Re: Hardening of the Categories

From: clayton stirling bartholomew (
Date: Sat Jun 06 1998 - 15:38:51 EDT

After further consideration I think I can focus this issue a little more

I have for some time been using a language model for NT Greek that uses a
binary system for describing syntax. The members of the binary pair are FORM
and FUNCTION. It is a simple system that sees each syntactical form mapping to
multiple grammatical functions.

My recent reading in semantic theory has caused me to question adequacy of
this model. I am now exploring not a binary but a three part system that
includes the members FORM, MEANING and FUNCTION. The notion that a grammatical
FORM has a MEANING that can be isolated from its FUNCTION is new to me. I am
going to try it out for a while and see if it is useful. If it isn't I may
migrate back to my FORM/FUNCTION approach.

My argument with traditional syntactical taxonomies is not new. It isn't
related to this shift in models. But the shift to the three part system of
analysis helps highlight the issue. My problem is this: I don't think it helps
one understand the dynamics of K. Greek to talk about categories like
"genitive of possession" or "historical present" as if the present tense in K.
Greek has a grammatical meaning that some how includes the historic use. I
don't think that the present tense has any such meaning. I think the very term
"historic present" is one that illustrates the failure of the old taxonomies.
The present tense in K. Greek has some sort of identifiable meaning, which may
be quite general. But when the present tense is used for an historical purpose
this is a FUNCTION and not a MEANING of the present tense.

This is not nitpicking. I am not arguing about terminology here, dropping the
use of the term "historic present" would not solve anything.

If I use a golf club to cultivate carrots, the meaning of the golf club does
not change to hoe. It just becomes one of the functions of the golf club,
along with being a cane or a weapon or even a status symbol. The meaning of
golf club remains stable while the function changes. In like manner the
MEANING of a syntactical FORM (e.g., present tense) might be invariant while
the FUNCTION changes with the context. Notice I said "might" be. I am not
convinced at this point, but I am willing to entertain this three part model
for a while and see if it solves anything.

The main confusion that I see in the old categories is the tendency for
students to view syntactical FUNCTION as a property of the grammatical FORM.
Once again, competent grammarians don't do this but students do. As long as
the old categories are taught as the have been, students will continue to
think that terms like "historical present" are equivalent to terms like
English Mastiff. I think this is a serious form of confusion and should be


Clayton Stirling Bartholomew
Three Tree Point
P.O. Box 255 Seahurst WA 98062

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