Biblingo, a review

Biblingo is an app developed for learning the biblical languages (very specifically, New Testament Koine Greek, Biblical Hebrew), through a (semi-)communicative approach. I became aware of Biblingo some time ago, and followed some of their pre-launch promotional material, but more recently decided to test it out with a 10-day free trial.

Firstly, a little background. I studied Hebrew at Seminary for 3 years, doing quite well along a traditional grammar-translation track. I didn’t succeed very well in keeping Hebrew up, and so my Hebrew slowly atrophied. I did teach a course on the exegesis of Amos in Hebrew (in Mongolian), but my ability to read Hebrew now is very weak. I have off and on considered taking some communicative courses to get some Hebrew back in a more robust and active mode, but it is relatively low down my everyday priority list of languages.

You can sign up for a 10-day free trial of Biblingo at present, and that’s what I did. It gives you access to the four current ‘modules’ – Language Learning, Flashcards, Alphabet, and Bible Reading. Beyond that, one needs a subscription, for either or both languages.

The user interface is very pleasant, and generally easy to navigate. You are given some short pop-up intro videos to get you oriented, and if you don’t know the alphabet at all, there are a number of video lessons to get you acquainted with it. Those video lessons are high quality presentations, but there are no exercises to familiarise you with using the alphabet. You also have a range of choices for pronunciation in each language.

The core of the engine at present appears to be the Language Learning module. This starts off as all locked, and you need to do and complete lessons in sequence, with 3 levels, a total of 26 units across them, and 4 sub-lessons per unit. Each lesson consists of a sequence of Vocabulary, Grammar, and ‘Final Act’ or application. I can’t say if the format and organisation changes in the more advanced units, as I haven’t gotten there.

Vocabulary begins by offering you 6ish new vocabulary items, each presented with a short video or an image, with an audio track. You can click for an english language gloss, but I did not use that feature, preferring to associate image directly with word/phrase. This did leave me unsure about exactly what some verbs were portraying, but my presumption is that I’ll figure that out as I progress.

The images and videos are high quality, and tied to an imagined biblical world, that is you will see people in biblical settings, with biblical type clothing, doing biblical type things. There’s no telephones and where is the bibliothèque here.

Vocabulary proceeds through several stages: presentation, then passive knowledge (selecting the right answer from multiple choices), and ‘active’ knowledge – inputting the correct word(s) by either typing or using a word bank.

Generally, I found the typing frustrating. Partly this was some technical issues with my own Hebrew keyboard layout, but the app would benefit greatly from some kind of typing tutorial mini-app. Similar to, say, duolingo, it doesn’t penalise you for minor misspellings, such as accents, but offers a gentle reminder and a chance to ‘practice’ (i.e. retype), though the retype is not compulsory. I did notice that even when I had entered the Hebrew correctly, I was sometimes told to ‘watch my spelling’, perhaps because of a mismatch in coding between the Hebrew keyboard I was using and what the app expected. I had no problems when testing out the Greek side.

I’m not quite convinced that simply entering vocabulary by typing it out quite counts as ‘active knowledge’. It certainly helps spelling. But it still seems to me a rather limited treatment of active recall. The Hebrew/Image presentation is a good improvement over bilingual flashcards, but we are still mostly being presented with isolated vocabulary items.

Grammar in each lesson takes the vocabulary you have learnt, and puts it into sentences, with one or at most two new grammar elements per unit. Again you are prompted with a video or image, and with a symbolic presentation. The symbolic presentation uses symbols to prompt for things like definite articles, 1/2/3rd person pronouns, and the like, which would not be obvious from the videos alone. This is quite a novel feature and well executed. The movement through this section is very similar to vocabulary – presentation, ‘passive’ recognition (multiple choice with 4, then 8 options), and then active input.

The last section is usually quite short, and asks for active response to a slightly harder prompt, requiring some creative application of materials you have learnt. It is a way of testing that you’ve understood and can apply in a more adaptive way, the things you have been shown with more restricted vocabulary.

Overall the sequence of lessons is well done, it moves in very bit-sized pieces, and gives lots of opportunity for exposure and integration. I will say that a few features and perhaps critique are in order though.

The multiple choice responses could be improved on the UI level by offering keyboard numbered responses. The typed-response was frustrating in not recognising some correct responses because of presumably some Hebrew Unicode representation issues, and so I ended up using the wordbank more, which makes those exercises a little more ‘passive’ again. There’s no way to skip lessons, or even to skip to, e.g., the latter part of a lesson that you’ve already completed, you have to work through each one in sequence, and if you ‘retake’ a lesson, you need to go through it from the start.

The inability to skip/unlock was frustrating, partly because I wanted to check out some more advanced Greek lessons. I have a very solid knowledge of Greek, but the linear direction of the app prevented me using features that would be useful for me, without investing significant time.

Two other modules are present in the app. Flashcard Deck is a spaced-recognition presentation of vocabulary that either (a) you have tackled in the lessons, (b) some preset decks (fairly limited at present), or (c) custom decks (to which you can add words from the Bible Reading module). The flashcard deck presents the vocabulary in ‘sets’, and asks you to work through the same association>passive>active sequence as are presented in the Language Learning module. For that reason it was also, in my view, a little tedious. I couldn’t indicate I ‘strongly’ knew a word for instance, and so I had no choice but to see it over and over, nor vice versa. I would like to have seen a more fine-grained version of ‘how well you know a word’ in the vocabulary engine.

The last module, and the most recently released, is Bible Reading. This is really meant for more advanced learners, it seems, so for this review I’ll talk a bit more about the Greek version. Essentially, you have the chance to browse the Bible at Book, Chapter, Verse level, and at each level it indicates what percentage of the words you know. You can thus sort and look for parts that you know more vocabulary, and which therefore should be easier to read.

Then, when you select a book, each word (or morphemes in the Hebrew version) is colour coded based on whether you know 0, learning-some, learning-all, or know-all sense of the word. Each word can be clicked, and you are given a ‘dictionary pop-up’ which divides the word into various senses, divided by semantic domain (this seems to draw on Louw-Nida). Pictures are given where available, but otherwise English glosses. Each word also has parsing information.

Navigating the Greek version of this, it was fairly cumbersome to try and ‘fast-track’ what I already know. So I couldn’t easily bring the app up-to-speed with what I knew, without again investing significant time in teaching it.

Nonetheless, especially for someone working from scratch, this is a good feature. Though it could be improved – it still presents the biblical text, and only the biblical text, as its reading input. So your ‘input’ options in biblingo are either isolated sentences in the language learning module, or raw biblical books.

Pros

The biblingo interface is smooth, and the underlying principles are generally sound. The de-emphasis of explicit grammar, the modulisation and indeed granularization of learning chunks, and the focus on image/video material for direct association of vocab, are all great features. So, too, is the use of a symbolic code for sentence structures.

I’ve now done a week of Hebrew, 15mins or more a day, and I feel like I understand everything i’ve been presented and can respond to it clearly, directly, and in Hebrew. That’s what you want in language learning, and that’s what I’m getting on this app.

Cons

The structure of learning is very linear, and each sub-unit has to be worked through in sequence, and as a block. There remains something of an emphasis on passive recognition, even in ‘active’ exercises. Comprehensible Input is limited to isolated sentences, and there is no truly ‘communicative’ component to Biblingo – I am interpreting meaning at an atomised level, but only for the purpose of language learning, not for any other purpose. I am also not actively outputting meaning-based language, and there’s no negotiating of meaning between parties, it’s all one way in that sense.

The fine-grained nature of ‘know/don’t know’ is not adequately, or at least adequately transparently, presented to the learner, so it feels like overkill on some words, underkill on others, and knowledge also appears to be mostly tied to vocabulary knowledge. For biblingo to be more data-driven and user-responsive, it needs to find ways to track learners’ exposure, and comprehension, of other features of language (e.g. syntax).

I would also suggest that biblingo simply doesn’t provide enough, and enough variety, of comprehensible input. The gap between ‘isolated sentences’ and ‘biblical texts’, is enough to mean that the jump from one to the other is too far. Learners need extensive exposure to CI, and that means broad and wide and varied input. This has long been a problem for historical languages, and is only starting to be addressed for Latin. It’s an ongoing problem for Greek, which I try to solve for my own students in a variety of creative ways (mostly involving finding new easy things for them to read).

Overall

Despite these criticisms, I find biblingo engaging enough as an app, and I am learning some genuine Hebrew without explicit grammar (which I mostly try to ignore even when it pops up), and without translation. That’s a very significant difference to any other app/program/asynchronous set of materials out there (though there are some other options, yes), and for which the biblingo team ought to be applauded. And, work on biblingo (to all appearances) is ongoing, so it may yet improve and offer more and richer ways to learn.

To find out more about Biblingo, see their website.

 

Aubrey on the Middle Voice (3)

Part 3 of our read-through of of Rachel Aubrey’s thesis on the Greek middle. Part 1., and Part 2. Numbers in brackets are page references.

Chapter 2 of Aubrey’s thesis looks at the Greek middle in the context of other languages and their voice systems. How does the Greek middle, and the Greek voice system, ‘fit’ in comparison to other languages and their voices systems (23) rather than the traditional approach which begins from an active-passive contrast and goes from there.

Aubrey begins by distinguishing derived and basic voice systems. English is a derived system, because it is traced from a source, Greek is a basic system because it is not. To put it more simply, the passive in English takes the active structure and “remaps the participants” (25). Greek middles do not work like that – they do not presume the priority of the active and then go about remapping the participants in the event. Other languages are similarly basic or derived, and not all exhibit the same sets of systems (cf. anti-passives, inverse systems, etc. (24)).

Let me give an example (different to Aubrey’s) of that remapping

  • Michael wrote (b) the tweets.
  • The tweets were written (a) by Michael.

Here the agent (a) is remapped (demoted) to an optional oblique phrase, while the patient (b) is promoted to the subject of the verb. A consequence of having a derived system like this, Aubrey says, is that they can be no passive-only verbs – passives only arise by being derived from actives (26). Secondly, only transitive clauses (i.e. with direct objects) can be passivized. Intransitives cannot.

Thirdly, Aubrey points out that voice alternations in derived systems are “expected to be semantically neutral” (26) that is, switching patient from object to subject does not normally change the meaning of the verb, only the alignment of the participants.

Well, what about a basic middle system? Aubrey’s work here appears to draw primarily on Klaiman and Shibatani. So, in contrast, middles are not derived from their active counterparts – there is no ‘mesofication’ process that turns an active into a middle clause. The agent is still the subject, the patient remains the object. The alternation between active and middle rests in a semantic alternation (27).

Because (θ)η type middles are not ‘passive’, they overlap with -μαι type middles, and they are not derived from active prototypes. Because -μαι and (θ)η type middles are basic and not derived, one doesn’t need to explain middle-only and passive-only verbs. There is no ‘deponency’ problem.

Related to this, because the active-middle contrast is not about syntactic transitivity (e.g. rearranging agent/patient subject/object positions), it means that the middle voice is not restricted t a single set of transitivity. Hence, you find middles with one, and two, arguments. This is an important difference from the derived system, where going from active to passive involves losing an argument:

Michael (1) wrote the tweets (2)

The tweets (1) were written.

In the derived system, one cannot require a second argument. But middle systems can appear as transitive or intransitive, with 1 or 2 arguments [28].

Thirdly, in contrast to the derived system were a voice alternation is semantically neutral, in a basic system, they are not – shifting between active and middle is a semantic shift, not merely a syntactical rearrangement (30).

Aubrey concludes this subsection, “the descriptive problems in the Greek middle are due more to a misguided use of a derived passive system than to Greek voice operating differently than typologically expected in a basic middle system.” (31) Or, in simple terms, your problem all along was that you kept trying to fit Greek middles into an active<>passive mould, but when you look at Greek middles in light of other active<>middle voice languages, it’s not weird at all.

Aubrey on the Middle Voice (2)

Carrying on with our read-through of Rachel Aubrey’s thesis on the Greek middle. Part 1 here. Numbers in brackets are page references.

The rest of chapter 1 provides an overview of approaches to the middle. Aubrey commences this by highlighting two issues – (i) the semantic basis of the middle is unclear, (ii) its “formal expression is uncertain” (5). Traditionally (6) voice is treated “as a relationship between subject and verb” (6).

Active: the subject does the action as agent.

Passive: the subject suffers the action, as patient.

Middle: ???

The middle shows such a diversity of semantic relationships that it is difficult to summarise it. It is also often treated as equivalent to a reflexive. However that tends to belie an important distinction – the middle typically occurs with things that are customarily done by people on themselves (hence the ‘bodily grooming’ verbs), the reflexive structure (e.g. ἑαυτόν) involves both active and middle verbs, that are not customarily done to oneself. Other categories of middle-type verbs fit even less well in the ‘reflexive’ notion (9). Aubrey goes on to work through a number of other different categories or types of action generally found or treated as middle, which traditional schemes have tried to abstract as a single overall ‘middleness’ : “self-interest, personal involvement, participation, special focus, or subject-affectedness” (10). She notes that the problem with all these is that they are so abstracted that they fail to capture the variety of middle functions, as well as how the middle relates to voice alternations.

The second challenge has to do with “the formal expression of the middle”, especially morphosyntax. For example, the existence of active-only verbs that lack middle-passive forms, as well as middle-only verbs that lack active forms. Similarly, the existence of the -(θ)η- middle-passive perfectives. Traditionally, this means that imperfective (‘present’, ‘imperfect’) forms are presented as an opposition between active and middle-passive, and perfective (‘aorist’, ‘future’) as a tripartive alternation between active, middle, passive. But perfective -θη- often does not conform to expectations that it is properly passive semantically (13).

Aubrey’s interest is bringing the analysis around to transitivity. These two things (voice, transitivity) have not traditionally been treated together, voice being a relation of subject and verb, transitivity of verb and object. Voice, Aubrey says, “entails distinctions in process, regarding how an event transpires” (14). By considering event structure – how an event is understood to unfold, voice distinctions allow us to view, and portray, an event unfolding in different ways.

In particular, a semantic approach allows us to consider three parameters (drawing on Shibatani):

  • how events unfold in the flow of energy: how they begin, progress, and end
  • how participants are related within event development
  • how their involvement affects the relative salience of participants (15)

What does that mean? In short, we consider where, how and whom events start, and end. We consider the roles that various participants take in the event. The middle re-orients out understanding and placement of the subject, in a way that differs from the active.

Aubrey’s approach to transitivity more generally, then, treats it as a continuum, from a prototypical transitive event “where a volitional agent purposely acts on a distinct patient, causing a physical change of state/location in the patient” (18). The middle is a voice alternation that departs from that presentation. It may depart from it in various ways though. Generally though, the origin and endpoint role of a middle event is filled by the same participant (19).

Aubrey summarises, or subsumes, the three parameters (above) into two motivations for how we portray events (and thus choose to use or not use middle forms): energy flow (a and b above), and focus of attention (c above) (20). This also deals with, or subsumes, ‘subject-affectedness’, by also treating a participant as more or less affected by the event, and their nature as an endpoint.

Thus Aubrey’s treatment is to view “the middle as a multifunctional category grounded in human cognition” and this “allos us to engage the construal process and the nature of event categorization” (21).

In our next post, we’ll look at chapter 2, which considers the Greek middle into a cross-linguistic typology context.

Aubrey on the Middle Voice (1)

This is a series of posts blogging my way through the very recent MA thesis of Rachel Aubrey on ‘HELLENISTIC GREEK MIDDLE VOICE: SEMANTIC EVENT STRUCTURE AND VOICE TYPOLOGY’ available here. I’m not a linguist, but I do my best to help non-linguists understand linguistic content. In this post I cover only the very first introductory section.

Aubrey’s introduction neatly highlights the problematic approaches to the middle voice in Greek (the thesis focuses on Hellenistic Greek, understandably, and I will shorten this to ‘Greek’ throughout except where other periodisations are required). Primarily, the middle voice is ‘multifunctional’ (1) and so resists attempts at ‘simple generalizations’ (1). In particular, standard approaches in traditional NT Greek grammars are rooted in a classical (and grammarian) tradition (not a linguistic one). Two problems in particular stand out: portraying the middle in terms of an active-passive dichotomy, and focusing on morphosyntax as a descriptive (and even diagnostic) framework.

The consequences of such an approach, Aubrey writes, are a neglect of a typological approach; an oversimplification of middle semantics, either by (a) discretely compartmentalising usages, or (b) too simplistic generalisations). The outcome of these consequences, in turn, is a dual failure of NT Greek grammars in both typology and paradigm.

Aubrey’s approach (2) is (a) typological, (b) contrasts active-middle counterparts, (c) uses ‘semantic transitivity’ as a lens to understanding.

What’s semantic transitivity? At least so far as I understand it, the analysis is going to consider transitivity as a ‘scale’, rather than the binary that English oriented grammar often works with (transitive vs intransitive), so that we are considering transitivity as a spectrum of ‘action directed upon an entity’. In particular, we are interested in transitivity as encoded in the meaning of verbs, and the presentation of event types, rather than the morphosyntax per se.

Aubrey then moves on in the introduction to outline the thesis structure itself. That is, a review of current approach to the Greek middle (chapter 1), language typological considerations (chapter 2), a diachronic perspective (chapter 3), before presenting her own unified approach (chapter 4).

She also highlights in the introduction some of the benefits of this work. In particular, a much better framework for putting to rest (6 foot under), the notion of deponency, but also providing a language-specific account which handles the idiosyncrasies of the middle voice, in a way that reflects languages with middle voices, not the framework of an active-passive voice language.

Personally, I’m really looking forward to reading this thesis in depth. Having read both Kemmer and Allen’s work on the middle voice, and having heard enough hints about Aubrey’s thesis, I strongly expect this to be the newest and hottest treatment of the middle voice in Greek, and if widely read, set to reshape the way we understand, and teach, voice in (Hellenistic, at least), Greek.

 

 

(You can find some of my previous posts and treatment of the middle voice here, as well as my read through of Michael Aubrey’s thesis on the Greek perfect form here.)

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Online small group classes in Greek (and Latin) for 2019

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be offering small-group classes in Ancient Greek, online, in 2019.

This post is something in the way of ‘advance notice’ and to float some possibilities.

Starting? 

I plan to start with a 10-week term beginning the week of January 21st.

When?

Depending on demand, I will look at a couple of time slots, keyed either to the US evening, or to the Australian evening

What?

I plan to offer at least one class that focuses on Active Greek in tandem with the AVN (Italian) Athenaze. That is a class that will require some homework and additional activity on your behalf. It’s designed to get you going with Athenaze at a solid clip, and will both leverage off the English supplements for Athenaze that we’re working on, as well as individual support from me.

If it seems like there is interest, I will look at also (a) a ‘conversational Greek’ for those who have some Greek but are beginners in conversation, (b) a possible text-focused reading-type group.

If I receive some interest, I’ll offer a similar Active Latin class in tandem with Lingua Latina per se Illustrata. It will be similar to the Athenaze class in terms of intent.

Size? 

Class sizes will be small, with a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 6. This ensures you are part of a lively, engaged communicative context.

Cost? 

It’s not set in stone, but I’m looking to price these at USD$150 for 10 sessions. The Athenaze class will price marginally higher, because I plan to build it with more support and resources than just the class hour itself (audio recordings, homework, email support).

Interested?

If you’d like to register some initial interest for these, feel free to send me an email:  thepatrologist@gmail.com

 

If the times/courses don’t work for you, but you can get at least 2 other people together, I’m very open to running some other bespoke course for you.

Greek for ‘that’s interesting’…

There’s two types of modern expressions that present difficulty for speaking ancient languages:

  • names for things they didn’t have
  • expressions for things they didn’t say

In many cases (1) isn’t so bad. You just have to neologise. How do you say helicopter, television, mobile (=cell) phone, etc etc..? Even coffee, tea, present problems, but not insurmountable ones. For Latin, with its longer continual history, it’s often easier. For speaking ancient Greek modernly, various strategies can be used: adapting an ancient word with a similar meaning; using the Greek equivalent to a Latin word used for the same modern thing; deriving a (sometimes entirely fictive) ‘ancestor’ form for a contemporary Greek word.

The second issue is much more problematic. Consider the expression, “It’s interesting…”. In Latin, we can use phrases involving studiumstudium me tenet, studium me excitat, and the like. Greek is, it seems, more tricky.

I asked my good friend Στέφανος about this, as I often do, and he proffered a few suggestions:

διαφέρει — it’s important

ἄξιον σπουδῆς — something worthy of zeal/esteem/effort

προσέχω τινὶ τὸν νοῦν, τὸν νοῦν ἔχω πρός τινα – expressions for paying attention to something.

 

None of these, as he recognised, quite fits. We want something for “here is a thing that is worth paying attention to/thinking about”.

But perhaps we can build off these. ἄξιον + infinitive makes a good impersonal structure for “worth doing X”. So…

ἄξιον τοῦ τὸν νοῦν προσέχειν – worth paying attention to

ἄξιον διαλέγεσθαι – worth talking about

ἄξιον ἐπὶ ᾧ νομίζειν – worth thinking on,

ἄξιον μελετᾶσθαι – worth contemplating

 

Take these out for a spin, let me know what you think.

Podcasting: my process

We’re now six podcasts deep, and I thought I’d write a little this week about what it looks like for me to put together a podcast.

1: An idea

It takes a while for me to come up with ideas, which maybe isn’t a good sign! It needs to be something moderately interesting, and moderately within my speaking ability. I try to draw from things going on in the rest of my Greek-oriented life. So far that’s working okay.

2: ‘Practice’

Depending on my schedule, I spend some time talking to myself ex tempore on the topic, in Greek. Either while driving, or in the shower, or wherever. It’s often at this stage that I stumble across things I want to say but can’t. I make a note (mentally, usually) to address that.

3: ‘Practice’ part 2

On a Saturday or Sunday evening I sit down at the computer; I have some rough notes for the intro and outro, I get a Latin>Greek dictionary open, and I fake-record first. That is, I open up Audacity and hit ‘record’ and talk for around 10 minutes. The first version is always terrible, but it allows me to do what I did in the step above, but with more focus. I generally use the Latin>Greek dictionary to figure out things I don’t know (it’s easier and better than English>Greek).

4: Recording

I try not to do too many fake recordings if only because I get bored of myself. Usually 1 or 2 is enough, and then I record a proper version. I accept, immo, embrace the fact that it’s still well-short of perfect, but that’s okay, that’s part of the deal here.

5: And send

I rarely relisten to them, I will only get overly critical. So I just fill in the details and upload them directly.

 

And that’s it. Nothing marvellous or magical, just a very stripped-down process to get Greek audio out my mouth and onto the internet.

On a kind of return to classics…

Most of my classics background involved a 4 year stint as an external student working almost entirely on Latin. I took intro Latin as an adult, and then 3 years of text-based classes. I wish I had kept better notes! It was still being done with postal services when I did it. But I did cover the gamut – Vergil, Cicero, Ovid, Horace, Lucretius, Tacitus, Lucan, Seneca, Livy, Pliny.

Since then, I haven’t had occasion to read extended selections of Latin, or even classical Greek, texts. But starting in a couple of weeks I have two high school students headed into their 12th year (I guess, Senior Year for you Americans), one in 2019, one in 2020. That means, as their tutor, I’m gearing up to cover:

  • Livy, Book V
  • Tacitus, Agricola
  • Vergil, Aeneid 1
  • Horace, selected Odes
  • Catullus, selected poems
  • Cicero, Pro Archia
  • Homer, Iliad 3
  • Euripides, Electra
  • Thucydides, Book IV.

(I should mention, almost all of these are ‘selected portions’, but they are substantial portions in most cases).

That’s a fairly solid list! I’m looking forward to it, as it will force me to read some genuine literary Latin and Greek; I’ve never read extensive portions of Homer or of Greek drama really. Also, I really do enjoy reading texts. Who knows, maybe I’ll acquire some more private students along the way! Or maybe I’ll do some recordings or videos. Or blog post. Or… we’ll see.

Reading Greek: a review

A short foreword: I thought, thanks to a suggestion, that I’d start blogging my way through reviews of introductory materials in Greek and Latin. I don’t pretend to thoroughness or rigour, just my thoughts on textbooks and readers I’ve dealt with in some way or another. I’ll alternate between Greek and Latin as best I can for the duration of the series. I’m also open to requests.

No further ado required:

Another product of the late 70s, Reading Greek appeared as a joint project (a second edition, much improved, appeared in 2007) under the auspices of the Joint Association of Classical Teachers. It aimed to produce a reading-method text via a “continuous, graded Greek text, adapted from original sources”, and then accompany this with grammar explanations, and exercises. In the first edition, this was done in two volumes, with running vocabulary notes put into the second volume, the first being the main text alone.

The text itself is a tour-de-force. It has nineteen sections, with various subsections, and moves quite rapidly from a heavily adapted ‘framing’ story, to more lightly-adapted material drawn from classical texts (primarily 5th century Attic material, but not entirely). The spread of material through the nineteen section suffers from being uneven (some sections are shorter, others longer), and on the whole moving to too complicated Greek too quickly (a problem with most readers). The removal of the vocabulary to a second volume was a mistake, rectified in the second edition which (a) moved the vocabulary to the same volume, and (b) fixed another glaring problem, the linking device. The first edition had ‘connected works’ marked by a ‘linking device’, and then listed those words as a group in the vocabulary. This was fine in principle, except using the article this way made the vocab a mess.

The grammar presentations in the first edition are cramped, and not particularly user-friendly. They are followed by the usual Grammar-Translation exercises. The formatting in the second edition improves some of the first issue – grammar is presented more readably and with better formatting.

My own experience with RG is really using it as a post-introductory refresher for reading. I haven’t taught from it, and I probably wouldn’t choose to do so. A graded reader is a great idea, but it needs to be incredibly well-formulated if it’s to meet fundamental pedagogic needs, and those require very careful sheltering of vocabulary and scaffolding of grammatical structures, and a ton of repetition. RG doesn’t accomplish this, because it chooses (for some good reasons) to use as much original classical Greek text as it can. This is commendable (students do need to grapple with original texts early, and not with merely ‘composition Greek’), but at the same time difficult (most of our literature that classical Greek students aim to read is ‘high literature’, they need ‘easy’ Greek for pedagogical reasons).

For these reasons, I wouldn’t recommend RG as a primary book for introductory learners. I think it makes a great supplementary reader for introductory learners at least into a second semester, or as a great source for post-introductory learners who should be getting some more extensive reading in. For this purpose, the second edition text + vocabulary book by itself should be sufficient.

There are some follow-on volumes that tackle (1) Homer, Herodotus, and Sophocles, and (2) Euripides, Thucydides, and Plato, as well as a (3)rd Anthology volume. I haven’t read my way through any of these but if I do I promise to give them their own review.

What my thesis is actually about

Or, ‘what I think my thesis is actually about’.

I don’t post much about my thesis work, for a few different reasons, but here’s part of a draft introduction that I can pretty safely share.

If you’d like to read some portions of my thesis in progress and offer some critical feedback, feel free to ask me directly (via email). I could do with a couple of external sources of review at this stage.

Anyway, here is what I’m working on:

 

 

The following study compares the exegetical practices of two authors, Basil of Caesarea and Hilary of Poitiers, in two of their most significant works, Contra Eunomium and De Trinitate respectively, in order to demonstrate that one of the features of fourth century theologians traditionally identified as ‘Orthodox’ or ‘Pro-Nicene’ is their common exegetical practice.

Throughout this study I use the term ‘Pro-Nicene’ in a self-consciously anachronistic post-factum manner.[1] As I discuss further in this chapter, the traditional divisions and typologies of theologians and theological positions within this period has undergone significant revisionism, and is open to considerable critique. The 325 Council of Nicaea didn’t define a theological position in regards to the later debates, and only from the 350s does it emerge as a significant ‘claimant’ for a theological solution to these latter questions. However, insofar as later authors contend ‘for’ Nicaea, and the theological tradition after 381 accepts and solidifies some authors as being orthodox precisely because their theological positions line up, more or less, with what the church throughout the Roman Empire came to accept as normative, ‘pro-Nicene’ does work as a post-factum label.

In that regard, I broadly consider theologians such as Athanasius, Hilary, the three Cappadocians, Chrysostom, among others, to be ‘pro-Nicene’ in their formulation, while at the same time recognising that such a label does not mean either that their theologies were the same, or even necessarily related. The label as such is not meant to unduly assume theological unity, but rather provide a functional point of departure in examining their theological diversity.

The question I investigate is one of exegetical practice, in relation to doctrinal formulation. This combination highlights certain features, and sets others aside. The main emphasis of this study is not a thorough-going treatment of either author’s exegetical practices, and especially I do not delve into a treatment of their works generally considered ‘exegetical’, such as their commentaries on various biblical texts. Equally so, although this study interacts considerably with doctrinal formulations in the context of mid-fourth century theology and late antique philosophy, this is not its primary focus either. Rather, in the combination of the two, I examine how these two authors use biblical texts and practices of interpretation in order to support, articulate, and argue for a particular theological position in regards to the Trinity.

For this reason the texts under primary consideration are Basil’s Contra Eunomium and Hilary’s De Trinitate. Both works are primarily doctrinal in character, rather than exegetical, and yet both involve extensive use of the Biblical scriptures. Both texts, likewise, emerge in polemical contexts: Basil, quite consciously writing against Eunomius and his Apologia, and Hilary writing against opponents both real and constructed. However the arrangements of their works and their emergent contexts and audience are different. Basil’s work is patterned closely on citation and refutation of Eunomius’ argument in Apologia and so is far more driven by doctrinal questions. Hilary’s treatise is occasioned by polemic, but is structured to address broader theological propositions by treating portions of Scripture at greater length. It is, at the same time, a composite document and considerably longer than Basil’s work. Furthermore, Hilary writes out of the experience of exile and contact with the theological currents of the East, and yet for a Western audience and shaped by Latin authors prior to him. In contrast, Basil’s work is thoroughly Eastern in both context and audience. Lastly, both works emerge in a very close temporal connection, as I will argue in relation to the dating of Contra Eunomium below.

These considerable similarities and differences serve to highlight the advantage of this comparative study. For if the question is one of identifying common exegetical practices that are found among notionally ‘pro-Nicene’ authors, then similar documents by different authors, with different contexts and influences, would go a long way to demonstrating that one of the features that unites ‘Pro-Nicenes’ and indeed forms the basis for speaking about the abstract ‘pro-Nicenism’ as a thing, is precisely this shared exegetical practice.

[1] I prefer pro-Nicene to Nicene for the reasons that Ayres outlines his use of the term. Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy: an approach to fourth-century Trinitarian theology (New York: OUP, 2004), 236-40.

The New understandings in Greek, Part 4: Voice

This week we’re going to talk about voice in Greek and ‘deponency’. In some ways this is the most radical element of the new understandings, for those training in a traditional scheme. And yet, on the other hand, it is one of the elements about which there is the most consensus.

Here’s how traditional grammars tend to teach voice, overly simplified to what students normally take in.

Active voice refers to sentences where the Subject does the action of the verb.

I study the Greek language. (study is a verb in the active voice).

Passive voice refers to sentences where the Subject receives the action of the verb.

The Greek language is studied by me. (is studies is a verbal phrase in the passive voice).

So far so good, for English anyway. But when we take students to Greek we have the disconcerting problem that there appear, in some tense forms, to be not 2, but 3 voices.

The aorist, in particular, has three voice forms, traditionally labelled active, middle, and passive.

That middle voice is the one hardest for English speakers to grasp, and it’s often taught as ‘kind of in the middle between active and passive, with some idea of the Subject doing the action with some kind of respect to themselves and please figure it out from context.’

Then you have two more features that appear as problems: (1) Quite a few of the tense-forms, including the present, have no distinction between so called ‘middle’ and ‘passive’ forms. (2) Important verbs appear with a middle but no active voice form. ἔρχομαι is a very good example. Traditional grammars borrow from Latin and have called these deponents, meaning a verb that is active in meaning but uses a middle/passive form for the active.

This may well describe how you were taught Greek. Here are the bombshells if you’ve never heard this before:

  • The primary voice contrast in Greek is between ‘active’ and ‘middle’, not ‘active’ and ‘passive’.
  • There are no such thing as deponents.

I would say that the consensus, more or less, is that Greek developed with two voices, one of which we could call ‘active’, though ‘default’ or ‘common’ would also describe it. The focus, if there is any, is on the Subject rather than the action per se.

The second is the middle, which we could also call ‘subject involved’ or ‘subject affected’. The Subject is involved in the action in some way that affects themselves. The focus tends to shift from the subject to the action itself. The subject may or may not have an active role.

The passive, as a voice (not as a morphological set of forms) exists and develops as a subset of the Subject-Affected voice. It is one possibility for it.

Furthermore, the θη forms of the aorist are not strictly passives, and do not always ‘maintain clear boundaries’ between themselves and the aorist middle forms.

Forms that we have traditionally labelled ‘deponent’ did not lose an active, they generally never had one. They might in some cases develop active forms. But the reason they are ‘middle only’ or Subject Affected-voice only is because inherent in their meaning is something about subject-affectedness. To return to ἔρχομαι, it’s one of a number of movement verbs that ‘involve’ the subject in their own propulsion. That’s why the Greek language consistently treats it as middle.

Often this understanding of Greek voice is difficult to show in translation. Because however well you understand Greek voice, if you’re tasked with translation to English, you still have to translate into an English active or passive. So don’t feel like you somehow need to preserve ‘Subject-affectedness’ at all costs. You don’t.

But realising this about Greek voice opens up the possibility of understanding Greek better as Greek and reading middles more ‘naturally’. Get used to their Subject-Affectedness. Dwell in it. Learn to love it.

Two final things:

  • If you want a bit of a map to the different kinds of middle usage in Greek, here’s a link to my summary of Rutger Allen’s work.
  • If you want some further reading on the deponency issues, here’s a list:

Review of Advances in the Study of New Testament Greek (C. Campbell)

This is a relatively short volume from Campbell, which can easily be read in a few days. It is pitched at what I would call the ‘Seminary and Biblical studies’ market. That is, seminarians, pastors, and others involved in biblical studies at a degree level or higher. It generally doesn’t reach the depth needed to engage those already involved in Greek scholarship at a significant level, though depending on their area of expertise, some elements of Campbell’s book will be of interest. It is, on the whole, very introductory in its level.

The book grew out of Campbell’s class Advanced Topics in Biblical Greek and Exegesis which he taught at Moore Theological College. Although I was there for some of the time Campbell taught there, he did not start this class until after I had finished, so I did not have the benefit of that. I have had some association with Campbell in the past though.

The book contains 10 main chapters, including a (quite) brief combined history of Greek studies and Linguistics to the present day (1); an overview of the field of Linguistics (2); Lexical semantics; the Middle Voice; Aspect and Aktionsart; Idiolect, Genre and Register; two chapters on Discourse Analysis; a chapter on pronunciation issues; and a chapter on pedagogy.

The first chapter is quite brief, and very introductory, but it does do its best to set up the rest of the book. For those with little knowledge of a history of either Greek scholarship or Linguistics, it will give them a sense of the field that the rest of the book builds upon. But it does not pretend to do more than that, and it doesn’t. However, I don’t want to fault Campbell for not doing things he wasn’t trying to.

I will critique the introduction to chapter 2 though. Campbell distinguishes between ‘the study of language and the study of linguistics’ (emphasis his), and quite rightly. But, and I will return to this point under chapter 10, the way that the traditional method of grammar-translation teaches is in fact to teach about language, not to teach language. In this, I would disagree that ‘Language study is simply the study of the “content” of a particular language’, precisely because there is a large gap between what’s going on in biblical Greek studies programs, and what anybody else in language education thinks language study is. Of course, this is one of my hobby horses, so let’s move on.

Campbell’s overview of Linguistics in general is relatively good, though I think his own preference for Functional Linguistics tends him to treat Generative Linguistics too briefly and set it aside too quickly.

For anyone unfamiliar with Lexical Semantics and Lexicography, chapter 3 is not a bad introduction. but it is a relatively brief chapter and amounts to little more than ‘lexicography is hard and a lot of it has been poorly done’ alongside ‘people don’t really understand how hard it is and have a bunch of unexamined fallacious ideas about meaning and lexemes’. Both of which are true and need to be fixed! I suppose my complaint is that there was simply not more content in this chapter.

Chapter 4 turns to deponency and the middle voice. This chapter looks briefly at the history of the discussion, and notes the contribution of major authors to dismantling the idea of deponency, and more importantly reconfiguring our whole notion of the voice system in Greek. This is truly an area where there is an ‘advance’ – there is a considerable consensus on the core issue that there isn’t such a thing as deponency, and quite a bit of consensus about how to reconfigure our understanding of the active vs. middle voice dichotomy. Helpfully, Campbell includes some discussion of remaining issues in this area towards the end of the chapter, ‘mixed deponents’ and ‘passive deponents’. Indeed, working out these two areas will greatly clarify our understanding both of voice in Ancient Greek, and of diachronic changes in the language.

Campbell’s own main area of scholarly work in Greek linguistics has been in dealing with (Verbal) Aspect and Aktionsart, and so it’s not surprise that chapter 5, on this topic, is the longest, most in-depth, and probably best-written section of the book.

Here, Campbell carefully delineates the distinctions between tense, aspect, and Aktionsart. He then offers, again, a brief history of contributions to the issue. Campbell surveys debate over whether tense per se is cancellable or uncancellable (semantic vs pragmatic), and then moves on to outline the dominant understandings of the Perfect tense-form (Traditional, Fanning, Porter, Campbell).

All this is pretty fine. I want to critique some of the next section, in which Campbell offers a compact version of his simplified method for dealing with Aspect and Aktionsart drawing from his Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek. To summarise, this involves a four step process:

  1. Identify semantics: aspect? spatial value?
  2. Lexeme: punctiliar? stative? transitive? etc.?
  3. Context
  4. Work out Aktionsart.

I have a few problems with this. And my first issue is that we need to talk about verbs and predicates more clearly. A verbal lexeme, I would suggest, allows and disallows a range of predicate possibilities:

John walked, John was walking, John walked to the park.

‘walk’ is not stative. That’s a feature of the lexeme. It’s uncancellable and its semantic. But ‘walked’ and ‘was walking’ are both activities, while ‘walked to the park’ is an active achievement. The addition of ‘to the park’ modifies the verb, so that the whole predicate becomes telic. In sentence (3) ‘walked’ is the verb, but ‘walked to the park’ is the predicate.

My point is that steps 2 and 3 of Campbell’s approach need to be integrated better, because the semantics of verbal lexemes are not enough to establish Aktionsart, they must be integrated directly with other elements of the context to establish the Aktionsart of the predicate, not the verb alone.

My other criticism is that Campbell considers ‘Aktionsart’ to be a description of the type of action ‘out there in the world’, so objectively. It’s not that I necessarily disagree with this, but I suspect more nuancing of how Aktionsart itself is a term susceptible of various meanings would help.

Chapter 6 deals with Idiolect, Genre, and Register. This is another relatively brief chapter, which mainly serves to introduce these terms and concepts to those totally unfamiliar with them. it does that, but not much more, and I am not sure the introductory student of this level will necessarily know what they should do with this information, except read the Further Reading suggestions.

The fact that two whole chapters are dedicated to Discourse Analysis demonstrate its importance as one area of emerging work in Greek studies. The first chapter deals with Halliday in particular, and gives a reasonably good overview of Halliday’s approach to DA. If I had a criticism of this chapter it’s that Campbell repeatedly draws attention to the fact that Halliday and Hasan’s approach has yet to be properly applied to Greek, or Koine Greek in particular. I suspect the reader will end this chapter wondering why Halliday’s approach is so significant and what value it has, particularly since coherence and cohesion are yet to appear as particularly interesting topics to most of those engaged in exegesis.

The second of these chapters focuses on Levinsohn and Runge, work much closer to home for most Greek students/scholars. Campbell’s chapter offers a fairly thorough and condensed overview of both of these authors, and again I am left wondering why, but for a different reason. Essentially, Campbell works through Runge’s Discourse Grammar in a chapter overview manner, much like this review. Wouldn’t it have been better to perhaps overview a little more, and provide some pointed examples, and convince the reader that they needed to read Runge, rather than what Campbell does, which is overview, exemplify, and give a virtual contents list of Runge’s whole Discourse Grammar? My second criticism of this chapter is that the main problem that Campbell raises, from Porter, with Levinsohn and Runge is that they are mainly confined to the sentence level, rather than larger discourse blocks. This is a weak criticism, because it is really just a complaint that their work didn’t do something else which it wasn’t doing anyway. Both scholars readily acknowledge the need to move from what they have done so far, to larger units in the work of Discourse Analysis. This is a mis-aimed criticism.

Some will wonder why a whole chapter of this volume needed to be given over to pronunciation, but Campbell is right that it has been a hot topic for a little while among Greek scholars. He gives a historical treatment of how the Erasmian pronunciation came about, the evidence against it for Koine, and a presentation of Lee’s reconstruction of Koine Greek, ‘essentially that of Modern Greek’ (p198). I would have liked Campbell to more clearly outline the three positions of Erasmian, Reconstructed Koine (Buth, et alii), and modern (Caragounis, Lee, et alii), but he treats Buth as virtually modern.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Erasmian should be abandoned, and there is virtual agreement amongst scholars in the field, as evidenced at the 2011 SBL conference. It is very difficult to defend the continuing practice of Erasmian, despite Wallace’s best efforts to do so on the grounds of ‘convenience’.

The final chapter deals with ‘Teaching and Learning Greek’, obviously a field I have long had an interest in and have a bunch of informed, but quite firm, opinions about. Campbell demonstrates some familiarity with emergent approaches in the field, including ‘fresh ideas for traditional methods’, and the contrast with what he calls ‘Immersion method’. Personally, I don’t think that’s the best descriptor for Communicative based methods, but it’s not terrible. I disagree that this movement traces its roots to French immersion for English-speaking Canadians in the 1960s, this is a rather truncated history of second language acquisition theory and application, and somewhat erroneous (I’m not doubting that it happened, I’m just doubting that this is the origin of communicative approaches overall); I suspect this is because of the choice to think of this methodology as primarily about ‘immersion’.

Campbell treats Buth primarily, as the best known representative in this field, with some awareness of Halcomb, and draws on material from Daniel Streett on his blog. All good sources, but again this appears to be a field where Campbell is not himself well educated, and so there is some deficiency, i would say, in his depth of knowledge of the area of SLA.

His main criticism is the difficulty in making this work on a large scale, and on a long scale. It is the critique of ‘this is too idealistic’, but also a hope that maybe it could possibly work.

The last section of this chapter deals with Greek retention, with a nod to Campbell’s own book Keep your Greek: Strategies for Busy People, a volume that I am still bewildered every became a print book, since it’s more or less a glorified collection of blog posts with a bunch of hints that you could probably brainstorm yourself if you had some time. I’m not sure this section adds much to this book either, since it appears to be a description of the other books contents and a mild plug to buy it and keep reading Greek.

Overall, Campbell has succeeded in this volume to do what he set out to – introduce some issues of current Greek scholarship to those who ought to know about them but perhaps do not and furthermore, need a helping hand to even start to approach these areas. However the book as a whole lacks some depth, and parts of it appear too cursory, perhaps too surface overall. Campbell’s book is to be applauded for indeed finding and filling a hole, and we can only hope that these areas of research reach a broader audience.