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Reconstructing passive and voice in Proto-Indo-European

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Abstract

This article examines various aspects of the reconstruction of the passive in Proto-Indo-European (PIE), foremost on the basis of evidence from the Indo-Aryan (Early Vedic) and Greek branches. In Proto-Indo-European the fundamental distinction within the verbal system is between the active and middle, while specialized markers of the passive are lacking and the passive syntactic pattern is encoded with middle inflection. Apart from the suffix *-<i>i&#815;(e/o)-</i> (for which we cannot reconstruct a passive function in the proto-language) and several nominal derivatives, we do not find sufficient evidence for specialized passive morphology. The role of the middle (and stative) in the expression of the passive in ancient IE languages raises important theoretical questions and is a testing ground for the methods of syntactic reconstruction. We will examine the contrast between non-specialized and specialized markers of the passive in Early Vedic and Greek. Most Indo-European languages have abandoned the use of middle forms in passive patterns, while Greek is quite conservative and regularly uses middle forms as passives. In contrast, Indo-Aryan has chosen a different, anti-syncretic, strategy of encoding detransitivizing derivational morphology, though with the middle inflection consistently preserved in passive <i>ya</i>-presents. These two branches, Indo-Aryan and Greek, arguably instantiate two basic types of development: a syncretic type found in many Western branches, including Greek, and an anti-syncretic type attested in some Eastern branches, in particular in Indo-Aryan.

References

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