review Palmer 1995

From: Vincent DeCaen (
Date: Thu Nov 23 1995 - 12:39:44 EST

I would like to know where/how to get out a book review of the
following: in the meantime, I offer an informal e-review.

Palmer, Michael W. 1995. Levels of Constituent Structure in New
Testament Greek. Studies in Biblical Greek, no.4. New York: Peter Lang.

As some might know by now, I work for much of my time on the formal
syntax of Biblical Hebrew. That's why it was such a treat to come
across someone working on analogous problems in NT Greek. I think
this year's SBL pointed up the growing interest in matters linguistic,
and Palmer's book offers a useful starting point for the consideration
of syntactic structure.

The first thing to say is that it is now clear why Biblical
grammarians need to learn how to use computer-assisted research tools
and info retrieval systems; and why X' (read "X bar", X a variable), a
standard term in theoretical linguistics, will be a familiar concept
for the next generation of grammarians.

Palmer set himself two very limited goals, and within those parameters
the limited goals were met. 1) an introduction to syntax and the
application to Greek. 2) the argument that a naive 50s view of phrase
structure cannot handle basic Greek syntax.

Ch.2 is a clean, concise overview of progress in linguistics as it
relates to phrase structure (=syntax) up to but not including the
Minimalist turn in the late 80s/early 90s (it's not clear whether we
should include the Principles-and-Parameters turn of the early 80s;
but if Palmer didn't assume P&P, I think responsible will work have to
assume P&P explicitly).

Ch.3 is a useful, enlightening discussion of method, and repays
rereading. He intelligently addresses the problem of working on a dead
language, relying prinicipally on Lightfoot's "Diachronic Syntax". He
also considers hypothesis formation. (I would add as an aside that I
consider this line an "ideology of science" and recommend Feyerabend's
"Against Method" 3d ed 1993 as secondary reading.)

Ch.4 is a gentle introduction to constituent structure, and Ch.5
continues with an argument for an intermediate level between syntactic
head and syntactic phrase (maximal projection) for nominals, viz. N' (read
"N bar", N for noun). It's not clear the level of difficulty assumed
by Palmer: although I assumed he aimed low, it might still not be low
enough. (But students shouldn't be put off by a challenge.)

my sense, though not being an expert in Greek as such, is that he
copes with Greek nominals in an enlightening manner. I would add, and
it's not a criticism of the work as such, that much has happened in
generalized X' theory including the hypothesis of DET (determiner)
heading its own projection DP (determiner phrase) that could take his
analysis much further. I would be happy to discuss offlist how such
an improvement would look (you can get a cleaner analysis, but you
also get adjunction to D' vs N', with consequences and predictions
that deserve extended treatment).

I should add that I've been commissioned to write a companion volume
for the Hebrew Studies series, "Biblical Hebrew Syntactic Structure: A
Government-Binding Approach". It will be different in many respects,
being more of a primer with application to Hebrew. I'm looking for
guidance from those in Biblical studies as to what should be in it,
what structures to be examined, what audience to aim it at, etc., etc.
perhaps those coping with Palmer's book might give me a sense of where
the difficulties arise in reading/understanding, what could be done
differently, etc, etc. I would be grateful for such feedback, and
will acknowledge the time/effort of respondents in this regard (ie, in
concept development, etc).

Vincent DeCaen

Near Eastern Studies, Religion & Culture,
University of Toronto Wilfrid Laurier University

Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history,
is man's original virtue. It is through disobedience that
progress has been made, through disobedience and through
rebellion. --Oscar Wilde

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:37:32 EDT