[b-greek] John 4:17-18

From: Wayne Leman (Wayne_Leman@SIL.ORG)
Date: Mon Jun 25 2001 - 21:33:23 EDT

> on 6/25/01 5:25 PM, Wayne Leman wrote:
> > Fronting ANDRA emphasizes it, according to the rules of Greek
> > order pragmatic focus.
> Wanye,
> I have heard this now so many times that I have begun to seriously doubt
> it is true.

Well, Clay, of course, the number of times something is said doesn't
establish its credibility as a hypothesis. The only thing that does is its
scientific value in accounting for the behavior of data. IMO, enuf empirical
studies of constituent order have been done, including statistical counts,
to consider that fronting in Koine Greek is a highly reasonable hypothesis.
But there is no guarantee of anything, including whether or not the earth
will continue spinning on its axis. All we have is the data and variations
in it, and some scientific methods to attempt to account for the variations.

> The expression "according to the rules of Greek constituent
> order pragmatic focus" make it sound like these rules were brought down
> Sinai by Moses.

Not at all. Linguistic "rules" are simply scientific hypotheses which
attempt to account for behavior of data. We create the best hypotheses we
can with the data we have, and then wait to see if other data or other
methodologies will displace our hypotheses (they often are displaced, but
the newer hypotheses often build upon what came before, so there is no loss
in the effort to attempt to account for patterned behavior).

> I would suggest that these "rules" are perhaps more on the
> level of a theory currently in vogue among linguists who have studied
> discourse analysis from a certain school of thought.

This is probably true of some rules, but there are a number of linguistic
rules which have withstood rigorous scientific scrutiny and further testing,
so that we can live with some confidence that we have some degree of "truth"
accounted for by the "rules".

If we cannot discover principles for patterned behavior of data by examining
as much data as we have available, how else would you suggest that we
discover how languages work?

> In other words, I would choose to be very cautious and tentative about the
> significance of the fronting of ANDRA. I have read all the works that you
> mentioned and numerous others which talk about word order and pragmatics.
> am as yet unconvinced that this "rule" as you stated it is "one of the
> assured results of modern linguistics."

Where did that last quote come from? It didn't come from me. My faith is not
in linguistics. But I do find the discovery methods used by credible
linguists to be helpful tools to attempt to discover why people say what
they do as they do. Fortunately, for living langauges, we are better off,
and can do some laboratory testing of our hypotheses, by varying data and
recording responses. Obviously, we want to avoid any circular reasoning and
that is always a possible problem when working with a small corpus, but the
corpus of Koine Greek, even if we just limited it to the NT, is not too
theoretically small for a number of language issues that need to be studied.
We *can* discover patterns even in dead languages and in their frozen texts,
if we proceed cautiously, looking for change points in the texts, answers to
questions, etc., precisely those places where cross-linguistic work with
living languages has repeatedly yielded good results for accounting for
variations in data.

> Would not be the least surpprised if a decade or two down the road that
> rule about fronting will not be found resting in an academic wrecking yard
> among all the other "assured results of . . . whatever."

You may be right, Clay, but if so, I suspect there will be some other rule
which has replaced it and accounts for the distribution of the data even
better. That is what the scientific method is about, as I understand it. I
do believe truth can be found other ways, but language data is empirical
data and, as such, is open to scientific examination just as any other kind
of empirical data is.


> Doubtfully yours,
> Clay Bartholomew

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