A colleague recently ask me about Biraud’s treatment of determiners in Ancient Greek and its implications for the DP hypothesis (Determiner Phrase hypothesis). I had not seen the book in over a decade, so I put my colleague off until I could find a copy. I found one in a nearby library and it seems to confirm my vague recollection that Biraud (despite the sound of the title to English speakers) was not really discussing the issue that falls under the term “determiner” in English Linguistics.

Here’s the description of the book from its back cover along with my feeble translation. I am not fluent in French. In fact, I’ve never had a French class. What I can read in French is entirely self-taught, so the translation I provide after the French text is certainly open to debate! If you see any mistakes, please point them out, and I’ll make the necessary changes.

L’attique classique est riche en déterminants et la variéte des structures des groupes nominaux appelle une étude précise. A l’aide de quelques principes simples de description, empruntés pour la syntaxe à l’analyse distributionnelle, et pour la sémantique plus librement inspirés par diverses théories, l’auteur montre que cette diversité se laisse réduire à un système de quelques règles aux implications multiples, dont les écrivains anciens ont exploité toutes les possibilités expressives. Sont abordés en cours d’étude plusieurs problèmes de linguistique générale, pour certains desquels sont esquissées des solutions originales (le statut des déterminants d’identité es d’altérité, une possible hiérarchisation de la structure du syntagme nominal en fonction des apports déterminatifs…).

Ainsi non seulement cet ouvrage peut-il donner aux hellénistes une vision plus claire d’une question sacrifiée dans les grammaires alors qu’un mot sur six dans les textes est un déterminant, mais il peut aussi présenter quelque intérêt pour des linguistes curieux des résultats d’une approche systématique de la détermination en grec ancien et des probèmes qu’elle soulève.

Classical attic is rich in modifiers and the variety of the structures of noun phrases calls for a precise study. Using a few simple principles of description, borrowed from syntax for distributional analysis, and more freely inspired by various theories for semantics, the author shows that this diversity can be reduced to a system of a few rules with several implications, of which the ancient writers have exploited all the expressive possibilities. Several problems of general linguistics are addressed in the course of the study, for some of which original solutions are outlined (the status of modifiers of identity and otherness, a possible hierarchy of the structure of the noun phrase according to the contributions of modifiers…).

Thus not only can this work give Hellenists a clearer view of a question ignored in grammars although one word out of six in the texts is a modifier, but it may also be of interest to linguists curious about the results of a systematic approach to modification in ancient Greek and the problems it raises.

[Any mistakes in the translation are entirely my fault! Don’t blame Biraud!]

Addition to the Bibliography

I have added Chiara Gianollo and Nikolaos Lavidas’ paper, “Cognate Adverbials and Case in the History of Greek” to the Comprehensive Bibliography of Hellenistic Greek Linguistics. While the title implies coverage of a wide range of history, the argument is based on Biblical Greek.

  • Gianollo, Chiara, and Nikolaos Lavidas. Cognate Adverbials and Case in the History of Greek. Studies in Greek Linguistics 33 (2013) pp. 61-75.

The article is available online at the website of the Institute of Modern Greek Studies at Aristotle University at Thessaloniki.

On Generating the Greek Noun Phrase

After many years away from seriously analyzing Greek Noun Phrases I am rereading Cheryl A. Black and Stephen Marlett’s article “On generating the Greek noun phrase” (Work Papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of North Dakota Session. 40: 89-105, 1996). I wish it had been published a couple of years earlier. I would love to have had a copy while I was writing Levels of Constituent Structure.

If you are interested in Greek phrase structure and understand the symbols DP, NP, XP as labels for types of phrases, you should be able to understand the article well. You can download your own copy if you’re interested or read it online at the same location.

Noun Entries in a Future Lexicon: ἔλεος

Our current lexica for Hellenistic Greek fall into two categories on the basis of their approach. The more traditional ones offer suggested translations (not real definitions) and examples of usage. The UBS lexicon classifies words on the basis of perceived semantic domains, grouping words with overlapping meaning into sense categories.

What I envision for a future lexicon is one that does not fit comfortably into either of these categories. It would provide examples of usage, of course, but it would provide a definition along the lines of modern dictionaries such as, and the discussion of examples should be different from what we currently find. Entries for nouns, for example, would also include information on the types of predicates for which the noun may function as an argument.

Let’s look at ἔλεος as an example. As something to be thought of (desired, neglected, remembered), ἔλεος functions as an argument of verbs like θέλω, ἀφίημι, and μιμνῄσκομαι:

1. ἔλεος θέλω καὶ οὐ θυσίαν· (Matthew 9:13 and 12:7)
2. ἀφήκατε τὰ βαρύτερα τοῦ νόμου, τὴν κρίσιν καὶ τὸ ἔλεος καὶ τὴν πίστιν· (Matthew 23:23)
3. μνησθῆναι ἐλέους (Luke 1:54)

When used to speak specifically of something that transpires between two people (where an English translation might speak of showing mercy), though, ἔλεος may serve as an argument of ποιέω. It is not an attitude to be shown or demonstrated, but an action to be  done.

4. ποιῆσαι ἔλεος μετὰ τῶν πατέρων ἡμῶν (Luke 1:72)
5. ὁ ποιήσας τὸ ἔλεος μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ. (Luke 10:37)

Notice the usage of a prepositional phrase μετά + genitive to modify ἔλεος in this sense.

In the catholic epistles we find ἔλεος used as an argument of δίδωμι and λαμβάνω in  contexts where it involves an interaction between two parties. Ἔλεος is presented as being transferred from a giver to a recipient:

6. δῴη ἔλεος ὁ κύριος τῷ Ὀνησιφόρου οἴκῳ (2 Timothy 1:16)

Two verses later what is given (δίδωμι) is not ἔλεος, but the ability to find (εὐρίσκω) ἔλεος.

7. δῴη αὐτῷ ὁ κύριος εὑρεῖν ἔλεος (2 Timothy 1:18)

Here, ἔλεος functions directly as an argument of εὑρεῖν.

8. ἵνα λάβωμεν ἔλεος (Hebrews 4:16)

Here the focus is on the receiver rather than the giver, but ἔλεος remains a thing to be transferred from an actor to a recipient.

Still, in James 2:13 we find ἔλεος again as an argument of ποιέω:

9. ἡ γὰρ κρίσις ἀνέλεος τῷ μὴ ποιήσαντι ἔλεος·

A lexical entry that takes these examples seriously might define ἔλεος as an action to be done for the benefit of another, despite that other’s lack of merit—an action that can be viewed as a gift in appropriate contexts. But the entry would also need to specify that ἔλεος is never presented as a quality to be demonstrated. In this sense, it is unlike the English word mercy.

This does not mean of course, that we should avoid translating ποιεῖν ἔλεος as show mercy, but it does mean that commentators and even casual readers of the Greek text should recognize that such a translation, while necessary, is required because of the peculiar demands of English, and the image that would come to mind for a speaker of Ancient Greek at hearing ἔλεος was different in important ways from the one that comes to mind for English speakers who hear mercy.

Dissertation Idea? Case and Infinitival Clauses

I’ve been reading Christina Sevdali’s 2007 dissertation, Infinitival Clauses in Ancient Greek: Overt and Null Subjects, the Role of Case and Focus. She deals primarily with Classical Greek, but delves into some Modern Greek data as well, but she does not deal with the hellenistic period. Her work, though, does raise some questions that should be answered for the hellenistic literature.

Sevdali concludes that both agreement and focus play a role in Case marking in Ancient Greek. Here is part of a long paragraph from pages 209—210 in her last chapter that I think could suggest a dissertation idea for someone working specifically on Hellenistic Greek:

There are various languages [in which] Case can be related to discourse phenomena: Blake, 2001 for example reports Australian languages Nyigina and Gooniyandi where this is true. These languages do not show Case concord within a noun phrase, where Case and number and person are marked on every constituent, i.e. the determiner, the noun, the adjective etc., but Case mark only one constituent, the final one, or the head etc. In some cases, they mark the one that is focalised, essentially using Case as a discourse marker. Miyagawa, 2005 argued that languages can either be agreement prominent (like most Indo-European ones) or focus-prominent (like Japanese), implying that Agreement and Focus are the two sides of the same coin. Assuming that Case exists in both types of languages, it is not unreasonable to assume that it can be linked to Agreement and Focus respectively. On top of that nothing prevents us from arguing that there also exist mixed language types. We want to suggest that AG is a mixed language, being agreement prominent in finite clauses, where Case is linked to agreement, and being focus-prominent in non-finite clauses, where Case is linked to focus as we showed.

Okay… Here are dissertation ideas for the hellenistic period: Can recognizing two different ways in which Case may be assigned (Agreement vs Focus) lead to a clearer understanding of morphological Case assignment in Hellenistic Greek? Under what specific circumstances might morphological Case be controlled by Focus in Hellenistic Greek? Does Focus play any role in the Case assignment of optional arguments of a verb? Does it control the Case assignment of any DPs governed by a preposition, especially prepositions whose object DP is not always assigned the same Case. Prepositions played a larger role in the hellenistic koine than they did in the classical period. How does this affect the agreement/focus split if at all?

Any takers? I’d love to see a dissertation addressing any of these issues.

Lesson 4: Nouns

I have updated all of the exercises and the vocabulary quiz for Lesson 4: Nouns.

Exercise 1: Recognize Masculine Case Forms

Exercise 2: Recognizing Neuter Noun Forms

Exercise 3: Distinguishing Masculine and Neuter 2nd Declension Nouns

Exercise 4: Recognizing the Greek Article

Vocabulary Quiz

Infinitival Clauses

Have any of you seen Christina Sevdali’s dissertation, Infinitival Clauses in Ancient Greek: Overt and null subjects, the role of Case and Focus? I have not added it to my bibliography because I don’t know if it addresses any texts from the Hellenistic Period. According to the abstract, the last chapter addresses an issue in Modern Greek, but it is not clear whether “Ancient Greek” includes the Hellenistic Period in Sevdali’s work.

Punctuation in Ancient Greek Texts, Part II

Here is a good example of what I had to say in my last post about the lack of punctuation and spacing in Ancient Greek. The image is from Codex Sinaiticus, Philippians 1:1-2.

Philippians 1:1-2 in Codex Sinaiticus
Philippians 1:1-2 in Codex Sinaiticus

Here is the same text with spaces added between the words:

Notice in addition to the lack of punctuation and spacing, the regular use of abbreviations for the words God (ΘΕΟΥ - ΘΥ), Lord (ΚΥΡΙΟΥ – ΚΥ), Jesus (ΙΗΣΟΥ – ΙΥ), and Christ (ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ – ΧΥ). In Codex Sinaiticus as in all of the early manuscripts, such abbreviations are marked by a macron (¯) over the letters. I was not able to do that when I typed out the version with the spaces above. By including both the first and last letters in the abbreviation, the CASE of the words in question is clear (Genitive in this context for all of them), so even the abbreviations present minimal difficulty for a reasonably fluent reader of Hellenistic Greek.

To see the earlier discussion, go here:

On January 6, 2013 I added a third post on the topic of punctuation:

Important! [Added Jan. 19, 2015]
While the earliest manuscripts of the biblical texts did not contain punctuation, it is usually clear to a competent reader of Ancient Greek where the punctuation belongs.

It is a serious mistake to assume that the absence of punctuation in those manuscripts means a person who does not read Greek is free to choose where to put the punctuation in an English translation. To make decisions about where the punctuation belongs it is necessary to read Ancient Greek very well. Many options that would seem to be available in an English text are ruled out by the structure of the Greek text.

Mark Janse on Hellenistic Greek

I have added eight works by Mark Janse to my Comprehensive Bibliography of Hellenistic Greek Linguistics. (Thanks to Mike Aubrey for providing the bibliographic information on six of them and a lead to the seventh.)

Dr. Janse is Research Professor in Asia Minor and Ancient Greek at Ghent University. He has written extensively about the history of Greek and related issues in Linguistics. The publications that I have added to the bibliography are ones that consciously apply a specific insight from Linguistics to the study of Greek from the Hellenistic period, or in one case from the Classical period where no similar work has yet been published for Hellinistic Greek.

Here are the items I added:

Janse, Mark. “Aspects of Bilingualism in the History of the Greek Language.” In: J.N. Adams, Mark Janse & Simon Swain (eds.), Bilingualism in Ancient Society. Language Contact and the Written Word. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, 332-390.

________. “The Distribution of the Enclitic Personal Pronouns in New Tetament Greek in the Light of the Septuagint and the Modern Greek Dialects of Asia Minor: A Structural-Functional Analysis.” PhD. dissertation: Ghent University, Department of Latin and Greek.

This dissertation is available from Dissertations Abstracts International 58 (1997) 776-C. Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International.

________. “La phrase segmentée en grec ancien. Le témoignage des enclitiques.” Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique de Paris 86.1 (1991) XIV-XVI. Paris: Klinck sieck.

________. “La position des pronoms presonnels enclitiques en grec neo-testamentaire a la lumiere des dialectes neo-helleniques. In C. Brixhe ed. La koine grecque antique I (1993), 83-121. Nancy: Presses Universitaires de Nancy.

________. “Phonological Aspects of Clisis in Ancient and Modern Greek.” Glotta 73 (1995-1996) 155-167. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

________. “The Prosodic Basis of Wackernagel’s Law.” In André Crochetière, Jean-Claude Boulanger & Conrad Ouellon (eds.), Les langues menacées. Actes du XVe Congrès international des linguistes, Québec, Université Laval, 9-14 août 1992. Sainte-Foy: Presses de l’Université Laval, 1993, Vol. 4, 19-22.

Originally presented as a paper at the 15th International Congress of Linguists, Quebec, August 9 to 14, 1992.

Creve, Sam, Mark Janse, and Kristoffel Demoen, “The Pauline Key Words πνεῦμα and σάρξ and their Translation.” Filología Neotestamentaria. Vol. 20 (2007), 15-31.

Mike Aubrey has himself done a good amount of work on Hellenistic Greek Clitics and reached similar conclusions. He has posted several discussions at ΕΝ ΕΦΕΣΩ.

The Lattice of Case and Agentivity, by Scott Grimm

I just finished reading the first chapter of Scott Grimm’s masters thesis, “The Lattice of Case and Agentivity,” and I’m looking forward to the rest of it!

Grimm shows a very clear grasp of the issues at stake and the limitations of several current linguistic theories. While recognizing the contributions of advances in both syntax and semantics in clarifying our understanding of Case in a number of languages, he also gives a concise presentation of the questions remaining to be answered—mainly the relationship of the oblique cases to syntax and semantics. If his analysis in the remaining chapters is equally lucid, we will have much to gain from reading it.

While it is not his primary objective to resolve the issue of case attraction in Hellenistic Greek, he does address it and propose a new way of understanding the phenomenon. I have not yet read that part, but I’m looking forward to it!

You can download the entire thesis for free.

You can also download his more recent article, “Case Attraction in Ancient Greek.” I’ll start reading that too soon!