Some Reading Notes

I’ve been reading a number of books lately…all of them on Greek and Linguistics:

A History of New Testament Lexicography (Studies in Biblical Greek) by John A. L. Lee

The Development of Greek and the New Testament: Morphology, Syntax, Phonology, and Textual Transmission by Chrys C. Caragounis.

Language Typology and Syntactic Description: Volume 1, Clause Structure (Language Typology & Syntactic Description) by Timothy Shopen

Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, With Reference to Tense & Mood (Studies in Biblical Greek ; Vol/ 1)) Stanley E. Porter.

Here are some thoughts (in order of course):

Lee’s book is an entertaining read. I’ve read the first four chapters and he’s covered a quite a bit of ground in the history of Greek lexicons and also has successfully shown that our lexicons are deficient both with their use of glosses (which is better than it was, these days) and even more so in their dependence on past dictionaries. These dictionaries depressingly, are not based on lexicographical work, but on past translations of the New Testament. Thus we have KJV terms in our English lexicon definitions and glosses!

Caragounis is entertaining, if anything for his inflammatory remarks. He also regularly makes comments about the Koine spoken in Greece as compared with the rest of the Mediterranean world that would make any socio-linguists cringe. But I must also say that he is knowledgeable about the language and I am impressed with that. What I am not impressed by is his criticisms of Stanley Porter. While I (at present) agree with Caragounis that the verb does express temporal reference, he gives no evidence. None at all. I think that he thinks he does, but his understanding (or perhaps merely his use of) native speakers in proving his view is deeply flawed to a degree that frustrates me. To put it plainly, the fact that Greek grammarians (or any Greek speakers) think/say time is expressed in the verb is not evidence for anything. But more on that later…there’s another post in the works.

Shopen is the editor. The chapters are written by a number of leading linguists. Again, I’ve read four chapters. But in this case, each chapter is between 50 and 90 pages long! These are highly compressed mini-monographs. I just finished reading about Noun Phrases and their functions, semantically, syntactially, and pragmatically. This is a highly technical book, so much so that I’m not sure exactly what to say – except perhaps that the chapter on word order was fascinating and that I’m not more convinced that Greek should probably be considered an SVO language…but again, so much I could write on there, I must move on.

I picked this up for $25 on ebay about three weeks ago (great deal!). The first 160 pages that I’ve read so far are a whirl wind of information. Porter has packed so much into this book, it amazes me. I’m not yet convinced of his thesis regarding time and the verb, he has plenty of helpful comments on aspect. But I also think that his thoughts on aspect are less new than he thinks they are. I don’t find his discussino of the difference between Aspect and Aktionsart to be very helpful. In fact, I think that many Greek scholars have created a false definition of Aktionsart that A. T. Robertson (and others) would not have accepted. With that said, Porter has made an important contribution, one that brings the discussion uptodate and helps move it into the future as well.