[b-greek] Re: The theory of negation (To Carl, Carlton, Iver, Keith)

From: Carlton Winbery (winberyc@speedgate.net)
Date: Mon Feb 26 2001 - 13:34:19 EST

Moon-Ryul Jung wrote;

Up front let me say that this is a very clear statement that I find a lot
of agreement with. I will intersperse some notes. This is a quick reply
since I am due at hospital soon to check on my wife who is recovering
>We discussed what the negative particle OU negates. Recently Keith
>raised the question again, and Iver and I responded in details. I
>think that what I wrote would satisfy Carl and Carlton, who insisted
>that the scope of negation in a sentence is generally the verb phrase
>or the whole sentence. Carlton said he would not comment on this
>issue unless new convincing evidences are presented.
>It turns out that it is not a matter of evidence but a matter of
>how to explain what is going on in negative sentences. I would like to
>know what Carl and Carlton would think of my explanation.

You are right that it is a question of what is going on in the sentence (or
maybe in the mind of the writer/speaker).
>To sum the theory of negation, it is as follows:
>(1) Focus:
> Every sentence has the focus, which is the part that conveys
> new information or information relevant to the hearer. The
> focus is indicated either by stress or word order. In othe words,
> the proposition stated by a (natural language) sentence is not
> the bare proposition but the "focused proposition".
> The part of the sentence not in focus is considered
> the background or presupposition of the sentence.
> The presupposition can be represented as
> an open proposition obtained by replacing the focus with a
> variable X. The open proposition can be considered a complex
> predicate. It implies that the proposition holds with respect
> to some entity X.

I can agree that every sentence has a focus, but can a sentence have two
focii (coordinated)? But, I agree here but for the questions I have on word
order. I have seen that aspect of Greek overworked with no supportive
evidence in many commentaries where I got the distinct impression that
conclusions were drawn from word order because the commentator needed to
fill out the space. I have read several papers and studies of word order

lately that I find helpful, but I still want evidence gathered from a much
broader spectrum of Greek than just the NT or even the LXX. In some cases
though I do think you are right that word order can emphasize one focus
over another in the sentence.
>2) Negation:
> The negative particle negates what the positive version of the
> sentence tries to convey, that is, the FOCUSED proposition.
> In other words, what is negated is that the presupposition of the
> sentence holds with respect to the focus.

I don't quite understand this but below it is clearer so see below.

>3) The Scope of negation:
> We often say that the scope of the negation is the focus of the
> or what is negated is the focus of the sentence. But it is not exactly
> correct. What is negated is always the proposition. But the point is
> what is this proposition? It is that the open proposition corresponding
> to the presupposition of the sentence holds with respect to the focus.
>In sum, we can say that what is negated is the focus of the sentence,
>though it is not sufficiently precise. In this regard, Iver and I
>was right. The notion of focus is crucial to understanding negation,
>because what is negated is the focused proposition conveyed by a
>natural language sentence. But still what is negated is a proposition,
>not some constituents of it. In this regard, Carl and Carlton were right.

I certainly agree with the negation of the proposition and with the
allowance that a lesser focus (expressed as proposition) can be negated.
>(4) Local negation
>Sentences like
>(a) "John went to New York not long ago"

Once again I would emphasize that English egs. must be used with care not
to destort the Greek expressions. With that said, I think the sentence
above fails to take into consideration that in Greek there is much more
going on in the minde of the writer than you express in English. I would
say that in the mind of the Greek speaker the negation works like this, "I
did not go to New York long ago, but (I went) recently." As an interpreter
I must deal with all that seems to be going on in the mind of the

A Greek eg. (not negation).

Exactly what is the main focus? Perhaps there are several but the writer is
preparing us for the witness of John to Jesus and his role in God's
forgiveness. But to deal with all that is going on we would have to say,
"John showed up engaged in the act of preaching a baptism (John subj.) of
repentance (the people were repenting) unto the forgiveness (God does the
forgiving) of sins (that the people had committed)." While we can deal with
this sentence without expressing all elements overtly, the elements are
there in the thought process and in some languages must be stated overtly.
Now when any of the elements are negated we can deal the mind of the writer
much better is we see the proposition that is negated.

<accidental omission here>

>(b) "He gave me not a book"
>is grammatical. "Not long ago" is grammatical because it is
>the abbreviation of "the time that is not long ago". Here what
>is negated is still a proposition.

Now we are on the same page except I would still connect "not long ago"
with the main proposition "he went to NY."

>The following example is not the same as (b).
>(c) He wants you, not me
>Here "not me" is the abbreviation of "He does not want ME".
>So, "not me" is a true negation.

That is what I tried to illustrate several days ago but does it the work
the same in Greek? Only to the extent that it illustrates elyptical speech
and an element that is understood.

>I have studied for two years logic, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics
>at the University of Pennsylvania . . .

Is that where Barth Erhmann teaches NT?

Note: I started this post at 10:30 and had to finish it at 12:30.

Carlton L. Winbery
Fogleman Prof. of Religion
Louisiana College Box 612
Pineville, LA 71359
Phones 318 487 7241, Home 318 448 6103

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