Taking Up An Issue of Syntax

I’ve been wanting to discuss a particular debated point regarding Greek Noun Phrases for some time. I’ve touched on it before, but never really expanded on it:

What is an N-Bar and why is it a necessary concept for Greek Syntax?

In a way, its impossible to answer the first question without also answering the second.

An N-Bar (N’) is a structural category. More specifically for Greek, it is a structural category that occurs between the word level and the phrase level. Thus in the Noun Phrase (NP) “ λόγος,” there are two words and one phrase. N’ comes into play to explain why certain word patterns do not occur. For example, we can have οὗτος λόγος and οὗτος ὁ λόγος but never οὗτος λόγος. This structure is ungrammatical. To put it simply, if there is no N’ between the Noun Phrase level and the Word level, then there is no way to explain why the that third pattern cannot occur.

Likewise we can have πᾶς ὁ λόγος and πᾶς λόγος, but the two patterns have different meanings: ‘every message/word’ and ‘the whole message/word,’ respectively. If there is no N’ then there is no way to account for the distinction. Let me show you:

Without the N’, we have the following phrase structures:

  • [NP οὗτος λόγος]
  • [NP οὗτος ὁ λόγος]
  • *[NP οὗτος λόγος]

Structurally speaking, why is the third wrong? Well, a person could posit that there is another Noun Phrase within the Noun Phrase in the second example:

  • [NP οὗτος [NP ὁ λόγος]]

But that does not explain it. If its just a noun phrase within a Noun Phrase then there is still no structural reason we could not have:

  • *[NP [NP οὗτος λόγος]]

But again, its still ungrammatical. The most reasonable explanation is that there is another layer:

  • [NP οὗτος [NP [N’ λόγος]]]

According to this analysis, the Demonstrative always has another Noun Phrase as its sister (i.e. the are on the same structural level). Likewise, the Article always has an N’ as its sister. The N’ provides a structural reason for why our third structure is ungrammatical, something that cannot be explained with only a word level and a phrase level. See Palmer’s book for a more expansive explanation.

2 thoughts on “Taking Up An Issue of Syntax

Add yours

  1. What kind of level of understanding of Greek would one have to have before reading Palmer’s book. It sounds intriguing but I want to make sure I’m not getting in over my head.


  2. Bryan, the majority of the book functions as an introduction to these kind of thing. If you’ve got even a decent handle on Greek, you could follow it. It might take a couple re-reads on a few things though. Its a very interesting book.

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