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Studies in Greek Language & Linguistics…

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 is has no voice.
  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).
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6 responses to “Some notes on Ἐργάζομαι & Middle Voice

  1. Mark Hoffman October 16, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    I fear I may be displaying my lack of understanding here, but I hope you can clarify matters for me. I understand your first point. The second confuses me. It seems to me there are quite a few instances where the object of εργαζομαι could be become the subject in a passive construction. In the LXX, there are quite a few instances of “working the land” (Gen 2.5; 3.23; 4.2, etc), and these could be all passively rendered with “the land was worked.” In both the LXX and the NT, there are numerous instances of “working a εργον.” Again, those could be rendered passively as a “deed was done.” Finally, there are the instances of the Perfect Passive (Num 31:51; Deu 21:4; Ecc 5:8; Eze 27:19; 36:34; Joh 3:21), and these seem to me to be true passive senses.
    So, in light of #1, I can agree that εργαζομαι is a bit strange as a “deponent,” but do the instances I’ve mentioned alter anything of your #2 statement? Thanks!

    • Mike Aubrey October 17, 2013 at 11:50 am

      Kind of?

      The fact that something “could” be rendered passively isn’t exactly evidence for anything. Do you honestly think the rules for control in Greek would allow Gen 3:23 to have anything other than Adam as the subject? Not so much.

      The perfects are notable. But the perfect and the middle have a historical relationship different than other verb forms. At the very least, I’d change my statement in #2 to non-perfects. These are a different issue entirely. The interplay between perfect and middle is a grammatical nightmare.

  2. Yao January 15, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Hi. I have very little experience in Ancient Greek Grammar. I have however come to a conclusion based on my studies on greek word morphology which I would like an opinion on; The lemmatized middle voice verb forms of a primary verb convey the meaning of causality of the primary verb. What do you think?
    Sorry if my comment is not directly related to the on-going discussion.

  3. Yao January 15, 2014 at 11:06 am

    I wrote: “Hi. I have very little experience in Ancient Greek Grammar. I have however come to a conclusion based on my studies on greek word morphology which I would like an opinion on; The lemmatized middle voice verb FORMS of a primary verb convey the meaning of causality of the primary verb. What do you think?
    Sorry if my comment is not directly related to the on-going discussion.”

    Should be: “Hi. I have very little experience in Ancient Greek Grammar. I have however come to a conclusion based on my studies on greek word morphology which I would like an opinion on; The lemmatized middle voice verb FORM of a primary verb convey the meaning of causality of the primary verb. What do you think?
    Sorry if my comment is not directly related to the on-going discussion.

  4. Yao January 15, 2014 at 11:10 am

    one more thing: “convey” should read conveys

  5. Mike Aubrey January 15, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Hi Yao, I’m not sure I’m following what you mean when you say “conveys the meaning of causality” and what are you referring to when you say “primary verb”?

    Middles aren’t causative in the standard linguistic sense. Perhaps you could explain.

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