Category Archives: Linguistics

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

Lesson 27: Pronouns for Direct Conversation (ἐγὼ and σύ)

A few minutes ago I uploaded lesson 27 of my online grammar. There are a couple of reasons this particular lesson is a little unusual.

First, I have not yet uploaded lessons 24-26, so this one is coming out of sequence. I’m doing that simply because this one is much closer to completion than the others, and except for a couple of words that will be unfamiliar, it is quite understandable without having read the three preceding lessons. I have still not added the interactive practice exercises, but I’ll get to that as soon as I can.

Second, those of you who have been using the grammar will notice some clear formatting changes. These are due to the increasing need to make the grammar readable on a smartphone! It’s a bit amazing to me how many people use it that way, but it looks like that’s the wave of the future.

In fact, the entirety of Greek-Language.com is getting a major face-lift this summer, and it’s not just because of smartphones. The basic coding behind much of what’s on the web is quickly becoming obsolete. The net is moving full steam ahead to HTML5 and some serious upgrades to CSS. (If those acronyms are meaningless to you, don’t worry, they are to most people.) Since I wrote the code behind much of what is on the site without the help of any automated web page software, I have serious rewriting to do as HTML4 becomes obsolete. It’s a steep learning curve, but I really enjoy it.

If you notice any mistakes in lesson 27, or if any part of it seems unclear to you, don’t hesitate to point that out as comments below. Challenges from my readers make the grammar better for everyone.

Multilingual Experience and Reading Greek

I had an interesting experience reading the Greek text of Acts 2:1-20 this morning in church.

Yes. I confess to being one of those geeks who takes his Greek New Testament to church. There are quite a few people at my church who have seminary degrees, including studies of the biblical languages, so I’m not that out-of-place in doing this, though I am in the distinct minority. I take it because I enjoy reading the Greek text of any New Testament passages read in worship.

Today being Pentecost, the passage from Acts was read in five different languages, starting with English, and changing languages every verse or so. As the English was read, as usual, I read along in Greek, not paying much attention to the English reading, but when the language suddenly switched to Russian, I was jarred by the sudden lack of mooring for keeping pace with the reader. I had not thought much before about the fact that I usually finish a sentence in Greek at the same time that sentence is completed in the English translation being read aloud. It just seemed normal. But when the language being read aloud was Russian (and I understand no Russian) I could continue reading in Greek, but had no way to judge the pace. From Russian the reading switched to Portuguese. While I do understand a little Portuguese, I found that I was equally unable to keep pace. Then the reading switched to Spanish. Suddenly I could keep perfect time with the reading, then it switched to Mandarin. All ability to keep pace vanished again.

It suddenly hit me that my usual experience of reading in Greek in worship is actually a bilingual experience. I must be paying attention to the English, even though I was not doing so consciously. How else would I keep pace with it? How did my ability to keep pace return when the reading switched to Spanish today? I must have been simultaneously processing the Spanish along with the Greek.

For a short time while I lived in Louisville, Kentucky I had a job as a simultaneous translator for the Western Kentucky U.S. District Court. It hit me this morning that what I do while reading Greek and hearing the text in another language is what used to happen on the job in the court. The two languages would recede into the background, and my work felt more like just repeating what I heard without thinking too hard about how I was saying it.

This is not very different from what I experience with Spanish and English on a daily basis. I regularly have conversations in which some participants speak fluent English and little Spanish while others speak fluent Spanish with little English.  As I navigate these conversations, I don’t actually think consciously about which language to use. I simply respond in the language that seems necessary.

My experience this morning raised questions that I will ponder for some time. In a sense, it felt more like Pentecost than any Pentecost service ever has before.

Argument Structure in Hellenistic Greek

I have uploaded my paper, “Argument Structure in Hellenistic Greek” to two places. You can read it here at Greek-Language.com at the following location:

You can also view it at Academia.edu.

This paper is an updated version of one I presented at a national meeting of the SBL in the late 1990s. A slightly updated version was published by Forum, the journal of the Westar Institute in 1999 under the title “From the Lexicon to the Sentence: Argument Structure in Hellenistic Greek.”

This latest version lays out my proposals for information that should be included in an electronic lexicon of Hellenistic Greek.  Serious advances in digital technology have made it possible to include information about syntactic and semantic relationships that would have been impractical only a few years ago, and in the context of the work that Jonathan Robie and I are doing on using XML to structure and query databases, I decided it was time to make my most recent proposals easier to locate.

Article on the Greek Perfect in the New Testament

Have any of you read the following article in the current issue of the Journal of Greek Linguistics? It sounds interesting, but it costs $30 to download. Is it worth the money?

The Greek Perfect through Gothic Eyes: Evidence for the Existence of a Unitary Semantic for the Greek Perfect in New Testament Greek

Post a comment if you have read it.

Mike Aubrey’s Masters Thesis

Mike Aubrey has uploaded his anxiously awaited thesis to Academia.edu:

The Greek perfect and the categorization of tense and aspect: Toward a descriptive apparatus for operators in Role and Reference Grammar

Click on the title to download a copy or read it online.

Mike has posted two reflections on his blog that you will find very helpful as you read his thesis. I’ve included links to those reflections below along with what he says about their value:

If you’re a Greek student/scholar. I would encourage you to read the two posts dedicated to discussing my thesis. This is because it’s not a work that’s oriented toward biblical scholars [or] to classicists. It’s a work by a linguist for linguists. The two posts I’ve put up […] on my blog are designed to provide some orientation for people whose primary interest is Greek rather than linguistics proper.

Part I: Challenges in language analysis: thesis prefatory material

Part II: Thesis Prefatory Material: A Narrative Account

Here’s the abstract that Mike included on Academia.edu:

This thesis attempts to expand the theoretical and methodological basis for operators within Role and Reference Grammar for purposes of language description, using the Greek perfect as a test case. This requires first examining the current theoretical and methodological approach to tense and aspect in RRG and its strengths and weaknesses. Here I demonstrate that while some areas of RRG have a well-developed and robust set of theoretical and descriptive tools for language description, operators such as tense and aspect are distinctly lacking in this regard. To that end, I propose a model for tense and aspect operators that attempts to fill in the gaps that exist in RRG while also maintaining the integrity and spirit of the linguistic theory. This involves three steps. I begin with a survey of the broader typological literature on tense and aspect in order to establish a set of morphosyntactic tests for the evaluation and categorization of operators. This is followed by an application of the proposed morphosyntactic tests to a particular grammatical problem: the Greek Perfect in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the tests. I then concluded with a synthetic model for tense and aspect operators that both satisfies the theoretical and typological claims of the broader literature and also validates the existing structure of the Role and Reference Grammar framework, thereby furthering the goals of RRG as a useful theoretical model for language description.

I encourage you to take the time to look at Mike’s work.

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. Four 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.