Word Order in John 13:6

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Re: Word Order in John 13:6

Postby Iver Larsen » March 11th, 2013, 4:26 am

Jeremy wrote:ἔρχεται οὖν πρὸς Σίμων Πέτρον. λέγει αὐτῷ, Κύριε, σύ μου νίπτεις τοὺς πόδας;

I was wondering about the placement of μου prior to νίπτεις. Does the Greek text grammatically move the possessive pronoun forward as a matter of emphasis? Does Peter's question, and its phrasing in Greek grammar, imply a contrast between Peter's feet and those of the other disciples? Related questions: if Peter had asked, Κύριε, σύ νίπτεις τοὺς πόδας μου; how would the question be different, or how would it be heard differently? Your thoughts?


My perspective is much simpler, but I thought I would still mention it.

First, I am sceptical about the suggestion that the genitive ἐμοῦ is by definition more emphatic than μοu. At least in the NT, the longer form occurs after prepositions, the other form elsewhere. Whether it is purely phonologically conditioned or also syntactic, I am not sure. Improper prepositions like ἐνώπιον appear to be borderline cases that can take both. Similarly, ἐμὲ occurs after prepositions with the exception of πρός which usually has just με. When not occurring after prepositions the case is rather complex and this needs further research.

Second, certain concepts are more predictable from the previous context than others. The washing of feet of all the disciples was introduced in the previous verse, so τοὺς πόδας is understandably placed in the least prominent position to the far right. It almost does not need to be mentioned that the overall topic of the paragraph is washing of feet.

Third, the pronoun σύ is very prominent, both by the fact that it is there in the first place and by its positioning in the most prominent place. Peter is surprised and finds it unacceptable that Jesus of all people should be washing the feet of the disciples.

Fourth, μου is also fronted from the normal place in its constituent, and put in the secondmost prominent position. What Greek does with word order, English does with stress, so I might indicate this by saying: Master, are YOU washing MY feet? That both pronouns are emphasized puts focus on the relationship between Jesus and Peter and puts all the other disciples off stage. Peter seems to be saying: I should be the one washing your feet, not you washing my feet.
So, I would say it is not a contrast between Peter's feet and the feet of the other disciples, but a contast between who is supposed to be the feet-washer.

If Peter had asked, Κύριε, σύ νίπτεις τοὺς πόδας μου; I think the contrast would be different. Then it would a contrast between Jesus washing Peter's feet and someone else - like a servant - washing his feet. In other words, the contrast would be between YOU and someone unspecified rather than between YOU and ME.
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Re: Word Order in John 13:6

Postby cwconrad » March 11th, 2013, 6:55 am

Thanks, Iver. That's pretty much what I was thinking and suggesting, but you've put it far more eloquently. It really does seem to me that "Master, are YOU washing MY feet?" is what the natural reading of the Greek text immediately suggests to the English-speaking mind. And I've always wondered whether it's really true that an enclitic form of a pronoun is weaker than a non-enclitic form -- or whether that's just another of those axioms of traditional grammatical instruction that haven't ever been questioned. I hesitate to add, but can't resist: I sometimes wonder whether gut feelings in response to a colloquial sort of expression such as this involving contrasting pronouns -- may not hit the mark quicker than theorizing. exploration of alternative explanations. It's not that there's anything wrong with that sort of Aristotelian aporetic reasoning process, but as behavioral psychologists like Jonathan Haidt are telling us more and more earnestly, we seem to use our reasoning less to find answers to questions than to discover resons for the answers we already have in mind.
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Re: Word Order in John 13:6

Postby Stephen Carlson » March 12th, 2013, 5:35 am

I don't think it's right, at least in my case, that I'm using my research on Greek enclitics and word order to find reasons for the answers I already had in mind. In fact, I would have loved to find a strong double contrast between Peter and Jesus in the personal pronouns of John 13:6. It preaches well and it nicely anticipates Jesus's point in vv.14-16. Despite how congenial this conclusion is, I simply cannot get the Greek accentuation and word order (as I understand it) to say that.

Iver's skepticism "that the genitive ἐμοῦ is by definition more emphatic than μοu" just underscores to me how radical of a change to our understanding of enclitic pronouns for the homiletically congenial interpretation to work. Both the lack of accentuation and the Wackernagel position of μου in John 13:6 fits nicely with the lack of emphasis on μου and a strong emphasis on σύ. I suppose it's possible that both the traditonal grammatical instruction and current linguistic research are wrong on this point, but I tend to get more, not less, skeptical when the proposed change has such an obvious homiletical payoff.

Fortunately, it does not appear necessary to do so here. Emphasis on μου is not needed to fit the immediate context; here, the key point is that Peter is shocked that Jesus would be the one to wash guest's feet. This point is ably borne by the strong emphasis on σύ, on which we have agreement.
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Re: Word Order in John 13:6

Postby cwconrad » March 12th, 2013, 8:25 am

I'm sorry about interjecting that bit about the behavioral psychologists -- it's not a position that I'm comfortable with or want to take seriously. I wasn't thinking about homiletic convenience but rather of what seems to me the logic of the narrative. And I am also uncomfortable with gut feelings; I'd much rather be able to adduce supporting reasons. But I remain unconvinced about this understanding of the sequence.
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Re: Word Order in John 13:6

Postby Iver Larsen » March 12th, 2013, 4:12 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:... I would have loved to find a strong double contrast between Peter and Jesus in the personal pronouns of John 13:6. It preaches well and it nicely anticipates Jesus's point in vv.14-16. Despite how congenial this conclusion is, I simply cannot get the Greek accentuation and word order (as I understand it) to say that.

Iver's skepticism "that the genitive ἐμοῦ is by definition more emphatic than μοu" just underscores to me how radical of a change to our understanding of enclitic pronouns for the homiletically congenial interpretation to work. Both the lack of accentuation and the Wackernagel position of μου in John 13:6 fits nicely with the lack of emphasis on μου and a strong emphasis on σύ. I suppose it's possible that both the traditonal grammatical instruction and current linguistic research are wrong on this point, but I tend to get more, not less, skeptical when the proposed change has such an obvious homiletical payoff.

Fortunately, it does not appear necessary to do so here. Emphasis on μου is not needed to fit the immediate context; here, the key point is that Peter is shocked that Jesus would be the one to wash guest's feet. This point is ably borne by the strong emphasis on σύ, on which we have agreement.



For my part, I was not thinking of what you call a congenial interpretation. The double emphasis just happens to be a result of my understanding of Greek word order which is not dichotomized into topic and comment or frame and focus or topic and focus.

When I looked at the actual occurrences of ἐμοῦ and μοu in the NT, I was struck by the fact that ἐμοῦ occurs after prepositions and μοu elsewhere. (I could have read that in Robertson, but I only read it now.) This is what linguists call complementary distribution and needs an explanation. The most likely explanation is phonological, but it needs some unbiased research which I do not have the time for - and others are probably better qualified. Almost all of these prepositions end in a vowel or -ν. For με it was interesting that it was used after πρὸς and not other prepositions. In any case, the usage of these forms in prepositional phrases shows that it is not a matter of one being emphatic and the other not in spite of the undocumented claim in BDF § 279. Robertson shows that he is not too confident about them. He says on p. 681: "We may be sure that when the long form ἐμοῦ occurs some slight emphasis is meant, as in ὑμῶν τε καὶ ἐμοῦ (Rom. 1:12). But we cannot feel sure that all emphasis is absent when the short form is used. ... With prepositions (the “true” ones) the long form is used as in ancient Greek except with πρός, which uniformly has με even where emphasis is obvious." I am saying we cannot be sure of any connection between the long forms and emphasis, and I don't even think there is a some slight (?) emphasis in Rom 1:12. I think the problem is that many traditional Greek grammarians did not properly understand the relationship between word order and emphasis, so they may have assumed that ἐμοῦ was somehow related to the emphasis they felt was there from context.

I don't know a lot about traditional Greek grammar. I come to Greek as I come to any other language, empirical research based on data. Linguistic theories come and go like other theories. The more complicated the theories are, the less explanatory power they have. When I did my MA in linguistics many years ago, we were taught Chomsky. It was fun, but quite useless for practical linguistic purposes. Everyone at the department were enthusiastic about Chomsky, but it did not last very long.
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Re: Word Order in John 13:6

Postby Stephen Carlson » March 12th, 2013, 4:41 pm

Thanks for that. I have to say that I don't really feel the force of Robertson's point about the prepositions. Most of them are proclitic and would simply need an orthotonic pronoun for prosodic reasons. The only really interesting construction is πρός με but that appears to be lexicalized with the short form, so I don't think it is a particularly relevant counter-example to the general principle.

As for my own work, I find a lot of value in traditional grammar, modern linguistic theories (particularly from the Netherlands), and empirical research. All three inform my understanding of this issue, and they are congruent on this point.
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Re: Word Order in John 13:6

Postby Iver Larsen » March 13th, 2013, 4:27 am

Stephen,

If I understand you correctly, you are agreeing with me that the choice between using ἐμοῦ and μοu is based primarily if not exclusively on phonological reasoning, even if we may not agree on the details of those reasons. Prosody belongs to phonology and whether a word is considered to be a clitic or not is a matter of phonology. But word order in Greek is not a matter of phonology, but of pragmatics - with the exception of poetry where phonology plays a larger role. It is my theory that emphasis in Greek is determined by word order rather than phonology, unlike what is the case in English.

It appears that Robertson was writing at a time where people assumed that ἐμοῦ implied more emphasis than μοu, but he was halfway admitting that this theory was not supported by the data. Smyth mentions this in passing without evidence in § 187 in his discussion of enclitics. A basically enclitic pronoun like μοu may get an accent in certain phonological environments, but this has nothing to do with emphasis. It is interesting to me to look at ἐμοῦ when not governed by a preposition. These are very rare. In the NT, I find it 3 times after καί, where μοu does not occur. And one other time in Matt 16:23 Ὕπαγε ὀπίσω μου, Σατανᾶ· σκάνδαλον εἶ ἐμοῦ. In the last clause - "You are my stumbling block" - I think ἐμοῦ is used for phonological reasons after εἶ, and it is placed in the least emphatic position. The primary focus here is on the stumbling block and secondarily that Peter for the moment has become that stumbling block to the extent that he is called "Satan" - the one opposing God. Satan himself tried to tempt Jesus, and now Satan is trying to work through Peter.
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Re: Word Order in John 13:6

Postby Stephen Carlson » March 13th, 2013, 6:40 am

Oh, I see phonology/prosody and pragmatics to be heavily interrelated in Greek. Basically, the phonologically most prominent place in a prose intonation unit is the initial element, and Greek uses its syntactic freedom of word order to move a pragmatically salient constituent (usually having some sort of focus) into that phonologically prominent first position. In fact, this first position is so prominent that it tends to attract and host various unaccented consituents (clausal clitics, topical pronouns, etc.) behind it. If there is another phonologically prominent position in an intonation unit (and most intonation units just have one), I would tend to identify it with the last one according to the principle of natural information flow, and we get a hint of this in the convention that oxytones do not drop to a grave before a pause.

So yes, the choice between orthotonic and enclitic pronouns is a matter of phonology, but so is word order and pragmatics. They are an interconnected system.
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Re: Word Order in John 13:6

Postby MAubrey » March 13th, 2013, 9:39 am

Iver Larsen wrote:Prosody belongs to phonology and whether a word is considered to be a clitic or not is a matter of phonology. But word order in Greek is not a matter of phonology, but of pragmatics - with the exception of poetry where phonology plays a larger role. It is my theory that emphasis in Greek is determined by word order rather than phonology, unlike what is the case in English.


That's a huge statement, Iver. And I'm not convinced that you'd be able to back it up. The standard literature for both information structure and prosody disagree with you. For example, Knud Lambrecht has a very large section committed to the relationship between Focus and Sentence Accents (i.e. prosody & intonation) in his monograph on information structure and (for an SIL reference) Dooley and Levinsohn refer to intonation a number of times in Analyzing Discourse--see chapter 6 and chapter 11, especially. In the same vein, the standard literature on prosody and intonation consistently examines information structure:

Dwight Bolinger, Intonation and Its Uses: Melody in Grammar and Discourse, 1989
Dwight Bolinger, Intonation and Its Parts: Melody in Spoken English, 1985
Alan Cruttenden, Intonation ,1997
Robert Ladd, Intonational Phonology, 2009
Carlos Gussenhoven, The Phonology of Tone and Intonation, 2004.
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Re: Word Order in John 13:6

Postby Iver Larsen » March 13th, 2013, 9:41 am

Thank you, Stpehen,

This background helps me to see where you are coming from. I don't agree with such a description of Greek, but let that be as it is.
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