Re: Greek Word Order

Micheal Palmer (
Sat, 25 Jan 1997 19:48:15 -0800 (PST)

At 8:00 AM -0500 1/24/97, Paul F. Evans wrote:
>[SNIP] . . . What
>exactly constitutes "marked," what are the indicators of "markedness?" I
>guess >I am asking for a definition. Now from what you said there is a
>rather >complicated theory involved so please if it is possible, keep it
>basic for >someone whose understanding of greek is rather basic!Is it
>possible to deduce >anyhting from the text from based upon markedness and
>unmarkednes, and to what >extent can markedness and unmarkness be helpful
>in exegesis? I mean by this, >what conclusions can be drawn from the text
>based upon this criteria?

I will break your question down into two parts. First, what do "marked" and
"unmarked" mean?

A MARKED construction is one which gives prominince to a particular item
(such as a phrase, or a particular word). A related UNMARKED construction
gives no particular prominence to any element in the sentence.

For example, we could call the English sentence, "He gave the sweater to
John" UNMARKED, since neither "he", "the sweater", nor "John" receive any
unusual emphasis or are prominent in any uncharacteristic way. The
sentence, "To John he gave the sweater," however, is MARKED. It seems to
imply a contrast with something else given to someone else. The sentence
would be natural in a context like:

He gave the tie to his father, and the socks to Jim. To John he
gave the

This choice of order for the last sentence gives prominence to "John".

As for the second part of your question, "what are the indicators of
markedness?" I would say that we are still in the reseach phase. Much work
remains to be done on Hellenistic Greek before we can say with a high
degree of confidence what is marked and what unmarked. Still, if we can
determine what the most natural word or constituents (not just words, but
phrases as well) is, then we will have a point of comparison for
determining markedness.

This cannot be done by simply counting the number of sentences which have
each available order and claiming that the majority order wins. We have to
carefully analyze individual texts, look at what commentators have had to
say about them, read enough Greek from enough different kinds of texts to
get a comfortable feel for the characteristic usage, etc. It will not do to
simply count and declair the majority order to be the unmarked order, since
it is clear from modern texts (where we can tell what is marked and what is
not much more easily) that there are some texts where the majority of
sentences contain some marked element.

Now, for your third question (I hope I haven't lost count). Is it possible
to deduce anything from the text based on markedness and unmarkedness. Yes.
I believe it is.

This is nothing new. The traditional grammars have sometimes noted that an
element which is not usually found at the beginning of a clause may be
moved there for the sake of "emphasis", for example. I would reword that
claim and say that in many texts (at least Luke-Acts, and I suspect much
more of the NT) the most natural (but not necessarily most common) order is
verb-subject-object. When this order is changed IN THE MAIN CLAUSE, if
either the subject or the object are moved to the beginning, that element
receives prominence.

Let's take a real life example discussed recently on b-greek.


Here the direct object (which happens to be a participial clause which
doesn't sound at all like a direct object in English--"when we were dead. .
.") is placed at the beginning of the main clause, thereby receiving
considerable prominince. Rather than translating this sentence "We were
made alive together with Christ when we were dead through trespasses," many
translators recognize the prominence given to ONTAS HMAS NEKROUS TOIS
PARAPTWMASIN and translate, "EVEN when we were dead through our trespasses,
we were made alive with Christ." The insertion of "even" reflects their
recognition of the markedness of this construction.

Micheal W. Palmer
Religion & Philosophy
Meredith College