Category Archives: Greek

Greek Verb Conference at Tyndale House – Buist Fanning

I polled various readers here and on twitter and facebook and I get some requests for which presentations to write about. This is the beginning of following up on that. I’ll also be doing: Rugter Allan’s, Peter Gentry’s, and Rachel Aubrey’s (my wife).

All of the presentations I’m blogging about will be available in full in their larger form in:

The Greek Verb Revisited: A Fresh Approach for Biblical Exegesis, edited by Steve Runge & Chris Fresch

Buist, if you’re reading this and I missed something or said something wrong, let me know.

The purpose of Fanning’s paper was to provide some context in terms of the discussion of research on aspect and the verb in New Testament studies in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Fanning’s perspective, logically focus more on his own work, research influences, and ideas simply because that was what he knew firsthand. The trajectory of his original dissertation research had began in the realm of New Testament studies and biblical theology. Still, there were a number of leads that contributed to Fanning’s interest in Greek aspect. These motivated him to do his dissertation on aspect in Greek.

  • These included:
  • James Barr’s work on lexicography and semantics
  • Stagg’s article “The Abused Aorist”
  • Kenneth McKay’s work on the Greek verb in Classical and Post-Classical Greek
  • His own experiences in the classroom teaching Greek
  • Reading Bernard Comrie’s 1976 monograph on aspect
  • Reading John Lyon’s two volume work Semantics

These are all parallel to the same influences that impacted Porter and his own research. Fanning expressed the expectation of the parallel in his presentation and I know from friends at McMaster Divinity School that essentially the same set of existing research motivated Porter as he also worked toward the completion of his own book on aspect.

One of the key differences between them, however, was in how they approach the question. Contrasts between Porter & Fanning:

  • Fanning assumed that the understanding of aspect has grown over the centuries. That the philological insights of past scholars were not mistakes, but simplistic and in need of refinement. Not an intellectual revolution, but a process of extending and correcting the work of others.
  • Porter viewed past work as flawed and saw a need for a scientific revolution. Everything before 1989 needed to be cleared away. There was a need for a rigorous & structualist framework.

At this point, Fanning himself emphasized that this expression of the difference between the two of them constitutes a gross over-simplification of the history of their research.

Finally, Fanning described the areas of agreement between their two respective works as follows:

  • Verbal aspect is central to the understanding of the Greek verb
  • Aspect is a matter of viewpoint.
  • The Greek aorist is perfective
  • The present/imperfective is imperfective
  • Greek aspect is important and relevant for discourse structure.

Fanning eagerly encourages other to come and participate in the work of improvement of our understanding.

It’s probably worth linking to the two books at the center of discussion:

Buist Fanning’s Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1990).

Stanley E. Porter’s Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament (New York: Peter Lang, 1989).

Two whirlwind days of papers in Cambridge

The Linguistics and Greek Verb Conference finished 9:30PM last night, with my wife giving the last paper on the semantics of θη middles in Koine Greek and their motivation from other clause types.

The entire two days were extremely satisfying. I have a nice collection of notes to write up for the four sessions that I was requested to blog about. Thank you, everyone, who helped Rachel and I get to Cambridge. We had an incredibly productive time–Rachel connected with Rutger Allan and they had a really positive conversation about voice that’s going to continue via e-mail.

For my part, meeting Robert Crellin and have some conversation about the perfect. His dissertation and my thesis come from very different places in terms of descriptive terminology and theoretical background, but it was immensely satisfying to find that we have effectively arrived at the same conclusions (worded slightly differently). That is to say, given his work with Klein 1994 (link), I would have come to the very same conclusions about the event structure of perfect semantics. Now, whether the same could be said about my own efforts in the other direction, I don’t know, but I do look forward to enjoying fruitful dialogue in the future.

Now, however, we have to pack to begin our journey home. We have a day for wandering around Cambridge and then a flight back to Chicago tomorrow.

More to come…

Onward to Cambridge!

I want to again thank everyone who contributed to the GoFundMe Campaign: Cambridge Greek Verb Conference. The response was both astounding and generous. Thank you all so much.

Here’s what has been happening so far:

  • Rachel and I have been diligently preparing our papers for the conference. We’re almost ready!
  • All of you raised enough that I’ll be blogging about sessions.
  • I have two books to review (those will be coming in July and August, hopefully)

What we need to do now:

Help choosing which sessions to blog about. I’ll be doing three.You can see the full list here: Linguistics & the Greek Verb. It covers everything from aspect, to voice, participles, to discourse, tense, modality, linguistics, classical perspectives, and much more. It’s going to be an awesome time.

We’re still pretty stretched with covering the costs that left, you can still contribute if you’d like. We’re $50 short of a third book review and $100 short of blogging a four conference session, if either of those are of interest to you.

I need to get writing a couple book reviews. I’m currently working on:

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

So again: thanks everyone for helping us get here. We’re really excited!

“Wait what?” moments in Greek grammar #2

That moment when you read in BDAG (and BAGD, too) that σκοτίζω’s middle form has the function of:

The passive of moral darkening.

That’s about as beautiful as some of Wallace’s (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics) categories for case (especially the genitive ones). This particular instance seems to be an effort on the part of the editors to account for the fact that this instance of the verb takes a θη form in the perfective aspect and the verb itself is not ‘deponent’. If you can’t account for θη not actually being passive with the normal punt to deponency (which is a fancy word for ‘I don’t understand this’), I suppose making up an entirely new category for a single verb is the next best thing.

Update: So my good friend Stephen Carlson pointed out that the abbreviation ‘pass.’ in BDAG can also mean ‘passage’ rather than ‘passive’ and suggested that is the better reading here. Contextually, it makes more sense, but in terms of English grammar, that’s an incredibly odd use of the preposition ‘of’: “the passage of moral darkening.”

So maybe just bad English instead of bad linguistics–either way still a “wait what?” though.

Update to the Update: After more examination, I’m back to being convinced ‘pass.’ does indeed refer to ‘passive’. Consider the entry for βόσκω as evidence:

② to feed on herbage, graze, feed, pass. of livestock (Is 5:17; 11:7; Jos., Bell. 6, 153; SibOr 3, 789) ἀγέλη βοσκομένη Mt 8:30; Mk 5:11; Lk 8:32. πρόβατα βοσκόμενα (PTebt 298, 53) Hs 6, 2, 4, cp. 7; sim.

I looked up every single reference here. All involve middle forms of the verb. Every single one of them. So here’s a ‘passive of livestock.’

Update to the Update’s Update:

So ‘pass.’ does mean passive here, but there’s more going on than meets the eye. I’ve got a follow up on the way now.

Suzanne Ethelwyn McCarthy, 1955-2015

This morning, I heard from Carl Conrad on B-Greek (link) that Suzanne Ethelwyn McCarthy passed away last Friday following a battle with breast cancer.

My long time readers likely know or remember Suzanne. She participated in a number of discussions about Greek lexicography, grammatical gender, and translation theory both here on this blog and several others, including BetterBibles.com and BLT*. She had a quick wit and a sharp mind and contributed some of the best lexicographical work on αὐθεντέω that I have seen–unpublished sadly.

She will be missed greatly as a friend and as a scholar.

Here obituary is here.

Fun Data Points in Greek

A presentational/thetic clause with an indefinite null subject:

καὶ ἐξῆλθον ἀπὸ τῶν ἱερέων ἐκ τῶν ἁγίων καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων τοῦ λαοῦ ἀσπάσασθαι αὐτὸν εἰρηνικῶς καὶ δεῖξαι αὐτῷ τὴν ὁλοκαύτωσιν τὴν προσφερομένην ὑπὲρ τοῦ βασιλέως (1 Macc 7:33).

This could either be translated:

“There came out [some people] from the priests from the holy place and from the elders of the people to greet him peacefully and to show him the a burnt offering being offered on behalf of the king.”

Or:

“[Some people] from the priests from the holy place and from the elders of the people to greet him peacefully and to show him the a burnt offering being offered on behalf of the king came out.”

Both translations would be acceptable sentence focus constructions in English, but the former would be the more explicitly (i.e. marked) presentational construction (cf. Lakoff 1987–the appendix on presentationals in English is absolutely superb and worth reading by, well, anyone and everyone interested in linguistics).

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.)