[b-greek] Case System

From: c stirling bartholomew (cc.constantine@worldnet.att.net)
Date: Tue Feb 27 2001 - 17:30:25 EST

With the verb aspect wars well into their second decade it would seem that
we should seeing more time given to the case system where there are problems
in the "traditional approach" just as serious as the problems with verb

I was just reading Rod Decker's paper* and noting that the arguments used
against the temporal significance of the verb augment are essentially
identical to the arguments I use against assigning semantic significance to
the Hellenistic Greek case forms.

When you hear someone talking about the semantic force of the dative case
(or any case) they will almost always end up inserting the phrase "from the
context" toward the end of their discussion. What this little phrase tells
us is that the case form in itself does not convey semantic information. But
no one seems to be willing to just admit this.

When we look at the advanced grammars (pick one) we see 20-30 semantic
categories for the genitive, 7-15 for the dative, half a dozen for the
accusative. Not only this but we see a very significant amount of overlap
among these sets. When an argument about a assigning one of these
catgagories to a particular instance comes up, after all the smoke clears,
some one will with out fail invoke the famous phrase "from the context."

What does this all mean? Well if you follow Rod Decker's logic about the
verb augment, and simply apply it to the case system, it means that semantic
information is not carried (not "gramaticalized") by the case system
morphological markings.

If we accept this, then we will quit talking about semantic categories of
cases. They will simply cease to exist. We would then need to determine what
function the Hellenistic Greek case forms actually perform.

A place to start (not end) is to define Hellenistic Greek case forms as a
means of marking syntactical structural relationships between phrase and
clause level constituents. The most abstract form of this could read:
A case form marks a constituent as limiting some other constituent.

The next and more difficult task is to determine what distinguishes the
dative from the genitive and so forth. The dative and genitive both limit
other constituents but why do we have both a dative and a genitive? What
syntactic functional distinctions can we discover which are represented by
the distribution of datives and genitives in Hellenistic Greek texts?

Progress along this line has been thwarted by mixing semantic functional
categories with syntactical functional categories. Most of the lists found
in intermediate and advanced Greek grammars include both semantic and
syntactic functions.

I would argue that we should extract all discussion of semantic functions
from treatments of the Greek case system. So many of the "dog chasing it's
tail" sort of discussions about the genitive case (or what ever) are caused
by attempts to pin a semantic value on a case form. I am convinced that
these attempts are pointless and will always end up by invoking "the
context." Invoking the context is admitting that the case from does not
provide this information anyway.

Clayton Stirling Bartholomew
Three Tree Point
P.O. Box 255 Seahurst WA 98062

*"Verbal Aspect in Recent Debate: Objections to Porter's Non-Temporal View
of the Verb,"

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