Word Order in Koine: Freedoms, Constraints, & Best Practices

Biblical Greek morphology and syntax, aspect, linguistics, discourse analysis, and related topics
Thomas Dolhanty
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Word Order in Koine: Freedoms, Constraints, & Best Practices

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » May 19th, 2015, 12:09 pm

This topic came up in another thread, and I thought it would be a useful discussion for those of us seeking to approach Koine Greek as a language. If I set out to create a narrative or a dialogue in Koine Greek, what are the factors that should inform my choice of word order?

There are some obvious constraints such as the positioning of postpositives, maintaining a contiguity between an articular attributive adjective and its article, and the normal positioning of predicate adjectives (adj. + art. + noun – or – art. + noun + adj.). There are also some more debatable issues such as ‘fronting’ for emphasis, etc.

What is permitted? What is not permitted? What is desirable? What governs (or should govern) my choice? I realize this is a wide open question, but it does become a major consideration when you set out to speak or write - and especially to teach - Koine Greek as a language.
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Jonathan Robie
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Re: Word Order in Koine: Freedoms, Constraints, & Best Pract

Post by Jonathan Robie » May 19th, 2015, 2:34 pm

I'm definitely working to learn about this. Here is a presentation by Dag Haug on Word Order Change and Stability in Ancient Greek, it's fairly easy to digest. Here is Giuseppe Celano's article Word Order from the Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics, which has been discussed in this thread.

I have lots of questions in this area.
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Word Order in Koine: Freedoms, Constraints, & Best Pract

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » May 19th, 2015, 3:30 pm

Jonathan Robie wrote:I'm definitely working to learn about this. Here is a presentation by Dag Haug on Word Order Change and Stability in Ancient Greek, it's fairly easy to digest. Here is Giuseppe Celano's article Word Order from the Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics, which has been discussed in this thread.

I have lots of questions in this area.
Thank you for those links. I remember the discussion of Celano's article. In my first skim through Haug's material, I was really surprised at the prominence of SVO in the GNT:
Dag Haug wrote:SVO 52.9%
SOV 20.2%
VOS 9.3%
VSO 8.5%
OVS 4.6%
OSV 4.5%
Here is a link to Iver Larson's Word Order and Relative Prominence in New Testament Greek. I have yet to sit down and read it through, but I have scanned it a few times for specific issues and found it quite useful.
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Re: Word Order in Koine: Freedoms, Constraints, & Best Pract

Post by Jonathan Robie » May 19th, 2015, 3:31 pm

I think these points from slide 15 of Dag Haug's presentation are important:
  • The freedom of AG word order is a challenge to all theories
  • So is the extreme variation between contemporary authors and even between works of the same author
  • If we believe that word order patterns have meanings, at least we would predict that different genres and texts use the word order patterns differently
  • Still, much will remain unclear until we have better research tools (ie. bigger, parsed corpora)
I found slides 12 and 13, comparing word order among NT authors, very interesting.

This makes me want to be careful not to be too dogmatic about the meaning of word order when interpreting texts. I suspect that some of the things that have been said by Discourse Analysis folks may not be easy to prove from the available data, but I am very much still learning here.

And remember that the subject is expressed only in a small minority of cases, so any talk of SVO vs. VSO etc. is based on corpora where S is mostly not expressed at all. So we should be careful not to overinterpret ...
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: Word Order in Koine: Freedoms, Constraints, & Best Pract

Post by Jonathan Robie » May 19th, 2015, 4:13 pm

Thomas Dolhanty wrote:Here is a link to Iver Larson's Word Order and Relative Prominence in New Testament Greek. I have yet to sit down and read it through, but I have scanned it a few times for specific issues and found it quite useful.
The authors we've mentioned in this thread don't all agree. Celano, for instance, disagrees strongly with the premise behind Iver's work:
Word order in post-Classical Greek has not been much explored yet. Most of the studies on the position of sentence constituents posit that there exists one ‘basic’ word order, the others being derived from it and marked (see, e.g., Kwong 2005 and the bibliography therein). Such an approach, however, should not induce one to assume that there exist pragmatically neutral word orders. Furthermore, it is to be noted that statistical analyses often do not allow us to establish a significantly prevailing word order pattern (see, e.g., Porter 1993)/
I think Stephen Carlson's approach also differs from Iver's.

And if you convince me that word order has a particular significance, it's easy to read that significance into sentences.
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: Word Order in Koine: Freedoms, Constraints, & Best Pract

Post by Stephen Carlson » May 19th, 2015, 5:56 pm

Celano's encyclopedia article is a nice summation of the state of the art in our understanding of Greek word order.

My beef with Larsen [note spelling] is not he assumes a neutral order but that he posits basically a single mechanism, fronting, for every departure from that order, when I think that strong and weak words are ordered by different principles.
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Word Order in Koine: Freedoms, Constraints, & Best Pract

Post by Stephen Hughes » May 19th, 2015, 10:42 pm

Thomas Dolhanty wrote:This topic came up in another thread,
Stephen Hughes in the [url=http://www.ibiblio.org/bgreek/forum/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=3090&start=10#p20235]Re: Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Busuu, etc.[/url] thread wrote:I can't tell stories in Greek for two reasons; I don't know ... , and I end up following English rules..., and secondly, I would be faced with the same situation for word-order.

Are there suggestions for overcoming those shortcomings?
My thinking behind the discussion in the other thread came from something I read
Lightbrown and Spada, [i]How languages are Learned[/i], OUP, pg. 162, Second language learning in the classroom wrote:Study 28: Ready to learn
In a study of the acquisition of German as a foreign language, Manfred Pienemann (1988) investigated whether instruction permitted learners to 'skip' a stage in the natural sequence of development. Two groups of Australian University students who were at Stage 2 in their acquisition of German word order were taught rules associated with Stage 3 and Stage 4 respectively. The instruction took place over two weeks and during the time learners were provided with explicit grammatical rules and exercises for Stage 4 constructions. The learners who received instruction on Stage 3 rules moved easily into this stage from Stage 2. However, those learners who received instruction on Stage 4 rules either continued to use Stage 2 rules or moved only into Stage 3. That is, they were not able to 'skip' a stage in the developmental sequence. Pienemann interprets his results as support for the hypothesis that for some linguistic structures, learners can not be taught what they are not developmentally ready to learn.
It seems that beyond some very basic observations, everything about Greek word order becomes extremely complex. It seems that in looking at Greek we are at a theoretical Stage 1, then there are some other features of more complex structures employed in narrative or rhetoric, but it is hard to explain how the whole utterance came about.

Here are two of my own uncontextualised higher stage observations....

I think that the postpositive δέ was used in writing was used as an extension of it's contrastive effect in constructions where a contrast is required as a marker, to accommodate for reading in the uncial writing system, especially in extended pieces, and that it was not continued into Modern times. That is that it was not used as a punctuation marker in speech, so when the popular language emerged from its unwritten millennium it reflects the spoken form of the Koine, rather than the written which had to signal breaks before the emergence of the uncial writing system with punctuation.

I think that the understanding of verbs with double accusatives and copula-like verbs with two parts (with or without prepositions) are a more basic structure than constructions where a single accusative is split over both sides of the verb. (The list Thomas quoted from Dag Huag only has three letters - i.e. no SO¹V0², or SC¹VC² for the split construction (which I call balanced) for objects and compliments. I don't think three letters is adequate).
Γελᾷ δ' ὁ μωρός, κἄν τι μὴ γέλοιον ᾖ
(Menander, Γνῶμαι μονόστιχοι 108)

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Re: Word Order in Koine: Freedoms, Constraints, & Best Pract

Post by Stephen Carlson » May 19th, 2015, 10:57 pm

There is a form of Swedish, called Rinkeby Swedish, spoken mostly by L2 immigrants and now their L1 children, that did not acquire the basic word order of the standard language. It has also borrowed many words from other languages and acquired a vibrancy of its own such that it is now the preferred from of Swedish for rap music. This even happened in a society where exposure to standard Swedish was pervasive in the media.

I fear that people trying to speak Koine with much more limited exposure to the language may end up internalizing something that sort of resembles Koine but differs greatly from it in a number of significant ways. Word order may be a casualty, because our understanding of it is primitive and our ability to teach it is even worse. In the olden days, the answer was to read a lot of Greek until one got a feel for it. Not scientific, but that's how (a select elite) few got to do it.
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
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Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Word Order in Koine: Freedoms, Constraints, & Best Pract

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » May 19th, 2015, 11:30 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:I fear that people trying to speak Koine with much more limited exposure to the language may end up internalizing something that sort of resembles Koine but differs greatly from it in a number of significant ways. Word order may be a casualty, because our understanding of it is primitive and our ability to teach it is even worse. In the olden days, the answer was to read a lot of Greek until one got a feel for it. Not scientific, but that's how (a select elite) few got to do it.
I think that's right, and that the drift from the original is inevitable. The good news, though, is that the originals remain and will always be there as the base. Hopefully, they may even have a correcting influence as the language becomes more familiar to new users. At least they will shine in their distinctness as the language becomes more familiar to users.
Stephen Carlson wrote:Celano's encyclopedia article is a nice summation of the state of the art in our understanding of Greek word order.

My beef with Larsen [note spelling] is not he assumes a neutral order but that he posits basically a single mechanism, fronting, for every departure from that order, when I think that strong and weak words are ordered by different principles.
Thanks for picking up the misspelling and my apologies to Mr. Larsen. Everything I know about languages tells me you're right about the simplistic explanation, and I suspect there are a number of other factors, including stylistic considerations. "The more to the left an item occurs, the more prominent it is.", reminds me of a sign my statistician friend used to keep over his desk, which I think was attributed to that great philosopher, Snoopy, "Happiness is a linear relationship."

I found Celano's article pretty dense reading on the first go-through. I think that is because my interests in this topic are practical rather than academic.
Jonathan Robie wrote:I think these points from slide 15 of Dag Haug's presentation are important:
  • The freedom of AG word order is a challenge to all theories
  • So is the extreme variation between contemporary authors and even between works of the same author
  • If we believe that word order patterns have meanings, at least we would predict that different genres and texts use the word order patterns differently
  • Still, much will remain unclear until we have better research tools (ie. bigger, parsed corpora)
I found slides 12 and 13, comparing word order among NT authors, very interesting.

This makes me want to be careful not to be too dogmatic about the meaning of word order when interpreting texts. I suspect that some of the things that have been said by Discourse Analysis folks may not be easy to prove from the available data, but I am very much still learning here.
I agree. This really is an encouragement to those who want to use the language with some freedom. Without some freedom, who will venture forth?
Stephen Hughes wrote:It seems that beyond some very basic observations, everything about Greek word order becomes extremely complex. It seems that in looking at Greek we are at a theoretical Stage 1, then there are some other features of more complex structures employed in narrative or rhetoric, but it is hard to explain how the whole utterance came about.

Here are two of my own uncontextualised higher stage observations....

I think that the postpositive δέ was used in writing was used as an extension of it's contrastive effect in constructions where a contrast is required as a marker, to accommodate for reading in the uncial writing system, especially in extended pieces, and that it was not continued into Modern times. That is that it was not used as a punctuation marker in speech, so when the popular language emerged from its unwritten millennium it reflects the spoken form of the Koine, rather than the written which had to signal breaks before the emergence of the uncial writing system with punctuation.

I think that the understanding of verbs with double accusatives and copula-like verbs with two parts (with or without prepositions) are a more basic structure than constructions where a single accusative is split over both sides of the verb. (The list Thomas quoted from Dag Huag only has three letters - i.e. no SO¹V0², or SC¹VC² for the split construction (which I call balanced) for objects and compliments. I don't think three letters is adequate).
Close your eyes! Hold your nose! And jump! :D
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Word Order in Koine: Freedoms, Constraints, & Best Pract

Post by Stephen Hughes » May 20th, 2015, 12:38 am

Stephen Carlson wrote:In the olden days, the answer was to read a lot of Greek until one got a feel for it. Not scientific, but that's how (a select elite) few got to do it.
How remote is your "olden"? How sparse is your "few"?

It was the Lingua Franca over (at times) an enormous area for almost a thousand years (if measured from the Greek mercenaries abroad before Alexander up till when it evolved into Medieval Greek). Because "closest to the Koine" was used as one of the criteria for choosing forms in the Modern Greek language, (theoretically at least) its effect is still felt today too.
Γελᾷ δ' ὁ μωρός, κἄν τι μὴ γέλοιον ᾖ
(Menander, Γνῶμαι μονόστιχοι 108)

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