Lesson 15: Third Declension Nouns

Yesterday I completed my rewrite of Lesson 15: Third Declension Nouns (Consonant Stems), for the online grammar at Greek-Language.com.

The lesson comes complete with several automated exercises to help you recognize these nouns as well as automated vocabulary flash cards to help you learn fully half of the third declension nouns that appear fifty times or more in the New Testament. (That’s thirty nouns.)

If you are learning Greek, I hope you will like it. If you teach Greek, or are an advanced student, I’d love to have your feedback.

Online Lexicon

The lexicon accompanying my online Hellenistic Greek Grammar is limited in certain ways because of its purpose. Here’s what I have to say in the introduction to the lexicon:

This brief lexicon is designed to accompany my Introduction to Hellenistic Greek course. It is not intended as a complete dictionary. It does not offer definitions of the Greek words, for example. Instead, it offers example translations, comments on English words derived from a given Greek word, and occasional comments on usage. For serious study of specific Greek texts, you should invest in a more complete lexicon.

The numbers on the left indicate the number of times the accompanying word appears in the Greek New Testament. The numbers on the right indicate the lesson(s) in whose vocabulary list the word appears in this course.

For each word, I give a variety of English glosses (translation hints) that correlate loosely with the variety of meanings that would need to be defined in a more complete work. It is my goal to one day add such definitions, but I simply don’t have the time right now. Perhaps I’ll get started on that next Summer.

Greek Argument Structure

How should verbs be treated in a reference grammar of Hellenistic Greek? What syntactic and discourse information should be included in the lexicon? Argument Structure Theory can provide helpful suggestions.

I agree with Mike Aubrey that the category Verb Phrase is not particularly helpful at this point in the discussion of Hellenistic Greek syntax. I would like to propose that we talk instead about the “Argument Structure” of Hellenistic Greek verbs.

Each verb requires, or clearly implies certain elements, such as a subject, and frequently one or more objects as well. Where these elements are essential to the meaning of the verb, we can say they are part of the verb’s “Argument Structure.” Modifiers that are optional, in the sense that they are not demanded by the meaning of the verb, we can say are not part of the verb’s argument structure.

Let’s take the verb δίδωμι as an example. In Matthew 4:9 we find

ταῦτά σοι πάντα δώσω
All of these I give to you

Here the verb is accompanied by three arguments: ταῦτα (these), σοι (to you), and -σω (I). One of these arguments (the subject) is attached to the verb itself and need not be expressed separately unless the context demands it. The other two we can call “complements.”

In certain discourse contexts, one or more of the complements may be left unexpressed. In Matthew 5:42, for example, we find

τῷ αἰτοῦντί σε δός
Give to the one who asks you
Give to the one who begs from you

Here the Recipient is expressed  explicitly: τῷ αἰτοῦντί σε (the one who asks you, the one who begs from you), but the Patient (that is, the thing that is given) is not expressed explicitly. Crucially, the cultural and discourse contexts make it clear that sustenance, in the form of food or money, is what is expected. The meaning of δίδωμι itself asserts a Patient role (the object given), and when the context clearly implies what must fill that role, it may be left implicit rather than directly expressed.

It is my contention that a reference grammar for Hellenistic Greek, if it is to serve the interests of both language learners and exegetes, needs to include this kind of information. Optimally,  argument structure information should be included in the lexical entry for every verb. The grammar would simply need to explain argument structure, and refer to an accompanying lexicon for details of specific verbs.

Some strides have been made toward this goal in recent research. Simon Wong provided a great deal of relevant data in his A Classification of Semantic Case-Relations in the Pauline Epistles (1999). What he calls semantic case-relations I would call arguments to avoid confusion with morphological case (nominative, accusative, etc.), but the data he provides could be very useful.

If you know of other research on this topic, please include it in your comments.

What would you like to see about the argument structure of verbs in a reference grammar? In a lexicon?

Online Hellenistic Greek Grammar

I’ve decided to make my online Hellenistic Greek Grammar available to the public even though it is still in progress of development. Fifteen lessons are up and running with interactive exercises.

The grammar is totally free. No fees. No ads. Just read, play, and enjoy!
http://greek-language.com/grammar

A New Look for Greek-Language.com

A couple of months ago, I radically redesigned Greek-Language.com. I reorganized and expanded the material and gave the site a much sleeker feel.

My aim was not simply to make the site prettier, but to make it more user-friendly and open up the possibility for serious expansion in the near future. The site already receives close to 2000 unique visits each day, and I would like to make it more useful to those who already visit it while also offering services for students of Hellenistic Greek who do not currently use the site.

Let me know what you think of the new look and what you would like to see added.

What should be in a web-based introductory grammar?

Introductory Greek grammars have been available on the web for some time now, but several are simply web versions of what is available in print, or are the notes of a Greek teacher presenting his or her favorite sequence and wording of what is already available in print.

What should be different about a web based grammar? What would you like to see in a web based grammar that you do not already find in a printed textbook?

I ask these questions for a concrete reason. I would like to add an introductory Greek course to Greek-Language.com. I want to make it a truly native web experience, containing interactive exercises, reading passages, etc. What features would you like to see it include?

Greek Verb Phrase?

I would like to thank Michael Aubrey for his comments on the the lack of usefulness of the category VP (Verb Phrase) for describing Ancient Greek. In particular, he challenged some comments that I made in Levels of Constituent Structure for New Testament Greek (1995).

This is, of course, the way to advance the field. As we each examine the claims of our colleagues and submit them to scrutiny, we move the discussion forward.

The comments I made about the Greek VP in 1995 were part of a larger argument for the existence of phrase-level categories in general. While I am still firmly committed to the usefulness of the syntactic category Phrase in general, I have never been particularly committed to the usefulness of VP in particular for addressing the phrase structure of Ancient Greek.

In the years since 1995 I have come increasingly to view the syntax of Ancient Greek as determined by the argument structure of verbs—verbs and the phrases demanded by their lexico-semantic properties. This view does not necessarily require the category Verb Phrase, though postulating the existence of such phrases may eventually prove useful.

As for Aubrey’s objection that the subject appearing between the verb and one of its subsequent arguments (specifically a PP in the examples he cites), the objection works only if you discount the possibility of verb movement. He is probably right, but it’s not as obvious as it might seem.

Thank you, Michael, for your thoughts and research on this issue. I look forward to reading more.