Textkit Logo

Deponent Verbs?

Here's where you can discuss all things Ancient Greek. Use this board to ask questions about grammar, discuss learning strategies, get translation help and more!

Deponent Verbs?

Postby refe » Wed Jul 06, 2011 3:39 pm

Mounce defines deponents this way in Basics of Biblical Greek:

“This is a verb that is middle or passive in form but active in meaning. Its form is always middle or passive, but its meaning is always active. It can never have a passive meaning.”


However, it seems like a better much definition for deponent verbs would be closer to the one given by Stephen Carlson, a Greek instructor and member of the graduate program at Duke University who wrote the following in a recent post to the B-Greek forums,

“Classifying something as ‘deponent’ isn’t really helpful. It just means a middle-morphology verb whose active form is so rare or missing that you have to look it up under its middle form in the lexicon.”


So deponency is really a lexical issue rather than a formal issue. There is nothing in a deponent verb’s form that requires it to be labeled as such, other than a lack of a common active form. Instead, it is the verb’s lexical meaning that determines where it sits on the spectrum of how active, middle/reflexive or passive. Certain verbs were likely so intrinsically middle or reflexive that an active form was much less useful in common writing and speaking, which eventually resulted in the active form dropping out of use (and therefore being dropped from our lexicons – hence deponent!)

It seems like this should be taught from the beginning. In Attic intro textbooks are deponent verbs presented in this way?
εἰς ἔπαινον δόξης τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ
http://www.GreekingOut.com
refe
Textkit Neophyte
 
Posts: 48
Joined: Fri Apr 15, 2011 4:08 pm
Location: Kansas City

Re: Deponent Verbs?

Postby Sinister Petrus » Wed Jul 06, 2011 4:24 pm

JACT's Reading Greek presents deponents right away (βουλομαι, ερχομαι). It slowly introduces middle voice which seems to be treated more as separate lexical items (παυω/παυομαι, πειθω/πειθομαι). Last comes passive.

Forgive my potentially flawed examples. There what's coming to mind without the book at hand. Spelling may be off.
Sinister Petrus
Textkit Neophyte
 
Posts: 91
Joined: Wed Jun 15, 2011 11:25 pm

Re: Deponent Verbs?

Postby lauragibbs » Thu Jul 07, 2011 4:29 pm

It seems to me that it's not entirely lexical - it goes deeper than that, in the sense that the active forms of those verbs are not just "rare" but rather that the active forms would probably seem nonsensical to users of the language. When you have something that would be nonsensical to users of a language, you are likely facing some kind of structural issue, rather than just lexical issues.

It sometimes help to think of language structures in terms of binary pairs - so, for example, with verbs you can imagine that all verbs belong to one of two classes: MIDDLE and NON-MIDDLE. Then, within the class of NON-MIDDLE you have another structural pair: ACTIVE-PASSIVE. The terms "active" and "passive" really don't mean anything at all in the world of middle verbs, but they are crucial elements in the construction and understanding of non-middle verbs.

By teaching active as a kind of base category, textbooks are being practical, but creating an awkward problem for students later on. The textbooks suggest that the first question you should ask about a verb is whether it is active or not. But structurally, what you probably want to ask about a verb first of all is whether it is middle or not. Only AFTER you have decided that a verb is not middle can you reasonably ask: is it it active - or passive? The problem is that for us, really grasping the middle as a distinct voice is extremely difficult; of course we can instantly ask about a noun, hey, is that singular or plural? We can even get pretty good with noun gender. But making room for middle voice when our (English-speaking) brains have already divided the verb world up into active and passive is pretty hard, at least in my experience.

Deponent verbs are the ones that have such an overwhelming preponderance of middle usage that as soon as you see one of those verbs, you can reasonably assume that it is middle voice - although, as a non-native speaker without any language mastery, you might indeed be misled by the form into thinking that the deponent verb could be passive. I think it's really important for textbooks to introduce deponent verbs AND middle voice as soon as possible exactly so that people do not start thinking that the endings you learn for the passive are exclusively passive. That is a huge failing in some Latin textbooks I have taught from (most Latin textbooks do not even mention middle voice; they just drone on about deponent verbs being "passive in form, active in meaning"). I really like the way that Croy's Primer of Biblical Greek introduces middle and passive for the first time together, in the same chapter (Chapter 9). In Athenaze, the middle voice is actually introduced BEFORE the passive (middle is in Chapter 6, passive is not until Chapter 23).
User avatar
lauragibbs
Textkit Member
 
Posts: 166
Joined: Wed Aug 25, 2010 9:10 pm

Re: Deponent Verbs?

Postby Sinister Petrus » Fri Jul 08, 2011 3:38 am

lauragibbs wrote:It sometimes help to think of language structures in terms of binary pairs - so, for example, with verbs you can imagine that all verbs belong to one of two classes: MIDDLE and NON-MIDDLE. Then, within the class of NON-MIDDLE you have another structural pair: ACTIVE-PASSIVE. The terms "active" and "passive" really don't mean anything at all in the world of middle verbs, but they are crucial elements in the construction and understanding of non-middle verbs.


Aha! A binary! I read a book (title forgotten) about children acquiring their first language that suggested that language learning could be a matter of figuring out which of two (or a limited set) of possibilities within universal grammar a language used in its machinery. (Setting aside the universal grammar debate…) I liked the author's binary concept, so this gives me a nice way to create a formal understanding in my head.

Of course, now I've still got the problem of sorting out which verbs are middle where, given that some verbs switch between the two. At least I'll be asking a better series of questions when I'm stuck with Greek. Middle-ness seems central to a verb.

lauragibbs wrote: I think it's really important for textbooks to introduce deponent verbs AND middle voice as soon as possible exactly so that people do not start thinking that the endings you learn for the passive are exclusively passive. That is a huge failing in some Latin textbooks I have taught from (most Latin textbooks do not even mention middle voice; they just drone on about deponent verbs being "passive in form, active in meaning").


I may have to adapt my Latin teaching and call it deponent voice. I'm not sure I want to venture so far off the page as to call it middle voice. (And I'm none too keen on how deponents are handled in many Latin textbooks. They feel like a pretty key feature of the language to me.)
Sinister Petrus
Textkit Neophyte
 
Posts: 91
Joined: Wed Jun 15, 2011 11:25 pm


Return to Learning Greek

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: gregf and 46 guests