Syntactic Markers for Pragmatic Meanings

I spent a good amount of time today looking through references where Robertson talks about postpositive conjunctions appearing in the wrong place:

(i) Postpositives. A number of words are always postpositive in Greek. In the N. T. ἄν, γάρ, γε, δέ, μέν, μέντοι, οὖν, τε never begin a sentence, in harmony with ancient Greek usage. These words commonly in the N. T. come in the second place, always so with μέντοι (Jo. 4:27, etc.). In the case of μέν the third place is occasionally found as 1 Pet. 2:4, the fourth as 2 Cor. 10:1, the fifth in Eph. 4:11; Jo. 16:22, or even the sixth in Jas. 3:17. It occupies the seventh place in Herm. Sim. viii, 5:1 (Mr. H. Scott has noted). In general these words vary in position according to the point to be made in relation to other words. So also οὖν is more commonly in the second, but varies to the third (Jo. 16:22) and fourth (1 Cor. 8:4). The same remark applies to γάρ, for which see Mk. 1:38; 2 Cor. 1:19. As to δέ, it may not only go to the fourth place (Jo. 8:16), but even appears in the fifth (1 Jo. 2:2), οὐ περὶ τῶν ἡμετέρων δέ. It stands in the sixth place in Test. XII. Patr. Judah, 9:1 (Mr. H. Scott reports).
A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Logos, 1919; 2006), 424.

Looking through the references, there were some interesting patterns:

Mark 1:38 (UBS4)
[FOC: εἰς τοῦτο] γὰρ ἐξῆλθον.

John 16:22 (UBS4)

22 [καὶ [TOP: ὑμεῖς] οὖν νῦν μὲν λύπην ἔχετε·]

1 Corinthians 8:4 (UBS4)

4 [Περὶ [FOC: τῆς βρώσεως]] οὖν [τῶν εἰδωλοθύτων], οἴδαμεν ὅτι οὐδὲν εἴδωλον ἐν κόσμῳ καὶ ὅτι οὐδεὶς θεὸς εἰ μὴ εἷς.

2 Corinthians 10:1 (UBS4)

[[TOP:ὃς] [FOC: κατὰ πρόσωπον] μὲν ταπεινὸς ἐν ὑμῖν]

1 Peter 2:4 (UBS4)

4 [[FOC: ὑπὸ ἀνθρώπων] μὲν ἀποδεδοκιμασμένον]

1 John 2:2 (UBS4)

2 καὶ αὐτὸς ἱλασμός ἐστιν περὶ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν, [οὐ [FOC: περὶ τῶν ἡμετέρων] δὲ [μόνον]]

I looked through some others too that I searched for. Not all of them are focused. Some are topics, but the majority are contrastive in either case. It seems that postpositives that are not in the right place are significant, which Robertson himself notes in passing in the quote above when he write, “In general these words vary in position according to the point to be made in relation to other words.”

Anyway, I thought it was interesting and decided to pass it on. Corrections or observations are welcome as usual.

8 thoughts on “Syntactic Markers for Pragmatic Meanings

  1. (1) The last thing in the world that your title led me to expect in this blog entry was Postpositives; I wondered if this had something to do with the phrase that Steve R. had recently discussed, “syntactic force.”
    (2) I’ve never supposed that a postpositive must be the second word but rather that it must follow the first unit of expression — which might well be a phrase.

  2. (1) I’m full of surprises!

    (2) Either way, the definite tendency is for postpositives to be in the second position, enough so that its worth asking “Why?” when they do not.

  3. “Either way, the definite tendency is for postpositives to be in the second position, enough so that its worth asking “Why?” when they do not.” Again I say that’s because the first “word” may be an expression that is a whole phrase (it’s perhaps worth noting that the Greek “word” λόγος doesn’t mean “word” in the sense of the atomic unit of speech but rather a unitary meaningful expression or statement. I’m reminded of the really silly argument against Mark 16:8 being the original ending of Mark’s gospel: it was claimed that a Greek sentence could not end with γάρ. But of course the γάρ could not have appeared any earlier in the verse ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ, unless by some weird and inappropriate sort of illegitimate tmesis: ἐ- γὰρ -φοβοῦντο. How many words is ἐφοβοῦντο? Surely there’s something arbitrary in calling it one word, although it is certainly a unitary serial utterance.

  4. Well, there’s the difference between us. I was never using your definition of “word.” So I agree with you in that respect, but the post above never claimed such a definition.

    As the ending of Mark, I have no problem with a one word sentence ending with γαρ and never have. I also don’t think that saying ἐφοβοῦντο is one word is arbitrary. As far as I can tell, the rules of syntax operate separately from the rules of morphology – i.e. we can tell what’s a word (especially in Greek) because while order is “free” for words, the order of morphemes is extremely strict. I’m only aware of one language that has been claimed to have “free morpheme ordering” – my wife showed me the discussion last week actually. And as you might expect, the claim and the evidence for the claim are being hotly debated.

  5. Of course I wasn’t serious about ἐφοβοῦντο being a single “word.” I was serious about unitary expressions that are phrases taking the postpositive after them. For instance in 2 Cor 10:1 ὃς κατὰ πρόσωπον μὲν ταπεινὸς ἐν ὑμῖν, ἀπὼν δὲ θαρρῶ εἰς ὑμᾶς, note that μὲν and δὲ follows directly upon the two items that are antithetical κατὰ πρόσωπον and ἀπὼν (they are postpositive to the elements that they underscore as antithetical); and in John 16:22 καὶ ὑμεῖς οὖν νῦν μὲν λύπην ἔχετε· πάλιν δὲ ὄψομαι ὑμᾶς, note that μὲν follows upon νῦν, while the δὲ follows upon πάλιν, so that the postpositives follow immediately upon the words the antithesis of which they underscore.

  6. Oh shoot. I had meant to take 2 Cor 10:1 out. I had meant to avoid referring to μεν, but I guess I missed one. The verses were copy and pasted from another document.

    I was specifically thinking of γαρ, δε, and ουν.

  7. Greek may have a definite distinction between syntax and morphology such that there is no doubt what is a word (although there is an exception in crasis, i.e. words like κἀγω). But there is not such a hard distinction in some other languages e.g. Turkish, in which postpositions etc are commonly joined to the ends of words (actually that’s a bit like Greek prepositions eldiding and even changing their consonants before words beginning with vowels) and, perhaps more strangely to those brought up on Indo-European languages, case endings and plural markers are added to a whole noun phrase and not (or less commonly) to individual nouns within them.

  8. That’s true, Peter, there is a definite difference between phonological words and grammatical words in Greek, so much that many of the prepositions act as clitics in a number of situations (some Russian prepositions do the same, yes? va -> v or f).

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