re: Greek Verb Morph Slots

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Wed Oct 22 1997 - 20:53:44 EDT

At 09:40 97/10/20 +0000, Clayton Bartholomew wrote:

>If anyone wants to look at a text book example of the
>*slot and filler* approach to NT Greek morphology see
>E.V.N. Goetchius *Language of the NT* #170 page135.
>Goetchius also uses the slot and filler metaphore for his
>presentation of phrase and clause syntax.
>The slot and filler metaphore is one of the things that
>causes confusion on the b-greek list. It is very hard for
>me to understand discussions of syntax which do *not*
>use this approach. On the other hand it is difficult for
>those who have not been schooled in slot and filler to
>follow arguements that are based on it.
>This is not high powered linguistics. Just a simple idea
>that makes the world of language easier to organize.

Fellow b-greekers,

It is very appropriate for Clayton to draw the work of Professor Goetchius
to the attention of list members. Goetchius was one of THE pioneers in
applying linguistics to Ancient Greek. He received his PhD in 1949 in the
field of linguistics, and his book "The Language of the New Testament",
introducing many valuable insights from linguistics into the study and
teaching of Greek, was published in 1965.

His book was groundbreaking in many ways, and most grammars published since
have still not caught up with him. (In fact, it would seem that most have
ignored his work, and in my judgement that is to their loss.) To my own
loss, I did my own linguistic studies and wrote my grammar before I came
across his work, and then found that some of the linguistic concepts and
ideas I thought I was introducing to Greek for the first time were right
there in his book! It was like inventing the wheel and then finding that
someone had beaten you to it!

Clayton refers to Goetchius's use of the concept of slot and filler. There
is much, much more. Where in other textbooks will you find a detailed
attempt to wrestle with the problem of Greek word order? Yet there it is in
Goetchius (pages 37 to 47). One looks in more recent grammars for an
explanation of the concept of the zero morph (the linguistic equivalent of
the zero in mathematics, invaluable for accounting for numerous Greek
forms) - where will you find it? It is there in Goetchius (pages 109f.).

Like all pioneering work, Goetchius's linguistic treatment of Greek is only
partly successful. He is not always consistently rigorous in his
application of the basic principles and tools developed by linguistic
science. He has missed numerous patterns in the morphological structure of
the verb to which meaning can be assigned (just one example: he missed
identifying QH as the passive morph). His overall verb scheme (pp.134ff.)
is messy, complex, inconsistent, and open to criticism on several grounds
(though not more so than those of other writers). Those interested further
in what I am referring to can compare these pages, 134ff., in his book with
the diagram of the Greek Verb Morph Slots in Section A6 of my "Learn To
Read the Greek New Testament", and the explanations and examples of morphs
and morph slots in Sections E4 and E5.

I would offer the additional comment that a considerable amount of further
work in linguistics and Greek has taken the study of the language beyond
the point reached in Goetchius's work: simpler, more accurate, and more
useful analyses of the function of Greek morphs, words, and sentences, are
now available.

But to criticize Goetchius for this would be on a par with criticizing the
Wright brothers for not being able to break the sound barier on their first
flight. Goetchius deserves full honour for the extremely valuable and
insightful pioneering work that he did, and his book merits far more
recognition than it has received.

I gladly join my own warm note of appreciation to that of Clayton in paying
tribute to Professor Goetchius.


Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International): 61-2-9799-7501
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email:

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