[b-greek] RE: "Standard" word orders are cumbersome

From: Iver Larsen (alice-iver_larsen@wycliffe.org)
Date: Fri Feb 09 2001 - 09:14:23 EST

Dear Mark,

I just want to say thank you for this further explanation of your position. I
agree with what you are saying here. I prefer to think of the general principle
of "relative prominence" in Greek combined with the general principle that left
fronting of a constituent implies relatively more prominence, IF there is a
choice of constituent order. There are obviously some constraints on constituent
order that must be taken into account and the semantic content of the
constituent as well as its syntactical function are factors, too. I did discover
recently that the most common constituent order in Greek arthrous NPs in the NT
varies significantly according to the author. In Mark, John's Gospel and
Revelation an adjective in most cases follows the head noun. In Matthew it is
the opposite. The adjective almost always precedes the head noun. The rest of
the books have a tendency to have the adjective precede the noun, but not as
pronounced as in Matthew. I assume this might reflect the author's familiarity
with Greek as well as Semitic influence. It appears that in the kind of Greek
than Paul and Luke wrote the most common order is that the adjective precedes
the head noun. When I say adjective here, I use it in the restricted sense of
descriptive adjectives.


Iver Larsen
> If we regard Koine as having a "standard", "basic", or "normal" word order
> of SVO or VSO, we are in effect saying that other word orders are derived
> from that. This involves a cumbersome process of a native speaker producing
> one form and then transforming it into another. Linguistics has progress to
> the point where this cumbersome process is not longer necessary. The
> alternative is to have several possibly conflicting principles that have
> relative strengths when they conflict. Thus, we might say that the head of
> a Greek phrase is to the left of the complement. (Thus, the preposition is
> to the left of a noun phrase, the determiner is to the left of a noun, the
> verb is to the left of the object.) At the same time, other factors are
> working. For example, if the sentence is a question there is a +Q feature
> at the beginning of the sentence and it "wins" an object from a verb. This
> would vary between languages. In Greek and English the wh-word is found at
> the beginning of the sentence because +Q is strong. In Vietnamese and
> Chinese the wh-word says in place (called in situ wh-words), because +Q is
> weak. Another example is if there was some discourse reason to make an
> object special. In this case the object would also be found elsewhere than
> after the verb. This is possible in Greek and Russian, but not in English
> and Vietnamese.
> Such a theory, as illustrated above, allows one to explain all the syntax of
> a language, not just parts of the language. It also allows one to compare
> the syntax of languages and account for minor differences simply by the
> relative strength of features. That means this theory accounts for more
> data. This is good because, more data explained = more confidence in the
> conclusions of your syntax.
> Such a theory, as illustrated here, also allows one to identify "special"
> word orders that have discourse motivations. Just figure out the most
> "economic" application of the principles. Make sure you have accounted for
> all the exceptions that are not discourse related. Then all other
> variations are by default discourse motivated.
> Sincerely,
> Mark Beatty

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