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Re: Mediopassive/labile verbs; was: very confused - syntax question

From:Sally Caves <scaves@...>
Date:Tuesday, July 6, 1999, 21:45
Lars Henrik Mathiesen wrote:
> > (I've totally lost track of who said what by now...) > > IMO, what confounds this discussion is the use of the word voice. > Voice normally means some type of morphological marking or analytical > construction that shows whether the subject is agent or patient or > both.
And thus "middle" would mean that the subject is both? This is where I have missed the point. "I wash" is also "me wash"? That makes perfect sense.
> For my money, the English sentences we are discussing have finite verb > forms in the active voice, which can be construed either transitively > or intransitively. The term 'mediopassive' here denotes a _class_ of > these 'labile' verbs, _not_ a voice.
Yes, John has just said the same thing.
> For this class, the sense of the > intransitive construction is 'mediopassive' compared to the transitive > --- another class is called 'causative' because the sense of the > _transitive_ construction is 'causative' compared to the intransitive.
I would appreciate an example.
> The morphology and syntax of a English verb construed transitively is > exactly the same across the classes of labile verbs, and indeed for > pure transitive verbs as well. The same goes for intransitive uses. I > see no reason for claiming that a subset of the labile verbs are in > some special magical 'mediopassive voice' when used intransitively.
Except that some linguists are using it this way, which is why the term works its way into some dictionaries, leading the ignorant astray. Under the fourth type of "labile" or "amphibious" verb, Trask lists the "mediopassive." If "mediopassive" and "middle voice" were once interchangeable, then now apparently there is a distinction, as you note.
> Also, this classification is arguably purely descriptive, by which I > mean that we do not have to assume that language users classify verbs > this way --- they may have a pair of 'lexicon entries' for each labile > verb, giving the separate meanings of transitive and intransitive > uses. Trask's 8 classes then describe the logically possible relations > between a pair of senses, or at least those found in English. > > On the other hand, Jennifer's language has a morpheme that gives a > verb form a sense that is either reflexive or passive according to the > nature of the subject. This is in fact exactly what the voice called > mediopassive in PIE did, and what mediopassive voices do in many other > languages, so I don't really know why this sense of the word is being > dismissed as irrelevant.
This brings us back to your remark at the beginning about who is saying what to whom about whatever. :) Ray has chided me for taking the topic of Jennifer's confusion (and her use of the middle voice) in the direction of my own consuming interest in my conlang (mea culpa) and my incorrect use of the "middle voice." Several months ago, the topic of middle voice came up on conlang, and I could swear that someone I trusted defined it in terms of the subject-patient-construction (the book sells). I felt that Ray's discussion of the Greek construction was a digression into his passion as surely as he must have felt that my question about the "mediopassive" was a digression into mine. Truth to tell, I didn't understand Jennifer's use of the middle voice, because the conlang discussion of six months ago had me convinced that the MV was what Trask calls the "mediopassive." I stood on my head trying to understand what it was that was giving her pause. I hope she has been answered. The confusion comes down to the nature of this list (we can't recall who has posted what in what order), the maddening instability of terminology, our differing levels of knowledge, our misunderstanding of each other, and the conflict of personality and response style. Thank you for your level description of the linguistic problem. Sally