[b-greek] systematic v. idiosyncratic (formerly Re: 5 Case v. 8 Case)

From: Mark Beatty (marksresearch@hawaii.rr.com)
Date: Thu Oct 19 2000 - 01:49:29 EDT

Dear Clayton,

You wrote, "Once we depart from categories tied directly to morphological
marking there
is nothing to keep us from having a 1,000 categories."

As far as I understand this statement, I think I am in agreement. By "form"
I meant "morphological markings". By "function" I meant something that
could be semantic, pragmatic, discourse oriented, and perhaps even

Let me propose a new distinction, systematic v. idiosyncratic. As I
understand linguistic studies, the goal is to discover the systematic parts
of language and write up a phonology, morphology, and syntax of the
language. The rest, not being systematic, is listed in the lexicon. This
includes the traditional list of word meanings, but we should consider other
idiosyncratic information as worthy of list making. My point about "form v.
function" is that whenever you depart from form (gender and number forms for
the five morphologically distinct Koine Greek cases) one is in "function".
Whether one has a list of eight or a list of 1008, there is still a
distinction. I do not believe, furthermore, that it is possible to have a
"root idea" for a morphological form. This practice is no more successful
than deriving meanings of words from necessary and sufficient features. (We
may prescribe necessary and sufficient features, but we cannot derive
contextual meanings from necessary and sufficient meanings.)

As to lists of idiosyncratic information, consider Wallace's stated

"The starting point of our investigations will be the given structures, from
which we hope to make semantic conclusions. The movement, then, is from
structure (or more specifically, morpho-syntactic structure) to semantics

For the genitive Wallace lists 29 categories plus an additional 4 "genitive
after ..." catch all categories. I would, therefore, call Wallace's
"syntax" a lexicon of morphological usage. (Lexicon = "semantic
conclusions". Morphological = "morpho-syntactic structure".) I would want
to reserve the word "syntax" for something other than that which Wallace

Having said that, I would not want to criticize Wallace for writing a
lexicon of morphological usage. Such works are helpful for morphological
studies, as BADG and Kittle are for lexical studies. I would, however, want
to object to the claim that Wallace accounted for the syntactic system of
Koine Greek. He wrote a lexicon, not a "syntax" as the word is used by many

Idiosyncratic information is great, but I do not think that Wallace gave us
enough idiosyncratic information. For example, I think that we could find
many different kinds of possessive genitives. In English I can say "my
car", "my dog", and "my wife". All of these follow the possessive pronoun
"my", however, the relationship between "my car" is not the same as my
relationship with "my dog". Neither are the same as the relationship with
"my wife". For most purposes such minute distinctions are not necessary,
however, we could require them to be necessary. We could make ethnographic
distinctions if we wanted to. (The relationship between "my bride" and me
is similar but mostly different than the relationship between Jesus and His
bride.) Recognizing ethnographic differences is actually a common
practice. We do this in recognizing differences between Pauline literature
and other authors. We also do this when we do biblical theology and look at
the distinctive details in each book or each corpus.

Let me illustrate with a non-biblical example to prevent being
misunderstood. Most of us have a limited number of color terms. We
categorize things "green" or "yellow" or "red" when really there are many
different shades of these colors. We could go to our computer software and
adjust these colors so that we have reddish yellow or yellowish green.
These terms are vague generalities, but they meet our purposes. If one was
an interior decorator, however, one does not just recognize various shades
but has a vast technical vocabulary for colors. It makes a big difference
which color green you paint your walls!

This is how categorization and language abilities work in the daily lives of
every human being no matter which of the 6703 languages they speak or think
in, and these are the same issues we face in studying Koine Greek. We can
categorize morphological forms or lexical entries with vast complex lists or
simple lists, depending on our purpose. For some purposes we need complex
categorizations, for others we do not. I call this "function" but semantics
would be better label. I differentiate it from "form", which I call "case",
which is limited to morphological endings, of which there are five in Koine


Mark Beatty

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