From: Iver Larsen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Wed Oct 10 2001 - 04:08:13 EDT
> I have been bothered by this principle for a while, and I'd like to 1)
> articulate what bothers me and 2) ask for input from the learned
> members of
> this group. I'm not picking on Iver, because he is not the first to
> articulate this principle (nor will he be the last.) I guess I just need
> help understanding this principle better.
> First, what bothers me: In any language, *something* has to be
> first. It's
> simply impossible to express *anything* without putting something at the
> beginning. Therefore, when a general principle is articulated
> that "things
> to the left are more important", my hair stands up on end. I'm well aware
> that Greek uses word order for emphasis, but all languages, I think, have
> "normal" ways of expressing things and then "abnormal" ways of expression
> that provide emphasis.
Language is complex and there are a number of things going on
simultaneously. Your problem seems to be that you are expecting to apply a
general principle in a simplistic way. Maybe you understand something
different by the word "general" than I do? There are other important
principles that must also be taken into account. One of them Mark brought
up: If there is no possibility of choice with respect to word order, then
the "general" principle cannot be applied. There are other factors as well,
for instance the style and preferences of a particular author, other means
that show prominence, and many more.
> For example, in English we might say, "Stop that now!", and one *might*
> conclude that the emphasis is on the word "now" or one might conclude that
> there is no particular emphasis. However, if I rephrased it, "Now stop
> that!", one might conclude the emphasis was on the word "stop".
> Perhaps one
> might call the former word order "normal" and the latter
> "abnormal", because
> the position of "stop" has been altered.
We are not helped much by English examples, since English does not have the
kind of possibility for word order variation that Greek has. As I said
earlier, English mainly uses stress to indicate prominence, and this is not
marked in normal writing. (Which is a pity, but the English writing system
is deplored by all linguists as being pretty bad.) In your English example
could you not put stress on different words and by that indicate emphasis?
"Stop that NOW" is different from "Stop that now" and "Now, STOP that" and
"Stop THAT now".
> Second, my plea for input:
> Wouldn't Greek also have a "normal" word order? And wouldn't
> that "normal"
> word order have no particular emphasis? ISTR that I was taught that
> "normal" Greek word order is SOV, with the verb generally taking the later
> position in a sentence.
If you are able to go back and read in the archives you will find a lot of
input on these questions. We need to distinguish between word order within
the phrase and phrase order within the clause.
There is no agreement whether Greek does indeed have a normal phrase order.
The reason for this state of affairs is that the phrase order is so open to
variation that to try to establish a "normal" order is very frustrating.
What IS "normal", when things move all over the place?
The majority of those who prefer to say that Greek DOES have a normal phrase
order, would say that the order is VSO. If you were taught that it is SOV
that may have been in the context of classical Greek.
Whether the V comes first depends on what the verb is and how prominent the
concept covered by the verb is in the total clause.
So, for example, in Acts 1:1 we read, "TON MEN
> PRWTON LOGON EPOIHSAMHN PERI PANTWN W QEOFILE hWN HRZATO hO
> IHSOUS POIEIN TE
> KAI DIDASKEIN", which in "normal" English we might say "I wrote the first
> account, beloved of God, concerning all that Jesus began to both do and
> teach...", whereas the Greek has it, "The first account I wrote,
> concerning all, beloved of God, that Jesus began to both do and teach..."
> Now, I don't get the sense that there is any emphasis in this Greek at
How would you get the "sense" when you are not a native speaker and you
disregard the very principle that would help to give you that sense? Do you
get the "sense" from the English translation?
> It seems to be "normal" to me. So the "principle" that things to the left
> are emphasized seems inapplicable to me here. Now, I *do* get the sense
> that "normal" Greek word order is more "fluid" than English word order
> without changing emphasis, but ISTM that arguing that "whatever is left is
> emphasized" is too rigid and dogmatic.
Yes, if it is applied in a simplistic way, it can easily lead to wrong
conclusions. And any prominence hinted at by word order choice should fit
with other linguistic clues in the whole co-text.
> I would prefer to see evidence that
> a word order is "abnormal" before agreeing that "whatever is left is
Fair enough as far as it goes. I could send you an article on this if you
are interested. Or you could download it from
Let me make a few comments on your example from Acts 1:1
TON MEN PRWTON LOGON EPOIHSAMHN PERI PANTWN W QEOFILE hWN HRZATO hO IHSOUS
POIEIN TE KAI DIDASKEIN
1. TON PRWTON LOGON
No variation is possible in English: the first account.
But what are the possibilities in Greek? One would need to look at the data,
and I am limited to the GNT in my search mechanisms. But still there are a
couple of interesting examples:
Mt 22:38 hAUTH ESTIN hH MEGALH KAI PRWTH ENTOLH
EPH 6:2 hHTIS ESTIN ENTOLH PRWTH EN EPAGGELIAi
MR 14:12 THi PRWTHi hHMERAi
1 COR 15:47 hO PRWTOS ANQRWPOS
2 TIM 4:16 EN THi PRWTHi MOU APOLOGIAi
HEB 9:15 THi PRWTHi DIAQHKHi
REV 4:1 H FWNH H PRWTH
REV 13:12 THN EXOUSIAN TOU PRWTOU QHRIOU PASAN..hINA PROSKUNHSOUSIN TO
QHRION TO PRWTON
REV 20:5 hAUTH hH ANASTASIS hH PRWTH -this is the first resurrection
Luke 15:22 EXENEGKATE STOLHN THN PRWTHN "bring out a robe which is the
Here I prefer to take the article as equivalent to a relative, because of
the lack of an article before STOLHN. This construction is not comparable to
what we have in Acts 1:1.
Based on these examples, there are seem to be two possibilities in Greek
where English has one:
TWN PRWTON LOGON
TON LOGON TON PRWTON
There is less flexibility with an arthrous noun phrase compared with an
anarthrous one and the implications for word order prominence are much less
for an arthrous NP. For these NPs the variation between authors is
significant. For instance, in Revelation, the second form is common, but it
is rare in the rest of the NT. So, caution is needed.
It is "normal" for an adjective to follow the head noun in Greek, especially
in an anarthrous NP. BUT, the word PRWTOS is inherently emphatic because it
means "first" and therefore implies a contrast to something that is
"second". Therefore, if you check all occurrences of noun phrases modified
with this word PRWTOS you will find that the "normal" order for this
particular combination is to have PRWTOS before the noun (if their is a
noun. This word is often used substantively or adverbially).
The fronting of PRWTON indicates that it is prominent. But that is normal,
because this particular word is almost always prominent.
Concerning phrase order, the first clause is OV(S). It would be possible to
start with the verb, but that would give a wrong prominence to the event of
The second, relative, clause is VSO (or VSC if you prefer Complement for the
infinitive). There is some prominence on the concept "began" which
correlates with the discourse particle MEN in that the first book/account is
the stepping stone for the second account that Luke is now embarking on.
These things are tricky, and a general principle should not be applied
dogmatically. But I think it is still a principle that describes part of the
"soul" of the Greek language and helps to get a "feel" for the intent of the
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