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Studies in Greek Language & Linguistics…

Paul Kay’s remembrance of Charles Fillmore

The linguist Charles Fillmore passed away last week. There was an excellent post on the Language Log last week from Ben Zimmer conveying the news: Charles J. Fillmore, 1929-2014. I would encourage all of you to read it and the excellent account of Fillmore’s life and contributions. I know many of the people who read my blog are more in the field of biblical studies than linguistics, but you should know that if any of you have made even a cursory step into to linguistics, you have been influenced by Fillmore’s scholarship whether you’re aware of it or not.

And today, Paul Kay, a colleague and friend of Fillmore has written another account of his legacy, also posted on the Language Log:

Charles J. Fillmore

He is a scholar and linguist worth remembering. Maybe take some time today to read some Construction Grammar. Fillmore, Kay, & O’Conner’s seminal article, which argues that syntactic structure is more complicated and less compositional than standard generative accounts might suggest, that the meaning of a sentence is more than merely the sum of its parts:

Some notes on Ἐργάζομαι & Middle Voice

Ἐργάζομαι is a bit of a difficult verb to deal with in terms of voice. It’s perhaps the only verb that causes problems (at least at face value) after the rejection of deponency as a valid category for the Greek Voice System. Rutgar Allan categorizes it as an indirect middle (Allan 200, 54). That has always seemed a bit forced to me.

However, perhaps there’s some credence to it.

So here are some general notes about this particular verb:

  1. It’s primary sense “to work” is syntactically intransitive, so the traditional definition of deponency as “active in meaning middle-passive in form” is just wrong. There’s nothing “active” about intransitive verbs. Active as a label only applies to verbs that can be passivized. Intransitive verbs can’t. So from an English perspective (which is what the deponency perspective essentially is) ἐργάζομαι is has no voice.
  2. The secondary sense “to accomplish/do [something],” while transitive, is less transitive than it could be. All instances of ἐργάζομαι with an explicit object involve situations where the object is non-referential. That is, the object does not refer to a specific entity within the world of the text. So even this secondary sense that takes an object is not prototypically transitive. In line with that, when ἐργάζομαι takes an object, that object cannot be syntactically passivized and promoted to the position of subject in the clause. If ἐργάζομαι with an object ruly filled the role of “active in meaning” then that should in principle be possible, but that does not appear to be the case.
  3. When one examines the individual instances of ἐργάζομαι, its seems reasonably clear that the verb involves some the performance of an activity (this is, after all, an activity predicate) with a clear benefactive (or malafactive) sense for the subject. This is in line with the semantic category of subject affectedness that is involved in middle systems and also with the indirect middle usage for Greek.
  4. Lastly the fact that in the aorist ἐργάζομαι only allows sigmatic middle morphology rather than a θη middle suggests that it is necessarily either an indirect middle or direct middle. Those are the only middle categories in Koine Greek that still disallow θη morphology (the θη has make sporatic in roads into these two categories, but its not consistent or systematic in any way).

A few comments on grammatical terminology old and new

I know its regularly said by those whose background is in classics and the tradition of classical philology that much of linguistics today and its own set terminology creates a sort of ivory tower situation, where it is almost impossible to follow a discussion as an outsider. And I certainly do not doubt that this is true to some extant for many of the descriptive and theoretical frameworks commonly used in linguistics, particularly in the more structuralist traditions. This problem is one that I’ve tried to fight against where I can, attempting to sufficiently define terminology as often as possible and linking to accessible sources for definitions, such as the SIL glossary of linguistic terms or the Leipzig Glossing Rules and its “appendix” of category labels.

On the other hand, whenever I open up a standard Greek grammar that’s written in the classical tradition, I cannot help but recognize the exact opposite problem. For example, for a contract project I’ve been working on, I’ve spent a little time examining the difference between ού and μή, Greek’s two negative particles. Here’s an example of the kind of obtuse, generally useless description of these two:

The two principle negative adverbs are ού and μή. Οὐ is the objective negative and μή is the subjective. It is hard to say which is stronger. Ού is stronger because it is simple, straightforward and uncompromised. Μή is stronger because it has an underlying sense of passion and rejection. The fervour and unction of μή suits the tone of much expression in the literature of the Hellenistic and Roman ages. So μή tends to supplant ού in many of its uses at writing. Some irregular uses of μή in Classical times, which do not fit into the idiomatic pattern then prevailing, are doubtless to be explained by the touch of passion beginning to make μή  win out even in the earlier period. Another important facet of the meaning of μή is its appropriateness as a generic and so hypothetical negative. The idea of rejection it retains always, at least subliminally, can prevent an idea that is to say specifically, and so the suspended idea passes into the sphere of the typical or conditional.

Gary L. Cooper, Attic Greek Prose Syntax Vol  2., 1997.

The degree is nonsense in that quote is simply overwhelming. But I do not mean “nonsense” in that Cooper is wrong. No, most of the paragraph is fine, assuming one parses the actual proposition accurately (which may or may not be feasible). The nonsense is created by the sheer lack of well-defined terminology at all. What in the world does it mean for a negative to be “straightforward and uncompromised,” anyway? So much of this paragraph reads like filler solely designed to increase one’s word count. It certainly doesn’t help contribute to understanding the difference between ού and μή.

Here’s that same paragraph again with some commentary from me in bold bracketed text:

The two principle negative adverbs are ού and μή. Οὐ is the objective negative and μή is the subjective. [This is good and helpful. Now could we get a technical definition of what these two terms mean in relationship to negation?] It is hard to say which is stronger. [Stronger in what way?] Ού is stronger because it is simple, straightforward and uncompromised. [Yeah, no idea what that means…] Μή is stronger because it has an underlying sense of passion and rejection. [Well, “rejection” is something useful, at least etymologically, but passion? Other grammarians talk about μή being used to denote caution assertion, how does that relate to “passion”?]The fervour and unction of μή suits the tone of much expression in the literature of the Hellenistic and Roman ages. [This may be the first time I’ve see language change attributed to “unction.” Nice.] So μή tends to supplant ού in many of its uses at writing. Some irregular uses of μή in Classical times, which do not fit into the idiomatic pattern then prevailing, are doubtless to be explained by the touch of passion beginning to make μή win out even in the earlier period. [Which “irregular” uses are these? They’re never explicitly marked in the following detailed discussion?] Another important facet of the meaning of μή is its appropriateness as a generic and so hypothetical negative. [The term “hypothetical,” I can understand, but “generic”?  Exactly what makes μή “generic” and does that mean that ού, by implication is *not* “generic”?]The idea of rejection it retains always, at least subliminally [Yeah, I don’t but it], can prevent an idea that is to say specifically, and so the suspended idea passes into the sphere of the typical or conditional.

I hope that gives you a sense of the kind of things that go through my head when I’m reading traditional grammars. The nearly total lack of specificity  in terminology, definitions, and explanation is incredibly frustrating.

A brief comment on telicity and boundedness

I find it difficult to accept the analysis of the Ancient Greek perfect as proposed by Gero and Stechow (2003; LINK: 2002 prepub version), aside from the fact that I think they rely too heavily on the traditional categories of the English perfect, the larger issue is that they successfully survey thousands of years of data without any reference to telicity. I’m at a complete loss how one could do that, especially with a grammatical morpheme like the Greek perfect.

Their only mention of telicity at all is made in defining perfective aspect, where they claim that perfective aspect denotes the completion of an event. And even this does not hold. In as much as the perfective aspect refers to an event as a single entity without reference to duration, or iteration, the perfective aspect is bounded, but it is not inherently telic. Consider the sentences below in terms of how the first entails (or doesn’t) the second.

(1) John was walking in the park this morning –> John walked in the park this morning.
(2) John was walking to the park this morning –/–> John walked to the park this morning.

In sentence pair (a) The imperfective predicate in entails the perfective predicate. This is possible because while the perfective predicate is bound, it is not telic. Conversely, in sentence pair (b) the imperfective predicate does not entail the perfective predicate. There is no way of knowing from the imperfective predicate whether or not John successfully arrived at the park. An endpoint in an imperfective clause is only a potential endpoint with no entailment of its achievement.

All that to say, boundedness needs to be kept distinction from telicity. Boundedness is a feature of the perfective aspect. Telicity is not.*

*To be fair, there are a number of other aspectologists** that fail to make this distinction.
**Incidentally, the correct collective noun for referring to a group of aspectuologists is: “an iteration of aspectologists.”***
***Yes, I just made that up.

A brief comment on historiographical issues surrounding aspect

I just wanted to make this passing note. A few posts back, I presented my analysis of the 1882 edition of William Moulton’s translation of Winer’s Greek grammar. In that discussion, I made the observation that Porter had treated Moulton-Winer unfairly in his criticism of how certain usages of the Greek present imperfective are explained in the grammar. I won’t go back over the question here. My analysis is available in the link above (be sure to read the comments on the post, too).

All I want to say here is that I have now come to the conclusion that this is not an intentionally misrepresentation of Moulton-Winer on Porter’s part. That was driven home for me while rereading some of the papers in the JSNTSupp volumes from the 1990s. In his critique of Fanning’s position, he writes:

Fanning presents a revisionist view of the history of verbal aspect, going to great lengths to preserve the traditional categories and terminology. He stresses his belief that the comparative philologists of the nineteenth century were in actual fact discussing verbal aspect, even if they did not call it this or recognize it as such (Porter 1993, 36).

I hope it goes without saying that it is Porter’s view of the history that I view as revisionist, rather than Fanning. But the fact that Porter views Fanning’s literature review as “revisionist” goes an incredibly long way in explaining how Porter’s reading of Moulton-Winer (1882) arose.

So on that basis I do view Porter’s discussion of that grammar as an honest one. I just view it as wrong and poorly argued…and he would like say the same about my own. At this point, our “world-views” (for lack of a better term) are just so dramatically different.

Works cite:

Porter, S. E. 1993. “In Defence of Verbal Aspect.” Page 26-45 in Biblical Greek language and linguistics: Open questions in current research. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.

Winer, Georg B. and William F. Moulton. 1882. A Treatise on the Grammar of New Testament Greek. 3rd ed. Edinbugh: T & T Clark.

SBL Chicago 2012

I just read Chris Brady’s post about how he won’t be at SBL this year (SBL – I knew you well). That’s unfortunate, though I think no one can argue with his reason. With his daughter’s 15th birthday, he’s making the right move. I was one of those people who until SBL only knew him at Targuman. I had the pleasure of chatting with him while riding Atlanta’s public transit to the airport in 2010.

I, however, find my self in the opposite situation, in a sense. Because SBL is in Chicago, this will be the first time in at least six years that I’ll be able to wish my younger sister a happy birthday in person. I’m looking forward to that, though it also means that I have less free time during the conference than I would normally have, which means meeting fewer people who I only see at SBL for coffee. But like Chris, it’s definitely worth it.

On critiquing scholarship…

For the past couple years now, I’ve generally held back on criticizing other published works of others (with a few small exceptions). This has mainly because of pushback that I’ve gotten from people like Rod Decker on the question, who has pointed out a couple of times that perhaps my lack of experience with the publishing of articles and books (and for that matter, my lack of a doctorate–Dr. Decker has pointed that one out to me, too) makes me slightly more negative in my criticism than I should be. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve probably gone too far on a couple of occasions in the past.

That’s fair. I’ve mostly accepted it, while also feeling as if much of what has been published about Koine and New Testament Greek under the name “modern linguistics” wouldn’t past peer-review in were it published in the field of linguistics rather than biblical studies. But I’ve refrained from articulating 99% those criticism here. And lately, I’ve been focused on actually producing substantive and useful discussions on this blog. That’s been one of my goals in surveying how old grammars deal with tense and aspect on their own terms and my work on enclitic pronouns as well. And it’s why I haven’t written much commenting or reviewing recent publications on tense and aspect in Greek for quite some time. I’d rather be known for positive contributions. I’m trying…really.

With all that in mind, I finally got around to reading Porter’s contribution to D. A. Carson’s festschrift: Understanding the times. He really, really goes after Con Campbell. And I mean really go after him.* It’s nearly as bad as the “uncharitable rant” against Kurt and Barabara Aland in Biblical Greek language and lexicography.

Is this standard I’m supposed to live up to in my non-Ph.D. state?

*And that’s actually really strange. Campbell is one of the few published scholars who has expressed significant agreement with Porter’s tenseless view of the Greek verbal system. Surely he would want to coordinate with his allies rather than tear them down–a few of the criticism Porter makes involve issues where Campbell was attempting to justify the tenseless view as theoretically plausible. A very odd state of affairs, indeed.

The SBL Sessions Schedule: Linguists get the short of the end stick again

The same thing happened last year. If you’re a linguist, you get screwed by scheduling conflicts. Maybe this is just what happens when a conference that incorporates linguistics as a side discipline is then organized by people who know nothing about linguistics or what linguists are interested in dialoguing about with colleagues. The thinking of the organizers must be something like this:

  1. Linguists interested in Greek aren’t interested in cognitive linguistics.
  2. Linguists interested in Hebrew aren’t interested in cognitive linguistics.
  3. Linguists interested in translation aren’t interested in Greek.
  4. Linguists interested in lexicography aren’t interested in the Septuagint (okay, so that one is more personal, but there’s a linguistic paper in the IOSCS session)
  5. And let’s not even try to see how text textual criticism relates to all of this. Because such a language-oriented discipline would have no interest to linguists either!

So this year (again) I’ve got a good dozen overlapping sessions that I’m interested in attending. And they’re virtually all bunched up on Monday, with the exception of a couple on Sunday early afternoon (which are opposed to each other). Nothing on Sunday Morning. Nothing on Saturday at all.

Why does SBL hate me?

Logos Bible Software 5 is Here

Logos Bible Software has released the new version of their flagship project: Logos 5.

It incorporates some massive changes in datasets and built in resources while keeping much of the user experience quite similar to Logos 4. I had originally intended to have a useful post ready this evening surveying how tools for studying Greek have changed and have been improved, but prior commitments in thesis writing and a couple other undisclosed Greek projects have held me back. So that’s still in process right now (sorry). Ideally, it will be up by tomorrow. We’ll see.

The most exciting thing about Logos 5, in my opinion, is all the effort they have put into meaningful access to content. It isn’t about searching a massive number of books any more. It’s about finding useful information for specific questions. It’s about making the semantic web real within Logos. The Bible Sense Lexicon is an incredibly exciting project and a great example of creating structured and meaningful information and making it easily accessible.

I know a lot of people that work with languages at the same level I do (or higher) tend to be rather cynical about how tools for using Greek and Hebrew are present in Bible Software packages, but Logos also put significant effort into academic projects and they’re only able to do it because of the pastoral and layperson user base that they have to support such projects. Steve Runge’s Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament is an important example of this. Another is the SBLGNT. Personally, I’d rather work with them to improve how language study is done in the future than merely dismiss them. And, well, that’s what I have been doing and will continue to do so.

I’ll have more thoughts on Greek databases and changes and advancements in the coming few days (because there are some important ones), which is probably just fine. It looks like users are swamping Logos’ servers right now anyway…

Occasional Surveys in the History of Greek Grammar: G. B. Winer & William Moulton (1882)

Despite the production of other New Testament grammars, Winer’s work continued to hold the greatest influence throughout the century and by 1882, it was in its ninth English edition.[1] William Moulton’s contributions to the grammar grew consistently with each of his own editions/translations, though the basic organization continues to be the same. Most importantly, by the time of Moulton, the grammar is no longer the mere supplement that it was in 1825, and it is not merely a grammar of the New Testament, despite the title. The edition of 1882 is full of references, not only to the New Testament, but also to contemporary literary authors such as Appian & Pausanias and Classical authors like Xenophon. Moreover, the tenses are discussed in far more detail with a clear aim toward comprehensiveness. The goal of the grammar is no longer to merely be a supplement functioning along side a Classical Greek grammar.

It is also apparent that Moulton had access to the later German grammars such as Raphael Kühner’s based on some of the terms he uses. The aorist is a simple past and the narrative tense that contrasts with the imperfect and the pluperfect which “always have reference to subordinate events which stood related, in respect of time, with the principal event (as relative tenses).”[2] The perfect functions as a relative tense “and represents an action as a complete one, in relation to the present time.[3] The addition of the concept of relative tenses here suggests that, at least to some degree, Moulton viewed Kühner’s model as an advancement in their understanding the interaction of temporal location and temporal constituency—to borrow Comrie’s turn of phrase for the categories of tense and aspect, respectively.

In terms of usage, Moulton drives home the point of Winer that tenses do not stand in for one another and his examples reflect similar patterns we found in other grammars: the so-called peculiar usages reflect extra verbal linguistic factors, such as the “procedural characteristics” described by Fanning.[4] Of course this is not how Moulton expresses it. Rather, he writes,

Strictly and properly speaking, no one of these tenses can ever stand for another … where such an interchange seems to exist, either it exists in appearance only, there being in point of fact some assignable reason (especially of a rhetorical kind) why this tense is used and no other; or else it must be ascribed to a certain inexactness belonging to the popular language, through which the relation of time was not conceived and expressed with perfect precision.[5]

When we recognize the dramatic difference in context terminologically between 1882 and the present, a few things become apparent. It seems reasonable to take a statement “reason[s] … of a rhetorical kind” as being roughly to modern day pragmatics.[6] And the observation that spoken language is not particularly precise has only been confirmed and emphasized in contemporary linguistic research.[7]

Nonetheless, this is precisely the point Porter chooses to take issue with in his own survey.[8] To Porter’s credit, he chooses an excellent example: Matthew 26:2, provided below.

(1) οἴδατε ὅτι μετὰ δύο ἡμέρας τὸ πάσχα γίνεται, καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδίδοται εἰς τὸ σταυρωθῆναι.
You know that after two days the Passover takes place and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.

That the present only appears to function as a future confuses form and function, says Porter, because, “he does not say how that would differ from actually functioning futuristically.”[9] On the one hand, this is an extremely good point. Moulton-Winer says nothing about the difference between appearance and actual replacement, but Porter would do well to at least comment on the fact that Moulton provides a reason for the usage:

“It is used for the future in appearance only, when an action still future is to be represented as being as good as already present, either because it is already firmly resolved on, or because it must ensue in virtue of some unalterable law.”[10]

It may very well be true that Moulton does his readers a disservice by not explaining the mechanisms for the apparent replacement of forms. That is not an unreasonable criticism. At the same time, however, Porter does his own readers a disservice by not telling the entire story on this particular point. Moulton’s discussion is far more nuanced than Porter lets on in his critique of Moulton-Winer. Porter selectively quotes Moulton-Winer here, proving only the beginning the statement above, “It is used for the future in appearance only…”[11]. He does not quote Moulton’s actual explanation of the usage at all. Even worse, Porter does not even provide the ellipsis marking that he’s quoting an incomplete sentence. At best this is a horribly unfortunate editorial error, at its worse, this could possibly be viewed as a somewhat manipulative move to slant Porter’s readers toward a particular view of the Greek verb.

It is precisely this kind of discussion of the old grammarians that motivated these occasional studies: to give the old grammarians a fair hearing of their views in this historical contexts. A grammar is a communicative act to a particular audience. Minimally, Moulton would likely be able to defend himself on this point by saying that he lived one hundred years before any sort of adequate theory of the mechanisms of semantics had been developed, but it also is not unreasonable to assume that Moulton had full capacity to give sufficient explanation, even without the kinds of explicit theoretical frameworks that linguistics work within today. William Moulton and G. B. Winer may not have articulated their views of the Greek tenses in the same manner that is done today, but the reasons they give for their grammatical claims make it quite clear that they understood the language extremely well.


[1] Georg B Winer and William F. Moulton, A Treatise on the Grammar of New Testament Greek, 3rd ed. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1882). The 3rd edition in the title refers to Moulton’s third edition—the spine of the volume lists both numbers: 3rd edition and 9th English Edition.

[2] Ibid., 331.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Fanning, Verbal Aspect, 126ff.

[5] Winer and Moulton, Treatise , 331.

[6] Pragmatics, as opposed to semantics: how language is used rather than how language means, though where one ends and the other begins is far from clear, particularly since, in a sense, all meaning in language arises from usage of language. See Taylor, Linguistic Categorization, 132-134.

[7] Indeed, the idea of perfectly precise semantics likely disappeared with the end of logical positivism.

[8] That is, this is the issue Porter takes issue with beyond his standard disparaging remarks about how these old grammars take an out of date “time based” view of the tenses—a criticism that is, itself, quite unfair.

[9] Porter, Verbal Aspect, 51.

[10] Winer and Moulton, Treatise , 331.

[11] Porter, Verbal Aspect, 51.

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