Category Archives: Linguistics

Theoretical discussions of specific issues in the field of Linguistics appear here.

Wonderful weekend at SBL

This weekend I met with Mike Aubrey, Jonathan Robie, Randall Tan, James Tauber, Andy Wu,  and several others to think about the future of Greek Computational Linguistics. Three of these I had previously known only through the Internet. It was nice to finally meet them in person. The other, Jonathan Robie, was my co-presenter at SBL.

Syntactic Analysis for Humans (“Does this analysis make my text look fat?”).

If you want to see some of what is to come in the presentation that Jonathan Robie and I will make at SBL on Monday afternoon, check out the following posts on the B-Greek forum:

If you won’t be in San Diego, you can still participate in the discussion through the B-Greek forum!

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out this earlier post.

Ancient Greek Relative Clauses

In the latest volume of the  Journal of Greek Linguistics (Volume 14), Stefanie Fauconnier has published an article on Ancient Greek relative clauses using data from Zenophon. She argues for a perspective that I have not encountered in work on the hellenistic period. Here is what her abstract says:

In this paper I argue that Ancient Greek has two distinct strategies for relative clause formation, corresponding to what is known in typology as externally and internally headed relative clauses. Furthermore, I explore two differences between these constructions. First, in comparison with their external counterparts, internal constructions are more restricted semantically. They can only be interpreted as restrictive relative clauses, while external constructions can also be interpreted as non-restrictive. Second, internal constructions are more restricted syntactically, given that they are not used when the domain nominal is subject in the relative clause. For external constructions there is no such syntactic restriction. Finally, I point out a number of convergences between internal relative clauses and noun phrases with an attributive participle. The findings presented in this paper are based on a study of Xenophon.

 The journal requires a paid subscription to view online. If you do not have a subscription, but want to see an earlier version of Fauconnier’s research on this topic, you can take a look at the outline of a 2011 presentation  she gave at the Pavia International Summer School for Indo-European Linguistics (University of Pavia, Italy). That outline shows some of the evidence she used and basic elements of her argument.

If you are aware of similar research on the hellenistic period, please let me know. I would like to have something in the bibliography here at Greek-Language.com on this topic. If nothing is available for the hellenistic period, I’ll add Fauconnier’s article.

Looking forward to SBL

Are you going to SBL in San Diego? I am, and I’d love the chance to talk with any of you who are going to be there. If you will be there, contact me via the Contact page here.

Jonathan Robie and I will be doing a presentation on Monday afternoon/evening for a joint session of the Global Education and Research Technology Section and the Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies Section. This is a themed session entitled “Teaching the Bible in an Open World: Open Resources for Teaching and Learning with the Bible” (S24-317a). Our presentation is entitled Greek Syntactic Analysis for Humans (“Does this analysis make my text look fat?”). Here’s the abstract:

By exposing the internal structure of a text, syntax trees represent important elements of meaning, and can be used to explain difficult constructs, teach Greek reading skills or for syntactic queries. But the phrase-structure syntax trees most widely used in biblical studies are redundant, complex, based on theories that are no longer widely accepted, and poorly model the function of the Greek verb. We combine the strengths of dependency grammars and phrase structure grammars to create a more flexible and powerful model. We use a hybrid approach. Some features of Greek syntax, such as Noun Phrases and Prepositional Phrases, neatly fit traditional phrase structure categories. Verbs do not. We represent verbs and their relationships with phrase structures in terms of a verb’s arguments. We have created an analysis using this model, based on the Global Bible Initiative (formerly Asia Bible Society) Greek New Testament syntax trees from biblicalhumanities.org (a phrase structure treebank) and the PROEIL treebank of the New Testament created by Dag Haug (a dependency structure treebank). Using Koine Greek texts, we present new ways to visualize the structure of Greek syntax that are simpler and more closely fit the language. Users can examine texts directly, choosing whether to highlight phrase structure (our Phrase View) or verbs and their relationships to surrounding constituents (Verb View). The same model can be used to better support syntactic queries and for teaching the Greek language.

Our presentation is the last of five in this session that runs from 4:00 to 6:30 pm. Ours is likely to start around 6:00. Unfortunately, this session is scheduled at the same time as one of the meetings of the Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics Section. Oh well… no schedule is perfect.

I hope to see you there.

Lexicography/Dictionaries Page

I have made a number of changes to the Lexicography and Dictionaries page at Greek-Language.com. Here are the main ones:

I hope you find these additions helpful.

The Representation of Speech Events in Chariton’s Callirhoe and the Acts of the Apostles

I have just added Adrian Smith’s new book on Speech Events to the Comprehensive Bibliography of Hellenistic Greek Linguistics.

Two things about this book caught my attention. First, it is—as far as I know—the first book-length treatment of speech events in Hellenistic Greek. Second, it deals with two texts, one from the Greek New Testament, and the other from Hellenistic Greek outside the Christian canon. This is something I have longed to see for some time. We need to push our analyses of the language beyond the confines of the literature of our faith. If Smith’s proposals hold true for both early Christian texts and texts from the wider Hellenistic literature, he will have accomplished something of real note.

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.

The Change from SOV to SVO in Ancient Greek

I have added the following article by Ann Taylor to the bibliography at Greek-Language.com:

The change from SOV to SVO in Ancient Greek.” Language Variation and Change. 6.1 (1994) 1-37.

While the order of major sentence constituents is quite free at every stage in the development of Ancient Greek, the distribution of those constituents is not random at any stage, and one particular constituent order can be shown to be dominant at each stage. Taylor argues that the dominant constituent order was verb-final (SOV) in Homer, but changed to verb-medial (SVO) by the Hellenistic period.

Using the paradigm of Kroch (1989), Taylor constructs two models—one for the verb-final grammar of the Homeric period (before 800 B.C.) and one for the verb-medial grammar of the Hellenistic Koiné (c. 100 A.D.). She describes the intervening period (Herodotus, c. 450 B.C.) as in part like Homer and in part like the Koiné. She shows further that the ratio of these two constituent orders in Herodotus is also supported by an independent measure of the distribution of weak pronouns and clitics.

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 http://www.merriam-webster.com, 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.

The Verb in Koine Greek

There’s a wonderful discussion of Albert Rijksbaron’s book, The Syntax and Semantics of the Verb in Classical Greek: An Introduction, going on over at the B-Greek Forum. The participants are discussing the book one section at a time, comparing it’s observations on Classical Greek to the available data for the Hellenistic Period. While the discussion is focussed largely on the New Testament, there is some attempt to reach beyond that corpus to the wider early Christian literature, and perhaps even the wider Hellenistic Koiné.

Rijksbaron’s book gives a very good overview of the verb in the Classical Period. It would be great to see a parallel treatment for Hellenistic Greek. Perhaps this discussion, with participation from advanced students as well as seasoned professors, will lead to the eventual production of such a treatment.

Take a look.