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.

The Sociolinguistics of Translating Canonical Religious Texts

After reading some comments on Sociolinguistics over at the b-greek forum a few days ago, I was fascinated to find a 1994 paper by Eugene Nida on Sociolinguistics and translation today. The article is available online. If you are unclear on the distinction between Sociolinguistics and other forms of Linguistic inquiry, you will find this article helpful.

The Sociolinguistics of Translating Canonical Religious Texts

Language Choice in Ancient Palestine

I have added Hughson Ong’s article, ”Language Choice in Ancient Palestine: A Sociolinguistic Study of Jesus’ Language Use Based on Four ‘I Have Com’” Sayings” (Biblical and Ancient Greek Linguistics. 1.3 [2012]) to the bibliography at Greek-Language.com.

Here’s the abstract I included:

Ong discusses language authenticity to address a problem in historical Jesus research—the lingua franca of Jesus’ social environment. Using sociolinguistic principles he argues that Palestine was a multilingual society and that various social groups necessitate the use of language varieties, raising the issue of language choice (the occasions and reasons multilingual people use their native tongue over and against their second language). Ong’s objective is to show in four “I have come” sayings in the Synoptic Gospels that, with high probability, Jesus’ internal language was Aramaic, and his public language was Greek.

Those of you interested in sociolinguistics may find Ong’s argument particularly stimulating.

A Little More on the LMPG, the Lexicon of Magic and Religion in the Greek Magical Papyri

While the DGE (Diccionario Griego-Español) announced a few days ago is still quite limited, its counterpart, the Lexicon of Magic and Religion in the Greek Magical Papyri (LMGP for its initials in Spanish) is well worth visiting. It is a fully functioning model of what the full DGE will be when completed.

LexicoDeMagiaYReligionBookCoverThe LMGP offers electronic access not only to lexical entries, but to a wide range of Greek texts that were previously unavailable online. The image below shows the interface. Notice that the column on the left has four tabs at the top. By selecting “Textos” you get a list of the texts that contain the word you are working with. By clicking on a word in the list, the column on the right updates to show that word, a Spanish gloss, a line of text from the papyrus identified beside the word you clicked on the left, and a Spanish translation of that line of Greek text.

ἐχολεθρεύω

Even if you are unable to read the Spanish translation and gloss, you can see the Greek text! It’s pretty cool.

For those of us who can read Spanish, it’s a real boon!

Thomas Hudgins’ Discourse Analysis of John 17

I have added the following article by Thomas Hudgins to A Comprehensive Bibliography of Hellenistic Greek Linguistics.

Hudgins, Thomas W. “An Application of Discourse Analysis Methodology in the Exegesis of John 17.” Eleutheria: Vol. 2: Iss. 1 (2012), Article 4.

Here’s the comment I made on it there:

Hudgins applies discourse analysis methodology to the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel. The familiar prayer of Jesus in that chapter has traditionally been analyzed in terms of the three referents (Jesus, his contemporary disciples, and future disciples). Hudgins, however, gives greater attention to the “mainline verbs,” shifting the focus to Jesus’ requests and final commitment. By giving greater structural significance to these verbs, he is able to present a fresh understanding of the structural division and natural outline of Jesus’ prayer.

Greek-Spanish Lexicon and LMPG Online: new digital resources

On Dec. 19, Juan Rodríguez Somolinos notified me of the online publication of a small part of the new Diccionario Griego-Español (DGE). Here’s what he had to say:

The members of the Diccionario Griego-Español project (DGE, CSIC, Madrid) are pleased to announce the release of ‘DGE online’ (http://dge.cchs.csic.es/xdge/), first digital edition of the published section (α-ἔξαυος) of our Lexicon. Although still in progress, the DGE, written under the direction of Prof. F.R. Adrados, is currently becoming the largest bilingual dictionary of ancient Greek: it already includes about 60,000 entries and 370,000 citations of ancient authors and texts. Simultaneously, we are releasing the edition of ‘LMPG online’ (http://dge.cchs.csic.es/lmpg/), the digital version of the Lexicon of Magic and Religion in the Greek Magical Papyri, written by Luis Muñoz Delgado (Supplement V of DGE). The digitization of this smaller Lexicon is considered as a successful prototype of this ambitious digitization initiative: further on DGE online will be improved with similar advanced features, such as the implementation of a customized search engine. Any critics and suggestions on that matter will be very welcome. We hope these new open access dictionaries will be of your interest and will become, to some extent, valuable tools for Ancient Greek studies.

What is available right now is limited, but the project should eventually provide a very valuable resource for students of Ancient Greek who are able to read Spanish.

Αλφα (and coming posts on pronunciation)

I added a page today giving a brief history of the pronunciation of Α/α.

This is the first in a set of pages I intend to write on issues of pronunciation. These pages will not be linked from the main page of this blog, but will form part of the materials supporting my online grammar. You can find the one on ἄλφα here. It is not intended to be an authoritative source, but a simple explanation for the curious.