Syntax as Dependency Relations: Another Look at Opentext.org

Stanley Porter and Andrew Pitts describe Opentext.org’s approach to syntax as follows, “Syntax is understood in terms of dependency relations, clause types and complementation structure.” [1] Dependency Relations are relatively self-explanatory. In a given phrase, such as “the man,” the article “the” is in a dependency relationship with the noun “man.” In of itself, there is no problem with such an approach since such relationships tend to be expressed in all syntactic frameworks.

The challenge and problem for Opentext.org’s implementation of such relationships is the larger problem. Opentext.org divides syntactic constituents based on grammatical relations: Subjects, Objects (which they refer to as Complements), Predicators, and Adjuncts. Each of these four categories then provides the bases through which dependency relations are described. The dependent modifiers are divided into several more categories, including four types of modifiers: Specifier, Definer, Qualifier, and Relator.[2]

From these labels for the Opentext.org analysis, it becomes clear rather quickly that the syntactic distinctions being made in the database are purely semantic in nature. What is disturbing about this is that distinctions being made by these semantic labels say nothing about the structure and ordering of the phrases in which they appear. It is impossible to make distributional predictions about, say, where a Specifier can or cannot occur.

Little can be said about what binds the various words labeled with a given modifier type. What do Articles have to do with Prepositions? What about different types of Definers? The distribution of an adjective like κακός is markedly different than that of πάς. And yet no distinction is made between them in Opentext.org.

The problem can be seen even more clearly when we attempt to examine the distribution of the various semantic categories provided by Opentext.org Can Specifiers appear before Definers? Yes. Can they occur after Definers? Yes. The same is true of Specifiers and Relators, Specifiers and Qualifiers, and every other pair of modifier types.

To put it quite frankly, there is no empirical basis in the Greek language for these categories as defined and implemented by Opentext.org to describe the word order or structure of Greek phrases.

So exactly how is this a beneficial way of describing Greek syntax when the categories used say nothing about Greek syntax?


[1] Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts, “New Testament Greek Language and Linguistics in Recent Research,” Currents in Biblical Research 6(2008): 214-55, 234.

[2] The Opentext.org Syntactically Analyzed Greek New Testament Glossary provides the following definitions for these terms (abbreviated here). A Modifier is “any word contained in a word group that is not a head term.”

“A Specifier is a modifier that classifies or identifies the word it modifies. Common examples of specifiers are articles, e.g. ἡ ἀδελφή, and prepositions, e.g. ἐν δόξη. In a prepositional phrase such as εἰς τὸν λόγον, both εἰς and τὸν are specifiers of λόγον.

A Definer is a modifier that attributes features to or further defines the word it modifies. Common examples of definers are adjectives (both attributive and predicative structure), appositional words or phrases, and adjectival clauses.

A Qualifier is a modifier that in some way limits or constrains the scope of the word it modifies. Common examples of qualifiers are words in the genitive and dative case, and also negative particles functioning at the word group level.

A Relator is a modifier which is specified by a preposition (i.e. the Relator is the object of a preposition) that modifies another element within the word group. For example, in the word group τὸ κατʼ ἐμὲ πρόθυμον, the term ἐμὲ is in a relator relationship with the head term πρόθυμον. This relationship only applies to prepositional phrases within word groups and not when the prepositional phrase functions as a clause component” (Stanley Porter, Matthew B. O’Donnell, Jeffery T. Reed, Randall Tan, and OpenText.org, The OpenText.org Syntactically Analyzed Greek New Testament Glossary (Bellingham, Wash.: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2006), n.p.

3 thoughts on “Syntax as Dependency Relations: Another Look at Opentext.org

  1. An all too typical outcome of academic Linguistics as “Tower of Babel”: “When in doubt as to what to call it, use jargon.” The old Latin proverb is “obscurum per obscurius”: something like, “Explain what is unintelligible by pointing to what is arcane.”

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