Sim on the genitive absolute

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Matthew Longhorn
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Sim on the genitive absolute

Post by Matthew Longhorn » August 25th, 2020, 3:36 pm

I recently purchased Margaret G Sim’s article on the genitive absolute "The Genitive Absolute in Discourse: More then a Change of Subject" https://www.degruyter.com/view/book/978 ... anguage=en


Discussing the idea that the GA functions as a switch reference device she notes the following.
As one considers those features which are said to indicate the canonical identification of switch reference, the majority may be seen to be inapplicable to Hellenistic Greek: (1) Switch reference is commonly found in languages which exhibit clause chaining; (2) Almost invariably (a few exceptions have been documented) switch reference operates in languages with a verb final word order; (3) Switch reference operates almost exclusively between adjacent clauses; (4) The function of switch reference is to avoid ambiguity.
Greek, on the other hand, (1) does not exhibit clause chaining, although a sentence may consist of a number of subordinate clauses together with one or more main clauses; (2) does not in the Hellenistic period exhibit an incontrovertible verbfinal word order; (3) may have an absolute clause before or after the main clause, with other clauses interposed between; (4) has a case system which relates each substantive and its accompanying participle to its function in its own clause, or in the sentence as a whole. I have dealt with this in detail in my MTh thesis, and I only mention this analysis here as it is often still raised as a viable option.
I was hoping our resident linguists could comment on whether this is accurate? She doesn’t provide any references backing this up other than mentioning Givon, Haiman, Austin, and Healy but no actual reference.
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nathaniel j. erickson
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Re: Sim on the genitive absolute

Post by nathaniel j. erickson » August 26th, 2020, 12:01 pm

While I'm not the resident linguist, I can chime in that describing the "genitive absolute" construction as a "switch reference" device is not viable for Koine Greek as a whole. Especially in lower register texts it is not uncommon to see a "genitive absolute" with the same subject as the main clause. Here is a useful excerpt from Fuller, Lois K. “The ‘Genitive Absolute’ in New Testament/Hellenistic Greek: A Proposal for Clearer Understanding.” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 3 (2006): 148.

Edwin Mayser reports that the most common ‘irregular’ use of the GA in the Ptolemaic papyri is the GA with the same subject as that of the main clause. He says the use is so widespread that only a few examples can be given as illustration, and proceeds to give forty of them. Of these, in five there is also a nominative participle describing the same subject.21 Basil Mandilaras, likewise, gives a number of examples of GAs that describe the subject in the later papyri.22 The Acts of Paul, a second-century document from Asia Minor, has a pattern of usage similar to the New Testament, and also features sentences in which both genitive and nominative participles describe the subject.23 Thus, the two constructions are not in complementary distribution in the language as a whole, which must be considered in our linguistic investigations, and it is extremely common in the papyri for the GA, rather than signalling a change in subject, to provide more information about the subject
Even without all the cross-linguistic categories, the Greek internal evidence points to the "genitive absolute" as more complicated than traditional grammars or the "switch reference device" approach usually give it credit for.

I think the switch reference approach has done a service in pointing out how a GA is often used at narrative seams that more often than not involve a change of subject as well. That is a very useful observation. But, the approach is not adequate for describing Koine as a whole. If inadequate at that level, it is worth considering how adequate it is at the level of just the NT as well.
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Nathaniel J. Erickson
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Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
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Matthew Longhorn
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Re: Sim on the genitive absolute

Post by Matthew Longhorn » August 26th, 2020, 12:14 pm

Thanks Nathaniel, I will try to locate that paper by Fuller. Sim also references Fuller

Sim argues
The GA is used to invite the reader to access one or more contextual assumptions. These may be known to her but need to be made more manifest. When these assumptions are manifest, the text will have more relevance for her. These assumptions in turn will give rise to bridging assumptions which make the text clearer and more relevant. Many will agree with the notion of a GA signalling contextual assumptions. What is new in this approach is the highlighting of such contextual assumptions as well as the bridging assumptions which should be accessed in order to achieve maximum relevance
She doesn’t discuss what bridging is in the paper, unless I missed it which threw me a bit. I am not sure if she means bridging in the sense of matsui’s work on it. E.g. “I moved house, The rent is cheaper” making us decide which house had the cheaper rent.
In this sense, if meant, she would be arguing that the GA helps us with that determination. That said, I didn’t find the examples she uses to be of the same sort as the one above
Her book “a relevant way to read” references bridging assumptions giving the following as an example in the story of the woman at the well
The ‘living water’ is a quote from the words of Jesus’ response in verse 10 but note in passing that the relevance of the woman’s response is derived from pragmatic inference: water comes from a well, but the only way of getting it out is via some kind of container.
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Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: Sim on the genitive absolute

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » August 26th, 2020, 6:21 pm

RE: switched reference

First: This will not be commentary on M. Sim. Haven't read her work since the dissertation on ἵνα.

I think we need a course on how to read works by linguists. If you come to linguistics from a background of seminary courses on biblical languages, your approach, particularly your basic unexamined assumptions are going to set you up for misreading people like Levinsohn. I mention him because he talks about GA's and switched reference. You need to understand that Levinsohn doesn't approach language description like Mounce or Wallace. He has a fundamentally different method. So if try to apply something he says within a framework operating according to rules of Mounce—Wallace it will lead to absurd results. I detect this happening in these discussions. We have people who are not comprehending the incompatibility between radically different frameworks. You can't take an idea from one framework and walk into the other framework and critique that idea. It doesn't wash.

The criticism of GA as switched reference appears to me as a case in point. You simply haven't understood what Levinsohn is doing in general. His method.
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nathaniel j. erickson
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Re: Sim on the genitive absolute

Post by nathaniel j. erickson » August 26th, 2020, 7:58 pm

I think we need a course on how to read works by linguists. If you come to linguistics from a background of seminary courses on biblical languages, your approach, particularly your basic unexamined assumptions are going to set you up for misreading people like Levinsohn. I mention him because he talks about GA's and switched reference. You need to understand that Levinsohn doesn't approach language description like Mounce or Wallace. He has a fundamentally different method. So if try to apply something he says within a framework operating according to rules of Mounce—Wallace it will lead to absurd results. I detect this happening in these discussions. We have people who are not comprehending the incompatibility between radically different frameworks. You can't take an idea from one framework and walk into the other framework and critique that idea. It doesn't wash.

The criticism of GA as switched reference appears to me as a case in point. You simply haven't understood what Levinsohn is doing in general. His method.
I'm not sure your point in any way advances this discussion. It feels like a passive-aggressive slight against those you presume to be ignorant in some way without actually giving any details on what is driving your assumption. More detail would be far more useful.
You need to understand that Levinsohn doesn't approach language description like Mounce or Wallace. He has a fundamentally different method.
This of course goes both ways. Modern linguistic approaches do not have a monopoly on describing what is going on in Ancient Greek, even though they are a very welcome voice in the discussion. If Levinsohn wants to use the traditional grammar category "genitive absolute" that is buying into a grammatical program that he is manifestly not generally using. This term has meaning in traditional grammar. By using it, he is inviting discussion of his work in terms of that category. He is apparently trying to discuss a phenomenon that others have discussed in different terms and that requires discussion in understanding Greek. Well and good. It also invites his claimns that GA function differently than nominative circumstantial participle phrases to be considered in all instances where they occur, to test its usefulness at describing the language as a whole. Naturally, his work is not invalidated if counter-examples are found that he did not set out to explain. But, it may turn out that his work is not adequate for describing other authors or corpus' use of the GA construction.
...people like Levinsohn. I mention him because he talks about GA's and switched reference.
I have his work in mind, specifically, as I have read it (as well as virtually everything he has written on Greek--big fan, even though I find a variety of his points not entirely convincing especially because he restricts his corpus to just the NT). My point about it being an inadequate description for Koine Greek is because, in the terms in which Levinsohn (and Healey and Healey) lay out their work, it seems to be inadequate, or at least it has a lot of seemingly obvious counter-evidence to deal with that has not been done, to the extent of my knowledge. I don't hold them responsible for that evidence, as they did not set out to explain it. Their work is NT focused, and, as Levinsohn explicitly argues, each author should be assessed on their own individual merits. However, this does leave open the possibility that other explanations for Koine Greek are valid and possibly better than a "switch reference" approach. It is obviously a useful approach, and I think it works like Levinsohn describes in the NT.
I very intentionally said that this description fails to account for the syntactic pattern traditionally called "genitive abosulte" in Koine Greek as a whole. This is based on my own reading, as well as reading by others--both from within traditional and linguistic-informed paradigms--which find evidence of genitive participle constructions behaving, for all intents and purposes, like nominative participle phrases. Perhaps there is a deeper, unifying explanation for someone to find and clearly articulate. I'm welcome to see such a contribution.
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Nathaniel J. Erickson
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Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
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Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: Sim on the genitive absolute

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » August 27th, 2020, 10:58 am

Nathaniel,

Thank you for the clarification. This morning I retrieved Levinsohn Discourse Features of NT, 2nd Ed. 2000 from deep storage and read once again the sections that discuss GA and NPC[1]. I was shocked, haven't look at this for ages, at the use of "always" and "never" repeatedly. Apparently I have forgotten what was actually affirmed and denied in this material. I'm certainly not going to try and give an exposition of Levinsohn's position on GA/NPC or defend it. The structure of the argument, as it appears to me, consists of a list of affirmations and denials without an adequate explanation of how these relate to one another. The "always" and "never" statements undermine my post yesterday. It appears that there is something here to argue about. I will not be the one arguing.

[1] NPC: Nominative Participle Clause
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John Kendall
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Re: Sim on the genitive absolute

Post by John Kendall » August 28th, 2020, 5:13 am

Stirling Bartholomew wrote:
August 27th, 2020, 10:58 am
I was shocked ... at the use of "always" and "never" repeatedly.
Forgive me if this seems picky but, regardless of the limitations or validity of Levinsohn's claims, my electronic copy of the relevant chapter (11) tells me that he makes assertions using "always" (or "almost always") rather sparingly with regard to a very limited range of issues and that he never uses "never".
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Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: Sim on the genitive absolute

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » August 28th, 2020, 2:55 pm

John Kendall wrote:
August 28th, 2020, 5:13 am
Stirling Bartholomew wrote:
August 27th, 2020, 10:58 am
I was shocked ... at the use of "always" and "never" repeatedly.
Forgive me if this seems picky but, regardless of the limitations or validity of Levinsohn's claims, my electronic copy of the relevant chapter (11) tells me that he makes assertions using "always" (or "almost always") rather sparingly with regard to a very limited range of issues and that he never uses "never".
Perhaps you would be better off reading carefully with comprehension all the material on GA/NPC. Statements that involve negation either implicitly or explicitly can function as semantically equivalent to "never" without using the word. My memory may be defective but you will find places where negation is implied without qualification which is equivalent to "never" and it's not the kind of thing you can spot doing a search. You need to study it.

I don't have any stake in the GA switched reference discussion. I was simply admitting that the argument isn't a case of refuting a position that nobody is promoting. That was my first take on this and it was incorrect. There appears to be something of substance under discussion. That is the only point.

Enough!
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John Kendall
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Re: Sim on the genitive absolute

Post by John Kendall » August 28th, 2020, 5:14 pm

Stirling Bartholomew wrote:
August 28th, 2020, 2:55 pm
Perhaps you would be better off reading carefully with comprehension all the material on GA/NPC. Statements that involve negation either implicitly or explicitly can function as semantically equivalent to "never" without using the word. My memory may be defective but you will find places where negation is implied without qualification which is equivalent to "never" and it's not the kind of thing you can spot doing a search. You need to study it.
I do sincerely apologise for causing you offence. I simply took your quotation marks as intended to indicate actual quotations. As I'm actually pretty familiar with Levinsohn's work, your comment did not square with my recollection of the chapter. Hence my further checking an electronic copy.

I do take your point as forcefully expressed above but regardless of the limitations of Levinsohn's big green book I guess I'm rather more positive as to its contribution to the field.
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Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: Sim on the genitive absolute

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » August 28th, 2020, 6:26 pm

John Kendall,

I wasn't offended. I just sound nasty online.

POSTSCRIPT:

We are engaged in a civil war here on the leftcoast. Trying to maintain sanity.
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