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.

Logging hours in a language, not ‘years’

How many years have you been studying Greek?

18 years. Which is useless information. One of the things that has lodged deep in my brain from listening to Bill VanPatten et al., is that measuring ‘years’ is not actually very useful. And here’s a simple comparison. After 1 year in Mongolia I started teaching, not entirely in Mongolian, but certainly in a predominantly Mongolian classroom. By 18 months, I was running at least some of my classes entirely in Mongolian, and at about 2.5 years in, I not only ran my classes 100% in Mongolian, but I preached several times in Mongolian. That was the height of my Mongolian proficiency, and it was all achieved within 3 years.

So, what’s better than counting years? Hours.

I suppose one could count minutes but that’s going to be hard. Hours are more manageable, and here’s where this post is going:

In 2019 I’m going to actually log the hours I spend on language. I already log working hours on several projects, so I’m used to logging my time, I’m going to take that and expand it to logging every block of time I spend on Greek, Latin, and Gaelic, over the year. I’ll probably set up some sub-divisions (reading, grammar, communicative, teaching, learning) as well.

I think this will be a useful experiment for myself, and I am hoping the observation effect will push me to spend some more time on these languages too. And, here is an invitation to you – try logging your own hours for a month or two in 2019, and see what you discover about your own language habits.

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”.

Greek:

αἱρεῖσθαι         to choose
κτάσθαι           to acquire for oneself

εὔχεσθαι          to pray

Latin:

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

Collective

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.

Chaining

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.

Online courses, now available

I’ve now finalised details for online courses in the first quarter of 2019. You can find details and sign up under the Online Courses page. Pay careful attention to the times listed. Class sizes are capped at 5. If a course fills up, I’ll consider offering a second offering of the same.

I plan to offer follow-on courses as well as re-runs of the intro courses throughout the year.

Any questions, please get in touch and I’ll be happy to let you know.

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.

Reflections on teaching Greek 102

Now that semester two is finally wrapped up across my diverse colleges, it seems an apt time to write some reflections on teaching Intro to Koine Greek 2.

At the start of semester I was met with a conundrum – zero of my students were face-to-face. It was to be all distance, all asynchronous. Hmm, what to do?

I’d also been talking to James Tauber, of course, about many things Greek, digital, and pedagogical. We’ve been talking for some time about how to sequence Greek pericopes by ‘least new vocab’, and also about reading environments. In my context, I was partly hamstrung by the need to provide video’d lectures tied to powerpoint slides, but through semester one I’d at least become accustomed to that.

So, I tried something new. I took our current sequence of pericopes, and I taught these texts one by one through the semester, ‘talking through’ each text. It was more grammar-driven than I’d like in other contexts, but I couldn’t see a way around that given the parameters. It was very interesting though.

We read almost entirely Johannine texts, ‘out of order’, even at times reading the back half of a chapter right before the front half. Early on the vocab is quite limited, and Johannine texts are wonderfully (pedagogically speaking) repetitive. They repeat not only key words, but phrases, and structures. Sure, we met things in the first week that textbook students wouldn’t see for months, but we were dealing with real Greek, and the number of exposures both to forms and to structures was very high. And as we went to each new text, the same elements would reappear again and again, just with a few new features, a few new words.

At the end of semester, we’d covered more Greek text than I think any comparable first year (New Testament Greek) course or textbook does. Our word count was high, but our vocabulary count was somewhat lower, though still covering a solid core. And I have no doubt that the repetition numbers were much, much higher.

I think this could be improved upon. And I think it could be made more CI-based, communicatively driven. If the first half of the course had gone better, or if students had a more active grasp of Greek, then a sequenced reading of texts could also be matched with discussion in Greek of those texts.