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"Active", "middle" and "passive"
Apparently it makes more sense than I realized to speaking of "learning him a thing or two".
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2013/12/11
10:54am
Bob Bridges
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This talk of "ravel" (et al) reminds me, for no very good reason, of something I discovered back in school.  I was taking classical Greek, where verbs can come in "voices" that they label "active", "middle" and "passive".  The best description I can think of is to say that these voices correspond in English to transitive, intransitive and passive.  Some examples:

"I'll stop him."  This is transitive; in Greek it would be in the active voice.

"I'll be stopped by him."  This is passive.

"I'll stop."  There is no object here; it's something I'm doing intransitively, which in Greek would be represented by the middle voice.

(In Greek, the fact that a verb is in the middle form does not guarantee that it's intransitive.  Just as in English, the usage shifts either for reasons of art or illiteracy, and after a while you see middle verbs used transitively and vice versa.  Still, this was my introduction to the concept, and I still think of them this way.)

Because "stop" is the same verb in the active and middle voices, that is to say in the transitive and intransitive uses, we think of it as the same action.  But it occurred to me eventually (and now we're getting to the point) that there are different verbs in English that are analogues of each other in the same way; yet because we use two different verbs, we think of them as different actions.  For example, "learn" is actually the intransitive form of "teach".  I don't mean grammatically, of course, only the meaning.  I stop someone else, but when I do it myself I simply stop; in the same way, I teach someone else, but when it's just me I simply learn.  Since I realized that, I've had a lot more sympathy for someone who says "I'll learn him!".

I imagine there are lots of verb pairs in English like "teach / learn", one carrying the intransitive meaning of the other.  We discuss a subject; but intransitively we simply converse.  We kill, but intransitively we die.  We ask, but intransitively we wonder.  Are there others?  I'm sure there are, but off-hand no more come to me.

2013/12/11
2:55pm
deaconB
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Bob Bridges said
I imagine there are lots of verb pairs in English like "teach / learn", one carrying the intransitive meaning of the other.  We discuss a subject; but intransitively we simply converse.  We kill, but intransitively we die.  We ask, but intransitively we wonder.  Are there others?  I'm sure there are, but off-hand no more come to me.
 

Ask/wonder doesn't fit the pattern…  Being grilled would be the partner of asking.  Wondering would be paired with inspiring cogitation.

 

2013/12/11
8:51pm
Bob Bridges
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Asking and being asked are active and passive.  Active and middle—that is, transitive and intransitive—that pair is asking and wondering.  In a sense, when you wonder about something, you're asking yourself, just as when you stop intransitively you (in a sense) stop yourself, and when you learn intransitively you teach yourself.  In fact, in French instead of saying "I wonder…?" they say "I ask myself…".

However, that second sentence, I may have to think about that:

deaconB wrote:
Wondering would be paired with inspiring cogitation.

It occurred to me even as I wrote the previous post that it may be the French idiom "I ask myself…" that led me to suppose that "wonder" is the intransitive form of "ask".  But in defense of the idea, isn't the asking what triggers the cogitation?

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