Re: The Purpose of Syntactical Categories

From: A K M Adam (
Date: Tue Jan 04 2000 - 08:31:24 EST

<x-flowed>At 7:16 AM -0600 1/4/00, Tony Stark wrote:

> What is the purpose for the numerous syntactical categories in
>advance grammar?


The best explanation I can offer for such categories is that they
serve as a device for identifying common uses of a particular
grammatical or syntactical phenomenon. At a beginning or intermediate
level, these labels serve as a reminder to the student: "Here's a
genitive--what might it be doing here?" At an advanced level, the
labels serve as a shorthand for common constructions, in a way that
should allow students to devote more attention to peculiar
constructions, and to the nuanced uses to which common constructions
are put.

Sometimes scholars of Greek feel that they should offer a grammatical
term for every possible Greek construction; in the same way, students
sometimes feel betrayed if a Greek writer uses the genitive in a way
that doesn't fall squarely into one of the categories in her
textbook. I think both impulses are hazardous; our descriptions of
Greek ought not be taken as regulative for Greek writers themselves
(who, of course, had never read our textbooks, nor even a spot of
English grammar).

Grammatical categories are a heuristic (note the Greek derivation)
device for simplifying one's interaction with a language--but we get
into trouble if we construe them as entities more real than the Greek
texts that they guide us in reading.

Carl Conrad has often expressed his frustration with the
multiplication of grammatical categories, and Clayton Bartholomew
occasionally unleashes fulminations against scholars who ascribe
greater authority to grammatical theories than to the power of the
language itself. (I hope I'm not misrepresenting either of you,
gentle friends.)

As I tell my classes year after year, let Greek show you how Greek
works. Don't try to interpret Greek as a deviant form of English.

Grace and peace,
A K M Adam

A K M Adam
Seabury-Western Theological Seminary

"Melius est dubitare de occultis quam litigare de incertis." Augustine

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