Active languages: --- and Middle "Voice"
|Date:||Thursday, July 28, 2005, 22:50|
Hello Carsten and others.
If you read my earlier post you may have been confused by my ad-hoc,
possibly idiosyncratic, labeling of verb-"classes" and "noun"-
Also I have some clarifying (I hope) thoughts on middle 'diathesis'
in Fluid-S languages.
--- In firstname.lastname@example.org, tomhchappell <tomhchappell@Y...>
> I hope the ignorance I display in this reply is remedied by others.
> --- In email@example.com, Carsten Becker <naranoieati@B...>wrote:
> > I've got two question about Active languages.
> > First, is
> > there a need for a (anti-)passive voice in an active
> > language
> In such clauses the two different cases for the subject,
> have two different semantic interpretations.
> Often these two interpretations are distinguished as,
> if the case of the subject is Ergative, the clause is Active Voice;
> if the case of the subject is Accusative, the clause is MiddleVoice.
> (This labeling and analysis applies only to clauses that couldappear
> in either form.)
[ACTIVE VERBS, STATIVE VERBS, ANIMATE NOMINALS, INANIMATE NOMINALS]
> A Split-S (Active/Stative) language could have the following five
> classes of Intransitive Verbs, and the following five "classes" of
> Nominals and Pronominals:
> (I made up these labels.)
> First, verb classes:
> V1: Intransitive verbs whose subjects /must/ always be Ergative.
> V1': Intransitive verbs whose subjects must be Ergative,
> unless the subject is in "noun-class" N2 below.
> V2: Intransitive verbs whose subjects /must/ always be Accusative.
> V2': Intransitive verbs whose subjects must be Accusative,
> unless the subject is in "noun-class" N1 below.
> V3: Intransitive verbs which may take the same subject as either
> Ergative or Accusative, depending on the semantics.
Intransitive verbs in my classes V1, V1', and V3 above, are the kind
of intransitive verbs called "Active" as opposed to "Stative" in
Intransitive verbs in my classes V2 and V2' above, are the kind of
intransitive verbs called "Stative" as opposed to "Active" in
Stative verbs frequently correspond to another language's adjectives.
For instance, there could be a stative verb having the meaning "be
> Now, "noun classes":
> (frequently each is a gender, or a union of genders;
> but, I guess, not always.)
> N1: Nouns and pronouns which /must/ always be Ergative
> when appearing as subjects of intransitive verbs.
> N1': Nouns and pronouns which must be Ergative when the subject of
> any intransitive verb except those in class V2 above.
> N2: Nouns and pronouns which /must/ always be Accusative.
> N2': Nouns and pronouns which must be Accusative when the subject of
> any intransitive verb except those in class V1 above.
> N3: Nouns and pronouns which may appear as
> either an Ergative Subject or as an Accusative Subject
> for the same intransitive verb.
"Nominals" (nouns and pronouns) in "classes" N1, N1' and N3 above,
are very nearly the same as the "Animate" nominals in Active/Stative
languages; they are the nominals which can be Agents.
Nominals (if I'm using the term correctly) in "classes" N2 and N2'
above, are about the same as "Inanimate" nominals in Active/Stative
languages; they are nominals which can never be Agents, but can only
be Patients, (or some concept near in meaning to "Patients").
> It makes sense that a language which has V1 verbs
> probably won't have N2 nouns (it will have N2' nouns instead);
> and a language that has V2 verbs
> will have N1' nouns instead of N1 nouns.
> (Of course the logic runs the other way, too.
> A language with N1 nouns
> will probably have V2' verbs instead of V2 verbs;
> a language with N2 nouns
> will probably have V1' verbs instead of V1 verbs.)
What happens is, a V1 verb can't have an N2 subject, and a V2 verb
can't have an N1 subject.
The difference between N1 and N1' is that N1' and N3 nominals can
have states (be subjects of stative verbs), but N1 nominals can't.
It is hard to conceive of an entity which can act, but cannot be in a
It is, however, easy to conceive of entities which can be in states,
but cannot act.
So N1 is likely to be a mostly-empty class of nominals in most
[MIDDLE DIATHESIS IN FLUID-S LANGUAGES]
Consider a language with a stative verb meaning "to be red".
It could also have a verb meaning "to redden".
"To redden" would be an Active verb; "to be red" would be a Stative
The intransitive form of "to redden" would mean "to become red";
the transitive form of "to redden" would mean "to make red".
"To be red" could take either Animate or Inanimate subjects.
Voice or diathesis doesn't really make a difference.
OTOH intransitive "to redden" would be usually in the Middle Voice
Consider the English intransitive verb "to blush".
Properly speaking, only red-blooded animals can blush.
When deciduous-tree's leaves "blush" at the turn of the season from
summer to autumn, this is nearly a metaphor.
When the sky "blushes" at dawn, this is absolutely a metaphor.
Nevertheless, when an Animate Subject "blushes", it is done without
the Subject's Instigation, Control, or Volition; but the Subject does
Perform and Effect the blushing; and the Subject must Sense or
Perceive whatever it is that Instigates the blushing. (BTW the
Subject must therefore be Sentient, as well as, or if not, Animate.)
Thus in English "Tom blushes" is in Middle Diathesis. (BTW not
Middle Voice, because English does not have even a grammatical, much
less a morphological, Middle Voice; but Diathesis applies to the
Semantics rather than to the Grammar or Morphology.)
Now consider the Transitive form of "to redden", meaning "to make
We might think the Intranstive form, applied to an Animate subject,
was just the Reflexive of the Transitive Form; "to redden oneself";
but this would not cover the meaning of "to blush".
So an Active Voice Intransitive "to redden",
with an Animate subject X,
would mean "X reddened himself/herself"
(as in "X dressed all in scarlet");
while a Middle Voice Intransitive "to redden",
with the same Animate subject X,
would mean roughly "X blushed".
Now consider the Passive Voice form of Transitive "to redden".
From the point of view of Patient Y,
"Y was reddened" is little different from "Y became red".
"Y was reddened" leaves open the possibility of a reddening Agent
which is either not mentioned or not known; indeed it leans towards
the probability that such an Agent existed.
"Y became red", OTOH, leaves open the possibility that no reddening
Agent ever existed; and leans towards the probability that, either no
such Agent existed, or it will be impossible to ever discover what
that Agent was.
There is also not much difference,
from the point of view of Patient Y,
between, on the one hand, "Y has been reddened" and "Y has reddened"
("Y has become red"); and on the other hand, "Y is red".
The first pair of statements
(one Passive-Transitive, the other Intransitive (possibly Middle),
both Present Perfect)
leave open the possibility, and lean toward the probability,
that in the (possibly recent, possibly still-relevant) past,
Y was in some other state than "red",
and that a Change-of-State Event has occurred.
The last statement, "Y is red",
commits its speaker to not making any representations about any
former state(s) Y might have been in.
One of the uses of Middle Constructions, in some languages, is
that is to say, motion by which the mover does not move from one
location to another.
Examples are "sit, stand, lie, bend, bow, kneel, wave, turn, wriggle".
Hope someone makes sense of this.
Tom H.C. in MI