[b-greek] Re: ad hoc word order and ambiguous emphasis

From: Philip Graber (omc01091@mail.wvnet.edu)
Date: Thu Feb 08 2001 - 09:44:44 EST

Mark Beatty wrote (among other things):

> I have been thinking about word order lately and am somewhat dissatisfied in
> the existing approaches. First, why are only verbs, subjects and objects
> considered? Why not also considered prepositions, complements, and
> inflections (Modern Greek)? Having a theory of word order only for a select
> subset of sentence constituents seems ad hoc to me.
> Second, I find the label "emphasis" both circular and vague.


I have been following this thread with great interest, but without the
time to join in. I still don't have the time, but can't resist any
more. I have noted the same problems you list here. Have you looked at
Systemic Functional Linguistics, a la M.A.K. Halliday? In SFL analysis,
many languages use word order to realize what Halliday calls Theme. I
say "what Halliday calls Theme" because he defines it differently than
many theories do, distinguishing it from information structure, so that
Theme-Rheme is distinct from Given-New, categories that are often
conflated in such pairings as Topic-Focus (and even Theme-Rheme in
Prague School analysis). A very good introduction to SFL theory applied
to English with regard to Theme and information structure is the series
of articles entitled "Notes on transitivity and theme in English" [Parts
1, 2 & 3] published in the Journal of Linguistics in 1967 and 1968
(volume 3 pp. 37-81, 199-244, and volume 4 pp. 179-215). For more
recent introductory discussion of the theory, see Halliday's An
Introduction to Functional Grammar (2nd ed) published by Edward Arnold
in 1994.

SFL recognizes three kinds of meanings in language that are
simultaneously realized in the grammar. Most word order studies only
take account of one of these (what Halliday calls the "experiential"
component that is usually realized in grammatical structures that are
typically called NP and VP), and does not even take account of all of
that one kind of meaning. Halliday does not ignore any components in
his study of Theme, whether those components are realized by NPs, VPs,
PrepPs, participial phrases, or whatever. Furthermore, because there
are two other kinds of meanings ("interpersonal" and "textual"),
Halliday also recognizes other kinds of Themes than experiential ones.

I am not aware of anyone applying this model consistently to ancient
Greek of any kind, although Jeffrey Reed has approached it in his
published dissertation. I have made an effort to start this in one
chapter of my dissertation ("Context in Text: A Systemic Functional
Analysis of the Parable of the Sower"), which I hope to defend in
March. I do not take the approach that "basic" word order is one from
which other orders are derived. I take the functional approach that
basic order depends on what experiential, interpersonal and textual
meanings are being realized--this is more or less the common-sense
observation that, for example, in English, the basic word order is
different for declarative clauses, imperative commands and yes-no
questions. For a given clause, the "basic" or unmarked word order I
take to be the order that leaves the information structure unmarked.
This is difficult to determine for an ancient language, since
information structure is often realized by intonation patterns and

I don't have time to say any more now. Perhaps this gives you an idea
of where I would go with this. Perhaps later I will provide an
example. The problem with introducing a new approach is that there are
so many terms that need to be defined (Theme, Rheme, Given, New,
experiential, interpersonal, textual, and many, many more) in order to
make clear what an example is an example of. For now, I must dash off
without re-reading this. I hope it is not totally incoherent.


Philip Graber
Ronceverte, West Virginia USA

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