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Cognitive Linguistics

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Volume 28, Issue 4


Testing the boundaries of the middle voice: Observations from English and Romanian

Andreea S. Calude
Published Online: 2017-10-21 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cog-2016-0046


The middle voice has received ample attention in the literature, yet the precise boundary between middle voice and other related constructions still remains elusive. For example, do sentences like Mary slept (*herself) well last night and Mary washed (herself) thoroughly and expertly belong to the middle voice or the reflexive domain, or are they simply intransitive one-participant structures? While ambiguity between reflexive and middles has been noted by (Kemmer, Suzanne. 1993. The middle voice. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.), I show that the problem is more widespread. Depending on the marking patterns available in a given language, such ambiguities can occur between middles and prototypical intransitive one-participant events, or between middles and reflexives. Using data from two languages with distinct marking patterns – English (a language with a reflexive marker but no middle marker) and Romanian (a language with one marker of each type) – I discuss the possibility of distinguishing middles from other related constructions. In English, it is shown that the him/herself test can be used to distinguish direct middles from intransitive one-participant events. In Romanian, we see middle and reflexive markers used together in the same construction without contradiction, bringing together both middle and reflexive semantics (as well as marking). In agreement with (Maldonado, Ricardo. 2000. Spanish reflexives. In Zygmunt Frajzyngier & Traci Walker (eds.), Reflexives: Forms and functions, 153–185. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.) and (Manney, Linda. 2001. Middle voice in Modern Greek: Meaning and function of a morphoyntactic category. Amsterdam &Philadelphia: John Benjamins.), the account given here supports the view of the middle voice as a unified phenomenon, and following (Maldonado, Ricardo. 2009. Middle as a basic voice system. In Lilian Guerrero, Ibáñez Sergio & Belloro Valeria (eds.), Studies in role and reference grammar. México: Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas, UNAM.), the main function of the middle is to profile the core properties of events (but not necessarily to reduce the relative elaboration of participants, as proposed by Kemmer, Suzanne. 1993. The middle voice. Amsterdam &Philadelphia: John Benjamins.). So, unlike active and passive voice which concern the focusing of various participants (namely, Agents and Patients, respectively), the middle voice focuses the event itself.

Keywords: middle voice; reflexive; intransitive; Romanian; English


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About the article

Received: 2016-04-26

Accepted: 2017-02-21

Revised: 2016-12-04

Published Online: 2017-10-21

Published in Print: 2017-11-27

Citation Information: Cognitive Linguistics, Volume 28, Issue 4, Pages 599–629, ISSN (Online) 1613-3641, ISSN (Print) 0936-5907, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cog-2016-0046.

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