Mannerisms of Mis-Understanding: a Case Study

“In fact, the passive is not distinguished from the middle in most of the inflected forms of the Greek verb; …[distinct passive inflections in the future tense] did not develop before the classical period, and the [aorist], with certain verbs at least, could also have a ‘middle’ sense…finally, the verbal forms that could be used either as ‘middle’ or passive sentences are far more frequently to be interpreted as middle than as passive.  In short, the opposition of voice in Greek is primarily one of active v. ‘middle’.  The passive was a later development (as it was in all the Indo-European languages); and it was at first relatively infrequent.

~John Lyons, Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics, CUP, 1968: p. 373 (8.3.2 — ‘Active’ and ‘middle’ in Greek)

As I was reading this, or rather as I was being read (is that ‘middle’ or passive?), I initially thought of showing this to one of my Greek professors.  But then, I only paid attention to a few questions on the very edge of what was covered in the course; the practicality of the translation-skills themselves were of little interest to me when I was being tested for accuracy instead of for innovation, creativity, or charm.

This thought quickly faded as I realized that I do n’t honestly know the full implications of this paragraph.  I infer that I should need an advanced degree in linguistics to know what this means, so I begin toying with the idea of reaching out for a Ph.D. in the field (this is n’t the first time I ‘ve considered it).  Then contrast this with the severity that after page 373 I ‘m still not very clear what page 372 was about.  If I should attain to this degree, I could perhaps then explain page 373, but it is unlikely that any of my friends not named Mr Lyons could call my explanation meaningful, as it’d be spoken in the most foreign of languages.


That is to say, should I obtain an advanced degree in linguistics, I should most easily be misunderstood.  The pursuit of coherence again proves to be the path of mis-understanding.


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