A colleague recently ask me about Biraud’s treatment of determiners in Ancient Greek and its implications for the DP hypothesis (Determiner Phrase hypothesis). I had not seen the book in over a decade, so I put my colleague off until I could find a copy. I found one in a nearby library and it seems to confirm my vague recollection that Biraud (despite the sound of the title to English speakers) was not really discussing the issue that falls under the term “determiner” in English Linguistics.

Here’s the description of the book from its back cover along with my feeble translation. I am not fluent in French. In fact, I’ve never had a French class. What I can read in French is entirely self-taught, so the translation I provide after the French text is certainly open to debate! If you see any mistakes, please point them out, and I’ll make the necessary changes.

L’attique classique est riche en déterminants et la variéte des structures des groupes nominaux appelle une étude précise. A l’aide de quelques principes simples de description, empruntés pour la syntaxe à l’analyse distributionnelle, et pour la sémantique plus librement inspirés par diverses théories, l’auteur montre que cette diversité se laisse réduire à un système de quelques règles aux implications multiples, dont les écrivains anciens ont exploité toutes les possibilités expressives. Sont abordés en cours d’étude plusieurs problèmes de linguistique générale, pour certains desquels sont esquissées des solutions originales (le statut des déterminants d’identité es d’altérité, une possible hiérarchisation de la structure du syntagme nominal en fonction des apports déterminatifs…).

Ainsi non seulement cet ouvrage peut-il donner aux hellénistes une vision plus claire d’une question sacrifiée dans les grammaires alors qu’un mot sur six dans les textes est un déterminant, mais il peut aussi présenter quelque intérêt pour des linguistes curieux des résultats d’une approche systématique de la détermination en grec ancien et des probèmes qu’elle soulève.

Classical attic is rich in modifiers and the variety of the structures of noun phrases calls for a precise study. Using a few simple principles of description, borrowed from syntax for distributional analysis, and more freely inspired by various theories for semantics, the author shows that this diversity can be reduced to a system of a few rules with several implications, of which the ancient writers have exploited all the expressive possibilities. Several problems of general linguistics are addressed in the course of the study, for some of which original solutions are outlined (the status of modifiers of identity and otherness, a possible hierarchy of the structure of the noun phrase according to the contributions of modifiers…).

Thus not only can this work give Hellenists a clearer view of a question ignored in grammars although one word out of six in the texts is a modifier, but it may also be of interest to linguists curious about the results of a systematic approach to modification in ancient Greek and the problems it raises.

[Any mistakes in the translation are entirely my fault! Don’t blame Biraud!]

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.

Mike Aubrey’s Masters Thesis

Mike Aubrey has uploaded his anxiously awaited thesis to

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

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.

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 on this topic. If nothing is available for the hellenistic period, I’ll add Fauconnier’s article.

The Representation of Speech Events in Chariton’s Callirhoe and the Acts of the Apostles

I have just added Adrian Smith’s new book on Speech Events to the Comprehensive Bibliography of Hellenistic Greek Linguistics.

Two things about this book caught my attention. First, it is—as far as I know—the first book-length treatment of speech events in Hellenistic Greek. Second, it deals with two texts, one from the Greek New Testament, and the other from Hellenistic Greek outside the Christian canon. This is something I have longed to see for some time. We need to push our analyses of the language beyond the confines of the literature of our faith. If Smith’s proposals hold true for both early Christian texts and texts from the wider Hellenistic literature, he will have accomplished something of real note.

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.

The Change from SOV to SVO in Ancient Greek

I have added the following article by Ann Taylor to the bibliography at

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.

Rijksbaron: Syntax and Semantics of the Verb in Classical Greek

On March 1, Mike Aubrey commented about Rijksbaron’s book, “And this is just one book that should be on the shelf of every student of Ancient Greek.” It wasn’t on mine. So I bought a copy.

What a nice overview of the Classical Greek verbal system! I will have more to say about it later, but for now I’d just like to comment that I really like Rijksbaron’s integration of syntax and semantics, his clear discussion of how the semantic content of individual verbs influences the way such issues as verbal aspect play out in given contexts. He is conversant with current theory in both semantics, discourse theory, and syntax. He also has a very solid grasp of more traditional Greek grammar.

I second Mike’s recommendation.

See the book at Barnes and Noble.

Using Pinax and Django for Collaborative Corpus Linguistics (Greek)

If you are interested in web design and the possibilities it presents for collaborative work in Ancient Greek Linguistics, you must see James Tauber’s BibleTech2010 talk (embedded below). It’s almost an hour long, but well worth the time.

James begins by explaining Django, a core tool for managing basic functionality on a website. He then explains Pinax, a product that runs on top of Django to power much of the functionality of social networking sites. He finishes this discussion, though by presenting the possibilities of using this combination to power collaborative work in corpus linguistics, using Biblical Greek as his example.

He is developing precisely the kind of tools needed to do the lexicon project I have in mind. Here’s the talk. Feel free to comment on its implications for Greek Linguistics.

Using Pinax and Django For Collaborative Corpus Linguistics from James Tauber on Vimeo.