The Middle Voice Panel Discussion: An Interim Comment

Buist Fanning’s review of The Linguist as Pedagogue: Trends in the Teaching and Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament edited by Porter & O’Donnell for the RBL has been made available at the RBL Website.

Of note for our purposes are Dr. Fanning’s comments about Pennington’s contribution to that particular book:

Jonathan T. Pennington’s “Setting Aside ‘Deponency’: Rediscovering the Greek Middle Voice in New Testament Studies” is a must-read for Greek teachers. He presents a strong and clear argument that the traditional description of Greek middles and passives as “deponent” is erroneous and should be abandoned, because it reflects a misunderstanding of voice usage, especially of the middle. He marshals some important evidence and clarifies several significant points in his discussion, but his conclusion is ultimately too extreme. He argues actually against a simplistic view of deponency and fails to come to terms with a more nuanced approach such as that found in the recent collection of essays edited by Matthew Baerman and others (Oxford University Press, 2007). Deponency is a valid category in New Testament Greek, but Pennington has helped clear away some common misunderstandings of it.

It should go without saying if you’ve been following this site for any amount of time that I thoroughly disagree with Dr. Fanning that Pennington’s view is too extreme. I also disagree with his statements about Baerman et al. Deponency and Morphological Mismatches (Proceedings of the British Academy). The Baerman volume isn’t a nuanced approach because it is dealing with a very different question: What are the implications for linguistic theory if mismatches between form and meaning exist? The question of whether Ancient Greek has such mismatches in its diathesis system is very much open to debate. I have already argued else where that Ancient Greek speakers did not believe that to be the case (“Dionysius Thrax & Translating Πάθος“).

The only portion of the Baerman volume that touches on the question examines Greek diachronically (Lavidas & Papangeli’s “Deponency and the Diachrony of Greek”) and refuses to engage the participants of the discussion. Rutgar Allan and M. H. Klaiman are not mentioned at all, while Suzanne Kemmer, Linda Manney and others are dismissed with a paragraph each–not to mention Neva Miller, Bernard Taylor, Carl Conrad, and others who wouldn’t be on their radar. As a Classicist, perhaps the unwareness of Allan could be excused, but to not even mention Klaiman (whose monograph was published one of the most respect linguistics monographs series in existence) cannot be justified. It can be hardly said that such a volume presents a “nuanced” view. The most nuanced discussion in the volume is that if P. H. Matthews entitled, “How Safe Are Our Analyses,” where he argues that the morphological mismatch in Latin that produced the term deponency isn’t as neat and tidy as everyone wants it to be.

With that said, I completely agree with his statement that Pennington’s article presents too simplistic a picture. This is a natural result of Pennington’s work arising from his own reading of the text rather than an thorough analysis. Fanning”s criticism here would not hold weight against the more detail (and monograph-length) work of other scholars.

I have the highest respect for Dr. Fanning, but I reserve the right to disagree with him.