Re: Adjective-noun word order

From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Wed Dec 02 1998 - 00:52:44 EST

>At 3:10 AM -0600 11/28/98, Paul Zellmer wrote:
>>Here's a very basic question that is causing me a bit of pause. Is
>>there a subtle difference between the adjective-noun word order and
>>the noun-adjective word order. I realize both are common and
>>acceptable, but does one put a slightly different slant on the
>>Take, for example, the first part of James 1:14, the part that is EI
>>DE ZHLON PIKRON EXETE. Does the fact that ZHLON, which is the noun,
>>precedes PIKRON, the adjective, give the term any slight difference
>>in meaning than if PIKRON preceded ZHLON? In some languages, it
>>does. For example, in the Ibanag language of the Philippines, the
>>adjective-noun word order generally results in the phrase being
>>treated as a whole unit. It is the "unmarked" word order. On the
>>other hand, a noun-adjective word order is marked, putting the focus
>>(for this language, anyway) on the noun.

At 3:16 PM -0000 11/28/98, Carl W. Conrad responded:

>I personally think that what you say of Ibanag is just as true of Greek:
>that the word-order with adjective preceding the noun is "unmarked,"
>whereas the adjective is more emphatic in a "marked" position, i.e. when it
>follows the noun.

Actually, I think Paul was saying just the oposite about Ibanag: the
noun-adjective order makes the NOUN emphatic. I would agree with Carl,
though, that in Greek this order makes the ADJECTIVE stand out. But first,
more from Carl...

>Nevertheless, I also suspect that the difference may in
>very many instances be, however real, nevertheless rather negligible as
>something important to convey in translation into another language. If I
>had to convey the difference, I think I'd do it something like this in
> AGAQOS ANHR: "a good man"
> ANHR AGAQOS: "a man who is good"
This is a great way to capture the difference (though I, like Carl, think
the difference is usually too negligible to warrant inclusion in a good
translation). Placing the adjective in the second position distances it
syntactically from the noun (very slightly). This is, of course, shown by
the need for the repeated article when the noun is articular:

        O AGAQOS ANHR: "the good man"
        O ANHR O AGAQOS: "the good man" (the man who is good)

In an appropriate context this distancing can have the effect of making the
adjective slightly more salient than the noun it modifies.

Micheal W. Palmer
North Carolina State University
Philosophy and Religion (New Testament)
Foreign Languages (Ancient Greek)

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