[b-greek] Grammars, Who Needs them?

From: c stirling bartholomew (cc.constantine@worldnet.att.net)
Date: Fri May 18 2001 - 15:36:51 EDT

Six months back I noticed that my standard Greek reference grammars (BDF,
Zerwick, ktl.) where getting dusty so I moved them from my work station to
my shelf across the room. This seemingly trivial act has somewhat less
trivial implications. A book residing on the shelf across the room is a book
which does not get used much. After moving the grammars I got to thinking
about why these books had fallen into disuse. After all, these books are
time proven classics which everyone quotes even if only to disagree with
them. Why would one be tempted to set these works aside?

I think the answer to this question falls under the general heading of
semiotics. The relationship between "meaning" and formal language features
is represented in the standard Greek reference grammars in a manner which is
now unacceptable to a whole lot of fairly serious people who have spent a
long time thinking about it. For this reason these standard reference works
have become somewhat problematic for us. They are handy collections of
grammatical lore, for example the recent book by that guy from Texas which
some of you quote all the time, that book is sort of like a Museum of Greek
grammar, a collection of exhibits showing how NT Greek has been understood
in the last two thousand years. Museums are great but the are museums none
the less.

The two areas of NT Greek grammar where this problem is most evident is the
treatment of the case system and verb inflection. Both of these topics when
handled according to the traditional approach are problematic at the
foundational level, the level of the language model.

Lets say that a general contractor takes a tour of a new building with an
architect along for inspection. They are standing before a large wall
covered with standard wall board and painted mauve. The architect points to
the wall and states that this is wall board of the sub-type mauve. The
contractor objects and says this is just standard wall board of no
particular type and the mauve paint has simply been applied to the wall
board. The architect argues vehemently that this wallboard is not only of
the sub-type mauve but that it is also nailed to two by fours on 24 inch
centers so that it is wall board of a very specific type "mauve 2X4 nailed
on 24 inch centers wallboard." The contractor concludes that the architect
is a nut case and drops the discussion.

The contractor has an intuitive grasp of the semiotics of wallboard. The
architect is a traditional grammarian. The contractor knows that meaning
"mauve 2X4 nailed on 24 inch centers wallboard" is not a meaning that is to
be found in the wallboard itself. It is a meaning that is applied to the
wallboard while the wallboard continues to remain what it is, just generic
building material.

This example shows how the Greek case marking system gets confounded with
semantic categories. The case marking system provides structural information
in the clause, marking connections between clause level constituents (The
wallboard is nailed to 2X4 and provides a surface for paint). But the
traditional grammarians have loaded up the cases with an impossible burden
of semantic significance. This burden the case simply cannot bear and you
end up with laughably absurd results, long lists of "semantic functions" for
the cases which are not only wrong in detail but the whole fundamental idea
is wrong.

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

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