Evidence for the Verb Phrase…

…simply doesn’t exist.

Yes I had said that it does. But my analysis was wrong and so was Michael Palmer’s. Let me explain why:

Since I wrote this post, I have actually retracted everything in it. There is no evidence for the Greek Verb Phrase. The occurrence of this particular verse in my first reference disproves the possibility:

μέχρι καταντήσωμεν *οἱ πάντες* εἰς τὴν ἑνότητα τῆς πίστεως καὶ τῆς ἐπιγνώσεως τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ, εἰς ἄνδρα τέλειον, εἰς μέτρον ἡλικίας τοῦ πληρώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ

Notice that the NP subject occurs between the verb and the PP. This fact is definite evidence against there being a Verb Phrase for this verb – and I am yet to find a verb that does have a clear verb phrase.

In fact the evidence for the Greek VP as presented by Michael Palmer doesn’t add up either. He posits two types of adverbs one that functions at the clause level and one that functions only within the VP:

καὶ εὐθέως ἡ λέπρα ἀπῆλθεν ἀπʼ αὐτοῦ

εὐθέως is a % adverb according to Palmer and thus never occurs between the V & the PP above as opposed to + adverbs, such as πάντοτε:

% ἡ λέπρα % + ἀπῆλθεν + ἀπʼ αὐτοῦ + %

Now I checked my searchable texts and Palmer’s statement rings true. No where in the GNT, LXX, Philo, or the Apostolic Fathers does εὐθέως directly follow the verb it modifies. Under typical circumstances, that would be major evidence for a Verb Phrase.

But there is a much bigger issue that calls this analysis into question. And we find this issue as early as the second occurrence of ἀπῆλθεν:

Καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ἡ ἀκοὴ αὐτοῦ εἰς ὅλην τὴν Συρίαν·

What’s going on here? Specifically, where in the subject in this clause?

If you’ve noticed that it occurs between the verb and the PP, then you’ve got it. In Palmer’s analysis above, the PP functions within the VP. Thus, either the subject is functioning in the VP or there is no VP. The latter must be the case. If its functioning within the VP, it destroys the point of having a VP. The clause would then consist only of a Verb Phrase!

Worse still is the fact that there is an instance of this constituent order occurring within Palmer’s corpus of Luke-Acts & Paul:

καὶ ἀπῆλθόν τινες τῶν σὺν ἡμῖν ἐπὶ τὸ μνημεῖον

That’s Luke 24.24 above and I’ve put the NP subject in bold. So Greek cannot have a Verb Phrase, at least for the reasons that Palmer and I had previously argued for. But that still leaves the question regarding the distribution of the adverbs. Something seems to be going on. I’ll keep digging.

With all of that said, I think that Palmer’s main contribution – his argument for the Greek N-Bar is a solid one – in spite of the cynicism of others, which I’m definitely willing to explain to anyone who asks.

14 thoughts on “Evidence for the Verb Phrase…

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  1. There is a problem with your analysis here in that Koine Greek appears to have discontinuous phrases. I don’t have an example to quote, except perhaps the pair of objects split by a verb in 1 Timothy 2:12, which can I suppose be analysed otherwise. But there are cases especially in more complex Greek which I don’t think can be analysed except as discontinuous phrases. I am thinking of for example verbs in the middle of noun phrases. Or how about this example from 2 Peter 1:4?: theias koinonoi fuseos where the genitive noun phrase is split around the nominative. And if such phrases are admitted your argument against verb phrases fails.

  2. Hmmm, Peter, to throw out a red herring while I think about what you just wrote, could that mean that what we have in Ephesians 1.22 is actually *not* two NP accusatives??? What if we only have one in that verse?

    “He gave him, the head [or him who is the head] to the church”?

    You alway catch me when I’m about to go to work…but my initial reaction is that this is a consistent occurrence with this sort of intransitive verb – ones that involve a GOAL – for example Luke 8:23 for καταβαίνω and Acts 10.9 for αναβαίνω. All four of these verbs; καταντάω, ἀπέρχομαι, αναβαίνω, and καταβαίνω; have the same thing happening – and it occurs in about 10% of all occurrences of each of them. Now that number becomes even more significant when you think about the fact that the majority of occurrences have pro-dopped subjects to begin with!

  3. Well, I would think that in Ephesians 1:22 we have two separate NPs even if this could be a split one. That is because auton does not agree in gender with kefalen, as it would have to if this is one NP.

  4. hmmm, good point – I hadn’t looked at the text…I should really do that.

    But what do you think of the rest of my response? That last paragraph in the previous comment?

  5. Mike, to your last question, I’m not sure I understood that last paragraph. Is your point that 10% of the time the subject comes between the verb and the GOAL? I’m not sure that is relevant to the issue of whether there is a VP. Many languages have optional verb-subject reversal but I don’t think that implies they don’t have VPs. But I think part of the problem is that I don’t understand the model you are using and the criteria within it for something being a VP or not.

  6. What I’m saying is that there are a number of verbs have the same kind of pattern and that is a common pattern. Initially I thought that it was a fluke, but its consistent – didwmi gives no indication of having a verb phrase either.

    Question: Were you taught to assume the VP outright? Or what was it something to needed to prove? I know that some (most?) linguistic theories do the former. I was taught the latter.

  7. I’m not sure I was clearly taught either, but then I only did one SIL course in formal grammar, and that was 15 years ago now.

    Rather more recently, but still 7 years ago, I did a course in Van Valin’s Role and Reference Grammar, and I don’t think he has a concept of VP. Glancing again at his book, he analyses simple sentences in terms of a verb with a number of core arguments which are basically required, which include subject, object, indirect object etc, also non-core or periphery components, such as a place or a time, which are optional. But he accepts that sometimes periphery components come between the verb and its core arguments. So no verb phrase, I think, unless the verb itself consists of multiple words.

  8. I’ll be beginning my second formal course next week. But after I finished my first, I checked out about 15 books on syntax from the library.

    From what I understand from Palmer’s book, he’s following one of Chomsky’s theories – and Chomsky always assumes the VP from the start. Its not something you need to prove.

    That’s interesting that you mention arguments, Peter, because my initial post about Ephesians 1.22 derive from trying to figure out what the argument structure of didwmi (not at a computer with Greek on it) is, or more precisely, are. Three or four patterns of argument structure are emerging, which I’ll post when I finish.

    BDAG and L&N both list a lot of “meanings” that just don’t seem like true meanings. For example L&N lists something like “to pay.” But its still giving, which makes me wonder if by semantic domains they are referring to domains of usage. BDAG is worse with 17 meanings.

  9. I think words can have different senses with the same structure of arguments. But I suppose these senses are likely to be less clearly separated than senses with different argument structures.

    Don’t get me on to L&N semantic domains. I worked for a time with UBS consultant Reinier de Blois who was trying to a much better job with the semantic basis of his Semantic Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew. You can find at that site his papers which criticise L&N’s approach.

  10. Interestingly enough, Thayer does a surprisingly good job making distinctions in meaning based upon clause structures – in fact, his definition of didwmi is probably the most helpful in a lexicon.

  11. You’re right words can have different sense with the same structure, which reminds me of something…
    Are you familiar with the hierarchy of thematic/semantic roles? Hmmm, I think I’m going to have write a post, this comment box is confining…

  12. I agree in general with your critique of the evidence for VP. Like you, I have come to view VP as a superfluous category for Ancient Greek.

    Have you discounted the possibility of verb movement? The subject appearing between the verb and one of its subsequent arguments would only count as disconfirming evidence against VP if verb extraction from VP is not a possibility.

    1. I’ve discounted the possibility of verb movement only as much as I don’t consider movement theoretically plausible in general. My preference is to work only with surface forms.

      Now with that said, I also consider movement theory internal evidence. So were I to be discussing the issue with someone who works within a framework that use movement, I would definitely describe what we have here as Verb extraction.

      The basic structure I’ve been working with for the Greek clause is a modified X’ structure:

      [CP [C [XP]][IP [I [V]] [S [XP1, XP2, XP3…etc]]]]. “S” being a headless/exocentric phrase. I place the Greek Verb as the “I.” And then Topical elements appear under “C” and Focus elements appear in the Spec position of the IP. Similar structures have been proposed for Irish.

      This isn’t hard set. There’s still a lot that I’m unsure of, but it can make sense out of the majority of clauses both in terms of discourse/pragmatic function as well as distribution and syntax. I’m still quite unsure about its plausibility for periphrastic constructions. But the main reason that I’ve been drawn to this structure is that is successfully explains the distribution of Adverbs that you showed in your book without requiring a VP.

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