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

From:Sally Caves <scaves@...>
Date:Tuesday, July 6, 1999, 2:02
Raymond A. Brown wrote:
> > > >But then when I read Trask's definition, I came to > >the conclusion that there were two different constructions here that I > >wanted to distinguish, and I asked whether mediopassive and middle voice > >were in fact interchangeable. > > I agree; I think it's quite clear there are two different constructions.
Then what do I call them? :)
> > >I'm not interested in the terminology as it applies to ancient Greek.
> You may well not be - and I suspect the majority on the list are not. But > for those of us who were brought up on ancient Greek, I'm afraid it is > confusing - as Lars so clearly explained.
I believe, just to echo a suggestion forwarded by Matt Pearson once, that so long as you are clear on your terminology in your conlang, you can employ any term you want within limits (I stop short of calling a noun a verb, for instance, or an adjective a shoelace). But if there is a tradition, noted by Trask, of calling what I've described ("the soup cooks") as "medio-passive," then I'm within my rights to do so. In fact, Matt had even called this construction a middle-voice, which is why I adopted that term. But checking Trask I noted a different definition. Hellenists are few and far-between on this list; whereas many of the linguists on conlang seem to be studying more recent terminologies employed by Dixon and ilk. Yes, they sometimes confuse me, too, an Anglo-Saxonist (and a damned one at that as one of my colleagues called me). Unergative is something I'm always having to look up.
> > > >So obviously, there have been a number of attempts to name the > >construct that I've been calling "middle voice" in Teonaht, and I > >have felt the need to abandon it as a term when I read the _je me lave_ > >definition. The question: "is medio-passive" as good a term as any > >FOR MY PURPOSES? What its use is in ancient Greek is irrelevant to me. > > Again - it may be irrelevant to you. But not only for us Hellenophiles but > also, as Lars reminded us, for IndoEuropeanists, the restricted used of > medio-passive is potentially misleading.
Not if you do as I do and go get Trask's Dictionary of Grammatical Terms. It's like learning a whole new language.
> Indeed, I personally think the term 'middle' & its derivative > 'medio-passive' should long ago have been replaced by something more > meaningful. The ancient grammarians coined the term 'middle' simply > because they were unimaginative and to them it, so to speak, came in the > middle between 'active' & 'passive'. And medio-passive used simply to be > shorthand for "those forms of the verb where the middle & passive forms > coincide". Terms like 'reflexive voice', 'reciprocal voice', causative, > factitive seem more meaningful and less ambiguous to me.
I much prefer the term reflexive or reciprocal voice to "middle voice." I prefer "middle voice" or "mediopassive" to describe constructions like "the soup cooks," but this does not set well with you and Lars. Trask lists other attempts to define this morphology: "passival," "activo- passive," and "patient-subject construction," all of which sound ugly to me.
> I agree with Lars that 'unergative' is ugly but it was at least > unambiguous. Yes, I can see why Trask might dislike the ugly term but I > sure wish he'd coined a different alternative name.
I gave you the alternative list he cites, above, and in my last post, coined by other linguists. This is how he defines the "unergative," which is also different from my sense of the "medio-passive": "Denoting an intransitive verb or predicate whose subject is an agent NP or (sometimes) an actor NP." Right there it seems to depart from the patient-subject construction I want a name for: "The boy runs" is not the same as "the fish cooks." The boy is running (agent). But the fish is being cooked (patient). Different idea. "...Typical unergatives are "run" "jump" "sing" "dance," "reside," and, less obviously, "receive," "sleep," and "dream." In English, unergatives often permit (pseudo-)passiv- ization: "The fence was jumped over by the horse. This bed was slept in by George Washington." Other intransitives (unaccusatives) do not permit passivization: "*Mexico was vanished in by Ambrose Bierce." ...unergatives receive a distinctive grammatical analysis in certain theories of grammar, notably RG." (Relational Grammar?) This seems to describe a different animal from the patient-subject construction that I'm calling the medio-passive. To my mind, an unergative is little more than an intransitive verb that takes an agent (mostly because the language is occurs in is not an ergative language!). Isn't this the reason most people find the term awkward? I might be mistaken, but it seems weirdly round-about. Like "unaccusative."
> > So how about a little us conlangers coming up with better ideas?
See Charles' post a few hours back. LOL Sally