Re: The Purpose of Syntactical Categories

From: Carlton Winbery (
Date: Tue Jan 04 2000 - 08:46:35 EST

Tony Stark wrote;

>Greetings to all.
>This may be a simple question for most on this list,but I need to ask this
>question anyway.
> What is the purpose for the numerous syntactical categories in
>advance grammar? For example:
> 1.Descriptive Genitive
> 2. Genitive of Content
> 3. Genitive Absolute
> 4.Dative of Sphere etc.
>I Know they describe part of the greek sentence, but why are they used? Why
>memorize them?
>Can someone explain their use for exegesis or why it is taught in advance
>courses? ETC. Thanks.
> P.S. I hope this question is'nt too simple,
> and not a waste of your time.

This is a question that all second year Greek students need to be able to
answer. The categories (or discriptions of functions) used in Syntax books
are discriptive, i.e., they are an effort to describe the observable
functions of the various parts of a Greek sentence. They are useful in
helping describe the relationships between various parts of a sentence. The
original writers (speakers) did not have to stop and think about such
functions; they just said what they had to say without any thought of such
categories. That is evident also in English writers (speakers). I have many
students who can speak or write English without knowing anything about an
object compliment, etc. The difficulty is in analysing written language and
trying to decide what the person who writes was thinking. These decisions
are determined primarily by context. Once it is recognized that a
substantive is in the second inflected form, every thing else one says
about its function in the sentence is determined contextually (allowing for
a range of meaning from the dictionary, but remember that dictionaries are
written by studying their use in context).

I do not require my students to memorize whole lists of categories. The
reason is simply the fact that I have memorized and forgotten more
categories than I care to reveal. I have them make their own lists of
functions that are observed in the study (using the syntax text as a guide)
of the text and allow them to use such lists in analyzing the text. This
way I can put more emphasis on analyzing the text than memorizing
categories. Remember categories are our effort to analyze the text, not
rules that original speakers observed. Most of our categories come into
being as a way of answering the question of "how we put this into English?"
Thus, they will often have more to do with Englishing the text than with
meaning in Greek. A person who learns Greek well enough to think in the
language (Carl Conrad for instance), will not need the syntactical
categories in order to understand the meaning in the Greek text. The
eventual hope of every Greek student should be to learn the language well
enough to think in it.

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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