[b-greek] RE: "hOUTOS/hAUTH Word Order" and "Questions about questions"

From: Iver Larsen (iver_larsen@sil.org)
Date: Sun Jun 24 2001 - 03:16:41 EDT

From: Iver Larsen
to: Mark Beatty and others interested

I have read your mail with interest, but I am afraid I disagree with your
conclusions because I cannot accept the axioms you have about what is special or
uneconomic in Greek. My problem is not with your theory but with how you have
come to the axioms you claim for the Greek language.

These are my points:

> My theory states that if a syntactic structure is "uneconomic" then it has
> some "special" discourse purpose. With this I can answer Roger Hutchinson's

> and Keith Thompson's questions. hOUTOS after a noun is syntactically
> uneconomic and therefore has a special semantic/discourse usage.

What makes you claim that hOUTOS after a noun is syntactically uneconomic?
Actually, I believe the opposite is the case according to normal Greek usage. It
is hOUTOS before a noun that is uneconomic, if I understand your term uneconomic
correctly. If you count the examples of noun plus hOUTOS you will find that in
the majority of cases hOUTOS follows the noun, and this would be the order where
no special emphasis or contrast is intended. I would call it the unmarked order,
which I assume corresponds more or less to your term economic.
> The next key point of my dissertation is that the REASON for "special" word
> order is not answered by syntax but by semantics. (My theoretical
> constructions subsume discourse under semantics.)

I have no quarrel with this theory.

> My quick analysis of Luke 14:30 is that the people mocking the foolish
> builder use the demonstrative and article to specify which builder they are
> referring to. As I said, there is nothing special about this word order so
> the use of both the demonstrative and the article is just a way to clearly
> specify the foolish one they are mocking. There is no special discourse
> function being accomplished (such as CONTRASTING this builder with another.)

I cannot accept your conclusion, because I think the starting axiom is
incorrect. Since the order in Luke 14:30 is hOUTOS hO ANQRWPOS this is an
"uneconomic" order in Greek. It is because it is uneconomic that the order can
be used to indicate a contrast between THIS foolish builder and expected
behaviour of ordinary builders.

By the way, the demonstratives include the feature +definite. I believe this is
a universal of linguistics. In English, this means that it supplants the use of
the definite article. In Greek, it means that the article is obligatorily
present when a demonstrative is used as an attribute or modifier in a noun
phrase. The article is not needed to show +definite, but it helps to
disambiguate between attributive and predicative use of the demonstrative in
certain constructions. I give examples of this in my article on word order in
Greek that has a sub section with demonstratives, but for general benefit let me
give an example here of such disambiguation:

Luke 2:2 hAUTH APOGRAFH PRWTH EGENETO "This (census) became/was the first

I thought myself until recently that Luke 2:2 might be translated "This census
became/was the first (census)" but I now realise it cannot. This second
translation corresponds to:

> As to Matthew 24:34, Jesus is being specific about who He is talking about
> (since that is why a Greek uses a demonstrative with a article). But since
> this is a "special" word order, something else is being done besides the
> specific reference. Note, however, that this is a highly significant
> theological passage. It is best to test one's theory out on language that
> will not determine fine points of theology.
> According to my theory, the whole noun phrase "hH GENEA hAUTH" is in a
> "special" position of being to the right of the verb.

We need to distinguish between levels of syntax. The order of constituents
within the clause is fairly independent of the order of constituents within the
phrase. However, the same basic principles apply in Greek, namely that the most
"economic" order in Greek for constituents in the clause is VSO. Within the NP
it is Head+Modifier, depending on the type of modifier and a few other details.
The most important element comes first in Greek - which is different from
In Matt 24:34, the verb comes first, which indicates that the idea communicated
by the verb is relatively more prominent than the NP functioning as syntactic
subject and semantic patient. I believe it is incorrect to claim that the phrase
hH GENEA hAUTH is placed in a special position by following the verb.

> In light of this, I
> would guess that word order is being used to differentiate "hH GENEA hAUTH"
> from other groups of people, OR, (and perhaps similarly) Jesus is
> communicating that "hH GENEA hAUTH" is of key importance and concern to Him.

Here you seem to mix the levels of syntax. The matter of differentiating hH
GENEA hAUTH from other groups of people is not a matter of the order of the NP
relative to the verb, but a matter of the relative order of the head and
modifier. If there was a contrast intended to other groups of people, the
demonstrative would have to precede the noun.

> Compare this to 24:34b PANTA TAUTA. "All these things" are not marked as
> special by word order.

The word PAS is special since it normally precedes what it modifies. This is
because the word is inherently emphatic and therefore naturally comes first.
Without recognizing this, one can easily draw wrong conclusions.

> If these ideas are correct, then perhaps this is said
> to comfort hearers and readers when they fear the whole "Jewish race" will
> be annihilated. (I cannot figure how you get the temporal "generation" out
> of hH GENEA hAUTH in this context so I interpreted "hH GENEA hAUTH" as the
> Jewish race.)

The temporal component of meaning comes from two assumptions, I think: 1) that
GENEA corresponds in meaning to the English word generation and 2) that there is
a contrast intended between this generation and another generation. Both
assumptions are wrong, IMO.

Best wishes,

Iver Larsen

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