Default Word Order with Nominative Personal Pronouns

D Ryan Lowe
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Default Word Order with Nominative Personal Pronouns

Post by D Ryan Lowe » October 3rd, 2013, 12:54 pm

I've been looking at Greek word order, and I've noticed that the nominative personal pronouns almost always precede the verb, i.e. εγω ειμι, and not often ειμι εγω.

Levinsohn and Runge both write that this is putting the pronoun in a position of prominence. It's so common in the Greek, though, that Runge almost always marks nominative pronouns as a topical frame for emphasis.

I've searched through the entire NT and looked for exceptions to this, and they almost always fall into one of the following conditions: it's in a subordinate clause, in a negated sentence, in a question, in an imperative, or something else has been placed in a position of prominence that precedes both the subject and the verb. These are conditions where we may not expect default word order to apply. Other times, there's an emphatic και in between the verb and the pronoun.

It seems to me, contra Levinsohn and Runge, that the default word order in a basic sentence is that a nominative personal pronoun precedes the verb. It handles the vast majority of the data, and it is much simpler than attributing prominence to these cases. The only major exception to this is in Revelation 22:18, which begins the sentence with "Μαρτυρῶ ἐγὼ".

It's not unprecedented for pronouns to be treated differently for word order. For example, Levinsohn writes that pronominal constituents normally precede nominal constituents (Discourse Features of New Testament Greek, 29).

Any thoughts, responses, criticism?
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Eeli Kaikkonen
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Re: Default Word Order with Nominative Personal Pronouns

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » October 3rd, 2013, 3:25 pm

First and second person personal pronouns (nominative, as the subject) are not usually needed in Greek. Therefore putting them in the text in the first place means often something non-default. Therefore the most common position may also be non-default, non-neutral. That's my educated guess.
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: Default Word Order with Nominative Personal Pronouns

Post by Stephen Carlson » October 4th, 2013, 8:50 am

The most frequent and the (pragmatically) unmarked word order is not necessarily the same time. See this article by Matthew Dryer on the general principle: http://linguistics.buffalo.edu/people/f ... dOrder.pdf

Eeli's point is entirely correct: the inclusion of nominative pronouns is already marked because Greek is a pro-drop langauge, so it's not surprising that they tend to up in pragmatically marked positions.
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D Ryan Lowe
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Re: Default Word Order with Nominative Personal Pronouns

Post by D Ryan Lowe » October 4th, 2013, 12:19 pm

Yes, Greek is a pro-drop language. However, as far as I know, Levinsohn and Runge never discuss the use of nominative pronouns as "marked" because of pro-drop. They call them marked because they've been put into a marked position. Runge does not mark all unnecessary pronouns in his Lexham Discourse New Testament.

It is also true that the most frequent word order is not necessarily the unmarked word order. However, it is not simply a matter of nominative pronouns being more frequently in the marked position. If it ended up, say, 60% to 40%, or even 70% to 30%, I may be more inclined to go with that reasoning. However, I went through thousands of uses of the pronoun in Greek, and there was only ONE place where the verb preceded the nominative pronoun in a basic sentence (Rev 22:18).

One of my concerns with considering these pronouns is they end up marked all the time, and sometimes it doesn't seem to make sense. Often they end up marked in what Runge calls Topical Frames, which introduces new concepts, participants, or highlights change. I'm not denying that personal pronouns can serve as Topical Frames, but I don't think it fully accounts for all of the data. For example, its use is so frequent that sometimes in the LDNT you'll have the same nominative pronoun marked as a Topical Frame several times in the same discourse, and sometimes even twice in a row! (See John 10:10-11).

So what I'm asking is, is Levinsohn and Runge's explanation of the data good enough, or can we do better? For example, shouldn't we take into account that pronouns are not necessarily in Greek, as Eeli suggested? I think there's more going on with nominative pronouns than just word order.

It seems to me that the function of pronouns could be used to emphasize the whole clause, or the verb of the clause, rather than the pronoun itself, and this does not depend on word order. For example, in second person imperatives, the second person pronoun can optionally be used.

For example, in Matthew 6:9 Jesus tells his disciples to pray: Οὕτως οὖν προσεύχεσθε ὑμεῖς· It has a pronoun, but Runge does not mark the pronoun at all. Does the pronoun indicate emphasis "Therefore, you pray in this way," as in, "Yes you, not someone else"? Perhaps, but it seems to me that what is meant is "Therefore, pray in this way," as in, doing this is really important.

Thoughts?
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: Default Word Order with Nominative Personal Pronouns

Post by Stephen Carlson » October 4th, 2013, 4:37 pm

D Ryan Lowe wrote:Yes, Greek is a pro-drop language. However, as far as I know, Levinsohn and Runge never discuss the use of nominative pronouns as "marked" because of pro-drop. They call them marked because they've been put into a marked position. Runge does not mark all unnecessary pronouns in his Lexham Discourse New Testament.
That's just the way pro-drop languages work. Maybe Levinsohn and Runge didn't comment on it because they thought it was obvious. At any rate, the pattern of placing the so-called emphatic pronouns at the front (including nominative personal pronouns) is strong evidence for the prominence of that initial position.
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David Lim
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Re: Default Word Order with Nominative Personal Pronouns

Post by David Lim » October 4th, 2013, 9:21 pm

D Ryan Lowe wrote:However, I went through thousands of uses of the pronoun in Greek, and there was only ONE place where the verb preceded the nominative pronoun in a basic sentence (Rev 22:18).
My own opinion is that in Rev 22:18 there is strong emphasis on both, but greater on the verb, and hence the personal pronoun is behind. This is rare because usually emphasis on the subject comes with less emphasis on the verb. But here it seems to mean "Testify I do, to every one who hears the words of the prophecies of this book, ..."
D Ryan Lowe wrote:For example, in Matthew 6:9 Jesus tells his disciples to pray: Οὕτως οὖν προσεύχεσθε ὑμεῖς· It has a pronoun, but Runge does not mark the pronoun at all. Does the pronoun indicate emphasis "Therefore, you pray in this way," as in, "Yes you, not someone else"? Perhaps, but it seems to me that what is meant is "Therefore, pray in this way," as in, doing this is really important.
As in Rev 22:18 I consider both to be emphasized but the action more so, something like: "therefore, you, pray in this way: ..."
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Re: Default Word Order with Nominative Personal Pronouns

Post by MAubrey » October 4th, 2013, 11:10 pm

After four week away and moving from Vancouver to Chicago, loosing my car three days before the move, having to unpack and repack everything, spend a week in Portland, ship our stuff by freight, and then unpack everything...I'm back.

I hope I can contribute something of value here...

1) We need to be careful when we use the word "marked" here. Marked in what way? Being "marked" is not the same as being "prominent." If there's something rather than nothing, that's marked--there's something there. So if you have a nominative pronoun. That's something. That's marked. Nothing is not marked. Something is marked. Or a particular form can be marked for something, some semantic or pragmatic feature. But that's still making the same claim: something exists--something is marked. If "marked" means something else to you. Then you probably need to spend some time in the broader linguistic literature.

Otherwise, let's be precise without terminology. If you mean something by "marked" other than the above, how about saying that particular "something" instead. Aim for transparency in terminology.

D Ryan Lowe (if there's a shorter way to address you that you would prefer, let me know), the relevant point here is this: When you say you're concerned that these pronouns end up "marked all the time," what exactly do you mean by that? A topical frame in the LDGNT simply means that the author is explicitly stating what those propositions are about. There's nothing unusual about that. Most propositions have a topic. So in John 10:10-11, when John has multiple topical frames in a row, I think you're attributing more significance to the fact than should be attributed, or perhaps you're attributing the wrong significance. Maybe. I'd be more inclined to think that Steve's explanation of what a topical frame is too simplified for what you're trying to do. The repetition of ἐγὼ as a topical frame vs 11 isn't a recharacterization of the same ἐγὼ in vs 10. Rather, both instances of ἐγὼ in 10 and 11 are functioning in parallel as a recharacterization from ὁ κλέπτης in vs 10. Steve's definition still fits: both these topical frames are highlighting a change and introducing a new concept. However, the second one is still highlighting the change from ὁ κλέπτης, rather than the change from ἐγὼ. The highlighting is less linear than that. And that's what's missing from Steve's explanation/definition. The definition works. It's how it works that's the issue here.

So if your question is: Is their explanation sufficient? The answer is still, "Yes." The problem isn't with the explanation. The problem is the introductory nature of the material. And this stands for the question of the nominative pronouns and the question of their status for when they're used vs. when they're missing. These are issues that go beyond the basic introduction to Information Structure that you find in Stephen Levinsohn and Steve Runge's work. A full monograph-sized explication of information structure (and not merely word order) is still very much needed for Greek. The problem is that the five to ten people in the world who would be qualified to write some such monograph are too busy elsewhere on other projects and interests. It'd make a nice Ph.D. thesis if you could find a qualified committee for supervising and reviewing it.

I have plenty of thoughts on my own and too many other (paid) projects vying for my attention...

In sum:

Nominative pronouns are marked in a way that their non-existence is not.
Nominative pronouns in syntactically special positions are marked in a way that nominative pronouns in other positions are not.

The question is: What's the difference? What's being marked (semantically, pragmatically, etc.)?

Beyond that, there's one article that's broadly relevant, but its on Classical Greek:

Helma Dik, "On Unemphatic 'Emphatic' Pronouns in Greek: Nominative pronouns in Plato and Sophocles", Mnemosyne 2003.

She's writing about nominative pronouns that appear in the post verbal position (like our Rev 22:18 instance). The problem for us interested in the Early Roman Koine is that while this was (semi-)common in the Classical period, it's highly unusual in the Koine, so I just don't know if the generalization can hold since he frequency clearly does not. Her basic claim is that despite its status as orthotonic (i.e. it is written with an accent mark), post-verbal nominative pronouns are enclitic in the same way that the other cases are (e.g. με, μοι, μου). If that's the case, the pragmatic structure of the clause as a whole is going to be decided by the function of other elements and not the pronoun. It would also mean that David Lim's suggestion doesn't fit, at least for these post-verbal instances. With that said...

But I must emphasize again, there's too little data for the post-verbal nominative pronoun phenomenon to go on for the Koine period one way or the other, though I would be inclined to say that Helma Dik's proposal for Classical Greek is probably pointing in the right direction.

I hope that's a bit helpful...
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D Ryan Lowe
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Re: Default Word Order with Nominative Personal Pronouns

Post by D Ryan Lowe » October 5th, 2013, 1:25 am

MAubrey wrote:1) We need to be careful when we use the word "marked" here. Marked in what way? Being "marked" is not the same as being "prominent." If there's something rather than nothing, that's marked--there's something there. So if you have a nominative pronoun. That's something. That's marked. Nothing is not marked. Something is marked. Or a particular form can be marked for something, some semantic or pragmatic feature. But that's still making the same claim: something exists--something is marked. If "marked" means something else to you. Then you probably need to spend some time in the broader linguistic literature.


Otherwise, let's be precise without terminology. If you mean something by "marked" other than the above, how about saying that particular "something" instead. Aim for transparency in terminology.
Welcome back, Mike! And thank you for contributing your expertise. It was helpful.

I'm just now testing the waters of Information Structure, so bear with me. I'm trying to use "marked" in the sense that Runge uses the term. I understand that in general, you usually say that something is marked or unmarked for a particular feature, and not in general. However, Runge occasionally just says "unmarked." For example: "Most inquiries into Greek word order have focused upon establishing the most frequently occurring pattern rather than the most basic, unmarked pattern." (Discourse Grammar of the New Testament, 185). For the purposes of discussion, "marked" has been understood as being "marked for prominence."
MAubrey wrote:D Ryan Lowe (if there's a shorter way to address you that you would prefer, let me know), the relevant point here is this: When you say you're concerned that these pronouns end up "marked all the time," what exactly do you mean by that? A topical frame in the LDGNT simply means that the author is explicitly stating what those propositions are about. There's nothing unusual about that. Most propositions have a topic. So in John 10:10-11, when John has multiple topical frames in a row, I think you're attributing more significance to the fact than should be attributed, or perhaps you're attributing the wrong significance. Maybe. I'd be more inclined to think that Steve's explanation of what a topical frame is too simplified for what you're trying to do. The repetition of ἐγὼ as a topical frame vs 11 isn't a recharacterization of the same ἐγὼ in vs 10. Rather, both instances of ἐγὼ in 10 and 11 are functioning in parallel as a recharacterization from ὁ κλέπτης in vs 10. Steve's definition still fits: both these topical frames are highlighting a change and introducing a new concept. However, the second one is still highlighting the change from ὁ κλέπτης, rather than the change from ἐγὼ. The highlighting is less linear than that. And that's what's missing from Steve's explanation/definition. The definition works. It's how it works that's the issue here.
I guess I'm questioning whether that analysis is the best way to understand the information flow of the passage. In the case of this passage, I don't think the ἐγὼ in v. 11 is still contrasting with ὁ κλέπτης. I think it's setting up a comparison with ὁ μισθωτὸς in v. 12. You may be on to something though -- I may simply be wrestling with the definition of topical frames.
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Re: Default Word Order with Nominative Personal Pronouns

Post by MAubrey » October 6th, 2013, 7:44 pm

This is good.

I think you might want to go back to chapter 1, section of Steve's grammar, where he lays out what he means by "marked." He doesn't mean prominent. He's talking about marked for a feature (semantic, pragmatic, grammatical, syntactic, κτλ.). In the case of word order, he's talking about marked word order vs. a default work order. A marked word order is making something explicit that goes unmentioned in the default order (though perhaps still implied by the context). In the case of topical frames, there's nothing inherently "prominent" about them, though that might be added by other factors. They simply involve the marking of the topic of the proposition which would otherwise merely be implied (or non-existent in certain clause types) and that the topic of this clause should be viewed as somehow distinct from the previous one.

That last bit is key, particularly here in John 10. The nature of information flow involves two factors.

First, its one-directional and generally linear.
Secondly, because of the limits of cognition, we're really only able to process a single proposition at a given time. Trying thinking two sentences at once. It doesn't really work.

The main exception to this involves forward pointing references (cataphoric pronouns) are the main one. But these involve distinct cues for the audience to recognize them. We'll come back to that...

Taken together, we have a situation where the processing of a given clause is first and foremost dependent upon what has come before. So an audience/reader encounters John 10:11a: Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός. How do they process it? As it stand, they only have cognitive access to a few clauses back--you can only hold so much in your head as activated at one time. Every clause involves involves a proposition that consists of an assertion and (usually) an entity to which the assertion applies. The latter is the Topic of the clause. The former is the Focus of the clause. So under the model of information structure used by Steve (which was developed by Knud Lambrecht, btw), we have something like this for the information flow:

ὁ κλέπτης οὐκ ἔρχεται εἰ μὴ ἵνα κλέψῃ καὶ θύσῃ καὶ ἀπολέσῃ
In this first clause w have the topic ὁ κλέπτης and Jesus makes an assertion about what ὁ κλέπτης does (or does not do): οὐκ ἔρχεται εἰ μὴ ἵνα κλέψῃ καὶ θύσῃ καὶ ἀπολέσῃ

ἐγὼ ἦλθον ἵνα ζωὴν ἔχωσιν καὶ περισσὸν ἔχωσιν
The overt use of the nominative pronoun in the fronted position functions to mark the change of topic from ὁ κλέπτης to the speaker, who then make a parallel and contrasting assertion about himself.

Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός
And here we are. We have an already activated referent (the speaker) being placed in the fronted position before the verb without any apparent change. It may very well be that this pronoun does actually, as you are suggesting, function in contrast to the forthcoming clause in verse 11. However, at this point in the flow of the text, the processing need of the audience is the evaluation of the relationship between this clause and the previous ones. The problem with suggesting that this is a forward pointing reference is that the audience needs explicit cues from the speaker to recognize such a reference. Demonstrative pronouns are the normal cue because demonstrative pronouns may involve ambiguities of reference. First person pronouns do not. They are, in fact, the least ambiguous pronoun a speaker could use (I'm me, after all. Who else could I be?)

But again, I'm not saying that there isn't a relationship between this clause and the later one. I'm saying that any such relationship that exists between them is not expressed until the later clause is spoke/written. The nature of the linear flow of speech requires that an audience must interpret the topic comment relationship of this clause first and foremost in relation to what has come before.

My own interpretation would be that Jesus is, as I said, making two parallel statements with ἐγὼ. The first functions as the primary contrast with ὁ κλέπτης. The second one allows for an additional assertion about who Jesus is with the same degree of significance placed upon it. Jesus could have said:

ἐγὼ ἦλθον ἵνα ζωὴν ἔχωσιν καὶ περισσὸν ἔχωσιν καὶ εἰμὶ ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός

This, however, would have effectively subordinated the predication of Jesus as the good shepard to the predicate of Jesus coming. This makes little sense since the relationship between ἦλθον ἵνα ζωὴν ἔχωσιν and εἰμὶ ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός is not a particularly natural one. And this fact point to the nature of the change marked by the fronted ἐγὼ at the beginning of verse 11. It is indeed highlighting a change, but the change that its highlighting is essentially a new paragraph. Jesus is essentially changing the subject. And a new subject needs a expression of the topic of predication, in this case: ἐγὼ. In this context, note especially what Steve says about asyndeton:
Runge, [i]Discourse Grammar[/i], 22-3 wrote:Asyndeton can be used at points of discontinuity, as at the beginning of a new thought or topic. Levinsohn summarizes the use of asyndeton in non-narrative by stating that since explicit connectives are used to indicate clause p 23 relationships such as strengthening, developmental, associative, or inferential, “the use of asyndeton tends to imply ‘not strengthening, not developmental, not associative, not inferential, etc.’ ” It is not only used in contexts where there is a change in topic (e.g., at the beginning of a new paragraph). Levinsohn notes that it may also be used in contexts of close connection, such as moving from generic to specific.
But it is also a necessary change. And I would say that you've intuitively caught on to something in your observation at this point: Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός is a necessary clause for laying the foundation for the contrast that comes between ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλὸς and ὁ μισθωτὸς. However, the function of ἐγὼ is not in the contrast itself. Rather it provides the prequisite assertion that allows for the introduction of ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλὸς as a characterization of Jesus. Without this predication, the coming contrast doesn't make sense in the context.

ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλὸς τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ τίθησιν ὑπὲρ τῶν προβάτων
ὁ μισθωτὸς καὶ οὐκ ὢν ποιμήν οὗ οὐκ ἔστιν τὰ πρόβατα ἴδια θεωρεῖ τὸν λύκον ἐρχόμενον καὶ ἀφίησιν τὰ πρόβατα καὶ φεύγει

All of this is a fundamental result of the complex nature of information structure. Word order, conjunctions, deixis, and syntax all come into play and all contribute to the cognitive processing of the text on the part of the audience. It's incredibly complicated and requires the mastery of multiple fields of study that are only loosely related.
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: Default Word Order with Nominative Personal Pronouns

Post by Stephen Carlson » October 7th, 2013, 4:37 am

MAubrey wrote:Helma Dik, "On Unemphatic 'Emphatic' Pronouns in Greek: Nominative pronouns in Plato and Sophocles", Mnemosyne 2003.

She's writing about nominative pronouns that appear in the post verbal position (like our Rev 22:18 instance).
Thanks for mentioning this article, but my impression what that she was discussing second position nominative pronouns, and many of her examples are pre-verbal (not surprisingly since the Classical Greek verb comes so late in the clause compared with Koine). In Rev 22:18, the verb is first, so we have both a post verbal and a second position nominative pronoun.
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