Re: Test for middle voice?
|From:||R A Brown <ray@...>|
|Date:||Sunday, November 20, 2005, 22:34|
Henrik Theiling wrote:
> R A Brown <ray@...> writes:[snip]
>>What Henrik is writing about is diathesis, and I have not said that
>>there is no 'middle' diathesis in English. Indeed, I believe that some
>>analyses of English postulate more than just three diatheses.
> Sorry for the confusion then. I will properly distinguish voice from
> diathesis in the future! :-)
> Please allow me another thought to clarify my understanding of English
> grammar. Don't hit me. :-)
> Speaking of syntax only: isn't 'the cup fills' at least a wee bit
> syntactically distinguishable from 'Peter fills the cup'?
> I.e., is
> 'Peter fills' grammatical and will it be understood to be containing
> an ellipsis of an object being filled?
"Peter fills" sounds unfinished; it wants an object. It would not be
sound grammatical, except in a context in which the ellipsis is clearly
'understood'. In fact off-hand I can't really think of just such a
situation (no doubt one of our readers will ;)
But "the cup fills" is IMO just as likely (or unlikely) as "Peter
fills". It also has an ellipsis - "With what?" But I can just imagine it
being said maybe during a scientific demonstration or a conjuring trick.
"Look - the cup is filling!"
> If so, I agree -- the
> distinction is purely semantical. But if it is either ungrammatical,
> or possible to be interpreted as a (strange) situation where Peter
> fills in the way a cup would, then there is a syntactical distinction,
> isn't it?
There is, arguably, a syntactic distinction in that one usage requires a
direct object complement & the other requires a prepositional phrase
complement. But these are normally regarded as subcategorizations of the
_lexical_ item, i.e. they are semantic distinctions.
The termination -(e)s and the form 'is ....ing' are markers of the 3rd
person singular of grammatically active forms of a verb. My dictionary
list 'fill' as a transitive verb with various different (tho related)
meanings, and as an intransitive verb with the meanings 'to become
full', 'to become satiated'. They have different valencies, as well as
> But ok, my L2 intuition tells me that the selection of the diathesis
> is done according to semantical properties of the subject, not by
> syntax --
That's correct - diathesis is done according to semantic properties.
if it can have control, it's active, if it can't, it's
> middle. So there is no middle voice in English.
No, not in the _grammatical_ sense of voice.
> I will never claim
> so again! :-) 'Peter drinks' is clearly active. You can't say 'Tea
> drinks', right? So it also depends on the verb.
Yes, I thinks so.
> What about 'Tea
> drinks more easily than water when you have a cold'?
Yes, indeed, although I have never heard that; but as we know from the
frequent YAEDTs, it would be a misguided to say that would never occur
in a language spoken over such a wide area as English is. Could any
Romance language (or German) use a reflexive in that context (Tea drinks
itself more easily....)?
Andreas Johansson wrote:
> Looking in a Swedish lexicon, it seems _diates_ covers both voice and
> It may be the same in German.
> The way to distinguish is apparently to speak of _morfologisk diates_ vs
> _semantisk diates_.
I've never met 'diathesis' used in English for any meaning other than
_semantisk diates_. On the other hand, I have found 'voice' used in both
the morphological and the semantic meaning which, as I have said, seems
to me a confusing usage.
It reminds me of the vocoid/contoid and vowel/consonant business. Some
of us use vocoid & contoid for phonological distinctions and vowel and
consonant for phonetic distinctions. Others use just vowel & consonant,
and then have to make clear whether they mean a 'phonological vowel' or
But as I have, IMO it is more helpful to distinguish in English between
'diathesis' (semantic feature) and 'voice' (grammatical category).
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