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.

A Beginning-Intermediate Grammar of Hellenistic Greek

Image of book

A reprinted edition of Robert Funk’s A Beginning-Intermediate Grammar of Hellenistic Greek was published in July of 2013. While a lot has happened in Linguistics and the study of Ancient Greek since this grammar was originally published in 1973, I welcome this reprint. In 1973 this book (at that time in three volumes) was revolutionary, and it is still very useful. The book focusses on sentence types, and the bulk of linguistic theory has moved beyond that discussion now, but for students learning the language, Funk’s approach works very will.

UPDATE July 9, 2014:

Most of the content of Funk’s Beginning-Intermediate Grammar is available online at no charge via ibiblio.org. You can access it here:

Funk’s Online Grammar

Robert E. Longacre: Obituary at LinguistList Site

Robert E. Longacre, SIL Linguist and professor at the University of Texas at Arlington passed away recently. Thank you to Mike Aubrey for pointing out the obituary posted on the LinguisList Site:


Dr. Longacre dedicated his life to advancing the work of translating the Bible into many local languages. He also contributed greatly to advancing the use of linguistics in the study of the Greek New Testament. He wrote important works on Discourse Analysis, including The Grammar of Discourse that have influenced Biblical Studies in significant ways.

Greek Language and Linguistics Amazon Store

You can once again support Greek-Language.com by purchasing books through our online store. For several years Amazon refused to pay vendors operating from North Carolina, but that has now changed.

Take a look at the Greek Language and Linguistics Bookstore. There’s not much there yet, but more will be coming soon.

Polytonic Greek on Android Smartphones

Jason Hare posted the following advice on the TextKit forum for getting Android smart phones to display polytonic Greek back in June. I thought I would share his advice here for those of you using Android phones to read this blog.

Download “Fontomizer” from the Android Market. It’s a free app. Install it. Open it and choose the Ubuntu-TTF font. Download and install it.

Go into Settings > Display > Font Style and choose Ubuntu. It displays polytonic Greek fantastically.

I hope this works for you.

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.

Grammatical Terms in Ancient Greek

Back in March, Louis Sorenson posted a helpful comment to B-Greek: The Biblical Greek Forum. In it he included a link to a great resource for finding the terminology that Ancient Greek writers used to describe their language. Here’s the relevant portion of his comment:

Randall Buth in his books Living Koine lists some of these terms in his appendix on pages 175-178. William Annis has collected a number of those terms primarily from Eleanor Dickey’s Ancient Greek scholarship: a Guide to Finding, Reading, and Understanding Scholia, Commentaries, Lexica and Grammatical Treatises, from Their Beginnings to the Byzantine Period, Oxford University Press, 2007. You can find his collection of terms athttp://scholiastae.org/docs/el/greek_grammar_in_greek.pdf

This terminology could be very useful in developing a new reference grammar for the Hellenistic Period. For earlier discussions of that topic, go here.

Ancient Greek, mostly Hellenistic