Icelandic: Mediopassive

Discussion in 'Nordic Languages' started by ShakeyX, May 31, 2013.

  1. ShakeyX Senior Member

    British English
    So far I know the mediopassive is used for situations where two people are involved in an action, not exactly sure how to structure the sentence still so could someone give me an example of that?

    However, I was reading my book and it said something along the lines of "Pennar fást hérna?" I may be wrong so if that isn't a complete sentence let me know.

    I understand what the meaning is, sort of Can this "be got" here.. and I know there is no OFFICIAL translations, from much experience of asking for them :p but is there a common english counterpart which best reflects the mediopassive as I cant think of it in my mind. Just something I can apply everytime i see the -st.
  2. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    The -st- on verbs is a bit variable in meaning and it's not just restricted to one type of usage (so the trick to applying one thing every time won't, as I think you knew deep down :cool:, won't work). There are basically three types of things it represents: reflexive, reciprocal and passive. What you mentioned first was the thing when two people are involved in an action, which is the reciprocal meaning (i.e. that they both do the action to the other one). This usage is what you see in examples like:

    Við heyrumst!

    Which is something like we will see each other and we will hear (from) each other.
    If you want to describe, let's say, what happens on Wordreference, then you can say fólk hjálpast. That is fólk (people) hjálpa+st (help-each other).
    That's how you can use it with a reciprocal meaning.

    There is a passive meaning as well, which is exactly as you said in your post and yes it is a complete sentence. It's just like putting it in a passive tense. It's not "exactly" like the passive tense, there are some things you can/can't do but in early stages of language learning it is "receptive" mode that should be on, so you'll only ever (hopefully) see correct examples of it. You see this in some explanations, and it is frequent in some of the posts we use here where you can say "Hér sést..." (here ... it is seen) :)declension) which is another example of the passive meaning, or it could easily just be "can be seen" etc. etc.

    Often there is a verb without -st- and then one with it, and there are a few that only exist in the -st- form and some verbs which can't have an -st- form.
    When you have a meaning you want to express that is totally not linked to the idea of an agent (i.e. when you usually use a passive anyway) it's normal sometimes to just use the mediopassive. So, if you see a question like "Hvar finnast þeir?" then you should be able to see that it's passive (is found/can be found) and means "Where are they/can they be found?"

    There is also the reflexive meaning which is just in place of using the reflexive pronoun:

    Hann klæddi sig -> He got dressed (he dressed himself)
    Hann klæddist -> He got dressed.

    That final example is actually where this -st- came from, the earlier version of 'sig' was 'sik' and people went from saying 'klæddi+sik' to 'klæddi+sk' and finally 'klæddi-st' while the original sik became to be written as sig in Modern Icelandic. Just thought you might find that interesting! :cool: This reduction was already in place in Old Norse and that's why the other Scandinavian languages have similar structures. It came from the same thing in the parent language.
  3. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Hmm, as soon as I posted my message I realised it looked a bit... wordy. I'll try a basic recap which means you can ignore the last post if you want to.

    1) Reciprocal - it means the action of a verb is done by the subjects of the verb, to each other.
    2) Passive - it basically has the same passive meaning in most cases, when no agent is expressed.
    3) Reflexive - where it is just a shortened form of 'sig' and actually means what it would be without -st- and just 'sig' at the end.
  4. myšlenka Senior Member

    Would you also use -st for cases where there is no agent at all? Is it possible to say glerið brautist or something along those lines?
  5. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Well, you're on the right lines, definitely.
    When there is specifically no agent, and especially when it's an unaccusative usage of a verb where the surface subject actually undergoes the action of the verb, that's typically when you'd use this and even if any sort of agent-related behaviour was added, it'd become wrong and you'd need the normal passive. So, in that sense it is tied to complete absence of an agent.

    It's just, there are some verbs that pair off into transitive and intransitive pairs in Icelandic already, which take on the function of where, in other verbs, the -st- suffix would fit perfectly. So, the logic for your example is totally correct, it's just that the verb brotna already exists in Icelandic which would take over this usage. If you wanted to use the verb eyðileggja (destroy) instead then it's perfectly okay to say: Stóllinn eyðilagðist (the chair got destroyed) but if you put on adverbials like 'on purpose' or 'in order to...' then that immediately invalidates the ability to use the mediopassive because it implies agentivity and you need the regular passive instead.
  6. ShakeyX Senior Member

    British English
    Apologies, I understand all of that, except could you just go over what you mean by "no agent expressed"? I haven't come across this word agent.

    And on another note, if one can say... ég fer að raka mig (I'm going to shave myself (now)).. could you not then just use ég fer að rakast.... or is this one of these, you just have to know when the reflexive sounds correct and learn from usage.
  7. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    "Agent" just means the doer of an action. It's gerandi in Icelandic so you can see the link gera (to do) -> gerandi (doer). That's all it means.
    So you can often use a passive and then say who did the action (who the agent was), but to use the -st- in a passive sense, it needs to be without all of that.

    I think this is where you need either native opinion or opinion from someone who has much much more experience with Icelandic usage than me (Silver_Biscuit) to give a better impression. I would hazard a guess that the tendency for the reflexive -st- to be used would be in the third person singular because of the similarity to 'sig'. In earlier forms of Icelandic a similar thing happened with mig (then: mik) which became -mk and added onto verbs, but then eventually dropped out and -st- took over the first person in some passive forms (note: not saying reflexive, here). So, I think when it comes to the 'optional reflexive', it's less of a desired choice to use it, but I could be wrong. My guess is that where it lives a good life is in the third person, and for your purposes just stick to using normal reflexive pronouns to sound normal.

    Any opinions about that last point from other readers would be greatly appreciated!
  8. ShakeyX Senior Member

    British English
    It's quite a wierd reflexive pattern as it goes. In other languages, if you are going to use the reflexive pronoun, you can say like I love myself, He loves himself, she loves herself, they love themselves, and in russian for example the last word in all these sentences would be exactly the same.

    But correct me if im wrong, but in icelandic its... ég elska mig (not sig) but hún elska sig (not hana).

    Right? It's strange how the pronoun isn't just categorically used for reflexivity.
  9. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Well in Italian (and I believe in Spanish) there is a distinction like in Icelandic:

    Io mi amo (amo me) - I love myself
    Tu ti ami (ami te) - You love yourself
    Lui/Lei si ama (ama sé (stesso/a)) - He/She loves him/herself

    Which contrasts with other people (like sig/hana in your example):

    Io la amo - I love her
    Tu la ami - You love her
    Lui/Lei la ama - He/She loves her.

    So, coming from a background of Italian, to have this distinction kind of makes sense to me and is probably therefore more normal-feeling when I see an example like:

    Hún elskar sig - She loves herself
    Hún elskar hana - She loves her (another person).

    We have the same thing in English though by adding -self to the end. So, that's also a distinction.
    Did I misunderstand what you were getting at? :eek: Apologies if so. Can you explain again?
    I think the further grammatical change goes on, you might just get one marker for the whole feature of 'being reflexive' which is what I expect Russian has.
    While you have different pronouns for subjects and objects, to have different ones to 'match up' to show same action of a subject onto itself, is a pretty logical thing.

    The other kind of -st- has grammaticalised over to take over all meaning of middle-voice (i.e. one form, used for all grammatical persons with one function of meaning), but in the reflexive aspect it hasn't. So, different kinds of change are still there, at different places in different meanings.
    Last edited: May 31, 2013
  10. ShakeyX Senior Member

    British English
    Yeh might be going a bit off topic but its just coming from learning russian first, it makes more sense like this.

    Я люблю себя (I love myself)
    Он любит себя (he loves himself)

    они любят себя (they love themselves)

    notice always the same word "себя" (this is so far off topic :p but this is why I always at first would use ég elska sig... thinking that that sufficed as the reflexive form for all persons)
  11. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    I don't think it's too far off topic. If it helps to explain difficulties or tendencies you have in the way you expect Icelandic to be, then I assume it's fine to talk about that so we can all see where you're coming from. I certainly understand your point a lot better now, after seeing those examples and why you might expect 'sig' to link up to all grammatical persons, whereas I said, in my experience, it's not the case because I have experience with another language that has differences in the same way Icelandic has them.

    As long as it makes sense now, that's all that matters!
  12. myšlenka Senior Member

    And the -n- would of course make the verb unaccusative.

    I was just trying to see how the Icelandic -st matches up with Norwegian -s. The grammars usually classify -s as a passive suffix but the suffix is not always interchangeable with the periphrastic passive construction. It seems that this happens with certain unaccusatives.
  13. ShakeyX Senior Member

    British English
    Stóra-Bretland er stærsta eyjan í eyjaklasa undan vesturströnd Evrópu sem nefnist Bretlandseyjar. Á eyjunni er að finna löndin England, Skotland og Wales.

    "ER AÐ FINNA"?!?!!

    This right now is where I would expect some mediopassive in the form of "passive". This er að finna makes no sense to me.
  14. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    A passive wouldn't be incorrect, but this is just another option available.
    It's not going against anything you've learnt in this thread but just another alternative you can use (but I only remember seeing this with this verb).

    It makes the languages richer and more elegant. ;)
    Think of it like that!
  15. AatM Senior Member

    I just thought I might add a question that is to do with the reflexive form with pronouns while you were on the topic - if you have a reflexive verb which takes the genitive (which I understand are few) then does that pronoun need to agree with the subject's gender? So, for example, if I were saying "I avenge myself" (which sounds rather daft I know :p), would it need to be "ég hefni minn" because I am male?

    I'd also like to thank you for your comprehensive explanation of the medial voice, it cleared up a few qualms of mine too!
  16. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Hey there,

    This is typing from my phone so apologies if it's only a small reply.
    What you've used is the possessive pronoun but instead you need the genitive declension of ég, which is mín.

    I'll list the three options for different cases:

    Ég elska mig
    Ég skemmti mér
    Ég hefni mín

    The possessive pronouns are a separate thing. By the way, better translation of that is: "I get my revenge."
  17. AatM Senior Member

    Ah ok, that makes sense when you put it that way! Thank you very much. So when "ég" is declined in the genitive form, it is always "mín"? I shall remember that! Are there many other verbs which take a genitive reflexive pronoun? I can sort of understand why one is used here, the concept of getting revenge of your own. It translates well into English.
  18. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Yeah it's just like that. I can't think of another reflexive genitive off the top of my head. Yes also to it always being mín. When with objects and meaning possession it's the possessive minn/minn/mínum/míns/mín/mína etc

    Reflexive though it's just like accusative, dative etc. always same form.
  19. AatM Senior Member

    Thank you for your invaluable help as always!
  20. Silver_Biscuit

    Silver_Biscuit Senior Member

    English - UK
    Just to answer this point - no, you cannot say that you are going to "rakast". Unfortunately that makes no sense. Sometimes reflexivity is expressed with the verb form, sometimes just by adding the appropriate pronoun in the subject position. Að raka is one of those that uses a pronoun. The dictionary will tell you whether the reflexive form of any given verb exists in the language. Bear in mind that reflexive forms of verbs are often translated quite differently to the basic forms. For example að reynast means to turn out [to be], NOT to be tried. Although if you think about it, it kind of does mean to be tried, but still - you have to watch out for things like this.

    A better example of this is maybe koma vs komast. Ég kem ekki á morgun means I'm not coming tomorrow, but Ég kemst ekki á morgun means I can't make it tomorrow. I can't wrap my brain around how these verbs actually relate, but I'm not particularly interested in trying - as long as I understand them! However, Alex has a much better technical understanding of the language than I do, and perhaps he gets why komast means what it does :)
    Last edited: May 31, 2013
  21. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Unfortunately not :(
    I mean, the idea of physical movement being expanded metaphorically and applied to situations in the future is quite common (like 'go' in English becoming a future marker) so I'd say that the idea of koma with the middle voice in its passive sense can be reflective of having arrived at and then that can in turn naturally/easily develop to signify accomplishment so when you the two forms there is an element of idiosyncrasy in the development which blurs a natural link between two verbs in a systematic modern sense. So the idea of using negation with komast is reflective of not being able to arrive at the place is less forceful in meaning. The non-middle voice would be more like a determined statement of will while, as often happens, passives reduce speaker authority or intensity which then is 'there is something which is stopping me from coming tomorrow' which we'd translate as 'can't make it'. Maybe that is the link. I am just thinking out loud.
  22. Nemabrincar Member

    -ST sagnirnar eru frekar erfiðar. Ég held að það hjálpi ekki svo mikið að flokka þær, því meiningin á bakvið þetta viðskeyti (-ST) er mjög fjölbreytt og á endanum verður maður einfaldlega að heyra orðin notuð aftur og aftur til að fá tilfinningu fyrir þeim. En auðvitað hjálpa útskýringar í byrjun.

    Hér er listi sem ég stal af

    Það eru fleiri meiningar en þessar. Ég held að það sé best að hafa ekki miklar áhyggjur af málfræðiskilgreiningunni (grammatical definition). Skilningurinn kemur með tímanum.

    Ég tók eftir að margir vinir mínir sem eru að læra íslensku eiga erfitt með -ST sagnir. Svo ég bjó til smá æfingu. Kannski gagnast það þér eitthvað: (Æfingin er neðst).

    I just want to clarify that native speakers don't (at all) think of -ST words as a seprate group of verbs. That is, they don't consciously sort them into groups like "passive", "reciprocral", "reflexive" or even "middle voice" (unless they are grammar nerds). Their use is mostly based on language tradition and in some cases it has nothing to do with the original "sik" reflexive meaning. A good example would be a recent use for -ST: Æi, ég var bara að tölvast um helgina. (basically to do something on the computer, but in a playful way.) It would be like saying: Oh, I was just computering around this weekend. I'd almost say it has a diminutive quality.

    My intention is not to put people off learning these rules or to say "it's too difficult for foreigners, so don't bother". I just wanted to stress that this group of verbs has very unclear boundries, so it's not always useful to approach it from a grammatical point of view. It's much better to learn by hearing and using to get a feel for every word (which ofcourse is not always easy through the internet / away from iceland). But ofcourse it helps to read these explanations.
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2013
  23. ShakeyX Senior Member

    British English
    Hann varprestssonur og ólst upp á Norðurlandi.

    ÓLST... which of the 3 is this.. i know its not reciprocal. But I can't decide whether it is passive or reflexive... He was brought up or He brought (himself) up, in some weird sense where it just means he grew up in some place.

    Any ideas?
  24. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    The normal verb að ala means to raise/breed where there is an idea of the person who it applies to is in control of raising up the person/animal (in the cases where it means breed). Now, when you want to apply it to the person being raised, then you think of it like 'was raised' where it is more passive in meaning. That meaning then translates 'to grow up' when originally it could have been seen as something like 'was raised', which is the passive of the verb 'ala' which does exist and mean exactly that.

    You can also say ég var alinn upp á ... (I grew up in... / I was raised/brought up in....).
    Again, this is the passive of the verb 'ala' which shows that you can either use the ordinary passive or use the -st- passive.

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