A Treebank-Based Study of Subject-Verb Agreement with Coordinated Subjects in Ancient Greek

Journal of Greek Linguistics
Journal of Greek Linguistics

An article in the current issue of the Journal of Greek Linguistics by Francesco Mambrini and Marco Passarotti illustrates well the tremendous benefit provided by the development of electronic treebanks for the Ancient Greek data. Mambrini and Passarotti examine subject-verb agreement with coordinated subjects and bring to bear on the problem a breath of data that would have proved inaccessible only a short time ago.

Whether or not you agree with Mambrini and Passarotti’s conclusions (that partial agreement—where one of the coordinated subjects rather than the entire coordinated phrase controls the number of the verb—is “more than a mere deviation from a rigid syntactic behavior” and that “semantic and discursive factors influence the choice” between possible controllers of the verb’s number), you now have the amass a very large amount of data to argue with them, and the tools needed to amass that data are much more available than they were even a few years ago.

Mambrini and Passarotti used two annotated treebanks. The Ancient Greek Dependency Treebank (AGDT), part of the larger Ancient Greek and Latin Dependency Treebank (AGLDT), was created in 2009 and is the first syntactically annotated corpus of Greek literary texts of the Archaic (Homer, etc.) and Classical Age (Bamman et al. 2009).  is a project from the University of Oslo that provides aligned treebanks that can assist with translations of the New Testament in a broad spectrum of Indo-European languages (Haug and Jøhndal 2008). In addition to the New Testament, though, PROIEL includes a selection of other prose texts. The morphological and syntactic annotation of Herodotus, for example, is ongoing.

Mambrini and Passarotti’s use of these syntactic treebanks foreshadows what is certain to be the norm in future research on Ancient Greek. We are all greatly indebted to those who have put the time into developing the databases that will serve and greatly expand our research in the decades to come.

I’ve added the article to A Comprehensive Bibliography of Hellenistic Greek Linguistics.

The Greek Verbal System and Aspect Prominence

A new article by Nicholas J. Ellis, Michael G. Aubrey, and Mark Dubis has recently appeared in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society discussing the need for revising the terms we use to discuss the Greek verbal system. You can download the article from Academia.edu.

Their proposals have grown out of the work they have done with BibleMesh and are influenced by the work of other scholars such as Stephen H. Levinsohn and Randall Buth as well as conversations with Christopher Fresch and Steve Runge.

Here is the abstract:

Verbal systems can give prominence to tense, aspect, or mood. The morphology of the verbal system within biblical Greek provides important evidence to suggest that Greek is an aspect-prominent language, though one that also incorporates tense within the indicative mood. Certain traditional grammatical labels inappropriately treat Greek as though it were instead a tense-prominent language like English (e.g. the use of “present” or “tense formative” outside of the indicative mood). We need to reform our descriptive labels and general conception of Greek accordingly. In doing so, the simplicity and beauty of the Greek verbal system emerges, offering pedagogical advantages for teachers of Greek and challenging exegetes to properly account for Greek’s particular configuration of tense, aspect, and mood.

The well-informed discussion Ellis, Aubrey, and Dubis provide is long overdue. The terminology we use to label particular forms and their usage play a large role in informing interpretation of those forms. More accurate nomenclature will lead to better understanding and greater efficiency in describing the language.

I have added this article to the bibliography here at Greek-Language.com with notes to the names of each of the authors.

Inheritance and Inflectional Morphology

LeBlanc, Inheritance and Inflectional MorphologyIn Inheritance and Inflectional Morphology MaryEllen A. LeBlanc addresses inflectional morphology in four languages: Old High German, Latin, Early New High German, and Koine Greek. The section on Koine Greek comes in the sixth chapter (of eight). This is volume 94 of Peter Lang’s “Berkeley Insights in Linguistics and Semiotics.”

The book is an updated version of LeBlanc’s doctoral dissertation submitted at the University of California Berkeley in the Spring of 2014.

Here’s the abstract from Peter Lang:

Inheritance, which has its origins in the field of artificial intelligence, is a framework focusing on shared properties. When applied to inflectional morphology, it enables useful generalizations within and across paradigms. The inheritance tree format serves as an alternative to traditional paradigms and provides a visual representation of the structure of the language’s morphology. This mapping also enables cross-linguistic morphological comparison.
In this book, the nominal inflectional morphology of Old High German, Latin, Early New High German, and Koine Greek are analyzed using inheritance trees. Morphological data is drawn from parallel texts in each language; the trees may be used as a translation aid to readers of the source texts as an accompaniment to or substitute for traditional paradigms. The trees shed light on the structural similarities and differences among the four languages.

The dissertation is available in two different places online:

I’ve added the book to the online bibliography.


Reflections on Lexicography: Explorations in Ancient Syriac, Hebrew, and Greek Sources

ReflectionsOnLexicographySix articles from the recent Gorgias Press release of Reflections on Lexicography: Explorations in Ancient Syriac, Hebrew, and Greek Sources deal specifically with Hellenistic Greek Lexicography. This volume was produced for the International Syriac Language Project. Here is a list of the papers in the section entitled “Reflections on Greek Lexicography.”

  • A Linguistic-Cultural Approach to Alleged Pauline and Lukan Christological Disparity (Frederick William Danker) (page 267)
  • Contextual Factors in the Greek-Spanish Dictionary of the New Testament (DGENT) (Jesús Peláez) (page 289)
  • The Greek-Spanish Dictionary of the New Testament (DGENT): Meaning and Translation of the Lexemes; Some Practical Examples (Lautaro Roig Lanzillotta) (page 301)
  • The Genitive Absolute in Discourse: More Than a Change of Subject (Margaret G. Sim) (page 313)
  • Now and Then: Clarifying the Role of Temporal Adverbs as Discourse Markers (Steven E. Runge) (page 327)
  • ‘Therefore’ or ‘Wherefore’: What’s the Difference? (Stephen H. Levinsohn) (page 349)

This volume is number 4 in Gorgias Press’ series, Perspectives on Linguistics and Ancient Languages.

I have added these articles to the online bibliography.

Structural Lexicology and the Greek New Testament

I have added Todd Price’s Structural Lexicology and the Greek New Testament: Applying Corpus Linguistics for Word Sense Possibility Delimitation Using Collocational Indicators to the bibliography.

The book was published in 2015 by Gorgias Press and sells for $180 at Amazon.com.

I do not own a copy of the book (due to the price!), but here’s what I’ve gleaned from the abstract provided by the publisher and available in the Library of Congress online catalog. If you own a copy of the book, feel free to tell me how far off I am!


Price’s book addresses both lexical meaning and phrase-level meaning in context. After introducing the concept of structural lexicology as developed through the use of computational linguistics, computational lexicography and corpus linguistics, Price explains his method for determining the contextual meaning of New Testament Greek words and phrases through an analysis of their collocations (with what other words does word x tend to appear?), colligations (in its various contexts, with what kinds of words does word x tend to hold grammatical relationships?) and semantic preferences (with what words does word x share key elements of meaning?). His approach emphasizes defining words in context by disambiguating their possible meanings.

He argues, uncontroversially, that an analysis of large (digital) corpora of Hellenistic Greek can advance our understanding of lexical semantics, and he includes numerous case studies in the Greek New Testament applying his method to exegetically problematic texts.

Revisiting Aspect and Aktionsart : a corpus approach to Koine Greek event typology

PangAspectAndAktionsartBrill is publishing a revised version of Francis G.H. Pang’s doctoral dissertation, Revisiting Aspect and Aktionsart: a corpus approach to Koine Greek event typology. Pang completed the dissertation at McMaster Divinity College in May of 2014.

As with all things Brill, the projected price puts the book out of reach for most biblical scholars and seems more directed at library collections: $142 (110).

Here’s what the abstract says at Brill’s website:

In Revisiting Aspect and Aktionsart, Francis G.H. Pang employs a corpus approach to analyze the relationship between Greek aspect and Aktionsart. Recent works have tried to predict the meanings that emerge when a certain set of clausal factors and lexical features combine with one of the grammatical aspects. Most of these works rely heavily on Zeno Vendler’s telicity distinction. Based on empirical evidence, Pang argues that telicity and perfectivity are not related in a systematic manner in Koine Greek. As a corollary, Aktionsart should be considered an interpretive category, meaning that its different values emerge, not from the interaction of only one or two linguistic parameters, but from the process of interpreting language in context.

The Library of Congress entry for the book indicates that there is an online version, but I have been unable to find it.

I will have an entry prepared for the bibliography here at Greek-Language.com later in the day today.

Marking thought and talk in New Testament Greek: new light from linguistics on the particles ἵνα and ὅτι

SimMarkingThoughtAndTalkI have just added Margaret Sim’s 2011 book, Marking Thought and Talk in New Testament Greek: New Light from Linguistics on the Particles ἵνα and ὅτι to the online bibliography.

She presents a new analysis of ἵνα and ὅτι using Relevance Theory. The book is a further development of her doctoral dissertation completed in 2006 at the University of Edinburgh under the title “A relevance theoretic approach to the particle ʻína in Koine Greek.”

It’s wonderful that Wipf & Stock Pub can offer this volume for only $27!

Historical Changes to Basic Word Order in Greek

While constituent order was quite flexible in both Classical and Koine Greek, sound arguments can be made for considering certain orders as more basic than others. In “How Does a Basic Word Order Become Ungrammatical? SOV from Classical to Koine Greek,” N. Lavadas argues that the Hellenistic Koine was pivotal in the eventual disappearance of SOV as a grammatical order. (That order is ungrammatical in Modern Greek.)

  • How Does a Basic Word Order Become Ungrammatical? SOV from Classical to Koine Greek, Studies in Greek Linguistics 35 (2015) pp. 323-335.

You can read the article online at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. I have added it to the bibliography here at Greek-Language.com.

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.

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.