RE: Chomsky, rain, and Greek infinitives

From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Thu May 15 1997 - 23:20:28 EDT

At 10:17 AM +0000 5/15/97, Clayton Bartholomew wrote:

>It's been over a decade since I studied translation theory. My memory is
>vague but I don't think there was much distance between Chomsky's early
>theory and the translation models I saw being advocated.

Yes. My ice-cubes-and-thunderstorm analogy was overstated (fairly
seriously). It was intended to be funny. I probably should have included a
smiley :-) Still, it is true that Chomsky was talking about a
specific--very constrained- -relationship between two supposed levels of
grammatical representation. Nida (and many others) applied what they saw as
a significant insight to other areas of linguistic analysis (specifically,
translation theory in the case of Nida). It is not that these applications
violate what Chomsky intended, or that they are misunderstandings of his
work, it's just that we shouldn't attribute them to Chomsky, since they are
not a part of his own work. They are best discussed as the contributions of
Nida, for example, who was indebted in some way to Chomsky. My
ice-cubes-and-thunderstorm analogy was intended to suggest that Chomsky had
no idea these further applications of his surface structure/deep structure
distinction were coming, and they apply that distinction in a much more
general way than what is found in his own work.

>The authors of these models were using all of the transformational
>grammar terminology. Possibly I am attributing ideas to Chomsky which
>were not his at all. Like blaming Calvin for the theology of Bezae.

This is what I meant. Thank you. (Although I didn't mean to accuse YOU
directly of attributing these ideas to him. I just noticed something in
your comment that COULD be read that way.) Precisely because these people
use Chomsky's terminology, it is very easy to attribute to him their ideas.
My overstatement of that idea is less effective than the way you put it

>I distinctly remember seeing a translation model where the surface
>structure of the source language was being broken down into kernel
>propositions (deep structure) and then being *transformed* into the
>surface structure of the target language. The authors of this model
>claimed they were using principles of transformational grammar. If not,
>it is the *method* that has problems, whatever the source.

This is a clasic example of what I meant by misattribution of ideas to
Chomsky. The author of the translation theory you mention (I think it was
Nida, but I'm not sure) has taken the basic notions of deep and surface
structure and transformations and applied them to the transfer of meaning
between two distinct languages (translation). Nothing remotely similar to
this can be found in Chomsky's own work. Transformations have always been
alterations of syntactic configurations within a single language in his
thought. I don't know what he would make of the translation model you
mention, but it certainly cannot be attributed to him since it is a
significant development beyond the way he used these concepts.

>This method makes me nervous. I would like to see someone translate *To
>The Light House*, by Virginia Woolf in this manner or perhaps Faulkner's
>*The Sound and the Fury.* One reason I mentioned Richmond Lattimore is
>he had a genuine respect for the surface structure of the ancient
>documents. His translations of Homer and others are in my mind models
>for emulation.

I agree. I think it would make Chomsky rather nervous too. But then again,
I don't know him, so I can't ask. :-)

>I have also learned a lot from the transformational grammarians. But I
>am not a member of the club.

I'm certainly not a member of the old club (the one we are discussing)
either, but generative linguistics has changed a lot since then, so I
remain open minded toward it's possibilites for helping us understand
biblical Greek. Like you, I've learned a lot from the generative linguists.
I've also learned a lot from their critics. My own work is influenced
fairly heavily by the generativists, but I remain a critical reader, using
what I think works and revising what doesn't.

Now to make this post have something to do with the purpose of the list...
:-) I am working on an analysis of infinitival clauses which I began a
couple of years ago. I need examples from the Shepherd of Hermas,
Epictetus, and Josephus (or any other clearly hellenistic text outside the
New Testament), but I don't have access to TLG right now. I'm especially
looking for examples where the subject of the infinitive is expressed
overtly or where at least there are modifiers of that subject stated
explicitly. I already have plenty of examples from the New Testament.

The problem I'm addressing is the assignment of case to the subject. If any
of you could point me to examples from the extrabiblical hellenistic
sources I would really appreciate it.

Micheal W. Palmer
Religion & Philosophy
Meredith College

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