[b-greek] RE: Iver, Moon... little help please

From: Iver Larsen (alice-iver_larsen@wycliffe.org)
Date: Thu Mar 01 2001 - 04:05:27 EST

Hi, Mark!

You have the gift of asking good questions. I'll put my comments below. I hope
it is OK to talk some general linguistics, since linguistics is a basis for the
study of any language, including Greek.

> At the risk of getting yelled at, I would like to give four ENGLISH
> examples before I ask a linguistic kind of question, I think :o )
> 1. Those GOOD disciples
> 2. Those good DISCIPLES
> 3. THOSE good disciples
> 4. Those good disciples
> Let's suppose that Greeks can also denote EMPHASIS, by
> whatever means, probably word order.
> Of the sentences above, number one is EMPHASIZING that the
> disciples in question are GOOD ones. Perhaps these disciples acted
> in some way that led the writer to conclude they are good.
> Alternately, sentence number two is EMPHASIZING that those good
> individuals are DISCIPLES (perhaps opposed to a non-disciple kind of group).
> However, looking at this same information, I could also say the sentence
> number one is talking about "disciples," NOT some other group. True, they
> are GOOD ones, but it is important that we realize that the writer has
> chosen
> to identify them as "disciples," and not by some other designation.
> My question is this:
> Is there any difference SEMANTICALLY and/or GRAMMATICALLY in the sentences
> above?

There are a couple of basic linguistic notions I would mention first. (If I
sound as a teacher that is because I do not know how many people might be
listening in. I may be saying things that Mark and many other people already
know.) One often talks about a surface level and an underlying (or deep) level.
The actual words spoken or written are on the surface level, and the meaning one
attaches to those words is found in the underlying level.
A grammatical description is aimed at the surface level and has two major parts:
Phonology (study of how sounds are used in language) and Grammar. (The word
"grammar" is rather elastic. Sometimes it is enlarged to include phonology,
sometimes it is split up into morphology (study of how morphemes make up words)
and syntax (study of how words combine to form phrases and phrases combine to
form clauses and sentences) and discourse (study of how sentences combine into
paragraphs and whole texts, including assigning a meaning to a word based on
what goes on beyond the sentence level.)
Semantics is concerned with the study of the underlying meaning of those words
which are found on the surface level. All parts of grammar (phonology,
morphology, syntax, discourse) feed into semantics. If you talk about a
grammatical difference, I expect to see a difference in the morphology or syntax
or at the higher discourse level. In case you include phonology within "grammar"
then a phonological difference would be a grammatical difference, otherwise it
is just a phonological difference. A semantic difference is a change in meaning
caused by a change in the surface structure.

In your sentences above there is a phonological difference, because you have
stressed certain words, and stress is part of phonology. That difference in
stress results in a difference at the underlying semantic level, because you get
a different meaning out of sentence whether a particular word is stressed or
not. Semantics goes on in the head, so we cannot put grammar and semantics at
the same level. A change at one level results in a corresponding change at the
other level. They are interdependent.
> In other words, after all is said and done, all four sentences are
> communicating
> the same information at the semantic and grammatical levels, right?

No, that is not correct, because the sentences are phonologically different, and
that results in a semantic difference.

> Which is another way of asking, where does EMPHASIS fit in linguistics? Is
> it a
> syntactical thing that is kind of nice, but in and of itself carries no
> semantic weight?

Emphasis is a semantic notion that is reflected in the grammar in various ways
in different languages. In English, it is mainly reflected in the phonology as
stress, but also a little in word order (usually the last position in an English
sentence carries some emphasis, but word order changes in English are very
limited) and in syntax in the form of cleft sentences and other means. Some
languages have emphasis or focus morphemes, that is a suffix or prefix can be
added to a word to show that when the word has this affix it is in focus.
(Neither Greek or English have such affixes.) Greek has a very free word order,
and changes in word order are used to indicate semantic differences. (I don't
know about the use of stress in Greek. The problem with stress is that it is
often not shown in the written form of the language, and therefore the written
form has lost significant clues to the meaning compared to the spoken language.)
> Thank you ...linguists :o )
> Mark Wilson

You didn't ask how your sentences above might be translated into Greek? Let me
suggest an answer to that question, and Moon or others can correct me:

1. Those GOOD disciples 5. hOI KALOI MAQHTAI EKEINOI
3. THOSE good disciples 8. EKEINOI hOI MAQHTAI hOI KALOI
4. Those good disciples 10. hOI KALOI MAQHTAI EKEINOI
4. Those good disciples 11. hOI MAQHTAI EKEINOI hOI KALOI

Comments: The NT authors have different styles, probably depending on how much
they are influenced by Hebrew and how experienced they are in using Greek as a
foreign language. (Not to mention possible dialects of Hellenistic Greek, which
I don't know about anyway.)

I believe there would be fair agreement on 5. Mark might have used 7 instead,
because he prefers to have the adjective after the head noun.
I also expect fair agreement on 6 as the translation of 2, but Matthew might
have used 5 instead, because he prefers to have the adjective before the head
For 3 and 3b, the demonstrative would have to come first, and that applies to
all NT authors. The placement of the adjective depends on whether there is
secondary emphasis on GOOD as in 3b and it depends on the author.
4. is difficult, because there are limits to the possible word orders. It is
hard to imagine a phrase like this without some relative emphasis on one of the
constituents. 10 is the same as 5 and 11 is the same as 6. Mark would probably
use 11 and the others 10. The fact that a Greek speaker would have to choose
some word order indicates that he has to think of relative prominence all the
time. Since 6 and 11 are the same, and since the noun normally precedes the
adjective, this Greek phrase does not necessarily have emphasis on DISCIPLES. Or
said differently, it is hard in Greek to distinguish between 2 and 4.

We should be careful not to draw hard and fast conclusions from word order alone
without also looking at the whole context. There are often other elements in the
context, including lexical semantics, that would indicate contrast, and these
elements should support the conclusions drawn from word order.

This is my current understanding of the semantics underlying the grammatical
word order in NT Greek.

Iver Larsen

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