Choosing a Thesis Topic

Deciding what to write my thesis on has become a greater challenge than I might have anticipated. There are a number of subjects that tempt me, but I find each, in some way, inadequate.

Here’s a brief list:

  1. The Syntax of the Hellenistic Greek Noun Phrase
  2. The Greek Pronominal System: An Analysis of Its Morphology and Meaning
  3. A Comparison of Role and Reference Grammar and Lexical Functional Grammar with Reference to Hellenistic Greek:
  4. Predicate Types & Verbal Semantics in Hellenistic Greek

As you can see my ideas move from focused closely on Greek itself to broader linguistic theory with quite a bit in the middle too.

Here’s a list of why I wouldn’t want to write on each of them:

  1. I’ve already written quite a bit on the NP on my blog. While that might make writing a thesis easier, I would feel as if I’m doing something I’ve already done.
  2. I have some ideas about how to treat pronouns as a unified system rather than disassociated parts with little reference to the others that we see in grammars, but its the idea that I’m probably least interested in writing about for a thesis.
  3. Differences between linguistic frameworks fascinate me. LFG and RRG are two frameworks that don’t often get compared to each other and doing such a comparison would be profitable to the broader linguistic literature, but would hold very little value for those who are interested primarily in Greek and that makes me unsure of the idea–though this idea would probably require at least writing a partial grammar sketch covering a good chunk of the grammar of the language in the formalisms of both frameworks. This, by itself, might be useful to others beyond linguistics or could provide a basis for moving forward on a larger grammar project (which I intend to do at some point–and in some ways I’ve already started it).
  4. I have a comfortable grasp of tense and aspect in Greek, but larger issues of verbal semantics where tense and aspect intersect with other categories such as lexical semantics are things that I’m less sure of. This, by itself, is extremely tempting for me and in many ways makes this idea that most attractive one much of the time.  T. V. Evans and Buist Fanning both touch on the questions I’d be interested in, but treat them in a manner that I find entirely inadequate, while also holding that what they’ve done is the necessary way forward for understanding the Greek verb. BUT aspect has been written about so much lately that I fear I’d be beating a dead horse. Part of me is so completely sick of people writing about aspect that other times, this is the last thing I’d want to write about.

Anyway, feedback or comments are welcome. This is a big question for me and I’d like to move forward on the question soon.

6 thoughts on “Choosing a Thesis Topic

  1. Choosing a thesis topic

    I assume you are choosing a masters level thesis topic, not a Ph.D. level thesis topic.
    I also assume that you are open to the idea of doing a Ph.D. thesis some time in the future.

    1. The syntax of the hellenistic Greek NP.
    You indicate that you think that you have done enough on this subject. I would like to suggest that that may not be the case. It is one thing to study a subject to the satisfaction of yourself, it is totally different and more demanding to study a subject, and present your findings in a manner that satisfies other people, who hold different views. Writing a thesis is an exercise in two things. 1. Scientific rigour. 2. Communication. I have not read you posts well enough and long enough to be able to comment on number one, but it is quite plausible that writing a blog is not done with the same scientific rigour as writing a thesis. And I think we all can benefit from learning to communicate better with those, who hold opposing views.

    2. I have no comments on this.

    3. RRG and LFG. I would keep this for the Ph.D. dissertation.

    4. Verbal semantics.
    This is a huge subject. I think there is not enough room in a masters level thesis to deal with this topic adequately. I would keep this for the Ph.D. dissertation.

    One more note: the thesis writing is for your benefit, for your growth, not for the benefit for those who read it. Masters level thesis are not read by people. If more than 5 people read your thesis, that is more than average. So, my suggestion to you is that, please do not choose a topic for the benefit of others. Choose a topic for the benefit of yourself. What will you get out of that process? How will the topic make you a better researcher? How will it help you on your path to become a scientist? And remember, it is not wrong to choose a topic that is easy for you. Actually, is it wise to do so.

    Thus, FWIW, I would recommend number 1.

    Yours,
    Kari

  2. You indicate that you think that you have done enough on this subject.

    If that is what I conveyed, it was unintentional. What I’ve written on NP syntax thus far totals about 75 pages. Some of it has been posted here, but none of it is in a standard blogging for and reads far more like an article or paper — and indeed, I have every intention of submitting parts of it for publication as a journal article or two. In terms of length, I’m only 5,000 words or so short of having a thesis length document. At times I’ve considered simply appending a literature review to the beginning and I’d have a very nice paper. My analysis comprehensive for a corpus of roughly 1 million words. The main reason that I wouldn’t want to do #1 is that it would be of the least personal benefit for me.

    As for ideas 3 & 4, those are the two that I’m leaning toward currently, ironically. I should clarify that #4 is significantly narrower than I presented it in the single noun phrase: “Predicate Types & Verbal Semantics in Hellenistic Greek.” The focus would be on Aktionsart classes following Vendler, Dowty, and Van Valin. Number 3, in my mind, would consist of writing two short grammar sketches roughly the size of a sketch one would write for a field methods class: 30-45 pages on the basis of a limited number of texts. These would then be compared in terms of how the two frameworks represented the language.

    Of these four, this one with #3 are the topics that I would derive the most benefit in terms of my understanding of Greek and linguistic theory. And the fact that you would recommend both as PhD theses, only makes the writing of one of them now only more attractive. Most people don’t get to write 2 dissertations.

  3. Mike,

    For an MA thesis, choose the topic that provides you with the best education. I think an MA thesis can be less audience-centered and thus agree with Kari that few people will likely read it. I think #3 would fit this category.

    However, your PhD thesis should be more audience-centered, at least, if you want to get an academic job. Therefore, you must decide who your audience is. If you audience is primarily Classicists and Greek grammarians, then #3 would be very poor while #4 might become well read. If your audience is the general linguistics field, then the reverse is true.

    By way of personal anecdote, my own thesis (a generative study of the relative clause in biblical Hebrew) made me look *very* narrow on the job market, even for my current position. Subsequent publications — and especially broad teaching experience — helped and I’ve never regretted my choice, but the 5 years on the job market was a bit painful …

    By the way, please email me so we can discuss something off-line: robert[dot]holmstedt[at]utoronto[dot]ca.

  4. I would like to encourage you to consider narrowing #4 (Predicate Types & Verbal Semantics in Hellenistic Greek) for your masters thesis, and saving the full discussion for your Ph.D., if that’s where you’re headed. Your masters thesis could focus on one particular predicate type, for example.

    The issue of verbal semantics is huge, as both you and Kari are aware. It is an area that will continue to invite publication for some time to come. Using your masters thesis as a learning experience in this area could prepare you well to later produce a dissertation that would be well worthy of publication. It would be a benefit both to you and to the larger community of Greek students and linguists.

    1. My main interest in #4 would be to challenge the claims by Fanning & Evans that the syntactic tests put forward by Dowty and others for determining Aktionsart Classes/Predicate Types do not work for Greek. They make the assertion, but give little to back it up. What’s worse is that they continue in their analysis attempting to classify predicates on the basis of translation glosses–which is exactly what Dowty was trying to avoid by proposing syntactic tests.

      If I wrote my thesis on this, I would be testing that claim by Fanning and Evans and if it proved true, attempt to suggest syntactic tests that *do* work or if proved false, then show how that is the case.

      The possibility of looking at only one type of predicate didn’t seem very possible to me simply because I would need to go through all the work of determining what verbs belonged to my particular class before I could actually look at that class in detail.

      So I guess in my mind, were I to chose this for my thesis now, I would limit myself to Fanning and Evan’s claim and then a PhD would focus on providing a more comprehensive analysis.

  5. That’s a fantastic way of limiting the topic, Mike. And it’s also a great thesis idea. If you write it, it will be one of those rare Masters Theses that actually DOES get read by more than a handful of people. If you have a good mechanism (theoretical perspective?) for approaching this task of challenging the assumptions of two previous scholars and can keep your argument clear, showing solid syntactic reasons to support your challenge, you should go for it!

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