Re:Sentence structure or construction!

From: Don Wilkins (
Date: Sat Oct 25 1997 - 20:03:40 EDT

At 11:13 AM 10/25/97 +0000, Clayton Bartholomew wrote:
>Don Wilkins wrote:
>My own anecdotal experiences have all suggested
>that the Greek word order is generally the same as English, and I have
>actually used this inference in my former Greek classes as a gauge to help
>my students pick out points of emphasis and deemphasis. I also use this
>inference in doing Bible translation, though of course I take into account
>the myriad specific minor differences between Greek and English. As to
>closing statement, I wouldn't expect any new, or at any rate interesting,
>material to come out on word order, period. If that proves to be the case,
>then your statement will stand by default. Otherwise, while I'll keep your
>experiences in mind, I have no reason to take a different approach from
>the one I have taken so far.
>I don't get it. Some time ago, I ran across this same statement in James
>Efird's intro grammar (page 20). Commenting on word order in NT Greek
>Efird said "Generally speaking, it is similar to that of English sentences."
>When I first read this statement in Efird's book I was dumbfounded,
>overcome by disbelief. I immediately checked the back cover of the book
>to see where the author was coming from. I concluded that the author's
>credentials were good enough and that he must mean by this statement
>something totally different from what I was taking it to mean.
>I think a statement like *Greek word order is generally the same as
>English* is prone to be very misleading. I just read again Stanely E.
>Porter's treatment of this subject (Idioms of the GNT, pps 287-297). I was
>able to note perhaps a dozen specifics in which the word order of NT
>Greek is different from that of English. Here are just a few examples.
>At the phrase level of analysis, NT Greek adjectival modifiers and
>demonstratives tend to follow their substantives (Porter pps290-291).
>At the clause level of analysis, NT Greek shows a flexibility of constituent
>order completely unknown to English.

Stan and I disagree on a number of points, but in this case either *I* am
dumbfounded or (I hope) this is just a minor difference in viewpoint. At
some point in the recent past the meaning of "attributive" came up (i.e.
whether position or description), and we were probably all reminded of the
fact that the attributive position has the adjective follow the article
modifying a noun (if there is an article). This means that if the
article/adj. construction is not repeated after the noun, the adjective will
always precede the noun, as it usually does in Eng. The difference between
having the art./adj. combination before or after the noun (with article
repeated) is minor. Perhaps Stan thinks that more often the combination
follows the noun (I haven't checked the stats on this and don't know whether
anyone has done a historical stat check), but to me this means little or
nothing because the attributive position is the important point. So maybe,
as I suggested, this is just a minor difference of viewpoint. Many other
languages, conversely, insist on having the adjective follow the noun, which
essentially is contrary to the Greek attributive position.
At the clause level, it is certainly true that Greek has a far greater level
of flexibility than Eng.--how could it be otherwise, given the differences
in inflexion--but I would maintain that from a general viewpoint it is like
Eng. One can contrast to both Eng. and Gr. those languages which, for
example, insist on having the verb at the end (Latin, German etc.) or at the
beginning (Hebrew etc.). Of course Greek's flexibility will necessarily
result in there being far fewer "standard" constructions than one would find
in less flexible languages, so this might lead some observers to the
impression that Greek tends to differ from English and most other languages.
To settle the question we would need to look at some comprehensive stats and
then closely examine individual authors for their trends and deviations from
the perceived "norm".

>The NT Greek clause has less *necessary* constituents than an English
>clause. What we mean by this is a NT Greek clause can get buy [kaching!
(DW)] with a
>minimum of elements (e.g., a single verb, two nouns). This has a side effect
>on word order questions. How do you describe the word order of a clause
>that contains a single verb? Is the verb final or initial? I point this out to
>show that comparison of NT Greek word order to English word order can
>be a very slippery business.

It certainly is a slippery (and some might say dirty) business. I would say
that clauses which do not have an explicit subject are useless (for our
purposes) in determining subject/verb word order.

>I am *not* denying that there are similarities between the word order in
>NT Greek and English. But I do find the statement *Greek word order is
>generally the same as English* a little hard to swallow.

Obviously a great deal hangs on the word "generally". This might require a
case-by-case comparison before we would begin to get a sense of what we are
respectively thinking.

>Another statement of Don Wilkins' I find perplexing is:
>I wouldn't expect any new, or at any rate interesting,
>material to come out on word order, period.
>My response to this statement is more disbelief. What is the point of
>studying language if this statement is true?

I admit that this was a strong and somewhat sarcastic statement. The recent
bibliography Carl relayed to us was very interesting. My thought was just
that word order is such an old and basic concept that it should have already
been covered, and if someone has discovered something new and interesting, I
would be most surprised. Somewhat like discovering a new procedure for tying
a shoe. What new material would/could such conclusions be based on? On the
other hand, there are plenty of other things that could be studied in
language, so we need not give up the study. Moveover, the ultimate point I
see to studying language is to come to a more accurate understanding of
someone is saying or writing, so if we should ever reach the point where we
are all agreed on syntax etc. (not likely), that would be a very good thing.

Don Wilkins

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