[b-greek] Re: Prominence in Passive Construction with hUPO in Mk 1:9

From: Philip Graber (Philip.Graber@alum.emory.edu)
Date: Thu Sep 27 2001 - 14:46:15 EDT

I have been following the thread about prominence and constituent ordering
and have wanted to jump in. I don't have the time, but I can no longer
resist. I'll try to make this short.

Terminology is a major problem, and I think it is useful to define terms
very carefully. For this purpose, it is useful to choose a theory and use
the terms defined within it rather than to use terms like "topic," "theme,"
"focus," "prominence," "emphasis," etc. without definitions and without
knowing what terms might be roughly synonymous and which ones are different.

In my work, I have chosen to go with Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL),
one of the theories that has grown, to some extent, out of the Prague
School. SFL (not uniquely) differentiates between two kinds of prominence
(which word is not a technical term in the theory): Theme and Information
Structure. Theme is a kind of prominence that describes what is the
starting point for the clause as a message. ("Rheme" is used to describe
the rest of the clause, that part of the message that develops from the
starting point, or Theme.) Information Structure is seen as an independent
structure. New information is not necessarily new in the non-technical
sense, but is the focus of a message unit (that may not always correspond
exactly with a clause). It is often either truly new information or
contrastive information. In English, the default (unmarked) case is one in
which Theme is also Given Information and New Information is also in the
Rheme, but it does not necessarily need to be the case.

These definitions are probably not adequate, but hopefully will suffice to
say this: many languages use constituent ordering to mark Theme (though it
can be marked by other means, such as morphology). It is common, for some
intuitively obvious reasons, for Theme as point of departure, to come
first in clauses in many languages, and for New Information as the point
toward which the message is moving to come late (if not last) in
clauses. I have often thought that this is a hypothesis worth testing for
Greek and, if confirmed, would explain why some scholars are inclined to
say that both ends of a Greek clause are prominent while others say they
are not -- if they are, the kinds of prominence are undoubtedly different.

I am reasonably well convinced through my own work (which I will not
elaborate on here) that initial position in the Greek clause is related to
what SFL calls Theme. I have not done nearly enough to say anything about
Information Structure. I suspect that, like some other Indo-European
languages, Information Structure was realized in the intonation. That is
not very helpful for ancient Greek. Helma Dik, using Simon Dik's (no
relation) Functional Grammar theory, has posited for the corpus of
Herodotus that first position in the clause is Topic (similar to SFL Theme)
and that Focus (similar to SFL New Information) defaults to SECOND
constituent position, though it is not defined strictly by position and
does move around. I think there is some very fruitful work to be done here.

I hope this was helpful and/or enlightening to someone. At least I hope it
dispelled any notions that prominence and constituent order is a
straightforward matter.

Rev. Philip L. Graber, Ph.D., Pastor
Ronceverte Presbyterian Church
Ronceverte, West Virginia USA

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