Book Review: Two Volumes on Greek Prepositions Part II

The first two chapters of Luraghi’s volume consist of her introduction and her theoretical foundation. The former includes a number of penetrating observations about the state of Ancient Greek linguistics and its relationship to the broader field.

“Ancient Greek is perhaps second only to English as the number of studies devoted to it. Available descriptions of Ancient Greek are of course of an extremely high scientific level, and exhaustively cover all aspects of Greek grammar, historical developments, dialectal variation, etc. Besides reference grammar and dictionaries, a wealth of studies, indexes and lexicons are devoted to the language of particular writers; recently the entire corpus of Greek literature and Greek dialectal inscriptions has been made available on CD ROM.

However, ease of access is only apparent. Descriptions of Greek, be reference works or theoretically oriented ones, are not particularly reader friendly, for one thing, Greek script is almost never transliterated, and examples are not glossed; in fact, they are often not even translated. The reason is simple: with a few notable exceptions, all types of studies on Ancient Greek, (including recent and theoretically updated ones), only address people who already know Ancient Greek. Somewhat surprisingly, Greek linguists do not appear to think it worthwhile to make the Greek data available to linguists working on other languages, general linguistics, typologists, etc. So we arise at the rather paradoxical consequence that data from scarcely described languages with no written tradition are more readily available to non-specialists than data from a thoroughly described language with several millennia of written history, such as Greek” (2003: 2).

This is an extremely accurate assessment of the field and the unfortunate state of Ancient Greek linguistics. And while a few new volumes have been published since 2003 that share this goal, the situation continues to remain generally the same.[1] The two volumes here both commendably help to fill this gap.

The introduction itself, in chapter 2, briefly discusses a few theoretical points of importance. Luraghi approaches her subject from the perspective of Cognitive Grammar, referring to both the work of Lakoff (1977, 1987) and Langacker (1987, 1991). The two most important points of the theoretical discussion is Luraghi’s emphasis on the nature of grammatical meaning. Thus, she writes,

“One of the most important differences between the Cognitive Grammar approach and earlier case theories has been highlighted by Nikiforidou (1991): while earlier studies tried to single out a Grundedeutung (‘basic meaning’) or a Gesamtbedeutung (‘general meaning’) for each case, in Cognitive Grammar cases are considered prototypical categories, which constitute instances of ‘structured polysemy’, where semantic extension is based on separate features of meaning, so that the members of the resulting category … are related to each other in a radial structure.” (Luraghi 2003).

My own readers might recognize some of this from my discussion of Rutger Allan’s work on middle voice as a polysemous semantic category in a previous blog post: “Clarifying Allan and Kemmer on Middle Voice: Cognitive Linguistics.” I thoroughly commend this approach to the semantics of case. It provides for a significantly richer perspective of grammatical categories than the traditional view where polysemy is treated as a problem or obstacle to be overcome and shares much in common with the approaches to verbal argument structure put forward by Wong (1997) and Danove (2001; 2009).[2]

Luraghi takes advantage of a number of aspects of Cognitive Grammar that make for a useful grammatical description. The idea conceptual space is liberally taken advantage of. Conceptual space is universally available to the brain and derived from humanity’s embodied experience in space. Quite simply, it is the conceptualization of our own perception of the physical three dimensional world. Semantic roles, then, are directly derived from our embodied experience. This relationship between embodied experience and semantic role is clear for some roles, particularly spatial ones. The semantic role, LOCATION, has a clear (and almost banal) relationship to our experience of the world: things are in places.[3] Semantic roles such as AGENT, EXPERIENCER, and RECIPIENT are directly connected our experiences of human interaction. This connection between human experience and the semantics of languages become less clear as the semantic roles grow more abstract. However, not all semantic roles are directly related to embodied experience. While a role like DIRECTION is easily accessible via our experience of the world, what about PURPOSE or BENEFICIARY? More abstract semantic roles are derived from “concrete” ones by means of metaphorical extensions. As an example of this, Luraghi refers to Haspelmath (2003) and his own mental map of the semantics of the dative case.


Figure 1. A semantic map of typical dative functions (Luraghi 2003:16; Haspelmath 2003:213)

This mental map presents the basic semantic roles typically represented by a dative. Haspelmath intends the map to be universal for datives across languages, but Luraghi notes that his map, as it currently stands, cannot function in that manner: direction does not always appear as a dative function in languages that have a dative of purpose, making the connecting lines problematic. Likewise, LOCATION is strikingly absent from the map. She concludes, “[M]ore research is needed in the universal structure of conceptual space. … My use of mental maps … will mostly have heuristic value and serve the purpose of language specific descriptions of meaning” (17).[4]

Semantic roles denoted by cases and prepositions are taken to be prototypical categories. This approach by Luraghi, makes it possible to limit the number of semantic roles. This makes it possible for her to capture a broader number of situations and events with a fewer number of semantic roles.

Following a summary of each semantic role used and its cognitive foundation, is the main body of the book that consists of two chapters. The first focuses on Greek cases and the next, on the prepositions. The latter is the most substantial part of the book, which reflects the far larger proportion of prepositions to cases.

The description of the cases begins with a brief examination of Indo-European case and syncretism: the dative with the instrumental and the locative as well as the genitive with the ablative. From there, Luraghi moves to discuss each of the individual cases and their semantic functions. This involves, for example, the accusative being described as marked for the semantic feature affectedness, evidenced by the fact that accusative objects are consistently more affected than non-accusative objects (e.g. genitive and dative objects): “Prototypically, the difference between accusative direct objects and non-accusative ones can be detected in different degrees of affectedness: for example, verbs that take a dative direct object, such as boētheîn, ‘to help,’ do not denote a change of state on the side of the patient” (54). One comment that might be made about Luraghi’s description here is whether she conceives of affectedness as a semantic feature of the accusative case in general or only for accusative objects. She, of course, notes later on that directional accusatives are used with motion verbs almost solely with prepositions, which would suggest that this is the case. No comment at all is provided on the use of the accusative as the subject of the infinitive.[5]

Luraghi’s descriptions of prepositions are somewhat similar, though they are generally also more detailed. The chapter on prepositions makes for the bulk of the volume, as noted above. It is only in the descriptions of prepositions where we find her use of mental maps come into play for many of the prepositions. Each discussion begins with the prototypical usage of the preposition at hand and then extends from there to other usages. Much of the emphasis in these descriptions is on how events and situations conveyed by prepositions and their respective objects are conceptualized in mental space. The terminology and concepts of landmark, trajector and container are some of the central ideas involved here. For example, Luraghi describes phrases with ἐν as the conceptualization by the speaker of a trajector into a container. More abstract senses of a given preposition are viewed as metaphorical extensions. The basic prototypical sense is used with prepositional objects with specific semantic properties. In the case of ἐν, the noun “is viewed as a volume or demarcated area (‘with contents’) at which some other object is located.” (Luraghi 2003:82; quoting Horrocks 1981:198).

From there, various usages in Homeric Greek are described in terms of semantic extension. Thus, ἐν can mark social location, “in the place of gathering” or direction with certain verb classes (e.g. βάλλω, ‘to throw’). The latter was taken over by the accusative in later Greek. Luraghi also notes that the container/landmark for the trajector does not need to be three-dimensional: ἐν can be used to describe objects on a plain in a similar way to the English in (consider: the cow is in the meadow; Luraghi 2003:84).

Synchronic extensions (polysemic relations within the same time period) and diachronic extensions (developments between periods) are treated in the same manner. The mechanisms of historical change also motivate contemporary relationships between divergent senses. This parallel brings order to the apparent chaos of polysemy. To continue with the example of ἐν, the conceptualization of an animate noun as container landmark in Homer is extended during the Classical period to humans, who “[control] an abstract trajector, which in this case consists of events” (89). This is shown below in example (1); Luraghi’s (25).

(1) en  soì nûn Kallímakhe estì katadoulôsai
in   2sg.dat now K.:voc be:prs.3sg ptc enslave:inf.aor
Athḗnas elutheras poiḗsanta ptc make:part.aor.acc

“Callimachous, it is now in your hands to enslave Athens or, having made her free, …” (Hdt. 6.109.3)

Relevant to those primarily interested in the Greek of the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods, Luraghi often concludes her grammatical descriptions with comments about how prepositional usage continued to extend. We see that ἐν develops an instrumental sense during the post-classical period.[6] Likewise, Luraghi charts the senses of εἰς, ‘into,’ from its concrete spatial usage of direction to its abstract usage expressing purpose and then to recipient and addressee in Post-Classical Greek and eventually Modern Greek (116-117).[7]

[1] Perhaps the most important series of linguistic monographs that deals with Ancient Greek, Amsterdam Studies in Classical Philology, provides free translations, but no morpheme-by-morpheme glossing for texts cited.

[2] Construction Grammar and Case Grammar share much with Cognitive Grammar. Lakoff (1987) is treated an important work for both frameworks.

The more traditional “basic meaning” approach unfortunately still has some currency in Koine Greek studies, such as Porter (1999) who seeks to build on the Structuralist approach put forward by Louw (1966). It’s rather clear from Porter (1996) and Porter and Pitts (2008) that Porter does not fully understand the cognitive linguistic foundation of Construction Grammar. Porter and Pitt’s criticisms of Danove and Wong (224-230) are generally undermined by Luraghi’s discussion here (see also Haspelmath 2003).

[3] Where else would they be?

[4] It should be emphasized that these maps are synchronic in nature. They are representative of the semantics of a grammatical form at a specific point in time. Diagrams used to present historical developments use directional arrows.

[5] It might be possible to extend the affectedness analysis here in some cases since accusative subjects of infinitive complements tend to also be the patient of the matrix verb. And then once that connection was made, the use of the accusative was grammaticalized so that it would be used to mark the subject of infinitives that do not have a governing verb.

[6] Luraghi takes a substantial amount of times discussing the possibility of instrumental ἐν in the classical period. The majority of examples involve body parts and those few that do not, she takes as being non-prototypical locatives instead. Such examples do, however, provide the impetus for the eventual evolution of ἐν to be used instrumentally in the post-classical period (92-94).

[7] In Homer, she notes that expressions of purpose are limited to abstract nouns. The use of εἰς for purpose is thus not fully developed and limited in the types of objects it can take. But by the time of Herodotus, it is possible for εἰς to express purpose with concrete nouns (e.g. hósa mèn gàr es aikhmàs kaì árdis kaì sagáris, khalkôi tà pánta khréōntai, ‘they always use bronze for (making) spear-points and arrow-heads and battle-axes’ [Hdt. 1.215.1)], giving the purpose usage complete distribution (116).

6 thoughts on “Book Review: Two Volumes on Greek Prepositions Part II

  1. Mike, I’m writing my thesis on the relationship between prepositions and cases in the Koiné period, and relying extensively on Luraghi and Bortone’s works. One thing I noticed was your understanding of Luraghi’s conclusion regarding instrumental ἐν in the Classical period, when you state “We see that ἐν develops an instrumental sense during the post-classical period.” I received the opposite impression from her work when she says “Following Humbert (1930:100-115) one can argue that the instrumental meaning of en owes to a later evolution, and that one can speak of real instrument expressions only starting with the New Testament….” (p. 93). Then in s. 4.4 she seems to note that the instrumental use of en in the NT era is a new development. Could you possibly elaborate on this a little bit? It would help me both understand the issue and your assessment better.

    My understanding is that Luraghi discusses instrumentality on pp. 92-94 to argue against the instrumental understanding in the Classical period, though she makes the point that this is a move toward a more metaphorical use of the preposition, laying the foundation for the instrumental usage in Koiné. Any insight?

    Thanks so much for any help you can provide on this!

    1. Well, the Koine *is* post-Classical, isn’t it?

      Honestly, I wrote this review so long ago (nearly five years now…) that I don’t remember specifically what I’m intended, but this blog has been nothing other than a blog about the Greek of the early Roman period (i.e. the NT and the surrounding couple centuries).

      I hope that helps.

      Still, I should also say that I’ve grown more and more skeptical about instrumental έν for the Koine over the years since then. I’m yet to encounter an instance that can’t be better explained by a container schema.

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