Review: The Noun Phrase in Ancient Greek-Part II

A Review of The Noun Phrase in Ancient Greek: A Functional Analysis of the Order and Articulation of NP Constituent in Herodotus by Stephanie Bakker.[1]

  • Hardcover: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Brill (2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9004177221
  • ISBN-13: 978-9004177222
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 0.9 inches
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Part I (LINK) this review provides a summary of the book as a whole and Part II provides critique and praise of the volume’s strengths and weaknesses.

1. Analysis & Comment

1.1 Disappointments

I take issue with a couple points of Bakker’s discussion in Part 1. None of which are peripheral to her analysis. First of all, I find inadequate her treatment of saliency as the central defining fact for determining modifier position in the NP. Bakker does not take us terribly far beyond the traditional approach of emphasis—at least not as much as I would have hoped. The problem lies in the fact that Bakker’s perspective on how far pragmatics can take us in the analysis of Ancient Greek:

“In contrast to H. Dik’s (1997: 57) confident words that recent interested in pragmatics ‘equipped us with a better theoretical apparatus to handle many finer distinctions formerly subsumed under the term “emphasis”, which Dover (1960: 32-34) had shown to be susceptible to misuse, I would like to point out that despite our broader knowledge of pragmatics, part of Dover’s criticism remains valid, even if we, as H. Dik proposes, replace ‘emphasis’ by ‘focus’. Whether we use the non-theoretical term emphasis or the more well-founded term focus, in both case the assignment of a pragmatic function in a written text of a dead language is a perilous undertaking … Furthermore, the replacement of the term emphasis by focus does not remove the danger of circularity, which may arise if we interpret our data according to the principle we want to establish and subsequently use these interpretations as evidence for the principle” (32).

With these words in mind, it seems clear to me that Bakker has not recognized that Focus, by itself, has not replaced Emphasis, a fact that is the pervasive throughout Part 1. The problem is that the term “emphasis” is too broad a category covering a several semantic and pragmatic functions. And to the extent that Bakker does nothing more than replace the word “emphasis” with “saliency,” she has not moved the things forward as much as she could have. Salience is just as broad and just as problematic as “Emphasis” was when Dover wrote in 1960.[2] Pragmatics does equip us with a better theoretical apparatus to handle many finer distinctions. Unfortunately, Bakker has not fully taken advantage of them. The central question she does not ask is, “What are the pragmatic causes of ‘salience’?”

Secondly, it is not clear that Bakker includes any sense of basic or default word order within the NP. What does the word order within the NP look like when all the modifiers are neutral? Her approach of gradual salience requires salience to always be present and always be influencing the position of both the modifiers and the head noun.[3] Is there a neutral word order within the Greek NP? My own studies in Hellenistic Greek suggest that there is. Across a corpus of Josephus, Philo, the New Testament, the Apostolic Fathers, and the Septuagint, there is only one place where πᾶς appears between its head noun and an adjective in what could be interpreted as single NP.[4] In contrast, there are many, many more instances of the order Noun-Adjective-Quantifier.[5] My claim is that in term of post-nominal modification, modifiers will follow Rijkoff’s predictions that Quality modifiers appear closest to the noun, followed by Quantity, followed by Location.[6] This is represented in examples (1) and (2).

(1) Post-nominal modifiers are unmarked and thus follow semantics: Noun-Arguments-Quality-Quantity-Location-Discourse.[7]

(2) Pre-nominal modifiers are marked and thus follow pragmatic factors, including salience, which should be viewed as a generalizing feature that subsumes a number of different pragmatic and information structure functions.

Now one might suggest that Hellenistic Greek, in contrast to the Attic/Ionic Greek of the Classical Period, had simply developed a more rigid and typologically predictable order in order to accommodate the vast number of new non-native speakers gained during the Hellenistic period, but I argue that Bakker’s own examples of πᾶς, contrary to her own claims, do in fact follow Rijkoff’s predictions. Consider examples (3-5) below.[8]

(3) Ἑκαταῖος δ’ ὁ λογοποιὸς πρῶτα μὲν οὐκ ἔα πόλεμον βασιλὲϊ τῷ Περσέων ἀναιρέεσθαι, καταλέγων τά τε ἔθνεα πάντα τῶν ἦρχε Δαρεῖος καὶ τὴν δ΄θναμιν αὐτοῦ·
Hekataios the historian first advised that they should not make war on the king of Persia listing all the nations subject to Dareios (lit. the nations all of which Dareios ruled) and all his power. (Hdt. 5.36.2)

(4) (…) μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα τὸν χρυσὸν ἅπαντα τὸν ἐκ τοῦ ἄστεος καὶ τὸν ἄργυρον ἔσπειρε ἀπὸ τοῦ τε΄΄ιχεος ἐς τὸν Στρυμόνα (…)
(…) after that, he took all the gold and silver from the city (lit. the gold all the from the city and the silver) and scattered it from the walls into the Strymon (…). (Hdt. 7.107.2)

(5) (…) ὅς μεμφόμενος Ἀμάσι ἔπρηξε ταῦτα ὅτι μιν ἐξ ἁπάντων τῶν ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ ἰητρῶν ἀποστάσας ἀπὸ γυναικὸς τε καὶ τέκνων ἔκδοτον ἐποίησε ἐς Πέρσας, (…)
(…), who advised it out of resentment against Amasis, that out of all the Egyptian physicians (lit. all the in Egypt (…). (Hdt. 3.1.1)

All three of these examples have πᾶς in the noun phrase in question. Example (3) has a post-nominal πᾶς followed by a relative clause[9] and example (4) has a locative prepositional phrase. Under the view stated above that post-nominal modifiers are basic and consistently follow Rijkhoff’s model, we rightly see ordering: ἔθνεα (Noun) πάντα (Quantity) τῶν ἦρχε Δαρεῖος (Location) and χρυσὸν (Noun) ἅπαντα (Quantity) τὸν ἐκ τοῦ ἄστεος (Location). Finally, in example (5), we find ἁπάντων appearing and thus in a marked position in the NP. In such cases, Bakker’s salience rule is perfectly acceptable (with the caveats about the need a better theoretical apparatus above).

There are a few other minor quibbles, but those will always exist.[10] These two are the main ones and really only apply to Part 1 of the book. Part 2 is generally excellent and should be required reading by all students of Ancient Greek.

1.2 Praise & Highlights

In order to balance out my criticisms on part 1, I want to also make some comments as to Bakker’s valuable contributions in her Part 1 on the NP word order. Her proposal for adding to Rijkhoff’s model a layer appearing closest to the noun for nominal arguments (i.e. genitive modifiers) is most welcome and parallels identically my own observations about genitives in NPs. In fact, why Rijkhoff’s model did not already have such a layer is somewhat perplexing to me, particularly since the Role and Reference Grammar adaption of the original research for his dissertation in 1992[11] did introduce just such a layer five years before his revised and published edition came out in 2002.[12] I applaud Bakker’s inclusion of such a layer and I hope that her work on this issue influences future studies in Functional Grammar.

Perhaps even more significantly, at least for those of us who have chosen the study of Ancient Greek as our focus, is the entirety of Part 2. Bakker’s description and analysis of NP articulation is ground breaking. After having already a discussion of definiteness in another monograph in the past year that was incredibly disappointing,[13] seeing Bakker’s approach and the effort she put into her work was a sweet delight. Her survey of definitions and its relationship to cognition and identifiability in the presentation of participants in terms of “frames” and “schemata” should be required reading for all professors who teach Greek.[14]

To conclude, then, Stephanie Bakker’s The Noun Phrase in Ancient Greek is an important book. And while her discussion of modifier order in the NP does not move forward our knowledge of Greek as much as I might hope, it does provide a strong basis for future work. Even more so, her examination of the Greek article is an incredible contribution that should be highly valued by all who study the language, both in its Classical and Post-Classical setting.

2. Bibliography for Parts 1 & 2 of the Review

Bauer, Walter et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Borgen, Peder, Kåre Fuglseth, and Roald Skarsten. The Works of Philo: Greek Text with Morphology. Bellingham, Wash.: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2005.

Devine, A. M. and Laurence Stephens. Discontinuous Syntax: Hyperbaton in Greek. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Dik, Helma. Word Order in Ancient Greek. Amsterdam Studies in Classical Philology. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 1995.

————. Word Order in Greek Tragic Dialogue. Oxford Classical Monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Erteschik-Shir, Nomi. Information Structure: The Syntax-Discourse Interface. Oxford Studies in Syntax and Morphology 3. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Holmes, Michael William. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2007.

Levinsohn, Stephen H. Discourse Features of New Testament Greek. 2nd Ed. Dallas, Tex.: SIL, 2002.

————. Textual Connections in Acts. Society of Biblical Literature Monograph Series 31. Atlanta, GA: Scholar’s Press, 1987.

Niese, Benedikt. Flavii Iosephi Opera Recognovit. Berolini: apvd Weidmannos, 1888.

Penner, Ken and Michael S. Heiser. Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology. Bellingham, Wash.: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2008.

Rahlfs, Alfred and Robert Hanhart. Septuaginta. Electronic ed.; With morphology. Revised ed. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1979, 2006.

Rijkhoff, Jan. The Noun Phrase: a Typological Study of Its Form and Structure (Diss. University of Amsterdam, 1992

————. The Noun Phrase. Oxford Studies in Typology. Oxford, Oxford University Press: 2002.

Van Valin, Jr. Robert D. and Randy J. LaPolla, Syntax: Structure, Meaning, and Function. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Wallace, Daniel. Granville Sharp’s Canon and Its Kin. Studies in Biblical Greek 14. New York: Peter Lang, 2009.


[1] Stephanie J. Bakker, The Noun Phrase in Ancient Greek: A Functional Analysis of the Order and Articulation of NP Constituent in Herodotus (ASCP 15 Leiden: Brill, 2009).

[2] The problem is that “saliency” is no more clear a concept than the standard “emphasis” with all of its ambiguities. Like emphasis, saliency combines a number of concepts that are not necessarily related: Contrast & Restriction and Focus & Topic. For explanation of Contrast & Restriction and Topic & Focus and an up-to-date survey of Information Structure generally, see Nomi Erteschik-Shir, Information Structure: The Syntax-Discourse Interface (OSSM 3; Oxford: University Press, 2007). On top of these concepts, Bakker includes no conception of (1) emotive or rhetorically charged speech, which may also influence order or (2) referent activation and its influence on nominal modification. The former, such emotive language is subsumed under Salience. The latter is dealt with at length in Part 2 on NP articulation , where Bakker admits that questions of cognitive identifiability influence not only the articulation of an NP, but also its modification (241ff.), but this issue is strangely never mentioned in Part 1.

It should be noted that this is also a problematic issue which A. M. Devine and Laurence D. Stephen’s discussions of both continuous and discontinuous NPs, where Contrast is treated merely as a subcomponent of Focus (Discontinuous Syntax: Hyperbaton in Greek [Oxford: University Press, 1999] esp. 20-31 for continuous NPs).

[3] This is a significant departure from the analysis of clause level constituent order by Helma Dik (Word Order in Ancient Greek [ASCP; Brill, 1995], 12; Word Order in Greek Tragic Dialogue [Oxford: University Press, 2007], 37-39).

[4] Josephus, Antiquities 8.88, ἐποίησε δὲ αὐτοῦ καὶ τὰ σκεύη πάντα χάλκεα ποδιστῆρας καὶ ἀναλημπτῆρας· “He made all the vessels brass: tripods and basins” (my translation). In this example, I would argue that the following adjective, χάλκεα, is actually a double accusative and functions as a second argument of the causative verb rather than as a part of the NP, “τὰ σκεύη πάντα.” (cf. BDAG, loc. cit.). Under this analysis, the semantic structure would then be: [do’ (Solomon, ∅)] CAUSE [BEOME brass’ (vessels)]. If χάλκεα is a predicate, it cannot function as an NP internal modifier.

[5] Some of the many instances where πᾶς does indeed appear where Rijkhoff’s model predicts it, include: LXX, Ezekiel 23:6 l; Ezekiel 23:12; 2 Maccabees 9:16; Apostolic Fathers, Barn 7.4; Josephus, Antiquities 5.111; OT Pseudepigrapha, Pseudo-Phocylides 1.96; Antiquities 7.58; Philo, On the Creation 69; Sacrifices 131; Posterity 75; Posterity 177; Confusion 110; Confusion 198; Names 199; Moses II 23.

[6] This can be expressed in terms of scope: Location ⊃ Quantity ⊃ Quality (cf. Rijkhoff, 224).

[7] The clearest example of a discourse modifier is the demonstratives (e.g. οὗτος). The status of the demonstrative as on the outer edge of the NP is easily documented.

[8] These are Bakker’s example (51-3) from pages 119. The bolded text and the translations are her own.

[9] Bakker’s criticisms of Rijkhoff on relative clauses on are confusing. She states, “According to Rijkhoff, relative clauses are typically localizing modifiers, as their basic function is locating the referent in time” (100). This is indeed the case for some relative clauses. I argue here that the relative clause in example (3) is a localizing modifier, but I am not sure where her statement about Rijkhoff’s view came from. She provides no footnote or citation on the question. Moreover, what I found Rijkhoff does say on the issue is quite different: “[There] is no one-to-one relation between form and function. Especially relative clauses and adverb(ial)s are very versatile in that they are employed as qualifying, quantifying, and localizing modifiers” (Rijkhoff, 223). It is quite possible that Rijkhoff does make a statement such as she claims, but without a citation, there is no way of confirming it.

[10] The main “small” things that could be said are: (1) Bakker’s explanation of the ordering of possessive pronouns fails to actually recognize that these words are clitics and that the variation in ordering may not be an issue of salience, but a result of prosodic structure (73-76). Her statements about these clitic pronouns being salient seems to fall flat on my ears considering the context they appear in–this combined with the fact that I am not entirely sure how a word that is by definition de-emphasized (i.e. not accented) can be presented as salient. If an author wanted to emphasize or make salience a pro-form, surely he would have used an accented one. And (2), I question whether her examples of thetic sentences in Herodotus are truly thetic (188n35). The idea of δέ introducing a presentational seems somewhat odd to me. In a personal communication, Helma Dik stated that the main reason her own book on Herodotus did so little with thetic clauses was that there were so very few in the corpus.

[11] Jan Rijkhoff, The Noun Phrase: a Typological Study of Its Form and Structure (Diss. University of Amsterdam, 1992).

[12] Robert D. Van Valin, Jr. and Randy J. LaPolla, Syntax: Structure, Meaning, and Function (CTL; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 53ff.

[13] I do not name the book out of respect for the author.

[14] That is to say, the idea of identifiability as a defining fact in the use of the article never comes up in any year of Greek classes. It simplifies the treatment of the article and provides a means of easy and simple description without the overuse of redundant and unnecessary categories. Those on the B-Greek List may remember a discussion of Frame and Schemata being used for helping describe another issue in the Greek language.

6 thoughts on “Review: The Noun Phrase in Ancient Greek-Part II

  1. I always feels like I’m a couple of years late to the party on your blog, but thanks for posting this review.

    I’m not that familiar with Rijkhoff (yet). Does he do anything with focus/salience/emphasis? Or it is just that Bakker’s work on the point represents a missed opportunity?

    1. Rijkoff doesn’t deal with information structure within the noun phrase, unfortunately. He’s only interested in default orders. Bakker fails to recognize that and criticizes him unduly, I think.

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