Limitations on the use of recursive relative phrases.

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Stephen Hughes
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Joined: February 26th, 2013, 7:12 am

Limitations on the use of recursive relative phrases.

Post by Stephen Hughes » January 26th, 2017, 3:46 pm

A syntactic structure like, "The man ate the fish, which he caught in the stream, which flows into the lake, which many people visit on weekends.", doesn't occur in Koine Greek in the way it does in English. That seems to be because of the variation in contextualising strategies between the languages. Koine Greek makes contextualising statements before making a point, whereas in English the statement is made and then extra information is added to it (and in (seeming) relation to it). I think that the participal phrases etc. that come at the beginning of "paragraphs" serve the same discourse function as this type of explanatory relative clauses do in Greek. In composition, there seems to be a need for both reordering and restructuring.

Have others worked through this issue of idiomacity in composition?
Γελᾷ δ' ὁ μωρός, κἄν τι μὴ γέλοιον ᾖ
(Menander, Γνῶμαι μονόστιχοι 108)

cwconrad
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Re: Limitations on the use of recursive relative phrases.

Post by cwconrad » January 27th, 2017, 8:59 am

Stephen Hughes wrote:A syntactic structure like, "The man ate the fish, which he caught in the stream, which flows into the lake, which many people visit on weekends.", doesn't occur in Koine Greek in the way it does in English. That seems to be because of the variation in contextualising strategies between the languages. Koine Greek makes contextualising statements before making a point, whereas in English the statement is made and then extra information is added to it (and in (seeming) relation to it). I think that the participal phrases etc. that come at the beginning of "paragraphs" serve the same discourse function as this type of explanatory relative clauses do in Greek. In composition, there seems to be a need for both reordering and restructuring.

Have others worked through this issue of idiomacity in composition?
"Idiomacity"? Now there's a nice Greco-Latin neologism, although your meaning is clear enough. My question here is: Where do you find in English that syntactic structure, "The man ate the fish, which he caught in the stream, which flows into the lake, which many people visit on weekends."? I haven't read or heard sentences like this unless it's somebody trying to translate into English a genitive string from a complex Greek or Latin textual sequence. The sentence is intelligible, but "we" don't talk like that, or do we?
οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

Stephen Hughes
Posts: 3323
Joined: February 26th, 2013, 7:12 am

Re: Limitations on the use of recursive relative phrases.

Post by Stephen Hughes » January 27th, 2017, 1:08 pm

cwconrad wrote:I haven't read or heard sentences like this unless it's somebody trying to translate into English a genitive string from a complex Greek or Latin textual sequence. The sentence is intelligible, but "we" don't talk like that, or do we?
Because written text hardly conveys the unwritten feeling that speech could, let me begin by saying that the following bark, is boisterous than aggressive - not a precursor to biting the hand of somebody wanting to play. "We" use that structure in cases, where the principal of efficiency (minimalistic expression) noticable interferes (in low-context texts) or appears to potentially interfere (in high context texts) with the need for intelligibility. Specifically, that recursive relative structure tends to be used when there is suffucient ambiguity in the more usual English structure of stringing prepositional phrases together to warrant the use of this less efficient structure.

As an example, the ambiguity of the phrase "John saw the boy in the car in the sun.", can be be made more specific by adding this recursive relative structure, "John saw the boy, who was in the car, which was in the sun.", rather than the more inherently structured (having less need for explication), "John saw the boy in the car, who was in the sun."
Stephen Hughes wrote:The man ate the fish, which he caught in the stream, which flows into the lake, which many people visit on weekends.
To make that more efficient, and at the same time more ambiguous, is not so easy. Perhaps, something like this, "The man ate the fish from the stream going to the lake with many people on weekends." Was he on all fours with his paws holding a salmon? Who / what was going? Were the people going to the lake with the stream, eating with their faces in the water, or forming a crowd at the lake? Is the time phrase referring to which of any of the previous statements? The recursive relative phrases show that each one is nested with the one immediately preceeding it.

Koine Greek does not do that by using relative clauses - it seems to reverse the order that things are introduced, and sets up contexts before introducing details or detailed descriptions of actions. Modern Greek can and does use recursive relative clauses using the που generic relative word, but I will avoid asserting anything about Modern Greek usage for now at least.
Γελᾷ δ' ὁ μωρός, κἄν τι μὴ γέλοιον ᾖ
(Menander, Γνῶμαι μονόστιχοι 108)

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