Syntactical categories and meaning

refe
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Syntactical categories and meaning

Post by refe » August 22nd, 2011, 5:43 pm

I'm sure most, if not all of you are familiar with Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics by Daniel Wallace. What is the general opinion around here of its merits and methodologies?

From my perspective, Wallace's system of syntactical categories and sub-categories seems artificial at best. Of course its important to know the range of something like the genitive case, but do all those categories really convey how the Greek language actually works? It feels to me much more like a big decoder ring. Plug whatever construction you encounter in the text into the various categories until you find the best fit, and bam! Exegesis. Hopefully that's not the kind of mentality that the grammar is producing, but many of the beginners I talk to aren't even aware of another way of thinking about Greek.

Surely this is not how languages actually work! Or is it? How valid is this kind of drag-and-drop approach to syntax?
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cwconrad
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Re: Syntactical categories and meaning

Post by cwconrad » August 23rd, 2011, 6:24 am

refe wrote:I'm sure most, if not all of you are familiar with Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics by Daniel Wallace. What is the general opinion around here of its merits and methodologies?

From my perspective, Wallace's system of syntactical categories and sub-categories seems artificial at best. Of course its important to know the range of something like the genitive case, but do all those categories really convey how the Greek language actually works? It feels to me much more like a big decoder ring. Plug whatever construction you encounter in the text into the various categories until you find the best fit, and bam! Exegesis. Hopefully that's not the kind of mentality that the grammar is producing, but many of the beginners I talk to aren't even aware of another way of thinking about Greek.

Surely this is not how languages actually work! Or is it? How valid is this kind of drag-and-drop approach to syntax?
I have myself frequently raised objections to Wallace's grammatical categories and subcategories, essentially for the same reasons you are stating. I think, however, that Wallace's intentions in this grammar, clearly set forth in his introductory material, are perhaps misunderstood by those of us who offer this criticism. As I see it, Wallace is offering an "exegetical" grammar aimed at demonstrating how the Greek constructions relate to English usage; in effect, he is not so much offering an account of how the Greek expressions and constructions function in the understanding of the Greek thinker and writer as he is showing how these constructions and expressions are best understood by the English speaker who wants to reformulate the Greek text in English. If the intent of the analysis in the book is understood in that light, I think its practice is probably very successful. I think it needs to be understood in terms of a pedagogy that is interested chiefly in converting Biblical Greek text into intellgible English, which is to say, it's a guide to translating Greek more than a guide to understanding how the Greek linguistic mind works. For example, the many, many types of genitive usage that Wallace describes (including even an "aporetic" or "what the hell?" type of genitive) are not descriptive of how the Greek speaker or writer thinks so much as they are methodologies for converting the Greek text into English expressions. That this is precisely what many students both in and out of seminaries really want in their effort to "understand Greek," it is scarcely surprising that the book has been very successful. Complaints lodged against it are based more upon a sense that a grammar's focus really ought to be understanding how the Greek mind works and expresses itself in oral and written speech rather than how to convert Greek constructions into intelligible English.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

refe
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Re: Syntactical categories and meaning

Post by refe » August 23rd, 2011, 9:30 am

You're right, Wallace is clear with the purpose of his book and he can't be faulted for that. But even if the goal is simply translation, it seems short-sighted to skip over the types of discussion that will help students truly understand the language and how it's users communicated with it. The same criticisms would still apply, I think - that it is more of a decoder ring than a true Greek grammar - because translation is itself a nuanced process that requires more than a purely functional knowledge of the source language. Perhaps the idea is that students will get that type of training elsewhere, but I interact with a lot of students using this textbook who have no intention of doing that, if they are even aware that there is some other way out there. That's the piece that I think is missing - the warning that the Wallace method serves a specific, and somewhat limited function, but that outside of that function other resources are necessary.
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Bob Nyberg
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Re: Syntactical categories and meaning

Post by Bob Nyberg » August 23rd, 2011, 10:08 am

The school at which I teach offers a course in linguistics. Those in the linguistics department often refer to two types of linguists: 1) splitters and 2) lumpers.

I see Wallace as being "a splitter."

I guess from a linguistic standpoint having a gazillion categories on different parts of speech might be helpful. But I really wonder if people are actually thinking in terms of those categories when they speak/write. :D

Bob
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refe
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Re: Syntactical categories and meaning

Post by refe » August 23rd, 2011, 10:13 am

So then out of curiosity, what is a lumper?
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: Syntactical categories and meaning

Post by Stephen Carlson » August 23rd, 2011, 10:30 am

I've got Wallace's book, and I find the coverage uneven. Some parts are very detailed (e.g. the article) and others less so (e.g. voice). Also the coverage seems to focus more on what parts of the NT are difficult to translate into English rather than difficult to understand in the Greek. I tend to find BDF more useful for the latter.
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Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
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Bob Nyberg
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Re: Syntactical categories and meaning

Post by Bob Nyberg » August 23rd, 2011, 11:11 am

A lumper would be a linguist who has a tendency to combine categories which are similar rather than split them into separate categories. :D

Bob
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MAubrey
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Re: Syntactical categories and meaning

Post by MAubrey » August 23rd, 2011, 12:22 pm

My central problem with Wallace isn't so much the existence of the categories themselves--many (most?) are good and relatively justified. My bigger issue in the organization and structure. Now, I definitely don't view the genitive as having 40 some meanings. No. But there are semantic distinctions to be made. If Wallace gave explanation of how categories are related with reference to each other, he would have a more believable grammar.
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Mike Aubrey, Linguist
Koine-Greek.com

refe
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Re: Syntactical categories and meaning

Post by refe » August 24th, 2011, 11:40 am

In that case, I am totally a lumper. I find languages naturally pretty lumpy, and believe that to try and seperate those lumps is to try and make our understanding of what a language is communicating easier, not more complete or accurate. And while that may be important in the beginning stages of learning, it will inevitably hinder students' progress.
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KimmoHuovila
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Re: Syntactical categories and meaning

Post by KimmoHuovila » August 24th, 2011, 2:56 pm

Being a lumper or a splitter need not be an either-or question. Some lumpers have produced great analyses showing how separate-looking categories have a lot in common. Some splitters have produced great analyses on important minute distinctions. Prototype theory and cognitive grammar allow one to easily combine the two approaches and reap the benefits of both. You just need to show how the categories relate to each other. The lumper's fewer categories are more abstract than the splitters many categories. You can study the relationship of the more abstract categories to the more concrete ones, as well as the relationships between the more concrete categories.
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