Category Archives: Greek

State predicates and the Greek perfect, Pt 3

This is part three of a three part series.
Part one can be found here: State predicates and the Greek perfect, Pt 1
Part two can be found here:  State predicates and the Greek perfect, Pt 2

The assumption an atelic usage of a inherently telic form is wrong finds its origins in what is called the classical model of categorization, which (usually implicitly) assumes that categories are fixed subject-external entities with well-defined boundaries and no ambiguity. This model has been common in linguistics since Roman Jakobson put forward his model of phonological features in the 1930’s and then developed into componential analysis by linguistics like Eugene Nida (cf. 1979). It is a structuralist model that assumes that the real world realization of categories (in this case: states and completives) are solely defined on the basis of binary feature assignment and that any extended usages should be derived from these features. So if completives are +telic then all usages of completives should also be +telic. The problem is that human categorization, including what we find in language, does not function like this.

To state it plainly in terms of the question of intensive state perfects and completive semantics, the idea of there being a contradiction in the stative (atelic) uses of a completive gram (telic in its central usage)  is based upon the misguided structuralist assumption that meaning exists only as a result of the formal oppositions that exist in the language system, as described by Nida (1979) and more recently by Nida and Louw (1992).

In contrast to this approach, I take seriously the critique of classical categories put forward by proponents of prototype theory, which goes back to  in assuming that the units we should compare across language are not features of a componential analysis (such as Jakobsonian distinctive features) but the semantic content of each gram, which may be thought of as focal points in conceptual space. Grams do not derive their meaning from the oppositions they enter into in a language, but rather have semantic content of their own which contributes to the formation of the conceptual system of the language (Bybee, Perkins, and Pagliuca’s (1994 45-6; see also Dahl 1985). Linguistics categories have their own inherent meaning independent of the linguistic system.

Prototype theory takes a different view of how categories work and how they are defined. Rosch’s (1978) emphasizes that the prototypical instantiations of a given category are maximally distinct from each other. She states,

To increase the distinctiveness and flexibility of categories, categories tend to become defined in terms of prototypes or prototypical instances that contain the attributes most representatives of items inside and least representative of terms outside the category (1978, 30).

This is essentially a double characterization in that prototypicality is here defined both positively (most representative attributes) and negatively (least representative attributes).  One implication of this definition is the fact that when we are dealing with two or more contrastive categories, non-prototypical usage of one of those categories will likely involve some of the prototypical attributes of that category, but also some prototypical attributes of another category. The logical result of this fact is that it may be entirely possible for two contrasting categories to reflect near synonymy in some discourse contexts—contexts where the most representative attributes of their given category are dramatically downplayed. These sorts of non-contrasts between grammatical categories are prototype effects derived from human cognition.

These facts are derived not merely from how categorization works for a limited set of items (e.g. lexemes), but how it functions for human cognition and reasoning in general. That is to say, all categorization is prototypical categorization. On this basis it makes perfect sense that a prototypically telic category can and does have a non-prototypical usage that is not telic.  The non-prototypical usage exists comfortably on the boundary between the prototypical atelic and the prototypical telic sharing aspects of each. Thus, intensive state usage of the completive perfect shares aspects of stative semantics and aspects of copmletive semantics, while also not full adhering to either.

Given what we know about how language (and human categorization in general) works, this situation should not be a surprise or viewed as contradictory. It should viewed as expected from the outset and we should anticipate find such language data from the very first.

Somehow this blog post got much longer than I intended and somehow there is still far, far more that could be said. A fuller discussion of my views on the nature of semantics can be found in Widder et al. (forthcoming) in the chapter on Greek and linguistics.

Works Cited:

Aubrey, Michael. 2014. The Greek perfect and the categorization of tense and aspect: Toward a descriptive apparatus for operators in Role and Reference Grammar. Thesis, Trinity Western University.

Wendy Widder, et al. forthcoming. Linguistics & Biblical Exegesis. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press.

Berlin, Brent; and Paul Kay. 1969. Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution. Berkeley, Calif.: Center for the Study of Language and Information.

Bybee, Joan, Revere Perkins, and William Pagliuca. 1994. The Evolution of Grammar: Tense, Aspect, and Modality in the Languages of the World Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dahl, Osten. 1985. Tense and Aspect Systems. London: Basil Blackwell Press.

Rosch, Eleanor. 1975. Cognitive Representations of Semantic Categories. Journal of Experimental Psychology 104 (3): 192–233.

Rosch, Eleanor. 1978. Principles of Categorization, pp. 27–48 in Rosch, E. & Lloyd, B.B. (eds), Cognition and Categorization. Lawrence Erlbaum.

Nida, Eugene. 1979. A Componential Analysis of Meaning: An Introduction to Semantic Structures Berlin: Walter de Gruyter Press.

Nida, Eugene and J. P. Louw. 1992. Lexical Semantics of the Greek New Testament. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.

Vendler, Zeno 1957. “Verbs and times”. The Philosophical Review 66 (2): 143–160.)

State predicates and the Greek perfect, Pt 2

This is part two of a three part series.
Part one can be found here: State predicates and the Greek perfect, Pt 1
Part three will soon be available here on Monday:  State predicates and the Greek perfect, Pt 3

I concluded the previous post with the following statement and in part 2, I want to provide an answer:

Fundamentally, the question is this: if the completive gram is inherently telic in nature, referring to an event as being brought to a complete conclusion, then how can it function as a state predicate in this manner? This usage seems to be contradictory to the very nature of completives.

From one perspective the answer actually pretty simple. And I’m a little at a loss as to why this question has come up as many times as it has. The claim about completives with state predicate simply isn’t my claim. It’s from one of my central pieces of secondary literature: Bybee, Perkins, and Pagliuca’s (1994, 74). All I did was cite it and then effectively say, “This happens in Post-Classical Greek, too.” Still, that is by no means a sufficient answer as to why this issue isn’t a problem. So the more involved answer is that this usage with state predicates is very clearly and easily motivated analogically via the metaphor. It is perhaps best illustrated like this.

  • A change of state is a process from one state to another state.
  • A fully completed change of state is the the strongest version of the final state.
  • By analogy, the strongest version of a state (i.e. intensive) is a more completed form state.

Now, we can break that down with a few English examples. Consider the follow sentences.

  • The towel is wet.
  • The towel is drying.
  • The towel is dry.

These three sentences present a simple (to the extent that anything is simply) process with a beginning middle and end–a more or less prototypical change of state. You have two states and you have the change from one to the other. A normal completive formed from the middle process clause would be:

  • The towel is completely dried.

You can see the regular prototypical completive both includes reference to (1) the change of state itself (dried vs. drying) and (2) the total affectedness of the patient argument (the drying is finished entirely). The English verb ‘to dry’ defaults to an accomplishment predicate type, but it also has a stative usage in the form of a predicate adjective, which we see above (and repeated here momentarily). Moreover, the semantics of this state are scalar following the development of the process of drying.

  • The towel is not dry.
  • The towel is a little dry.
  • The towel is partially dry.
  • The towel is mostly dry
  • The towel is almost dry.
  • The towel is completely dry.

Only one of these sentences is comparable to “the towel is dry” in terms of its propositional content: the final version. In turn, the normal completive version and the stative version are also propositionally similar:

  • The towel is completely dried.
  • The towel is completely dry.

The difference between them is the  asymmetrical nature of their reference. The first clause (the completive one) must necessarily refer only to a towel that was previously wet, whereas the second clause (the purely stative one) can be used to refer to any dry towel regardless of whether the towel was previously wet or not. Basically what happens with state predicates is that you have an overlap in usage that already exists and the extension of completely to refer to states that do not involve any sort of process or change is both regular and predictable. The extensions of the English adverb completely and the completive usages of the Greek perfect are parallel in how they grammaticalized in their respective languages.

This usage of the completive perfect with state predicates  is fundamentally predictable from the nature of the grammatical category itself. In turn, the flaw in the critique is the very assumption that a the contradiction in meaning (an atelic usage from a form that is otherwise inherently  telic) is a problem to begin with. Nobody would protest the use of the English adverb completely when it gets used with a state (e.g. completely exhausted or completely drunk to mean extremely exhausted or extremely drunk). They would not protest it because intuitively they are already aware that the principles of language change a fundamentally distinct from the laws of logic. The latter does not government the former.

Keep that in mind as we move to part three of this series.

To be continued…

Works Cited:

Aubrey, Michael. 2014. The Greek perfect and the categorization of tense and aspect: Toward a descriptive apparatus for operators in Role and Reference Grammar. Thesis, Trinity Western University.

Wendy Widder, et al. forthcoming. Linguistics & Biblical Exegesis. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press.

Berlin, Brent; and Paul Kay. 1969. Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution. Berkeley, Calif.: Center for the Study of Language and Information.

Bybee, Joan, Revere Perkins, and William Pagliuca. 1994. The Evolution of Grammar: Tense, Aspect, and Modality in the Languages of the World Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dahl, Osten. 1985. Tense and Aspect Systems. London: Basil Blackwell Press.

Rosch, Eleanor. 1975. Cognitive Representations of Semantic Categories. Journal of Experimental Psychology 104 (3): 192–233.

Rosch, Eleanor. 1978. Principles of Categorization, pp. 27–48 in Rosch, E. & Lloyd, B.B. (eds), Cognition and Categorization. Lawrence Erlbaum.

Nida, Eugene. 1979. A Componential Analysis of Meaning: An Introduction to Semantic Structures Berlin: Walter de Gruyter Press.

Nida, Eugene and J. P. Louw. 1992. Lexical Semantics of the Greek New Testament. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.

Vendler, Zeno 1957. “Verbs and times”. The Philosophical Review 66 (2): 143–160.)

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)

Semantic Gradiance in Middle Lexemes

Transitivity isn’t a binary thing. You can scale it across usage. This is clear in things like lexical semantics. Consider the middle instances of φοβέω, for example.

ἐφοβήθησαν δὲ ἀκούσαντες ὅτι Ῥωμαῖοί εἰσιν,
they grew afraid when they heard they were Roman citizens (Acts 16:38).

ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν·
There was greatly terrified (they feared [with a] great fear )(Luke 2:9)

ἐφοβήθησαν τοὺς ὄχλους
they feared the crowd (Mark 12:12)

Intransitive change of state –> Semi-transitive experiencer-stimulus –> Syntactic transitive experiencer-stimulus

Now from the perspective of the prototypical transitive clause (volitional animate participant acting on an inanimate non-volitional object), all three of these clauses are divergences. And the most transitive version of this verb necessarily involve the active voice:

μηδὲν αὐτοὺς ταραχῶδες ἐφόβει
Nothing terrifying was causing them fear (was frightening them (Wisdom of Solomon 17:9)

What’s the point of all of this? Well, transitivity is interest to me. That’s mostly it. On the other hand, another point might be that when it comes to describing the semantics of the Greek middle, subject affectedness may certainly be a necessary condition for middle morphology, but it still isn’t the whole story.

Anyway, I’m enjoying my wife’s research on the topic. Her larger thesis project deals with this and many other questions (this is from her data).  And her forthcoming presentation/paper at the Cambridge Greek Verb conference is going to examine the impact of metaphor and analogy in language change in the middle voice with particular reference to -θη forms in the Koine period.

Expensive Books that Deal with these Questions:

The Middle Voice in Ancient Greek: A Study of Polysemy (Amsterdam Studies in Classical Philology) by Rutger Allan

The Middle Voice by Suzanne Kemmer

Grammatical Voice (Cambridge Studies in Linguistics) by M. H. Klaiman

Prototypical Transitivity (Typological Studies in Language) by Åshild Næss

Verb Conference GoFundMe Update

We passed the $500 mark last week. The response and kindness expressed by everyone has been pretty incredible. Some gifts have come in independently of GoFundMe and, as a result, I have reduced the total goal again to $2100.  That means Rachel and I are 1/4th of the way there. In conjunction with what we are receiving in ‘official’ conference funding, we have enough funds to cover 2/3’s our plane tickets.

Because of that, we’ve moving forward on buying our tickets with the hope that we will be able to find a way to cover our room & board costs for the time we’re there. The flights are the big ones though and we want to talk all of you for your incredible generosity.

With passing the $500 mark, I have two book reviews to write. The very first contributor has not yet decided what he wants me to review (he promises me that it’s coming soon!), but for the $500 mark, I will be reviewing:

Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament: Studies in Tools, Methods, and Practice by Stanley Porter

That review will appear in Mid-June.

If we are able to reach the $750 mark, someone will have the opportunity to request another book for me to review.

Again, thank you, everyone, for all your kindness and support. Thanks for helping get us to Cambridge to present our research!

Cambridge Greek Verb Conference GoFundMe Campaign

Cambridge Greek Verb Conference – We need your help

Go Fund Me (or ‘Us’, I should say).

Many of you are likely aware that this coming July there is going to be an academic conference on the syntax, semantics, and pragmatics of the verb in Post-classical (Koine) Greek. I wrote a post about it when it was announced.

Here’s the official flier:

https://oldschoolscript.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/linguistics-and-the-greek-verb-flier-pic.png

What many of you likely do not know (and isn’t in the official announcement) is that both I am my wife, Rachel, have been specifically invited to share our research on the Greek verb at the conference. I will be applying the methodology I developed in my thesis to aspect and imperatives (something I did not have space for in my thesis). My wife will be presenting her research and analysis of the cognitive motivations for the usage of the θη middle forms in the post-Classical period.

This is a huge opportunity for both of us. But we need help. Funding opportunities are simply not sufficient for covering our costs. And the incomes of graduate students are only famous for being small. To that end, I had the thought of starting up a Go Fund Me Campaign with the hope of at least covering a portion of our expenses. Even if we can raise a small portion of the funds we need, would go a long way in helping. I have roughly 800-1000 regular readers/subscribers who have for one reason or another seen value in the efforts that I have put into this website–even if it has, of late, been little more than postings about other people’s publications (sorry about that). Nevertheless, if even half of you were willing to consider skipping a coffee at Starbucks, the majority of our airplane ticket costs would be covered.

And I’m more than willing, if not eager to make any contributions worth your while academically speaking.

  • For every $250 raise, I will write a blog post surveying one of the presentations at the conference–up to eight blog posts.
  • Perhaps I could even contribute to some additional incentive in the form of a large print from my landscape photography portfolio for contributions over a certain amount ($75 maybe?)…if that’s even worth anything.
  • Leave a suggestion in the comments if you can think of any other way that I could create incentive.
  • On the incredibly rare possibility that we raise more money than we need, extra funds will be contributed to the conference itself to help other presenters expenses.

All that to say, if you’re at all willing to help my wife and I make a substantive contribution to the field of New Testament studies, Greek Grammar, Linguistics with this opportunity, please consider helping us get there.

More conference info here.

Go Fund Me (or ‘Us’, I should say).

Steve Runge Doing a Google Hangout

Steve Runge is doing a Google Hangout talking about restrictive clauses and backgrounding in Galatians. Some of you might want to check it out. Your local time for it will be at the link, but it’s at 1PM Pacific.

UPDATE: I didn’t make it because of prior engagements, but the video from the hangout is up on YouTube, so you can still check it (beware: it’s 30 min.):

And of course, there’s his excellent grammar, which I’m always happy to plug:

Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Amazon)

Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Logos Bible Software)