David M. Miller wrote:Funk identifies the six basic sentence patterns in hellenistic Greek and describes how all actual Greek sentences are derived, via various transformations, from these six patterns
I really like Funk's approach to syntax, but have always wondered about its theoretical underpinnings. Can someone with a background in linguistics comment on where Funk's theory of 'transformational grammar' (?) fits in the grand scheme of linguistic theory? Has his approach been superseded by more recent developments? Are there weaknesses in the theory that we should be aware of?
Well, the short answer to the first question is that it doesn't. That is to say, the use of the term 'transformations' in this case is not equivalent to a 'theory of transformational grammar.' With that said, Funk's use of the term 'transformation' seems to be limited to the kinds of of transformational rules common in the late 1960s. Funk only uses it with reference to Greek passives, which were the most commonly discussed type of transformation Chomsky's 'Standard Theory' articulated in his Aspects of a theory of syntax in 1967. However, Funk isn't using transformations to deal with divergences in word/constituent order the way mainstream generative grammar does, just the single active-passive alternation. This is a major distinction between his work and all of the mainstream generative tradition. The only non-passive use of the term 'transformation' in Funk is made with reference to English, not Greek ("English It-transformation" in the section on [url="http://www.ibiblio.org/bgreek/project/funk-grammar/pre-alpha/lesson-45.html"]subordinators[/url])
We can that his approach has been superseded to the extent that:
(1) This perspective on Greek voice has been superceded by the views advocated by a number of prominent members of this forum and published in a variety of places (e.g. Kemmer, 1991; Allan 2003, etc). Beyond that, viewing the active-passive distinction as merely a syntactic alternation that provides no propositional difference in meaning is also highly problematic from a more general linguistic view of things independent of the language.
(2) The idea of describing grammatical alternations as transformations has progressively become less and less accepted over the course of the past two decades. Mainstream generativism is by no means dead, but it isn't as pervasive as it was in years past. Even still, it wouldn't be particularly difficult to frame his 'sentence types' independent of the passive transformation, so it really isn't an issue.
With all of that said, one of the marks of a truly excellent grammar is having a grammatical description that's comprehensible to readers independent of the theoretical framework used. Grammars that depend too heavily on their frameworks tend to become incomprehensible over time. For example, many of the grammars of minority languages written by Wycliffe members using the frame of Tagmemics are virtually impossible to read today. Grammar writing, as a discipline within linguistics, places significant emphasis on being as theory neutral in its presentation of language structure as possible because we want our grammar to continue to be accessible to the next generation. Grammar writing is a communicative act and shouldn't stand or fall on the basis of the theory used. And what makes Funk's work so successful is that he communicates so very well independent of whatever he had in mind theoretically.