re: Luke 7:43 reworded

From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Tue Sep 16 1997 - 01:31:25 EDT

At 9:30 PM +0000 9/14/97, Clayton Bartholomew wrote:
>Luke 7:43 reworded
>Thanks to Carl for answering questions one and two.
>Since the answer was no to both questions I will not use those
>examples but just put the final question in a different way.
>My final question here is what constitutes a *constituent*? I am
>exploring and raising questions about the rules used to isolate a
>constituent in generative theory.

A basic layperson's (does that word exist?) definition is to say that a
constituent is a building block. Just as there are different kinds of
building blocks for building a house, there are different kinds for
building sentences or paragraphs. A word can be a constituent of a phrase.
A phrase can be a constituent of a clause, and so on.

>Is a relative clause a constituent?

Yes, in that it is a part of a larger unit. A relative clause usually
modifies a noun (or other substantive), for example, and together with that
noun is a part of a phrase. This phrase is in turn a constituent of the
clause in which it appears, and so on.

>Is a relative clause which contains another relative clause a constituent?

Yes, but here you are getting into recursive structures. In virtually any
language a native speaker could in theory build a sentence that would take
twenty minutes to speak by including a large number of subordinate clauses
and relative clauses inside relative clauses, but no one would listen to
the whole thing, so people don't usually do it. That is, there are
practical limits on how complex structures can get before the audience gets
lost or irritated.

Still, very complex sentences do get produced, and it makes sense to talk
about various levels of 'constituents' (building blocks) in such sentences.
Your proposed relative-clause-which-contains-another-relative-clause is
still itself a building block for the larger sentence. That is, it is a
constituent of the clause in which it occurs, even if it also contains
another relative clause.

>Does it make sense to include
>both a prepositional phrase and a complex compound subordinate
>clause under the same rubric i.e., *phrase level constituent?* I think
>the answer to this last question is no.

And you are right. A prepositional phrase is a phrase-level constituent. A
complex compound subordinate cluase is not. It is a cluase-level

>I don't like an analysis that throws everything into the same bucket.
>The generative concept of *phrase level constituent* is just this
>kind of bucket. It contains everything from angle worms to

I hope I haven't been unclear enough to leave you with this impression.
What counts as a phrase-level constituent is actually pretty tightly
constrained in generative grammar. Only items which function in the same
way as a simple phrase in relation to the clause in which they appear are
considered phrase-level constituents. Note the 'in relation to the clause
in which they appear' part. Their *internal* structure may get pretty
complex, but the way they are used within their clause is very consistent.
(This distinction does get somewhat blurred in some versions of generative
grammar, but the one relevant to my book is pretty clear on this point.)

>I am reading *Levels of Constituent Structure in New Testament
>Greek*, Micheal W. Palmer, Peter Lang 1995. These questions are
>intended to clarify the issues discussed in this valuable book.


I would be happy to discuss the book with any of you, on or off the list.
For discussions on the list it would be a good idea to try to keep them
closely tied to a discussion of a particular sentence (or other unit) from
biblical Greek so that we don't turn this into a linguistics list rather
than b-greek.

Micheal W. Palmer
Religion & Philosophy
Meredith College

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