Re: Test for middle voice?
|Date:||Sunday, November 20, 2005, 22:44|
--- In email@example.com, Aidan Grey <taalenmaple@Y...> wrote:
> Heya folks,
> I want to incorporate middle voice into my conlang, but seeing asI'm an L1 English speaker, it's hard for me to see it. I know
that "Water fills the cup" is a middle voice (at least, it is
according to Rick Morneau's 'Lexical Semantics'), but I have no idea
how tell when another verb is, or should be. Can anyone help me with
a simple test? You know, one of those sentences where if the verb
makes sense in spot X, then it must be a middle?
> Any additional info or description of the middle voice, to helpme clarify, is great. Heck, I'd even be ecstatic if someone could
test me on it, so I can get the distinction down....
> Thanks in advance,
Second: Try to check out M.H. Klaiman's "Grammatical Voice". He
divides the world's types of voice-systems into about three or four
super-types, which I will try to remember;
* Derived Voice Systems such as English has, which fundamentally
promote and demote arguments into and out of various grammatical
relations; (Applicatives and Anti-Passives are also part of this
* Basic Voice Systems such as Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and Fulani
have, which concern themselves with affectedness and control;
* Hierarchical Voice Systems, a major type of which are Inverse Voice
Systems, such as Algonquian and Tiwan languages have;
* Pragmatic Voice Systems, among them Information-Salience Voice
Systems, such as some Mayan languages and many Philippine languages.
"Middle Voice" is chiefly a feature of Basic Voice Systems. Certain
verbs are nearly always in the Middle Voice. The Middle Voice
implies that the subject, or its interest(s), is/are affected, or has
an interest in whatever is affected, by the situation expressed by
the verb. So, for instance, "I fear the Greeks" might be in the
middle voice, since I am more affected by my fear than the Greeks
Even if two languages both have unquestionable middle voices, a
sentence that in one of them might be put in the middle voice, might
not be translated into the middle voice in the other.
A paper I have at home somewhere -- unfortunately I have to hunt it
up to find out either title or author -- lists about eleven semantic
situations that are likely to be expressed morphosyntactically in
middle voice if it is available.
My favorite is: If the subject is the patient of part of the
predicate, but the agent of a different part, then the predicate is
likely to be put in the midddle voice.
Most common example; The subject is the patient of the verb, but the
agent of the adverb-of-manner.
Most common example; Adverb-of-manner = Easily.
"This wood cuts easily".
"This car drives smoothly".
Other possibilities; subject is patient of main verb, but agent of
Example: "I'm going to get myself screwed, blewed, and tattooed."
Another situation commonly expressed in the middle, is a verb which
is inherently reciprocal. The examples I remember are "They
embraced" and "they kissed".
I also remember that saying "a cloud hovered over the town" or "the
door remained open all day" might be put in the middle voice. The
reason is that the cloud and the door are inanimate. If the opposite
of these sentences had happened, it would be because there subjects
had been the patients of some outside forces. But their remaining
where they were was a quasi-agentive or semi-active kind of lack-of-
activity, or at least lack-of-being-a-patient. (Did you get that?
It was kind of hard to put into words. Basically it means they
weren't agents and they weren't patients, so neither active voice nor
passive voice were appropriate, and what did that leave? You guessed
it -- middle voice.)
Finally, if a human just kind of wanders around in a daze or fugue or
fog, maybe lost in thought or meditating on his or her girlfriend or
boyfriend (or worried about losing his job or thinking about buying a
new car), this "wandering" might be put in the middle voice, since
it's not really under the human subject's control; nor under anyone
Those are several sufficient conditions to put something in the
Basically they amount to two;
1. The subject is the agent of part of the predicate and the patient
of another part; or
2. The subject is neither the agent nor the patient of the predicate.
However, whether any of them actually /require/ the middle voice is
language-dependent; and I definitely do not believe I have exhausted
the set of situations where a middle voice might be recommended.
Tom H.C. in MI