Re: EN of the personal agent

From: Carlton Winbery (
Date: Sat Oct 09 1999 - 19:54:04 EDT

>What by the way is the distinction between an agent and an instrument?
>Off the top of my head I would say that an agent must be animate whereas
>an instrument can be inanimate. Someone else can perhaps improve on

Ah yes, you got it.

>In my mind the distinction between agent/instrument has nothing what so
>ever to do with the EN + Dative. What Wallace and those like him are
>observing is that there seems to be a disproportionate distribution of
>EN + Dative constructions in relation to semantic features
>agent/instrument. This disproportionate distribution is perhaps
>intriguing but I don't think it tells us a blessed thing about the

Except that a number of grammarians have observed that in some rare context
that function seems to be indicated by the context for a word in the dative
case preceeded by EN.

>I would drastically discount any sort of argument which hinged on the
>"observation" that a given EN + Dative construction was instrumental as
>opposed to agentive. There is IMHO a fundamental flaw in this kind of
>argument. The flaw being that EN + Dative does not possess the qualities
>agent/instrument. EN + Dative just limits the range of semantic
>possibilities and those semantic possibilities are realized by the
>higher level constituents like clauses and paragraphs.

I'll probably loose about three minutes sleep over that. Most grammarians I
know have made a distinction between agency and means. The difference seems
real enough in Hellenistic Greek in that most of the time when agency is
expressed the prepositions hUPO, APO, EK + the genitive (ablative) are in
the construction while most of the time means is present in a context that
has EN + dative. These seem to be within the domains of these constructions
and have been observed by more than one recognised grammarian.

>I know this is an old topic but I keep hearing this mystical talk as if the
> EN + Dative meant this or that and it gets me going again.
Go back and read again. Did I really use the word "meant?" I think that I
made an observation that there are possible reasons in the context to
understand the function of the dative + EN as agency (personal if you like
to be redundant). Neither prepositions nor case endings have "meanings," if
you mean such as you could put in a dictionary or grammar in exclusion to
context. What I have learned to do is try and describe what is observable
and the context plus form is the combination that allows for that and also
means that seldom will we all agree on the observation.

I would repeat what has been said several times on this list. Syntactical
categories are observations that grammarians make about what can be
observed about the text. Accidence is more a matter of form, syntax is more
a matter of context. Form can, as Clay observes above, indicate range of
semantic possibilities. Translation is possible only by looking at form and
context. For this reason that I hate to have made up sentences beginning
Greek students. They don't have context and they usually don't make much

Dr. Carlton L. Winbery
Foggleman Professor of Religion
Louisiana College
Ph. 1 318 448 6103 hm
Ph. 1 318 487 7241 off

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