Some notes on Ἐργάζομαι & Middle Voice

Ἐργάζομαι is a bit of a difficult verb to deal with in terms of voice. It’s perhaps the only verb that causes problems (at least at face value) after the rejection of deponency as a valid category for the Greek Voice System. Rutgar Allan categorizes it as an indirect middle (Allan 200, 54). That has always seemed a bit forced to me.

However, perhaps there’s some credence to it.

So here are some general notes about this particular verb:

  1. It’s primary sense “to work” is syntactically intransitive, so the traditional definition of deponency as “active in meaning middle-passive in form” is just wrong. There’s nothing “active” about intransitive verbs. Active as a label only applies to verbs that can be passivized. Intransitive verbs can’t. So from an English perspective (which is what the deponency perspective essentially is) ἐργάζομαι has no voice: a literal English translation of the verb is intransitive.
  2. The secondary sense “to accomplish/do [something],” while transitive, is less transitive than it could be. All instances of ἐργάζομαι with an explicit object involve situations where the object is non-referential. That is, the object does not refer to a specific entity within the world of the text. So even this secondary sense that takes an object is not prototypically transitive. In line with that, when ἐργάζομαι takes an object, that object cannot be syntactically passivized and promoted to the position of subject in the clause. If ἐργάζομαι with an object ruly filled the role of “active in meaning” then that should in principle be possible, but that does not appear to be the case.
  3. When one examines the individual instances of ἐργάζομαι, its seems reasonably clear that the verb involves some the performance of an activity (this is, after all, an activity predicate) with a clear benefactive (or malafactive) sense for the subject. This is in line with the semantic category of subject affectedness that is involved in middle systems and also with the indirect middle usage for Greek.
  4. Lastly the fact that in the aorist ἐργάζομαι only allows sigmatic middle morphology rather than a θη middle suggests that it is necessarily either an indirect middle or direct middle. Those are the only middle categories in Koine Greek that still disallow θη morphology (the θη has make sporatic in roads into these two categories, but its not consistent or systematic in any way). More importantly, however, while θη has encroached on sigmatic middle functions, the reverse is not true. Aorist sigmatic middles cannot be used to expressive passive meaning.

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