New Dissertation on the Greek Imperfect in Luke

There’s a brand new dissertation from the University of Texas Arlington (where many SIL dissertations have arisen) on the Greek periphrastic imperfects in Luke’s Gospel:

A Discourse Analysis Of The Periphrastic Imperfect In The Greek New Testament Writings Of Luke by Carl E. Johnson.

Here’s the Abstract:

Motivated by Bloomfield’s belief that linguistic variation is not without motivation, this paper seeks to determine the distinction between the morphological imperfect and periphrastic imperfect of Koine Greek within the New Testament writings of Luke.This study suggests that:

  1. The periphrastic imperfect occurs only within narrative sections of the New Testament and is most prominent in the writings of Luke.
  2. The number of periphrastic imperfects has been recently over reported.
  3. The periphrastic imperfect is a more marked form of Koine Greek which developed in accordance with general rules of grammaticalization.
  4. The discourse function of periphrastic imperfects has not been previously cataloged because traditional codification has been limited to the confines of the sentence, their existence was merely attributed to Aramaic influence, and their uniqueness was largely ignored.
  5. Just as Longacre has shown the historical present to provide highlighted storyline, the periphrastic imperfect provides highlighted background and can be ranked accordingly.
  6. The Periphrastic imperfect highlights background for introductory or linking purposes by presenting particularly salient information concerning location and/or action. This suggests the following four categories:
    a. INTRODUCTORY LOCATIVE which highlights action whose placement in a specific location or time is important to the subsequent narrative. Both location and action are important.
    b. LINKING LOCATIVE which highlights action in a specific physical location or time which links the passage to a previous or subsequent narrative which involves the same participants in the same or similar action. Both location and action are important.
    c. INTRODUCTORY ACTION which highlights the involvement of the subject(s) in an action which is important to the subsequent narrative.
    d. LINKING ACTION which highlights involvement of the subject(s) in an action which links the passage to a previous or subsequent narrative involving the same participant(s) in the same or similar action.
  7. Therefore, a Lukan periphrastic imperfect unites an imperfect form of eivmi, (be) with a nominative present participle which agrees in number with the subject of the copula in order to express a highlighted, ongoing state or action which may occur in a spatial or temporal sphere. Said action is usually agentive.

After an initial examination of a reduced number of tokens, I developed a definition for the periphrastic imperfect which addresses both form and function. I used that definition to reexamine each of the tokens proposed by Boyer (Boyer, 1986) as well as those from my own reduced list. In Chapter 3, genuine periphrastic imperfects are grouped by function and discussed in detail. Chapter 4 summarizes my findings and provides additional support for the same. In Appendix E, I list all periphrastic imperfects found in the writings of Luke. In Appendix F, I list all of the overt tokens excluded from Boyer’s list.

The phrase “Bloomfield’s belief that linguistic variation is not without motivation,” for those of you focused on Systemic Functional Linguistics, that’s the American Structuralist equivalent to “Choice implies meaning.” Yeah, that’s not a unique thing with Hallidayan linguistics. In fact, its really just not unique with anyone…

Anyway, I haven’t looked through it yet, but UTA is a good school for linguistics and they’ve been doing discourse analysis on the Greek New Testament for decades, so I would expect that there are some good things in this dissertation. If anyone has the time to peruse it in more detail, I’d be curious as to your thoughts.

The dissertation is available online here: A Discourse Analysis Of The Periphrastic Imperfect.

And now, back to trying to finish my next post on middle voice. Really, its coming soon.

9 thoughts on “New Dissertation on the Greek Imperfect in Luke

  1. Go Mavericks! Mike, if I may ask. Can you tell whether point 6b here might suggest (as I pray it might) that this dissertation could offer narratological keys to recognizing which event sequences within Lukan narratives may or may not be chronologically linked?

    And in case that sentence was as ‘greek’ to you as yours tend to be, to me, see here.

    And, while I’m here, let me also say thank you – for all that you do.

    1. Ah, yes, I remember that post. My *guess* would be that the answer is “That it’s possible, perhaps even probable.” But, as I mentioned, I haven’t read any of the dissertation yet, so I couldn’t say for sure. The specific point though says nothing about causality though. So my second guess would be that while not everything Johnson subsumes under point 6b would be relevant to your chronological interests, there is likely enough overlap for it to be a useful starting point.

  2. Mike,

    Have browsed A Discourse Analysis Of The Periphrastic … here and there, the whole thing sounds very 1990s, can you do us a favor and tell us which parts are essential reading, you know the points where his framework contributes significantly to the body of knowledge on this topic?

    thanks, CSB

    1. well, I haven’t done much more than browse it myself. Considering that it uses Longacre as a starting point, I’d be surprised if it didn’t sound very 1970-80s…

      I had been hoping by posting I could get someone else to share where he contribution lies.

      1. I gave my copy of Longacre’s Second Edition of The Grammar of Discourse to David Gray (SIL UK) who didn’t really want it but I told him he could find a colleague who would make use of it. Well lets just wait and see who posts.

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