Re: Qualitative and Indefinite

From: John Kendall (
Date: Sat Sep 06 1997 - 09:40:51 EDT

Sorry if part of this post is, as we say, 'teaching my grandmother to suck
eggs', but in places this discussion has seemed to me to be terminologically
confusing. Also I want to highlight the importance of an earlier question by
Paul Evans.

On Thu, 4 Sep 1997 Rolf Furuli wrote:

I suggest the following definitions:

(1) Based on grammar: "indefinite" or "anarthrous" (= noun without
article), "definite" or "arthrous" or "articular" (= noun with article).
(2) Based on semantics: "generic" (member of a class or of a kind),
"specific" (= the only exemplar of its kind), "qualitative" (= the
qualities or characteristics of something or someone are stressed).
These suggested definitions would imply that Greg`s use above ( and my
earlier use) of "indefinite" should have been "generic" and the use of
"definite" should have been "specific".

Rolf, I hesitate to disagree with a bona fide linguist, but the above
definitions seem to me to be somewhat confused (or at least, confusing to me
:-) ). For instance, in your terms, shouldn't the terms "definite" and
"indefinite" be semantic categories? Also your use of the term "generic" seems
to be somewhat idiosyncratic (and will surely leave your earlier post, to which
Paul responded, open to misunderstanding). Using more customary terminology, as
I understand it:

1. A noun with the article (="arthrous" or "articular") may refer to an item
which is:
        a. definite/specific/particular/known information - identifying and
distinguishing the particular item from other members of the class to which it
belongs (this statement, of course, needs some fine-tuning to cope with unique
        b. generic/categorical - pointing to the class as a whole.

2. A noun without the article (="anarthrous" or "non-articular") may refer to
an item which is:
        a. indefinite/non-specific/individual/new information - pointing to the item
as a member of its class, without specifying which particular member;
        b. qualitative - focussing on the quality/nature/attributes of the class of
items to which the noun refers (see also below);
        c. definite/specific etc - the article having been omitted for a variety of
possible syntactic/discourse factors (eg to distinguish a predicate nominative
from the subject; to highlight or mark the noun as salient).

Further to the discussion, it's my understanding that both Harner and Wallace
agree that in the case of non-articular nouns, the above categories a and b are
not mutually exclusive, nor are b and c. In other words, a non-articular noun
in category b may be (i) purely qualitative, (ii) qualitative-indefinite or
(iii) qualitative-definite. As I understand him, Paul Dixon disagrees. But this
of course brings us back to Paul Evans' question which has not really been

For those of us who are getting swamped by the back and forth in this
thread, could someone more precisely define the terms
"qualitative/indefinite" and "qualitative/definite" (and how the difference
could be recognised im a given context). How can one determine if a given
context intends "definiteness" or "indefiniteness"?

Now Rolf had also written:

Now to QEOS in John 1:1. The word is a substantive (the corresponding
adjective is QEIOS). Through time a substantive may be transformed into an
adjective and an adjective into a substantive, and this may become a part
of the language by lexicalization, but THE CONTEXT or WORD ORDER cannot
change a substantive into an adjective or an adjective into a substantive.
So when we assess that a particular context primarily makes visible the
QUALITY of a substantive, in no way do we remove its substantive nature.
Any substantive must either be definite (=3D arthrous) or indefinite (=3D
anarthrous). In addition, a substantive may be specific or generic, but
these designations don`t always corespond with definiteness/indefiniteness.
And lastly we have qualitativness which may combine with any of the four

Greg=B4s example with Polycarp is excellent. The word CRISTIANOS is a
substantive, it is indefinite and generic, and it functions as a PN
standing before the verb. These more "fundamental" facts show that the
primary meaning is generic,that Polycarp was a member of the group
"Christians". The position of the noun, its semantic contents and the
context signal or make visible an additionally side, namely the quality of
being a Christian.

Using the terminology more familiar to me, Rolf seems to be saying that in
Greg's example from Polycarp, CRISTIANOS is a qualitative-indefinite noun.
Maybe. But in this case, isn't the plausibility of this qualitative-indefinite
category tied closely to the nature of the word? Can you think of any example
where in English translation an indefinite use of the noun 'Christian' would
not convey qualitative nuances ? I suspect that this is due, at least in part,
to the existence of the adjective with the identical form. May this not be the
case also in Greek, given the existence of the adjectival form CRISTIANOS -H
-ON (see BAGD)? This latter fact seems to weaken the relevance of Greg and
Rolf's point with respect to QEOS in John 1:1c.

I'm no linguist, so I don't have the conceptual apparatus for teasing out the
issues here. But Paul's question seems to me to be a searching one, worthy of
further pursuit and relevant to matters beyond the confines of John 1:1c.

John Kendall

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