Re: THEORY: Meanings of Verbal Accidents.
|From:||R A Brown <ray@...>|
|Date:||Tuesday, August 14, 2007, 19:48|
And Rosta wrote:
> R A Brown, On 13/08/2007 20:10:[snip]
>> It has always seemed to me that Latin is rather more true to reality
>> in giving the verb "to die" passive endings. I have yet to be
>> convinced that 'morior' should be classified as a deponent verb any
>> more that 'nascor' (I am being born) should be. The babe that gets
>> thrust into int the world from its mother's womb s hardly the agent.
>> At least with this verb English uses passive forms as well as Latin;
>> yet, strangely anglophone Latin textbooks still list 'nascor' as a
>> deponent - weird!
> This is an interesting view.
> As you well know, in English and, I think,
> linguistics in general, 'passive' means a construction in which the
> participant expressed by the active subject is either unexressed or
> expressed by an oblique argument,
I agree so far.
> and in which a participant expressed
> other than by the active subject is expressed by the passive subject.
This is indeed so in English and many languages. But Latin allows an
intransitive verb also to take on passive endings if the active subject
is unexpressed, cf.
puella ad mercatum it [active] = the girl is going to the market.
ad mercatum itur [passive] = people/they/we etc are going to market.
In the latter case Latin expresses no subject. In English we must, of
course, supply one because intransitive verbs may be used only in active
forms. But in Latin the 'zero direct object' of an active can be shifted
to the 'zero subject' of a passive form.
I had not known before, but I find that a similar construction is also
known in German, e.g.
Gestern wurde getanzt [passive] = people were dancing yesterday/ there
was dancing yesterday etc.
> I interpret your remarks to be an argument that so-called 'passive'
> morphology in Latin marks not a true grammatical passive construction
> but rather an intransitive verb with a nonagentive subject (a.k.a.
In the case of these two verbs, yes. However, it will be apparent that
not all examples often listed as 'unaccusative' do behave like this in
Latin, so I do not make a generalization that this applies to all
unaccusatives - it does not.
> In other words, the classic example of morphological
> deponency is not in actual fact an example of deponency at all...
Yes, if you change the article to an indefinite one - "In other words, a
classic example ..." - then I agree. I have no problem with most other
classic examples; but I certainly do have a problem with 'morior' and
Part of the problem is, of course, how one defines 'deponent.' It was
drilled into us at school that a deponent verb was "an active verb with
passive endings," Just to check on how valid that was half a century
later, I checked Trask and I find that he defined a 'deponent verb as':
In the grammar of Latin, a verb which exhibits exclusively passive
morphology, but which functions as an active verb, such as _uti_ 'use',
_loqui_ 'speak' or _partiri_ 'divide'.
I agree that all three of Lary Trask's examples are deponents. It was
also pleasing to see the definition we had drummed into us half a
century back still holds. Way back then it puzzled me when I found
listed among the deponents:
nascor, nasci, natus sum = to be born.
I thought to myself as a rather green teenager "Hey, isn't 'to be born'
passive in English? So this is a passive verb with passive endings; it
ain't a deponent!"
When I turned my thoughts from entry into the world towards the exit
from, I thought also "What's so active about dying? Hasn't Latin
actually got it right - it ain't an active thing, it's passive. It's
English that's being weird, not Latin." In the long years intervening
since my teens all my experiences of people dying have merely confirmed
in my mind the passivity of the process.
What I think worth considering in this respect are such impersonal verbs as:
me pudet = I am ashamed (but not that English "I" is Latin "me", the
direct object of the impersonal verb(
me piget = I am sorry
me paenitet = I repent
me taedet = I am weary
me miseret = I pity
These verbs cannot have grammatical subjects in Latin. But what is
interesting that with the last verb we find both active _me miseret_ and
the passive _misereor_ as possible ways of saying "I pity" (What I pity,
BTW is expressed by the genitive case, but that is not relevant to this
discussion). In later Latin we find that the passive verb "misereor"
becomes almost exclusively use to mean 'I pity' and "me miseret" becomes
rare. Yet 'misereor' is not normally listed as a deponent tho, arguably,
it actually fits the definition better than either 'morior' or 'nascor'.
It is not listed because we know the origin of the passive form and
impersonal active forms are actually attested.
If only forms like *_me morit_ or *_illam nascat_ were found, then of
course these two verbs would be listed as deponents. But my argument is
that neither verb has an active meaning; both processes are very passive
from the point of view of the person undergoing death or the babe being
born. Therefore it is not unreasonable to me that they are passive in
Latin. It is my view that they do not properly conform to the definition
I must stress that this how I see things. AFAIK no Latin text book will
agree with me :)
But while I have no wish at all the be eristic about my view, and I
fully aware of the traditional views (I don't need to be told them,
please), I thought it might be interesting to share these ideas as they
might give pause to thought in how to deal with birth and death in one's
Nid rhy hen neb i ddysgu.
There's none too old to learn.