Semantics of Γινώσκω

Semantic Range, Lexicography, and other approaches to word meaning - in general, or for particular words.

Semantics of Γινώσκω

Postby MAubrey » November 11th, 2012, 6:58 pm

Looking through the lexicons, there's a consistency of listing a couple different (major) senses for γινώσκω.

  • come to know / arrive at knowledge of something / learn
  • know / be in a state of knowledge
I'm curious as to whether anyone would view one of these senses as more basic than another. That is, does this verb first and foremost denote a change of state from ignorance to knowledge or does it fire and foremost denote simply being in a state of knowledge?

Or are both senses equally basic?
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Re: Semantics of Γινώσκω

Postby cwconrad » November 11th, 2012, 9:49 pm

MAubrey wrote:Looking through the lexicons, there's a consistency of listing a couple different (major) senses for γινώσκω.

  • come to know / arrive at knowledge of something / learn
  • know / be in a state of knowledge
I'm curious as to whether anyone would view one of these senses as more basic than another. That is, does this verb first and foremost denote a change of state from ignorance to knowledge or does it fire and foremost denote simply being in a state of knowledge?

Or are both senses equally basic?


I may be wrong here, but I really think that "be in a state of knowledge" is a later-acquired sense of γιγνώσκειν, γνῶναι, which basically means "gain acquaintance with", like German kennen lernen. In earlier Greek I think there's a clear distinction between εῖδέναι, which is something like "have a complete mental image of" and γιγνώσκειν "acquire acquaintance with." It's like the distinction between French connaître and savoir, German kennen and wissen. There's probably one or more or several studies on the Greek words for knowledge; I think that a valid accounting would have take cognizance of linguistic era, genre, even dialect. I do think that earlier distinctions tend to grow fuzzier with the passage of much time.
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Re: Semantics of Γινώσκω

Postby MAubrey » November 12th, 2012, 2:15 am

Thanks, Carl.

That's the answer I was hoping for. It makes a lot more sense of how the perfect of this verb is used if the change-of-state sense is the original or more basic one.
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Re: Semantics of Γινώσκω

Postby cwconrad » November 12th, 2012, 7:42 am

MAubrey wrote:Thanks, Carl.

That's the answer I was hoping for. It makes a lot more sense of how the perfect of this verb is used if the change-of-state sense is the original or more basic one.


One ought probably to check the TLG, but LSJ cites Pindar (5th century BCE) for ἔγνωκα as perfect; I don't think the perfect is found in Homer. On the other hand, when I first saw your question, Mike, I thought of the strange (so it seemed to me) phrasing in the proem of the Odyssey:
πολλῶν δ’ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω

The phrase, νόον ἔγνω, is hard to English -- something like, "came to discern their way of looking at things." What's remarkable here is the combination of ἴδεν and ἔγνω, especially inasmuch as ἴδεν is the aorist of the verb the perfect tense form of which, οἳδα, means "know" or "have a clear vision of" or the like in ancient Greek generally.

As a postscript, I might just mention the equally strange/unexpected phrasing in the proem of the Iliad:
Book 1.3 πολλὰς δ’ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προΐαψεν
4 ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν ...

Here Achilles has dispatched the ψυχὰς of the heroic warriors to Hades, but has made "them" -- the warriors themselves -- food for dogs and carrion birds. ψυχή is a Greek word that undergoes quite a "sea change" in the course of Greek linguistic history after this, its first extant appearance in Greek literature.
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Re: Semantics of Γινώσκω

Postby Scott Lawson » October 13th, 2013, 12:17 pm

In connection with γιγνώσκω, is "γιγ" or "γι" a bound morphem that signifies entering a state? (See also γίγνομαι as a reference for the possible bound morpheme.)
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Re: Semantics of Γινώσκω

Postby Scott Lawson » October 13th, 2013, 2:38 pm

When you think about it we see the features of the perfect form in γιγνώσκω. We have the reduplication (why do we call it a reduplication when it only duplicates once?) at the beginning and the inserted kappa that we would expect with a perfect. It is an interesting word. Is its nearness in form to a perfect that conveys this idea that in a present there is an entering into the state of knowing i.e. "come to know"? LSJ notes: "... come to know, perceive, and in past tenses, know."

Why did both γιγνώσκω and γίγνομαι drop the second gamma to become γινώσκω and γίνομαι?

We see a radical shift in word usage when the Greeks wanted to express the thought of a complete mental picture by their use of εῖδέναι as pointed out by Carl Conrad. This has led me to wonder if there is some morpheme in γιγνώσκω or even its very form, as similar to a perfect, that makes it necessary to shift to another word. Also, it stands out to me that "γιγ" also occurs with the verb "to become" γίγνομαι and we also see a similar phenomena of shifting of Greek verb usage when they want to express the difference of entering or changing to a state of being to the static state of being by using εἴμι.
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Re: Semantics of Γινώσκω

Postby Stephen Carlson » October 13th, 2013, 3:03 pm

Scott Lawson wrote:When you think about it we see the features of the perfect form in γιγνώσκω. We have the reduplication (why do we call it a reduplication when it only duplicates once?) at the beginning and the inserted kappa that we would expect with a perfect. It is an interesting word. Is its nearness in form to a perfect that conveys this idea that in a present there is an entering into the state of knowing i.e. "come to know"? LSJ notes: "... come to know, perceive, and in past tenses, know."

The form γιγνώσκω is analyzed as γι-γνω-σκ-ω, with present replication in -i- and some kind of a imperfectivizing suffix -sk-. The latter suffix has nothing to do with the perfect's kappa formative.

As constructed, this form is a characterized present of a root aorist ἔ-γνω-ν. It is believed that Greek's ancestral language did not have grammaticalized aspect in its verbal system, but rather a fairly productive set of derivational suffixes to convert root aorists into characterized presents, when an imperfective meaning was desired. The form γιγνώσκω has two of the derivational means and that became the standard Greek way to make a present for this verb. Eventually, when the aspectual system was set up, this particular characterized present supplied the verbal stem for the imperfective aspect of this verb.

Scott Lawson wrote:Why did both γιγνώσκω and γίγνομαι drop the second gamma to become γινώσκω and γίνομαι?

This is a common sound change, much like English's dropping of the g-sound in words like gnome and gnarly.

Scott Lawson wrote:We see a radical shift in word usage when the Greeks wanted to express the thought of a complete mental picture by their use of εῖδέναι as pointed out by Carl Conrad. This has led me to wonder if there is some morpheme in γιγνώσκω or even its very form, as similar to a perfect, that makes it necessary to shift to another word. Also, it stands out to me that "γιγ" also occurs with the verb "to become" γίγνομαι and we also see a similar phenomena of shifting of Greek verb usage when they want to express the difference of entering or changing to a state of being to the static state of being by using εἴμι.

No, that's just coincidental. Both verbs go back to roots with a g-n, as do English ken and kin.
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Re: Semantics of Γινώσκω

Postby Scott Lawson » October 13th, 2013, 3:30 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:Scott Lawson wrote:
We see a radical shift in word usage when the Greeks wanted to express the thought of a complete mental picture by their use of εῖδέναι as pointed out by Carl Conrad. This has led me to wonder if there is some morpheme in γιγνώσκω or even its very form, as similar to a perfect, that makes it necessary to shift to another word. Also, it stands out to me that "γιγ" also occurs with the verb "to become" γίγνομαι and we also see a similar phenomena of shifting of Greek verb usage when they want to express the difference of entering or changing to a state of being to the static state of being by using εἴμι.
No, that's just coincidental. Both verbs go back to roots with a g-n, as do English ken and kin.


So why does LSJ present the imperfective as "come to know" when that way of "Englishing" it puts the results in view making it perfective?
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Re: Semantics of Γινώσκω

Postby Stephen Carlson » October 13th, 2013, 3:40 pm

Scott Lawson wrote:So why does LSJ present the imperfective as "come to know" when that way of "Englishing" it puts the results in view making it perfective?

It's not clear to me that LSJ is doing that. English does not encode aspect, so "come to know" could be either (i.e., "coming to know" is imperfective), and even if "come to know" is thought of as perfective, the immediately following "perceive" gives a stative (and more comfortably imperfective) gloss. Also, LSJ is so old that it doesn't really think in terms of aspect (perfective vs. imperfective), but tense (note "in past tenses"):
LSJ wrote:γιγνώσκω, . . . — come to know, perceive, and in past tenses, know, c. acc., Il.12.272, etc.; as dist. fr. οἶδα know by reflection, γιγνώσκω, = know by observation, γνόντες δὲ εἰδότας περιορᾶν Th.1.69; ἐγὼ δ’ οἶδ’ ὅτι γιγνώσκετε τοῦτον ἅπαντες D.18.276; χαλεπόν ἐστι τὸ γνῶναι εἰ οἶδεν ἢ μή it is hard to perceive whether one knows or not, Arist.APo.76a26; discern, distinguish, recognize, ὄφρ’ εὖ γιγνώσκῃς ἠμὲν θεὸν ἠδὲ καὶ ἄνδρα Il. 5.128; ἀσπίδι γιγνώσκων by his shield, ib.182; ironically, εὖ νύ τις αὐτὸν γνώσεται he will learn him to his cost, 18.270; νῦν ἔγνων τὸν Ἔρωτα Theoc.3.15: sts. c. gen., γνώτην ἀλλήλων were aware of . . , Od.21.36, cf. 23.109.
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Re: Semantics of Γινώσκω

Postby Scott Lawson » October 13th, 2013, 3:53 pm

So "coming to know" is like "coming to a mountain peak" one is perpetually at the point of arrival?

"To know" is a state. So it would seem that with "coming to know" what is in view is progression without a stated beginning or duration but with the result being made manifest.
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