Category Archives: Book Reviews

Language and Society in the Greek and Roman Worlds

James Clackson, the classisist/historical linguist, recently published on book on sociolinguistics in Ancient Greek & Rome: Language and Society in the Greek and Roman Worlds. I’m a little surprised that I hadn’t seen is before. I try to stay up on these things.

Publishers blurb:

Texts written in Latin, Greek and other languages provide ancient historians with their primary evidence, but the role of language as a source for understanding the ancient world is often overlooked. Language played a key role in state-formation and the spread of Christianity, the construction of ethnicity, and negotiating positions of social status and group membership. Language could reinforce social norms and shed light on taboos. This book presents an accessible account of ways in which linguistic evidence can illuminate topics such as imperialism, ethnicity, social mobility, religion, gender and sexuality in the ancient world, without assuming the reader has any knowledge of Greek or Latin, or of linguistic jargon. It describes the rise of Greek and Latin at the expense of other languages spoken around the Mediterranean and details the social meanings of different styles, and the attitudes of ancient speakers towards linguistic differences.
Even better, Staffan Wahlgren just published a review of the volume (link) in Bryn Mawr Classical Review.

To sum up, this is a really good book. It is up to date, well written and an easy read, and it is well produced with only a very few misprints. The factual errors are neither many nor, on the whole, serious. Perhaps it is not unfair to suspect a certain Anglo-Saxon bias: the bibliography mainly lists works in the English language, and there is an very slight tendency to present multilingualism as abnormal. More important, however, is that this is a work with a clear aim and a lot of coherence; it will serve its purpose as an excellent introduction to a vast subject. Comparing it with the many handbooks that are flooding the market, it seems fortunate that it was written by one person only.

I’ll be giving it a look when I get a chance. Introductory texts on topics like this are greatly needed, for classicists, historians, biblical scholars, and linguists alike.

Review of Robert Funk’s Greek Grammar on RBL

James W. Voelz has a review of Robert Funk’s Greek Grammar on the Review of Biblical Literature, that’s available here: A Beginning-Intermediate Grammar of Hellenistic Greek.

For those of you who aren’t aware, Funk’s grammar, sadly written in the 1970’s went out of print years ago. The people of B-Greek put a significant amount of effort into digitizing it in order to make it available again. It is because of their work that Dr. Funk’s wife and the publisher have been able to make this excellent work available in print once again.

While Robert Funk is probably better known for his translation and revision of Blass-Debrunner’s grammar of the New Testament (Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature), in some sense Funk’s Beginning -Intermediate Grammar is the more important work. Why? Simply because it is a completely fresh work–an unfortunately rare occurrence in the late 20th and early 21st centuries when it comes to reference works for Post-Classical Greek. So when James Voelz writes in his review:

Let me begin by saying that the third edition of Robert W. Funk’s A Beginning-Intermediate Grammar of Hellenistic Greekis a book all that those interested in the Greek language need to be aware of, to be acquainted with, and, probably, to buy. It is,metaphorically, a gold mine of information on postclassical Greek, and it provides a different presentation of familiar material that is very helpful to those who are instructors.
It is a little unfortunate that so much of the RBL review itself spends more time than I would have liked to see discussing 1990’s debates of aspect rather than discussing the actual book at hand (personally, I think most students would be better off if they were simply unaware of that era of language discussion and debate). Still, the quibbles about pedogogical ordering of information are of value. The fact of the matter is that while Funk’s grammar is presented as a textbook, it is, in effect, rather an intermediate reference work.
Anyway: Funk’s grammar is available on Amazon: A Beginning-Intermediate Grammar of Hellenistic Greek (Amazon)

Linguistic adequacy & Robertson’s ‘Big Grammar’

Just to recap on this series, since I’ve been so busy with so many other things and so lazy about my blog, you may want to get a refresher at what we’re discussing in the introductory post here: Linguistic adequacy and Greek grammars and here: Linguistic adequacy and BDF. I really need to finish this series, because I need to write at least two blog posts as prefatory material for sharing my thesis.

Of course, Robertson’s ‘Big Grammar’ refers to his Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Logos) (Amazon).[1] The primary challenge in discussing examples form Robertson’s grammar arises from the great difficulty of finding excerpts that are both complete in their discussion of a topic while also being fairly brief in nature. One of the shorter sections for this purpose is Robertson’s discussion of οὐ in the indicative mood and in main clauses. Nevertheless, the discussion is nearly 1500 words long.[2] Often times, it feels as if Robertson’s larger discussions create more questions than they answer. Before looking at the content itself, the structure of this excerpt is interesting. Robertson’s structure here is very well thought out. The sections flow nicely from one to the next: origin to history and then meaning to usage.

1. The Objective Οὐ and its Compounds

(a) Origin. This is unknown. Hübschmann4 sees a connection with the Latin haud as do other scholars.5 Fowler6 takes it as an original intensive particle like pas in the French ne pas and -χί(Indo-Ger. -g̑hi) in οὐ-χί. The Zend ava is also noted and the Latin au (au-fero).7 But there is no doubt that οὐ in the Greek took the place of the Sanskrit , Latin nĕ- (ne-que, ne-scio; the relation of nē nē-quidem, nē-quam to this is not known), Gothic ni. The use of the Greek οὐ corresponds to the Sanskrit .

(b) History. As far back as Greek goes we find οὐ, but οὐ did not hold its own with μή in the progress of the language. Within the past century οὐ has become obsolete in modern Greek outside of a few proverbs save in the Laconian and the Pontic dialects.1 The Pontic dialect uses κί from Old Ionic οὐκί. But modern Greek has οὐδέ and οὔτε (Thumb, Handb., p. 200). In the Bœotian dialect, it may be noted, οὐ never did gain a place. We have seen οὐδέν used as an adverb, an idiom that goes back to Homer.2 Jannaris3 explains that the vernacular came to use οὐδέν and μηδέν for emphasis and then on a par with οὐ and μή. Then οὐδέν dropped οὐ and μηδέν lost δέν, leaving δέν and μή for the modern Greek. At any rate this is the outcome. Δέν is the negative of the ind. in modern Greek except after νά and final clauses when we find νὰ μή (Thumb, Handb., p. 200). And δέν is the regular negative in the protasis of conditional sentences both with ind. and subj.4 The distinction between οὐ and μή did become more or less blurred in the course of time, but in the N. T., as in the κοινή generally, the old Greek idiom is very well preserved in the main. Buttmann5 even thinks that the N. T. idiom here conforms more exactly to the old literary style than in any other point. Δέν may represent μηδέν (Rendel Harris, Exp., Feb., 1914, p. 163).

(c) Meaning. Οὐ denies the reality of an alleged fact. It is the clear-cut, point-blank negative, objective, final.6 Jannaris7 compares οὐ to ὅτι and μή to ἵνα, while Blass8 compares οὐ to the indicative mode and μή to the other modes. But these analogies are not wholly true. Sometimes, indeed, οὐ coalesces with the word as in οὔ φημι=not merely ‘I do not say,’ but ‘I deny.’ So οὐκ ἐάω (Ac. 16:7)=‘I forbid.’ Cf. οὐ θέλω (Mk. 9:30); οὐκ ἔχω (Mt. 13:12); οὐκ ἀγνοέω (2 Cor. 2:11). See also τὸν οὐ λαόν in Ro. 9:25 (LXX) where οὐ has the effect of an adjective or a prefix. Delbrück9 thinks that this use of οὐ with verbs like the Latin ne-scio was the original one in Greek. In the LXX οὐ translates לֹא.

(d) Uses. Here it will be sufficient to make a brief summary, since the separate uses (pp. 917 f., 929 f., etc.) are discussed in detail in the proper places. The point here is to show how all the varied uses of οὐ are in harmony with the true meaning of the particle.

(i) The Indicative. We meet οὐ with the indicative in both independent and dependent clauses.

(α) Independent Sentences. Here the negative οὐ is universal with the indicative in declarative sentences. The force of οὐ (οὐκ before vowels, οὐχ before aspirate) is sometimes very powerful, like the heavy thud of a blow. Cf. οὐκ ἐδώκατε, οὐκ ἐποτίσατε, οὐ συνηγάγετε, οὐ περιεβάλετε, οὐκ ἐπεσκέψασθε (Mt. 25:42 f.). The force of all these negatives is gathered up in the one οὐ in verse 44. In verse 45 οὐ and οὐδέ are balanced over against each other. See οὐκ ἔπεσεν in Mt. 7:25. Cf. οὐ παρέλαβον in Jo. 1:11. In Mt. 21:29 see the contrast between ἐγώ, κύριε and οὐκ ἀπῆλθεν. Note the progressive bluntness of the Baptist’s denials till οὔ comes out flat at the last (>Jo. 1:21 f.). In the N. T. οὐ alone occurs with the future indicative used as a prohibition, though the classic idiom sometimes had μή. Cf. οὐ φονεύσεις (Mt. 5:21); οὐκ ἔσεσθε ὡς οἱ ὑποκριταί (6:5), etc. Still, Blass1 quotes μηδένα μισήσετε in Clem., Hom., III, 69. The volitive subjective nature of this construction well suits μή, but οὐ is more emphatic and suits the indicative. In Mt. 16:22, οὐ μὴ ἔσται σοι τοῦτο, we have οὐ μή in the prohibitive sense. When οὐ occurs alone=‘no,’ as at the end of a clause, it is written οὔ as in οὔ, μή ποτε (Mt. 13:29); τὸ Οὔ οὔ (2 Cor. 1:17).

But in interrogative (independent) sentences οὐ always expects the answer ‘yes.’ The Greek here draws a distinction between οὐ and μή that is rather difficult to reproduce in English. The use of a negative in the question seems naturally to expect the answer ‘yes,’ since the negative is challenged by the question. This applies to οὐ. We may leave μή till we come to it. Οὐ in questions corresponds to the Latin nonne. Cf. Mt. 7:22, οὐ τῷ σῷ ὀνόματι ἐπροφητεύσαμεν κτλ., where οὐ is the negative of the whole long question, and is not repeated with the other verbs. See further Mt. 13:55; Lu. 17:17; 1 Cor. 14:23. In 1 Cor. 9:1 we have οὐ four times (once οὐχί). The form οὐχί is a bit sharper in tone. Cf. Mt. 13:27; Lu. 12:6. In Lu. 6:39 we have μή with one question, μήτι δύναται τυφλὸς τυφλὸν ὁδηγεῖν; and οὐχί with the other (side by side) οὐχὶ ἀμφότεροι εἰς βόθυνον ἐμπεσοῦνται; There is a tone of impatient indignation in the use of οὐ in Ac. 13:10, οὐ παύσῃ διαστρέφων τὰς ὁδοὺς τοῦ κυρίου τὰς εὐθείας; In Ac. 21:38, οὐκ ἄρα σὺ εἶ ὁ Αἰγύπτιος; the addition of ἄρα means ‘as I supposed, but as I now see denied.’1 In Mk. 14:60 note the measured use of οὐ and οὐδέν in both question, οὐκ ἀποκρίνῃ οὐδέν; and the description of Christ’s silence, καὶ οὐκ ἀπεκρίνατο οὐδέν. In Lu. 18:7, οὐ μὴ ποιήσῃ—καὶ μακροθυμεῖ ἐπʼ αὐτοῖς; we come near having οὐ μή in a question with the present indicative as well as with the aorist subjunctive. In a question like μὴ οὐκ ἔχομεν; (1 Cor. 9:4) οὐ is the negative of the verb, while μή is the negative of the sentence. Cf. Ro. 10:18, 19. In 1 Cor. 9:8 we have μή in one part of the question and οὐ in the other, μὴ κατὰ ἄνθρωπον ταῦτα λαλῶ, ἢ καὶ ὁ νόμος ταῦτα οὐ λέγει; In Mt. 22:17 (Lu. 20:22; Mk. 12:14) we have ἢ οὔ; as the alternative question, and Mark adds ἢ μή. Babbitt2 holds that “οὐ is used in questions of fact, while in other questions (e.g. questions of possibility) μή is used.” I doubt the correctness of this interpretation.

In declarative sentences the position of οὐ is to be noted when for emphasis or contrast it comes first. Cf. οὐ and ἀλλά in Ro. 9:8. So οὐ γάρ—ἀλλʼ ὄ in 7:15. In 7:18 f. note οὔ• οὐ side by side. Cf. also position of οὐ in Ac. 1:5; 2:15; Ro. 11:18 (οὐ σύ—ἀλλά). So ἀλλʼ οὐκ ἐγώ in 1 Cor. 6:12.

The general pattern seems to be this: the more Robertson says on a topic, the more unanswered questions appear. To his credit, Robertson, in terms of actual descriptive content (as opposed to simply observations of data points), is far superior to BDF. At the same time, Robertson has a tendency to trade useful descriptive statements for rhetorical flourishes that are not overtly meaningful. Consider: “Here the negative οὐ is universal with the indicative in declarative sentences. The force of οὐ (οὐκ before vowels, οὐχ before aspirate) is sometimes very powerful, like the heavy thud of a blow.” If οὐ is essentially universal in indicative declarative sentences, then is it οὐ in and of itself that is so “very powerful, like the heavy thud of a blow”? Could it simply be the larger context of the negation? In the case of this particular quote here, I am not convinced that the references backing up the claim. They all seem to be simply negated statements of fact.

This is, in fact, a common problem. Later on Robertson writes: “The form οὐχί is a bit sharper in tone. Cf. Mt. 13:27; Lu. 12:6” and also, “There is a tone of impatient indignation in the use of οὐ in Ac. 13:10, οὐ παύσῃ διαστρέφων τὰς ὁδοὺς τοῦ κυρίου τὰς εὐθείας.” In these cases, the claims about the tone of the statements (whether “sharper” or “impatient indignation” are ambiguous. Is Robertson making a claim about the negator? Or is he making a claim about the context in which the negator is used? Whichever it is, we are given no account for it one way or the other.[3]

On other occasions, Robertson’s discussions are more compelling.[4] Consider the following portion:

In the N. T. οὐ alone occurs with the future indicative used as a prohibition, though the classic idiom sometimes had μή. Cf. οὐ φονεύσεις (Mt. 5:21); οὐκ ἔσεσθε ὡς οἱ ὑποκριταί (6:5), etc. Still, Blass1 quotes μηδένα μισήσετε in Clem., Hom., III, 69. The volitive subjective nature of this construction well suits μή, but οὐ is more emphatic and suits the indicative. In Mt. 16:22, οὐ μὴ ἔσται σοι τοῦτο, we have οὐ μή in the prohibitive sense.

This section here, while still not exactly clear in its expression, has a statement of an observable facts, but also provides a motivation for those facts: μή is motivated in Clem., Hom., III, 69 by the volitional nature of the construction, while οὐ is used for future indicative that are prohibitions. Robertson does not say it, but we could extrapolate here that he perhaps believes οὐ prefers deontic modal contexts, while μή prefers epistemic modal contexts. This is a common issue: often his descriptive statements require guessing as to his meaning. Trying to reinterpret Robertson’s statements in contemporary linguistic terminology is often quite difficult. Occasionally while reading Robertson (and in fact, many old grammars), I feel a bit like Blinkin

This situation is also the case in the following quote:

“In a question like μὴ οὐκ ἔχομεν; (1 Cor. 9:4) οὐ is the negative of the verb, while μή is the negative of the sentence. Cf. Ro. 10:18, 19. In 1 Cor. 9:8 we have μή in one part of the question and οὐ in the other, μὴ κατὰ ἄνθρωπον ταῦτα λαλῶ, ἢ καὶ ὁ νόμος ταῦτα οὐ λέγει.”

This appears to be an observation about to the scope of the negation? But what is the actual claim being made? Is Roberson saying that there a consistent division of the scope of negation between οὐ and μή in general (where μή is used for sentence negation and οὐ is not)? Or is he only talking about negation scope situations where the two negators appear together (μὴ οὐ)? And if the latter, is it just true for questions or true in general? Or is this simply a one off instance that Robertson thought worth noting in passing? It is not even clear how such a claim could be tested, especially if it is limited solely to instances of οὐ and μή together in polar questions.


Overall, I would say that Robertson is an improvement to BDF. He certainly provides more meaningful information. Nevertheless, the fact that Robertson’s grammar was written in an era when formal or technical terminology was just nascent for grammar/linguistics causes significant problems. It often feels like while Robertson clearly knows what he wants to communicate conceptually, he does not know how to communicate it. This leaves us as readers with fairly common subjective statements about meaning with little to no real substance or justification. The formalization of grammatical terminology at this point in history only existed for a handful of grammatical categories and for the rest, grammarians were left grasping for the right words to communicate.

[1] That’s the edition that Logos Bible Software digitized. It’s the 3th edition. I also have a physical 1923 4th edition printed by Hodder & Stoughton. The two editions are essentially identical in their text, as far as I have found.

[2] Note indented footnotes below are the original footnotes & numbering from Robertson. Each page begins afresh with footnote 1. For convenience, my own footnotes are formatted differently than Robertson’s.

4 Cf. Das indoger. Vokal-System, p. 191.

5 Cf. Gildersl., Am. Jour. of Philol., XVIII, pp. 4, 123 f.; Horton-Smith, ib., pp. 43 ff.; Brug., Griech. Gr., p. 528.

6 The Negatives of the Indo-Europ. Lang., 1896. Cf. Delbrück, Grundr., IV, p. 519.

7 But Draeger (Hist. Synt., p. 133) says that this connection with the Lat. haud cannot be shown.

1 Farrar, Gk. Synt., p. 182; Jann., Hist. Gk. Gr., p. 425.

2 Monro, Hom. Gr., p. 259.

3 Hist. Gk. Gr., p. 426.

4 Thumb, Handb., p. 194 f.; Jebb, in V. and D., p. 339.

5 Gr. of the N. T. Gk., Thayer’s Transl., p. 344.

6 Cf. Thouvemin, Les Négations dans le N. T., Revue de Philol., 1894, p. 229.

7 Hist. Gk. Gr., p. 427.

8 Gr. of N. T. Gk., p. 253.

9 Synt. Forsch., IV, p. 147.

1 Gr. N. T. Gr., p. 254.

1 W.-Th., p. 511.

2 Harv., Stu. in Class. Philol., 1901, The Use of Μή in Questions, p. 307.

[3] Not to mention the fact that the so-called tone is not necessarily itself even clear from the examples themselves!

[4] At least in appearance anyway—this discussion is not interested in evaluating the strength of the claims themselves, but only the clarity of the claims and the extent to which the grammar justifies or explains them.

1 Gr. N. T. Gr., p. 25.

Occasional Surveys in the History of Greek Grammar: G. B. Winer & William Moulton (1882)

Despite the production of other New Testament grammars, Winer’s work continued to hold the greatest influence throughout the century and by 1882, it was in its ninth English edition.[1] William Moulton’s contributions to the grammar grew consistently with each of his own editions/translations, though the basic organization continues to be the same. Most importantly, by the time of Moulton, the grammar is no longer the mere supplement that it was in 1825, and it is not merely a grammar of the New Testament, despite the title. The edition of 1882 is full of references, not only to the New Testament, but also to contemporary literary authors such as Appian & Pausanias and Classical authors like Xenophon. Moreover, the tenses are discussed in far more detail with a clear aim toward comprehensiveness. The goal of the grammar is no longer to merely be a supplement functioning along side a Classical Greek grammar.

It is also apparent that Moulton had access to the later German grammars such as Raphael Kühner’s based on some of the terms he uses. The aorist is a simple past and the narrative tense that contrasts with the imperfect and the pluperfect which “always have reference to subordinate events which stood related, in respect of time, with the principal event (as relative tenses).”[2] The perfect functions as a relative tense “and represents an action as a complete one, in relation to the present time.[3] The addition of the concept of relative tenses here suggests that, at least to some degree, Moulton viewed Kühner’s model as an advancement in their understanding the interaction of temporal location and temporal constituency—to borrow Comrie’s turn of phrase for the categories of tense and aspect, respectively.

In terms of usage, Moulton drives home the point of Winer that tenses do not stand in for one another and his examples reflect similar patterns we found in other grammars: the so-called peculiar usages reflect extra verbal linguistic factors, such as the “procedural characteristics” described by Fanning.[4] Of course this is not how Moulton expresses it. Rather, he writes,

Strictly and properly speaking, no one of these tenses can ever stand for another … where such an interchange seems to exist, either it exists in appearance only, there being in point of fact some assignable reason (especially of a rhetorical kind) why this tense is used and no other; or else it must be ascribed to a certain inexactness belonging to the popular language, through which the relation of time was not conceived and expressed with perfect precision.[5]

When we recognize the dramatic difference in context terminologically between 1882 and the present, a few things become apparent. It seems reasonable to take a statement “reason[s] … of a rhetorical kind” as being roughly to modern day pragmatics.[6] And the observation that spoken language is not particularly precise has only been confirmed and emphasized in contemporary linguistic research.[7]

Nonetheless, this is precisely the point Porter chooses to take issue with in his own survey.[8] To Porter’s credit, he chooses an excellent example: Matthew 26:2, provided below.

(1) οἴδατε ὅτι μετὰ δύο ἡμέρας τὸ πάσχα γίνεται, καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδίδοται εἰς τὸ σταυρωθῆναι.
You know that after two days the Passover takes place and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.

That the present only appears to function as a future confuses form and function, says Porter, because, “he does not say how that would differ from actually functioning futuristically.”[9] On the one hand, this is an extremely good point. Moulton-Winer says nothing about the difference between appearance and actual replacement, but Porter would do well to at least comment on the fact that Moulton provides a reason for the usage:

“It is used for the future in appearance only, when an action still future is to be represented as being as good as already present, either because it is already firmly resolved on, or because it must ensue in virtue of some unalterable law.”[10]

It may very well be true that Moulton does his readers a disservice by not explaining the mechanisms for the apparent replacement of forms. That is not an unreasonable criticism. At the same time, however, Porter does his own readers a disservice by not telling the entire story on this particular point. Moulton’s discussion is far more nuanced than Porter lets on in his critique of Moulton-Winer. Porter selectively quotes Moulton-Winer here, proving only the beginning the statement above, “It is used for the future in appearance only…”[11]. He does not quote Moulton’s actual explanation of the usage at all. Even worse, Porter does not even provide the ellipsis marking that he’s quoting an incomplete sentence. At best this is a horribly unfortunate editorial error, at its worse, this could possibly be viewed as a somewhat manipulative move to slant Porter’s readers toward a particular view of the Greek verb.

It is precisely this kind of discussion of the old grammarians that motivated these occasional studies: to give the old grammarians a fair hearing of their views in this historical contexts. A grammar is a communicative act to a particular audience. Minimally, Moulton would likely be able to defend himself on this point by saying that he lived one hundred years before any sort of adequate theory of the mechanisms of semantics had been developed, but it also is not unreasonable to assume that Moulton had full capacity to give sufficient explanation, even without the kinds of explicit theoretical frameworks that linguistics work within today. William Moulton and G. B. Winer may not have articulated their views of the Greek tenses in the same manner that is done today, but the reasons they give for their grammatical claims make it quite clear that they understood the language extremely well.

[1] Georg B Winer and William F. Moulton, A Treatise on the Grammar of New Testament Greek, 3rd ed. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1882). The 3rd edition in the title refers to Moulton’s third edition—the spine of the volume lists both numbers: 3rd edition and 9th English Edition.

[2] Ibid., 331.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Fanning, Verbal Aspect, 126ff.

[5] Winer and Moulton, Treatise , 331.

[6] Pragmatics, as opposed to semantics: how language is used rather than how language means, though where one ends and the other begins is far from clear, particularly since, in a sense, all meaning in language arises from usage of language. See Taylor, Linguistic Categorization, 132-134.

[7] Indeed, the idea of perfectly precise semantics likely disappeared with the end of logical positivism.

[8] That is, this is the issue Porter takes issue with beyond his standard disparaging remarks about how these old grammars take an out of date “time based” view of the tenses—a criticism that is, itself, quite unfair.

[9] Porter, Verbal Aspect, 51.

[10] Winer and Moulton, Treatise , 331.

[11] Porter, Verbal Aspect, 51.

Occasional Surveys in the History of Greek Grammar: Raphael Kühner & William Jelf (1866)

The translation of Raphael Kühner’s German grammar into English by William Jelf marks the closest we get to a comprehensive grammar of Classical and Hellenistic Greek.[1] And while it does not provide a distinct discussion of New Testament Greek by itself, it does provide references to New Testament usage as it relates to broader usage. The grammar marks a substantial change from the previous grammars examined thus far in that it seeks a comprehensive description rather than assuming that basic knowledge is already known to the reader.[2]

The section on the verb begins at §394 and continues through §409 with nearly thirty pages of discussion. Kühner-Jelf also appears to be the first English grammarian to provide a meta-theory of tense-aspect applicable to all language before attempting to deal with Greek itself.[3] This system is grounded primarily upon Aristotle’s On Interpretation.

Ῥῆμα δέ ἐστι τὸ προσσημαῖνον χρόνον, […] λέγω δὲ ὅτι προσσημαίνει χρόνον, οἷον ὑγίεια μὲν ὄνομα, τὸ δὲ ὑγιαίναι ῥῆμα. Προσσημαίνει γὰρ τὸ νῦν ὑπάρχειν.[4]

A verb is that which connotes temporality. … Now I say it connotes temporality [and this is what I mean]: Ὑγίεια (healthy) is a noun, but ὑγιαίναι (be healthy) is a verb; for it connotes the present [νῦν] existence of the state [in question].[5]

For Kühner-Jelf, time is involved in verbal semantics in two ways. There is what Kühner-Jelf terms the “definition notion of time,” which takes the speaker as the temporal reference point (Absolute tenses). This stands in contrast with tenses which express some other relationship relative to another point:

An action may not only be thus defined by its reference, whether as past, present, or future, to the time present to the speaker, but may also have a reference to some other action expressed by some other predicate, whether it be antecedent to, coincident with, or consequent on this action; that is, whether it be ended before this other action is going on, finished, or intended; whether it is not yet begun, but only conceived as about to happen when the other shall be going on, or finished, or intended. For these also the Greek has forms, which are called the Relative Tenses.[6]

Today when we talk about absolute tense and relative tense, we limit ourselves to tenses such as the English perfect.[7] The term relative tense does not tend to refer to all of the categories that Kühner-Jelf seeks to place in it. We have both the idea of temporal location established by a point other than that of the speaker (the modern definition of relative tense), but we also have the idea of telicity (“action going on, finish, or intended”) that was visible in the ancient grammarians. The modern definition of relative tense is involved here in that the present may function either with reference to the speaker or another reference point within the discourse. The imperfect differs from it in that it is consistently used primarily for the latter of these. As Winer and Levinsohn noted above, the imperfect is used for subsidiary or secondary events connected to the main narrative. In this sense, being a relative tense versus being an absolute tense also involves the modern concepts of backgrounding and foregrounding of information in a discourse.[8]

If this understanding of Kühner-Jelf’s view is accurate, we are left with the lingering question of why he would organize it in this manner with three modern categorical distinctions merged into one bipartite division. Is there a relationship between telicity, temporal reference points, and backgrounded and foregrounded information that has becomes less than clear today than it might have been in the mid-19th century? Or is Kühner-Jelf simply making the system far more complicated than it needs to be? There does not seem to be an easy answer to these questions.

John Lyons provides a potential connection, though it is nothing more than that, “It has been pointed out … that the distinction between tense and aspect is hard to draw with respect to what is sometimes described as relative, or secondary, tense. We will say no more about this.”[9] Rather frustratingly, Lyons provides no reference as to who it was that pointed this fact out. Without any citation, we are prevented from following up the observation elsewhere. Lyon’s refusal to say more on the subject leaves us floundering without any direction as to where this connection might lead.

Porter deals with Kühner-Jelf in a rather different manner than what we have done here. Kühner-Jelf functions as representative evidence of two threads: those who follow the Stoics and those who follow Dionysius Thrax. For Porter, Kühner-Jelf is one of the latter.[10] For reference, figure 2 provides Kühner-Jelf’s chart of the tense-aspect categories.[11]

Present. Past. Future.
I. Absolute γράφω ἔγραψα. γράψω.
II. Relative
a. Coincidence.Action yet going on.Imperfect.
γράφω. ἔγραφον. γράψω.
b. Antecedence.Action past.


Γέγραφα ἐγεγράφειν γεγραφὼς ἔσομαι.
c. Consequence.Action yet to come.


Μέλλω γράφειν. ἔμελλον γράφειν. μελλήσω γράφειν.

If we interpret the words “action past” as not merely have the sense of action in the past, but also the sense of completed, we find Kühner-Jelf has a system virtually identical to that of Dionysius Thrax.[12] Thus, despite the fact Porter does not think Dionysius had a concept of aspect, he is still generally accurate in saying that Kühner-Jelf’s grammar follows Dionysius in this conception of the verbal system, but the problem is that Kühner-Jelf is also very much like the Stoics as well.[13] That Porter wants Kühner-Jelf to stand with Dionysius in contrast with the Stoics is problematic since the defining line in his view is their conception of “kind of action” (again, refusing to call their conceptualization “aspect).”[14] And we have already seen that both tense and aspect are central to the Stoics and Dionysius.

The irony here comes to view when Porter looks at the German edition of Kühner. Porter used the 2nd edition of Jelf,[15] but the 4rd German edition of Kühner, edited by Blass and Gerth after Kühner’s death.[16] He then describes Kühner more positively as if the observations about aktionsart and what he terms a “neo-Stoic scheme” were original to Kühner. But when we look at the German edition that Jelf translated from, we find that the Absolute/Relative distinction with its complex temporal-aspectual framework is taken from it entirely, including the chart above.[17]

This is not to say that the conception of verbal semantics put forward by Kühner-Jelf is necessarily ideal or should be preferred. There are clear problems with it. In some sense, we could say that the problems more involve issues of elegance and simplicity than they do problems of description, though whether the perfect is best described as a past tense can be (and still is) debated. Likewise, if it is correct that Jelf begins this section talking about the nature of language in general, then there are even more problems, since it is clear that the system could only go so far in explaining tense and aspect beyond a small set of Indo-European languages. Despite these problems, the description put forward in Kühner-Jelf is extremely important in the develop of our understanding of the Greek verb and holds great influence over grammatical description from 1835 when Kühner’s first edition was published through the turn of the century. Even more importantly, potentially valuable elements of his description have been disregarded concerning telicity, temporal reference, and backgrounding and foregrounding of information in narrative.

[1] William Jelf, A Grammar of the Greek Language, 4th ed. (Oxford: James Parker, 1866), vol. 2. By the time Jelf edited the fourth edition, he apparently viewed the work as sufficiently his own to remove Kühner’s name from the title and even the fact that the text was originally a translation. However, the discussion here still refers to the work as Kühner-Jelf because there is little change between the views of Kühner and those of Jelf, even in this fourth edition.

[2] In this sense, this is the first true English reference grammar of the modern era, providing the broader coverage not found in Winer or Buttmann.

[3] This is clear from the fact that Kühner-Jelf uses two distinct sets of terminology: the standard set for Greek verbal forms (present, aorist, imperfect, etc.) and an additional set representing temporal relationships in a given predication. Porter views Kühner-Jelf’s description as only relevant to Greek, criticizing the grammar for using English-only examples for explaining a number of points

[4] Cited in Jelf, Grammar, 54-5. Kühner-Jelf cut a section out of this quote. The ellipsis is mine. See H. Tredennick, ed., Aristotle: The Categories, On Interpretation (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973), 118.

[5] My translation.

[6] Jelf, Grammar, 55. Note that the final statement, “For these also the Greek has forms…” also suggests our understanding of Jelf is correct as having a broader theory tense not limited to Greek, but (ideally) applicable to language in general.

[7] E.g. D. N. S. Bhat, The Prominence of Tense, Aspect, and Mood (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1999).

[8] See section 3.3 above on Georg Benedikt Winer for discussion.

[9] John Lyons, Semantics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 2:705.

[10] It should be noted that Porter treats Kühner-Jelf as primarily Jelf’s grammatical work, but even a cursory examination of the German edition Jelf translated from makes it clear that these ideas are first and foremost Kühner. It is only to the extent that Jelf has not revised the discussion—and he does take liberty to do so on a number of occasions—that we can talk about Jelf’s view of the verbal system. This situation is complicated since later on in Porter’s survey, he talks about Kühner views as very different from those of Jelf, but in that case he is referring to Gerth and Blass’ revision of Kühner’s German edition, which drastically changes the discussion of tense-aspect so that it is essentially unrecognizable as Kühner’s. What Porter describes as Kühner’s views are more accurately described as those of Gerth and Blass (see esp. Porter, Verbal Aspect, 25). This fact complicates the situation of Porter’s discussion of Jelf, as we will see below.

[11] Jelf, Grammar, 56.

[12] That this is the correct interpretation of “action past” is made explicitly clear in the section that follows where Kühner-Jelf provides examples of relative tenses, as well as the discussion above.

[13] There is actually a second problem as well. Does Kühner-Jelf truly rely on Dionysius for his view or do they share a common source? We know for a fact that Kühner-Jelf , to some degree, relies Aristotle for the basic nature of the verb. And according to Robins (Byzantine Grammarians, 228), the ancient grammarians, including Dionysius, also took Aristotle as their starting point. For that reasons, there is really no way of conclusively determining the nature of the \relationship between Kühner-Jelf and Dionysius Thrax.

[14] He goes on to critique Kühner-Jelf’s view of individual uses of the tenses, stating, for example, “[C]oncerning Present verbs with Perfect meaning h dismisses this as arising from the ‘sense of the verb’ rather than the ‘force of the tense…’” (Verbal Aspect, 23). This seems an incredible objection. Does Porter truly believe that the sense of the verb has no impact at all on the temporal semantics of a situation?

[15] William Jelf, A Grammar of the Greek Language, 2nd ed. (London: James Parker, 1855).

[16] Raphael Kühner, Ausführliche Grammatik der griechischen Sprache: Satzlehre., ed. B. Gerth and F. Blass, 4th ed. (Leverkusen: Gottschalksche, 1955).

[17] Raphael Kühner, Ausführliche Grammatik der greicheischen Sprache (Hannover: Hahnschen Hofbuchhandlung, 1835), 62.

Some Brief Notes on Comrie (1976)

These are just some passing thoughts—nothing serious or revolutionary—on Bernard Comrie’s little monograph on aspect.

1. On the introduction

From the perspective of what’s been said in Koine Greek grammar, two points could be made. The language about temporality and time with reference to the verbal system is problematic for those who have rejected the category of tense. That is to say, it is often characterized in terms of time not being grammaticalized, rather than characterized as tense not being grammaticalized. But Comrie’s definition of aspect (which is extremely standard for the category) is quite explicit on this point. Time is not tense. Both aspect and tense are temporal. Both involve time. Regardless of whether one accepts tense in Greek as grammaticalized or not is irrelevant.[1] To say that time is not grammaticalized is inaccurate, distracting and wrongheaded.

Additionally, Comrie clearly fall into the camp of linguists who view the category of aktionsart as being quite distinct from the category of aspect. This is not discussed at length in the introduction, but I do look forward to his discussion of this issue later on in the book.

2. On the main body

Chapter one surveys the basic terminology of aspect and is extremely helpful. I confess that it has been a while since I last read this monograph and have, up to this read through, generally recommended that Comrie’s book was too dated to be viewed as a useful introduction today. So I was surprised and pleased to be corrected and reminded of just how well of a job Comrie does at dealing with these issues.

Things get a little complicated with Comrie’s discussion of the term punctual and durative in chapter two. These are terms used in the old Greek grammars of the past couple centuries. Comrie describes these terms are distinct from perfective and imperfective and this fact is likely to cause confusion to those familiar with older grammatical works, where the terms are essentially synonymous much of the time. I’m not so sure that the old grammarians used such terms in the manner that Comrie defines them. At the same time, Comrie’s discussions of telicity and the difference between stativity and dynamicity in this chapter are simply a delight to read.

Chapter three discusses the meaning of the perfect and assumes a purely aspectual approach. Comrie does not seem to allow for the possibility of a perfect form to only be tense, rather than aspect. Notably, Porter’s discussion of the Greek perfect seems to flow directly out of Comrie’s. In fact, overall, having now read Verbal Aspect several times now, there is little in Comrie’s monograph that doesn’t somehow continue in Porter’s dissertation. It appears that while there are only a handful of actual citations to Comrie (its hard to know for sure how many with the lack of a author index) in Verbal Aspect, the spirit of Comrie’s work permeates the entirety of the work. On a number of occasions, I can directly see Comrie’s ideas being developed and built on in Porter, almost as if it was precisely the reading of Aspect that drove him to write on the subject for Greek. And again, nowhere is this more evident than in Comrie’s chapter on the Perfect. It should be emphasizes that this is most definitely not a bad thing. It is rather useful way to find a thesis/dissertation topic and Comrie is a very good place to start. It would be useful if there were more Koine Greek dissertations that had such beginnings. I’ve said a couple times that if anyone wanted to write descriptive linguistic thesis or dissertation, they would do well to simply choose a chapter from a Timothy Shopen’s three volume set: Language Typology and Syntactic Description.

[1] For the record, I view Ancient Greek as having tense and have found arguments to contrary, thus far, quite unconvincing.

Occasional Surveys in the History of Greek Grammar: William Trollope (1842)

Trollope wrote his grammar with the goal of it functioning as a supplement to Buttmann, specifically focusing on the New Testament and the broader Hellenistic period.[1] The work is brief—just over 250 pages—but it provides a larger discussion of the tenses than Buttmann’s grammar did for Classical Greek.

Like Winer (and contrary to Winer’s first translators) Trollope views the usage of the tenses in the New Testament as “adher[ing] to the ordinary Greek usage.”[2] And with the trend, we have seen with Winer and Buttmann, Trollope expresses an awareness of both tense and aspect as a collection of complex semantic values. The aorist is the indefinite verbal form used in narrative, the imperfect is a past imperfective, “continuing during a past time, when or while something else took place,” the perfect refers to an event in that past whose consequences continue in the present, the pluperfect functions in the same manner with reference to a previous past time reference, and the future marks a future action. [3] Trollope also follows Buttmann in that he does not actually discuss the present tense, except in reference to how it is used for (or replaced by) other tenses.

Once again, more illuminating are the descriptions of how tenses are used for other tenses. Like Winer, they continue to be motivated and do not simply involve arbitrary interchangeability and more about specific syntactic and pragmatic situations. For example, Trollope observes that the imperfect can, at times, appears in the place of the aorist, but specifically in the context of spoken discourse when a narrative is relayed by an eyewitness.[4] At least, that is the explanation he came up with for the phenomenon. And technically, the explanation fits much of the data.  However, later grammatical work has proposed at least one alternative explanation. Robertson suggests that verbs of speaking and commanding take the imperfect when the action is conceptualized as being unaccomplished until the command is completed, the question answered, and so forth.[5] In either case, the question is significant because of its relationship to current debates on the nature of the historical present, which also is extremely common with verbs of speech. The question is whether the historical present involves a mismatch of both tense and aspect or only a mismatch of tense.

[1] William Trollope, A Greek Grammar to the New Testament and to the Common or Hellenic Diction of the Later Greek Writers (London: Whittaker & Co., 1942). As far as my own research goes, Trollope’s grammar is the first reference work on New Testament Greek to be written in English rather than merely translated. Despite this fact—one than makes Trollope an important work historically­—there appears to be little to no awareness of his work in later scholarship. In his preface, Trollope does not seem aware of the fact that Winer’s grammar had been already translated into English.

[2] Ibid., 129.

[3] Ibid., 129-30. Notably, Trollope provides a more extensive discussion of imperfect functions than any of the grammars we have seen thus far, including: the basic functions of the imperfect: progressive, iterative/habitual, and inchoative.

[4] Ibid., 132.

[5] Robertson, Grammar of the Greek New Testament, 882-3.

Book Review: Two Volumes on Greek Prepositions Part III

Two Volumes on Greek Prepositions Part I

Two Volumes on Greek Prepositions Part II

Pietro Bortone’s Greek prepositions is an expansion and revision of his doctoral thesis carried out at Oxford and completed in 2000. As we noted previously, he is primarily focused on the history of Greek prepositions. He seeks to provide linguistic data and analysis that is useful both for the Greek linguist/grammarian, as well as the more general linguist interested in broader issues of human cognition, grammaticalization, language history, and semantic theory. As a whole, the book is essentially divided into two parts. The first providing the theoretical background for the second, which consists of the research proper.

Chapter one asks what the focus of the study should be. This involves, cross-linguistically, the functional parallels between adpositions[1] and case inflections, the combination of case inflections with adpositions in some languages (including Greek), the use of special adverbs with adpositions, and lastly, the traditional distinction between “proper” and “improper.” The semantic and relational parallels between these different inflectional and lexical items drives the end conclusion that the traditional proper-improper distinction is less than useful for the study of prepositions.[2] This discussion continues in chapter two with the focus on the study of cases and prepositions and the relationship between them. Does the polysemy of prepositions and cases demonstrate that these forms are semantically empty? Bortone says no—rightly in my view—and demonstrates this by showing that the large and varying meanings of prepositions are principled and organized. On this Bortone agree with Luraghi that the semantics of prepositions involve clear relationships between various semantic roles such as locative, comitative, and instrumental¸ for example. Bortone positions himself firmly in the tradition of cognitive linguistics in this respect. Chapter 2 also includes an extended discussion of prototype theory and represents what is probably one of the most useful introductions/summaries of how cognitive linguistics deals with semantics available for those whose primary field is classics or biblical studies.

The third and final chapter of part one examines the historical development of adpositions, cross-linguistically. Here, Bortone looks the different ways that prepositions develop in language: from verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, full phrases, and other sources. He shows that while the data is rather scattered, the evidence for a localist view of meaning is relatively clear: abstract semantic meaning and abstract prepositions derive from spatial and “literal” expressions. Concrete meanings come first and abstract meanings follow.[3] The problem is that evidence is fragmentary and scattered across multiple languages. This problem is the driving force behind Bortone’s study. A diachronic examination of Greek from the earliest texts[4] through today provides an incredible 3200 years of virtually uninterrupted text and language usage. Thus, it is clear that Bortone’s central interest is how the study of Greek prepositions can make a contribution to the broader field of linguistics rather than on making a fresh contribution to the Hellenist’s ability to interpret texts.[5]

Part two of the book takes this theoretical background as its base and examines the development of prepositions up to today. Bortone emphasizes that while we cannot go back to see the beginning of Greek prepositions (though he attempt to reconstruct their origins from Linear B, Homer and Proto-Indo-European as best he can), we can still see evidence for the localist hypothesis in the development of the so-called “improper” prepositions, which originate from adverbs and are consistently spatial in the meaning and only later develop other abstract semantics. Chapter 4 examines this data for classical and pre-classical Greek. Chapter 5 continues with the Hellenistic Koine; chapter 6 looks and Medieval and chapter 7 Modern Greek. Those primarily interested in Hellenistic and Early Roman Greek will likely be disappointed to find that Bortone spends the least amount of space on this time period than any of the others.

As a whole, Bortone’s biggest contribution is to linguistic and semantic theory rather than language description. The Classicist will likely find a more useful language description in Luraghi (2003) and Horrocks (1981) and those interested in the Hellenistic period still lack a contemporary descriptive study of Greek prepositions—though scholars with an interest in the relationship between the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint (as well as the New Testament) and other will find his brief discussion of their relationship helpful. The Medieval and Modern Greek scholars, though will likely view Bortone as an incredibly useful contribution to both theory and description with little to no previous research done on this subject for Medieval Greek and the largest amount of space Bortone devoted to Modern Greek.

Despite this descriptive gap, even the student of Hellenistic Greek will find that Bortone provides an essential framework understanding how prepositions work in language and a sure footing for a part of speech that has often been difficult and complex with its seemingly varied and unrelated meanings. He also provides an extremely useful discussion of improper prepositions, which tend to be largely ignored in the classroom and the textbook. For these two points, Bortone provides an extremely accessible and useful explanation of how the seemingly arbitrary meanings of prepositions and their cases are organized in highly principled manner.

In terms of its bibliography, at some points, the fact that Greek prepositions is a revision of Bortone’s 2000 doctoral thesis. Overall, the number of reference in his bibliography dated after 2000 is noticeably lower than those from other decades. For example, despite being published in 2010, Bortone only cites the 1996 Italian edition of Silvia Luraghi’s book, Studi su casi e preposizioni nel Greco antico.[6] This creates the unique situation where these two authors had access to each other research, albeit an earlier version in both cases. And both Bortone and Luraghi speak well of the other’s work in the editions here.

Conclusion: Strengths and Weaknesses of the Two Volumes

As noted previously, these two volumes are so dramatically different and yet so incredibly similar that it is difficult to say which volume would be the more useful for the Koine Greek scholar. Bortone’s extensive and detailed introduction is likely the most accessible and useful introduction to cognitive linguistics that the traditional philologist or scholar focusing on a particular period of Greek’s history could ask for. And for that reason alone, his book is definitely worth its price. And while the following content is top quality, the form of its presentation makes it more useful to the historical linguist interested in the nature of semantic change than the person interested in the Greek of an extremely particular historical period. But even then, anyone who is involved in teaching Greek should make part one of Bortone required reading for their students. While I have already said it a couple times before, his extensive discussion of semantic theory is unmatched in both clarity and detail for the non-linguist.

But when it comes to actual description of prepositions, particularly with reference to the Classical period (and to some extent the Hellenistic period), Luraghi’s work is likely more useful. And that would seem to be precisely its aim. For a descriptive account her book is the more useful one, especially considering that her analysis has an equally strong theoretical foundation as that of Bortone. It is just unfortunate that she does not deal with the so-called “improper” prepositions, which Bortone does discuss—if only briefly for each historical period. Perhaps the ideal world would have a study like Luraghi’s for each general period of the language. Luraghi covers the Homer and the Classical era extremely well. To have such a thorough study for the Hellenistic period, as well as the Roman period, Byzantine period, Medieval and Modern periods deserve to be done as well. In such an idea world, Bortone’s research would then provide an excellent unifying thread for the history of Greek prepositions.

As it stands, though, these are still two volumes that every scholar should have access to through their university library, at least. Both Luraghi and Bortone have provided distinct and useful perspectives on Greek prepositions in a way that compliments the other, while also demonstrating a theoretical unity and consensus on numerous issues involve in the study of prepositions in general and Greek prepositions in particular. They have made important contributions to closing the gap between the fields of Ancient Greek and contemporary linguistics. Hopefully in the near future similar work will be completed for other periods of the language to complement these two excellent volumes.

Works cited

Bortone, Pietro (2000). Aspects of the history of Greek prepositions. Hilary Term: University of Oxford.

_________. (2010). Greek prepositions from antiquity to the present. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Danove, Paul (2001). Linguistics and exegesis in the Gospel of Mark: Applications of a case frame analysis and lexicon. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.

_________. (2009). A grammatical and exegetical study of New Testament verbs of transference: A case frame guide to interpretation and translation. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.

Geeraerts, Dirk (2010). Theories of lexical semantics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Haspelmath, Martin (2003). “The geometry of grammatical meaning: Semantic maps and cross-linguistic comparison.” In M. Tomasello (Ed.), The new psychology of language, Vol. 2. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Horrocks, Geoffrey (1981). Space and time in Homer. Prepositional and Adverbial Particles in the Greek Epic. New York, Arno Press.

Lakoff, George (1977). “Linguistic gestalts.” Pages 236-287. In Papers from the Thirteenth Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society

_________. (1987). Women, fire, and dangerous things. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Langacker, Ronald (1987). Foundations of Cognitive Grammar: Theoretical prerequisites. Vol. 1. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

_________. (1991). Concept, image, and symbol. Berline: Mouton de Gruyter.

Luraghi, Silvia (1996). Studi su casi e preposizioni nel Greco antico. Milano: F. Angeli.

_________. (2003). On the meaning of prepositions and cases: Semantic roles in Ancient Greek. Studies in language companion series 67. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Nikiforidou, Kiki (1991). “The meaning of the genitive.” Cognitive linguistics, 2(2): 149-205.

Porter, Stanley (1999). Idioms of the Greek New Testament. 2nd Edition. Sheffield, Sheffield Academic Press.

Porter, Stanley and Andrew Pitts (2008). “New Testament Greek linguistics in recent research.” Currents in biblical research, 6.2: 214-255.

Wong, Simon (1997). A classification of semantic case relations in the Pauline Epistles. Studies in Biblical Greek 9. New York: Peter Lang.

[1] Adpositions subsume both prepositions and also postpositions.

[2] The only place where such a distinction continues to be useful is with pre-verbs where “improper” prepositions are not prefixed to verbs, but this issue is less than relevant for the study of prepositions and prepositional phrases.

[3] This concept is central to cognitive linguistics and, in many ways, builds on the research of 19th century comparative linguistics and philology (see esp. Geeraerts 2010).

[4] Bortone does make discuss the preposition data from Mycenaean Greek to some extent, but essentially begins his study with Homeric Greek. He states, “Mycenaean often seems less archaic than Homer, because Homer is part of a very ancient tradition: Mycenaean has traits in common with Classical Greek while Homer has traits of Indo-European lost to Mycenaean (cf. Horrocks 1981: 143)” (Bortone 123).

[5] This does not, however, mean that Bortone’s work is as a result not useful for such research, but only that this is not his goal.

[6] Luraghi (1996). It is unclear tome whether the lack of reference to Luraghi’s 2003 English edition is a result of Bortone not being aware of it while preparing his dissertation for publication or because there simply was not enough substantial difference between the English and Italian editions. I do not have access to the Italian edition to check. The lack of references to Luraghi’s (rather substantial) work on Greek prepositions post-1996 might suggest the former.

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).