Greek Word Order

From: Maurice A. O'Sullivan (
Date: Sat Jun 08 1996 - 12:30:53 EDT


I wonder if you are aware of a fairly recent BMCR review of a book which
looks as if it will supplant the Dover volume listed in your biblio?

I am appending it below.



P.S I have just signed off the B-GREEK list for a week's holiday -- feel
free to mention this on the list.


Helma Dik, <i>Word Order in Ancient Greek</i>: <i>A Pragmatic
Account of Word Order Variation in Herodotus</i>. Amsterdam
Studies in Classical Philology 5. Amsterdam: J. C. Gieben, 1995.
Pp. xii, 294. <i>f</i>. 143.10. ISBN 90-5063-457-5.
  Reviewed by David Sansone, Classics -- University of Illinois

  Arthur Sidgwick gave the following advice to the boys (!) to
whom his <i>Introduction to Greek Prose Composition</i> is
addressed: "The chief thing to remember about the <i>order</i>
in Greek prose sentences is that it is the <i>natural</i> order."
It was of course easy for Sidgwick to say this, as he had more or
less successfully interiorized the "rules" for Greek word order
as a result of his long years of reading and composing Greek (and
correcting the compositions of his "boys"). Every language has
its own preferred order for the placement of words and
constituents, and those who have mastered a given language
"naturally" adhere to that preferred order. But, when it comes
to the practical realities, what exactly are the "rules" for word
order in ancient Greek? A number of attempts have been made over
the years; until now the most successful effort has been that of
Sir Kenneth Dover, whose <i>Greek Word Order</i> of 1960,
however, has not been as influential among classicists as it
might have been, in part, perhaps, because of the presence in it
of statements like the following (47): "Here FASI/N is strictly
speaking <i>M<sup>q</sup></i> in character, and the word-group
which I have analysed as <i>N Cq C</i> is therefore on the
borderline of the category '<i>C</i> group'; it admits of the
analysis <i>N M<sup>qq</sup> C</i>." It was in order to avoid
having to read sentences like this that many classicists became
classicists in the first place. Still, Dover's book is of
fundamental importance, and it includes a comprehensive
bibliography of earlier work. In his Preface Dover gracefully
acknowledges his debt to his predecessors, saying of his slim
volume: ". . . whatever good there may be in it has been reached
by standing on the shoulders of others. I hope that someone will
stand on mine as soon as possible, and that I can take the
weight." Rather later than sooner, as it turns out, Sir
Kenneth's wishes have been answered. Whether he can take the
weight remains to be seen; he will certainly appreciate the irony
of his supercessor's surname. Be that as it may, <i>Word Order
in Ancient Greek</i> is a substantial and impressive contribution
to the study of the Greek language.

  The approach taken by Dr. Dik in this, her dissertation at the
University of Amsterdam, is one that was not available to Dover
in 1960. Her approach is that provided by Functional Grammar,
which was developed, beginning in the 1960s, by Simon Dik, whose
recent and untimely death represents a great loss to the
community of linguists. (Helma Dik, I am told on good authority,
is not related to Simon.) Most Hellenists will not be familiar
with Functional Grammar, but that is no impediment to the
appreciation of this lucid study, for Dr. Dik is a remarkably
accommodating companion. In addition to writing in flawless and
idiomatic English, she keeps technical terms to a minimum. Her
definitions of such technical terms as are necessary for her
presentation are models of clarity and concision, and the reader
is further helped by a convenient "Index of Terms" that makes it
easy to locate those definitions. The two most important terms
in her discussion denote the pragmatic functions of Topic and
Focus, which are defined and illustrated on pp. 24 ff.: "In the
theory of Functional Grammar, we can identify the notion of
<i>Topic</i> with the information that serves as a point of
orientation, and <i>Focus</i> with the most salient piece of new
information in a clause." The main purpose of the book is to
make sense of the distribution of Topic and Focus within the
clause, and the pattern that Dik proposes (p. 12) is as follows:
P1--P --V--X. In this pattern, "P1" = the slot for Topic; "P " =
the slot, immediately preceding the verb, for Focus; "V" = the
"default position for the verb" in those cases where the verb has
neither Topic nor Focus function; and "X" = the slot for
everything else (i.e. those non-verbal elements that are not
assigned a pragmatic function). This scheme is illustrated and
defended in brilliant fashion from the text of Herodotus.
Naturally, there is a danger in confining oneself to an
examination of the language of a single author: The possibility
exists that what Dik has discovered is not a pattern of Greek
word order, but a pattern of Herodotean word order. But this can
be tested. The testing will need to be done over an extended
period of time and using a variety of texts. My own preliminary
(and rather desultory) investigations reveal that, at the very
least, this pattern holds for Xenophon and Lysias as well. In
other words, there seems to be a good possibility that Dik has
described for the first time the character of ancient Greek word
order. This is no small feat, particularly when one considers
the fact that grammarians have been attempting to do this very
thing since the time of Dionysius of Halicarnassus.

  I hasten to add that Dik has not merely taken over the theory
of Functional Grammar and applied it mechanically to ancient
Greek. In one important respect she has suggested (and
successfully defended) a modification in the standard theory of
Functional Grammar. In an extended discussion (64-70, 207-35)
she demonstrates that, contrary to the orthodox view, predicates,
as well as terms, can receive Topic assignment. Dik's
demonstration is entirely convincing although, as she herself
recognizes (208 n. 200), topicalization of the predicate is a
characteristic feature of Herodotean style. (Dik's bibliography
unfortunately does not include Mabel Lang's <i>Herodotean
Narrative and Discourse</i>, the first chapter of which provides
an interesting analogue on the narrative level for this verbal
characteristic.) But one does not have to read very far in
Xenophon's <i>Anabasis</i> before one stumbles upon a cluster of
instances which show that this is not an exclusively Herodotean
feature and which illustrate perfectly Dik's claim. At
<i>An</i>. 1.2.14-16 we find LE/GETAI, E)KE/LEUSE, E)TA/XQHSAN
and E)QEW/REI, all heading clauses and all serving as Topic for
the clauses in which they appear. Particularly neat is the way
in which E)TA/XQHSAN, following as it does TAXQH=NAI and
SUNTA/CAI, exemplifies Dik's statement (209) that "perhaps the
most obvious candidates for Topic function are repeated
predicates, referring to an action mentioned already, but adding
additional information." The remaining three Topics fall readily
into Dik's category of "inferrable predicates," which is
explained on pp. 215 ff., a passage that well displays Dik's
standing as both a canny linguist and a sensitive philologist.

  The way in which Dik has gone about demonstrating the validity
of the pattern P1--P --V--X is particularly well conceived. She
has chosen to investigate all the instances in Herodotus of a
select group of predicates: in Chapters 4 and 5 the verbs
STRATEU/OMAI, A)/RXW and BASILEU/W; in Chapter 6 four verbs of
speaking in the third person singular. (The choices seem to have
been dictated in some measure by a spirit of playful engagement
with Dover; see <i>Greek Word Order</i> 25-26, 49-50, 53.) This
procedure, which is justified in a few lucid paragraphs (15-17),
serves to minimize the number of variables and allows for the
discovery, not exactly of minimal pairs,[[1]] but of
"slightly-more-than-minimal <i>sets</i> of instances." So, for
example, the difference between OI( ME/N NUN A)/LLOI TRIH/EAS
AU)TOU\S PE/RSH|SI E)STRATEU/ONTO can be readily appreciated and
is convincingly explained (80) by the fact that in the former OI(
A)/LLOI is Topic and TRIH/REAS is Focus, whereas in the latter
DO/NTES is Topic and KU/PRIOI is Focus. Another fine example of
the advantages of this procedure is the discussion (95-100) of
preposed vs. postposed first arguments of the verb BASILEU/W ,
i.e. cases where, in essence, the grammatical subject precedes
the verb vs. cases where it follows. The instances show--and
this seems to be fully borne out by the non-Herodotean material
that I have reviewed--that preposed first arguments are
pragmatically marked (i.e. serve either as Topic or Focus), while
postposed first arguments present "non-vital" information.
Indeed, one of the most acute observations that Dik makes--again,
this is borne out by independent observation--is that there is a
very strong tendency in a Greek sentence for "predictable"
material to follow the predicate, a tendency that may receive
some confirmation (5 n. 8, 35 n. 64) from the tapering off of
intonation through the course of the clause. A further benefit
of Dik's approach is that it enables her to <i>account for</i>
phenomena that have already been observed by traditional
grammarians--or, as she engagingly calls them (53), "sentence
grammarians," as opposed to the "discourse grammarians" of which
she is a radiant example. It has previously been noted, for
instance, that the order subject-verb-object is a common, if not
the most common, order in ancient Greek. In the course of a
brilliant paragraph (93-94; cf. also 102, 256 n. 252) Dik
<i>explains</i>, in effect, why this is the case in pragmatic
terms.[[2]] Another good example of the <i>explanatory</i> force
of Dik's method is to be found on p. 216: Whereas traditional
grammar, when confronted with Herodotus' TOU= ME\N A(MARTA/NEI,
TUGXA/NEI DE\ TOU= KROI/SOU PAIDO/S, merely affixes a label
("chiasmus"), Dik manages to give us an account of what in fact
is going on.

  An index of the value of Dik's book is the number of
incidental bits of information one picks up along the way. For
example (79), "a check on all collocations of A)NH\R and A)GAQO/S
in Herodotus shows that A)GAQO\S never precedes A)NH\R." Indeed,
this seems to be the case in prose in general (except, of course,
when A)GAQO\S is in attributive position: O( A)GAQO\S A)NH\R), so
that the order A)NH\R KA)GAQO\S seems to be as fixed as the order
KALO\S KA)GAQO\S. We learn, further, that "it is extremely rare
for clauses to have two full NPs [= noun phrases] at one side of
the verb, without accompanying participial phrases" (206 n. 196).
This observation should be considered in conjunction with the
excellent discussion (23-24) of "structure-building,"
particularly the requirement that information be presented in
"manageable chunks." Again, I have not seen it pointed out
previously that prepositional phrases with (anaphoric) AU)TO\N
etc. are postpositive.[[3]] And the observation that "using a
less specific term for an established participant or State of
Affairs . . . is a well-known fact of D-Top [= Discourse-Topic]
expression" (213) needs to be taken into account by those who
discuss the phenomenon of "compound-simplex iteration."[[4]]
Finally, in the course of her investigation of different verbs
for speaking, an important distinction in use between the aorist
and imperfect is drawn (167): "Contrary to the 'reacting'
EI)=PE, E)/LEGE usually opens a discussion . . ." I have checked
this against a text that I thought I knew pretty well, Plutarch's
<i>Regum et imperatorum apophthegmata</i>, which contains what
must be the highest concentration of verbs for speaking in all of
Greek (EI)=PE: 183; E)/LEGE: 44). While this distinction is not
absolute, it turns out that it holds in the vast majority of
instances, and Dik's discussion (esp. 136, 164-70) provides a
valuable supplement to Rijksbaron's "The Discourse Function of
the Imperfect," <i>In the Footsteps of Raphael Kuehner</i>
(Amsterdam 1988) 237-54 and to H. Fournier's <i>Les verbes</i>
"<i>dire</i>" <i>en grec ancien</i> (Paris 1946).

  There is little indeed to criticize in this illuminating book,
particularly since Dr. Dik, with refreshing candor, herself
frequently acknowledges those problems that her treatment is
unable to resolve. Only very rarely--and usually concerning
relatively minor matters--does her judgment deserve to be
questioned. For example, Dik defends the anomalous position of
Topic in STRATEU/ONTAI W)=N E)P) AU)TOU\S by pointing out that
E)P) AU)TOU\S W)=N STRATEU/ONTAI would be "ungrammatical" (62).
But what was to prevent Herodotus from writing E)PI\ TOU/TOUS
W)=N STRATEU/ONTAI? And Dik's inclination to follow Schaefer
(sic) in regarding as an interpolation an instance that she finds
awkward (174) eliminates the anomaly from the text of Herodotus,
but not from the body of ancient Greek produced by native
speakers. But Dik has undertaken an ambitious project, and she
will be the first to admit that a great deal of work still needs
to be done. Indeed, her "Conclusion" to Chapter 8 contains a
very sensible and modest appraisal of just how far her approach
has taken us and what additional areas must still be
investigated. A generation elapsed between the publication of
Dover's book and that of Dik's. It is to be hoped that we will
not have to wait yet another generation before someone tests the
strength of Dik's shoulders.


[[1]] Note, however, the discussion (156-57) of EI)=PE PRO\S
TOU=TON and PRO\S DH\ TOU=TON EI)=PE. Dik's explanation of the
variation in word order here cannot be improved upon. I must
admit, however, that no reasonable explanation seems forthcoming
for the variation (161) between E)/LEGE TA/DE and TA/DE E)/LEGE.

[[2] In so doing, Dik confirms the statement with which Dover
concludes his chapter on syntactical determinants (<i>Greek Word
Order</i> 31), that statistical data regarding the position of
subject, verb and object "suggest with increasing force that all
patterns of order which are describable in syntactical terms are
secondary phenomena."

[[3]] See 32 n. 58, 62, 138, 153-54, 252. I am inclined,
however, to disagree with Dik (186 n. 193) and to view Hdt.
9.119.2 as a counter-example. The same is true of 7.10Q.2 PRO\S
DE\ AU)TOI=SI KAI\ E)GW (not mentioned by Dik), although it must
be admitted that such prepositional phrases in initial position
are quite rare.

[[4]] See R. Renehan, <i>Studies in Greek Texts</i>, Hypomnemata
43 (Goettingen 1976) 11-22; for more recent bibliography, see J.
Diggle, <i>Euripidea</i> (Oxford 1994) 84 n. 64.

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