Re: Question Concerning Terminology

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Jan 21 2000 - 15:45:28 EST

If I were wiser than I am (can't do much about that, I fear!), I would
leave this to the real experts to take on. But at least I've used these
terms pretty much the same way all the way through a career that's about to
come to an end, and if I'm wrong about their usage, I too would like to
learn better.

At 2:14 PM -0600 1/21/00, Steven Craig Miller wrote:
>This message asks questions concerning linguistic terminology.
>What are the differences (or relationship) between the terms "morphology"
>and "accidence." Are these merely synonyms? Or is "morphology" a broader
>category than "accidence"? (Or something else altogether?)

My own sense is that "accidence" is a more archaic term than "morphology,"
but I've always understood it, rightly or wrongly to refer to precisely the
same phenomena, namely, the whole array of paradigmatic alternations that
inflected parts of speech go through--verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives,
pronouns. I suppose "morphology" represents German "Formenlehre" (or vice
versa--at any rate they refer to the same phenomenon). I think of
"accidence" as a more archaic term referring to the same thing, the term
itself to be understood in terms of the morphological alterations to a root
and/or stem that can be said to "accidere" to that root or stem to yield
the properly-inflected form.

>What are the differences (or relationships) between the terms "syntax,"
>"grammar," and "semantics"? Is "syntax" a part of "grammar," and "grammar"
>a part of "semantics"?

I have understood and used the term "grammar" as the more inclusive term; I
would understand morphology, syntax, and lexicology as essential aspects of
"grammar" if we understand "grammar" as the "lore" of how a language works.
I'm not sure that I'd equate "semantics" with "lexicology" because it seems
to me that in "lexicology" we're more concerned with words or distinct and
separable "lexemes", whereas I think "semantics" be concerned not only with
individual word-meanings but with meanings conveyed by collocation and even
by syntactical constructions. At any rate, I'd understand "grammar" as the
more inclusive term.

>It seems to me (I don't know if others with concur or not) that the major
>task of a beginning student learning Greek is threefold: (a) memorizing
>basic vocabulary, (b) memorizing paradigms, and (c) learning basic syntax.
>Given this generalization, would one say that this represents: (a)
>vocabulary, (b) accidence, and (c) syntax? (I'm especially concerned about
>the appropriateness of 'b' "accidence.") Or what terms would you prefer?
>Also, while we are at it, would you agree with such a generalization? Or
>would you put it differently?

I wouldn't disagree with the above as far as it goes: that these three
elements (although I'd prefer the term "morphology," I doubt that it really
means something different from "accidence") are foundational for the
beginning student. But as one who has been teaching beginning Greek
students for a little over forty years, I'm rather bothered by the notion
that beginning to learn Greek is mastering "these three items." I've known
people who actually have mastered "these three items" pretty well and still
have a great deal of difficulty reading idiomatic Greek prose or poetry. I
think that no less important than these three, perhaps (but I hesitate to
say so) even more important, is acquisition of an ever more intimate
familiarity with the IDIOM of Greek. The metaphor I've used in the past is
that of a person learning a terrain by walking all over it again and again
and sensing where it rises and where it falls, where it's cut by ravines or
watercourses, where there are sinkholes, etc. Perhaps the best geophysical
maps can give one some sense of what to expect in a terrain when you get
there, it's not like being there in different kinds of weather at different
times of the day or year. It's not a matter of EPISTHMH but of SUNOIKHSIS.
I know that you've said that you learned Greek originally using Reading
Greek, Steven; although I complain about some features of this textbook,
I've used it for years and I'm using it this final go-round for my teaching
of Beginning Greek this year--precisely because it immerses the student in
huge chunks of idiomatic text that is alive and authentic ancient Greek. If
I were a baptist (this ain't theology folks), I'd say that it's not much
good to be introduced to Greek by sprinkling; you really need to be dunked
in it and forced to swim (actually I don't know that swimming has anything
to do with the baptismal metaphor), but what the heck? The point is simply
that learning Greek, IMHO, is not a matter of acquisition of theoretical
mastery of its phenomena but of direct-confrontation with what
Greek-speakers have left us in the way of a living heritage.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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