Dealing with Voice in Greek

Is there any reason why we couldn’t treat voice as derivational rather than inflectional?

That is to say, what if we treated, ἐκλέγομαι as a separate lexeme from ἐκλέγω, then perhaps we could avoid the whole problem of how to represent a give verb which does not have an active form in the New Testament, but does in greater Greek literature.

Seriously, what do you think?

I might see about testing how profitable such an approach might be in my own lexical database.

10 thoughts on “Dealing with Voice in Greek

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    1. Yes and no – to both questions

      All lexica treat so called “deponent” verbs (which is a mischaracterization of the issue) as lexical headwords. The problem with NT lexica is that they at times assume verbs don’t have an active form since it does not occur in their limited corpus.

      What I am suggesting is that we have separate active, and middle/passive lexical entries for every verb regardless of whether it is has an active form or not.

      1. Hm. Ok. I think I’m tracking with you now.

        How about creating the lexica based on a recognition of the whole of extant forms (throughout Classical/Koine)? Basically what I’m saying is, rather than having the lexical form as “eklegomai”, have it as “eklego”, but then take the time to explain that it only occurs in passive voice in the NT?

        I’m only trying to come up with alternatives because I see no need to bloat entries any more than they already are.

        Why do I find this interesting?

        1. Well, for one, I don’t have access to the whole of extant forms throughout the history of Greek. So practically speaking; that’s a major road block.

          And then there’s the question of when we find actives that occur in the Classical period, but do not occur in the Koine period. How should we treat them? And if we assume that they “lost” their active, how sure can we be that it ceased to be used in speech.

          So there are a number issues to think about.

          My reasoning, more theoretically, has to do with the fact that currently we treat the so-called “deponents” as distinct from other middles and passive when many people have argued that morphologically there isn’t a difference. I simply want to carry that lack of difference over into lexicography.

          And since my dictionary is an electronic database, the question of bloating isn’t as much as an issue.

          As to why you find this interesting, well, as far as I can tell, I don’t understand why some people don’t find it interesting. That is to say, you’re asking the wrong guy.

  1. I find this an interesting idea. In Azerbaijani most verbs have passive and/or reflexive forms, formed in a more or less regular way, also causatives which are less regular; in dictionaries these are listed separately, sometimes with separate definitions but often just defined as “passive of …” etc. In Russian (which doesn’t have passive inflections, except for a few participles) even the different aspects of a verb are listed separately, so I suppose on that model for Greek you could list present, aorist and perfect forms separately, perhaps solving a few more problems.

  2. The problems of the Greek verb forms really are complex and extensive, primarily because of the lengthy history of the literary language and the survival of ancient inflections and usage alongside of newly-emerging inflections and usage. One indication of the unwieldiness of the problem is the endeavor in the Friberg database to categorize seven different types of “deponents” in terms of which tense-form happens to fall in which voice-form.

    (1) ἐκλέγω (active) doesn’t appear in the GNT and appears only 2x among 133 instances in the LXX. It exists but is rare in older Greek literature because selection is fundamentally a subject-affected notion, a matter of personal or group preferences. Moreover, it can’t really be a separate lexeme, I think, because the two verbs are essentially related in meaning, one being clearly the active, the other clearly the middle-passive, of the same verb.

    (2) I think that, wherever a verb clearly has distinct active and middle-passive forms, the lemma ought to be listed in a lexicon as the form that is really more standard; many verbs that have never been deemed or termed “deponent,” are really standard in their middle forms and have actives that are generally much rarer but do exist as causatives: e.g. πείθομαι, causative πείθω, ἐγείρομαι, causative ἐγείρω, ἱσταμαι, causative ἵστημι. My own feeling is that theses should be lemmatized in the lexicon in the middle form. But that brings up another issue: should we lemmatize the present-system form or the aorist-system form? It really is a problem of lemmatization, isn’t it? — of which form is the standard one? My own solution would be similar to my view of voice-form lemmatization: use the aorist (infinitive) where the aorist is the standard form of the verb, the present (infinitive) where the verb is rare or unattested in the aorist (e.g. εἰμί,βλέπω).

    (3) And what do you do with those middle-verbs that have active forms in the perfect and/or aorist (e.g. ἵσταμαι, ἔστην, ἕστηκα; πείθομαι, πέποιθα; ἐγειρομαι, ἐγρήγορα)?

    1. Carl, I agree that the aorist infinitive is the best form to use as a lemma – thanks to Randall Buth’s article in the Danker Feschrift (sp?) – and as I put verbs in my database, that is what I’ve been doing.

      In terms of the other forms, particularly the middle perfects, I really don’t know yet.

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