Current Studies in Greek Word Order: Some Musings

I was reading Dik’s book Word Order in Greek Tragic Dialogue in Amazon’s preview, curious about what she says about Devine and Stephen’s work (Discontinuous Syntax: Hyperbaton in Greek, 1999), which came out after her first book on word order in Herodotus (Word Order in Ancient Greek: A Pragmatic Account of Word Order Variation in Herodotus,1995).

Looking through the discussion, it seems like her second book is likely going to be the more important work simply because she has a larger number of other recent books to argue and dialogue with. What I’ve read has been so-so. There’s some good and some bad – I think she’s wrong to reject D&S’s combination of pragmatics and semantics for their explanation of adjective orderings (she prefers pragmatics only with at least one caveat), but I think (only intuitively, I haven’t checked) that her criticism of D&S’s claim (that adjective ordering differences between Herodotus and Thucydides is best explained by dialect difference) is spot on. With that said, D&S tend to make many more typological comparisons than Dik ever does, which is a clear strength to their book. And then there’s the issue of price. You can get D&S for less than $20 used while either of Dik’s books go for at least $75. Who knows, that might end up being the factor in who wins the debate – though at the same time, Dik is infinitely easier to read than D&S.

What is interesting, and I’m curious if Stephanie Bakker will continue the trend (see below), is that Dik in her 2007 book consistently follows D&S’s terminology for the different types of discontinuous phrases in Greek syntax – e.g. Y1 Hyperbaton (AXN) & Y2 Hyperbaton (NXA).

There are more books coming out on the subject though. Stephanie Bakker (any relation to Egbert J. Bakker?) is writing a book on the Noun Phrase in Greek (The Noun Phrase in Ancient Greek: A Functional Analysis of the Order and Articulation of Np Constituents in Herodotus). And according to Dik (Word order, 2007; page 88), Rijksbaron is currently researching definiteness in Greek and S. R. Slings is currently working on a functional analysis (as opposed to D&S’s generative analysis) of Hyperbaton in Greek. I don’t know how I feel about this. I think that D&S are generally correct in their explanation of hyperbaton. Why can’t we simply work from different theoretical perspectives and build on each other? Framework rivalry is always such nonsense.

Finally, what is up with Herodotus? Why is he so popular for word order studies? I don’t know…

So all in all, it looks like the next ten years are going to be quite productive for Classical Greek word order studies.

I hope we actually get somewhere with all of this writing (yes, that’s cynicism you hear).

And I hope some of it spills over into the Hellenistic Period (more cynicism – though I do hope to make my own contribution to this subject at some point in the relatively near future – 3 to 5 years).

7 thoughts on “Current Studies in Greek Word Order: Some Musings

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  1. More interesting questions raised here that any thing else, but useful bibliographical suggestions, for sure.

    You might do well to take time to read through some Herodotus: Book 1 is itself a fantastic read and Herodotus is really quite easy reading, once you get used to the Ionic dialect — and that’s not really so hard to do because you’re generally dealing with consistent patterns of contraction, or uncontracted contiguous vowels, or universal replacement of both long and short alpha with eta. Herodotus is really a splendid writer, one who is fun to pick up and start reading almost anywhere in the corpus.

      1. Amen to Carl Conrad on Herodotus.

        On Herodotus as chosen guinea pig: Classical linguists like narrative prose.
        Thucydides has too many issues of interpretation; Xenophon is looked upon with content, stylistically, so that coming up with a rule for Xenophon would impress hardly anybody (this is nonsense of course, but most classicists are not linguists).

        There are in fact at least three unrelated Bakkers in Greek linguistics. W.F. (Willem Frederik) Bakker, who wrote ‘the Greek imperative’ and ‘pronomen abundans and pronomen coniunctum’, Egbert Bakker, who works on Homer, and Stéphanie Bakker, who just published her dissertation on the noun phrase.

        Framework rivalry is nonsense, of course. Ultimately I just don’t think that a lot of deep explanation was added in DS, and I do think a spurious account of the definite article was offered to ‘account for’ (= come up with a tree notation for) hyperbaton. So when you say, generally correct, it would be interesting to figure out whether that correct stuff was what we already knew or what they came up with.
        Re: typological comparisons: Greek is not that interesting typologically. There are lots of languages with pragmatic word order. My early inspiration in working on this was Payne on Papago (O’o’dham). Her article on Papago word order in Language came out just as I was finishing my undergrad thesis, and reading it was a validating experience, shall we say, even if I did not know that word at the time:-)

        Noun phrase in the Hellenistic period: Josephus does some amazing NPs to impress us in his purple passages (e.g. in the Masada episode); things no classical guy/gal would have come up with:-) Otherwise I don’t see too much difference.

        It seems Albert Rijksbaron is publishing his findings on the definite article in bits and pieces (proteron vs. to proteron; proper names); hard to find and some of it in Dutch.
        Unfortunately Siem Slings is no longer with us. He had a lot more to say about hyperbaton than any of us, and his article in Grammar as Interpretation (Egbert Bakker (ed.) is a good place to start.
        For the rest, Nick Baechle has a quite nuanced account of hyperbaton in poetry, which is a lot more careful than much other stuff. He comes to different conclusions than I would, but it is only fair to mention it here.

        1. Hello Prof. Dik,

          I’ve greatly admired your work and in retrospect, my “criticisms” sound more negative than intended. I apologize for that. I’ve since read your second book, Tragic Dialogue and love it (this post is 6 months old). Your words responding to DS about the redundant correlation between adjective type and salience is spot on (85) and fits with claims about semantics more generally (e.g. Martin Joos’ principle of maximal redundancy). DS’ book was the first Greek linguistics book I read — about four years ago, so my own experience in writing this particular post & describing their work as “generally correct” was also based on my lack of knowledge that much else existed on the topic of hyperbaton & contemporary linguistics. That, and NT grammarians, even of the past century, tend to ignore the question. Much to our embarrassment.

          And I understand your issue with DS’ “deep explanation.” As I see it, the primary benefit of trees has very little to do with accounting for a particular construction. It is beneficial in helping to visually understand a given construction as it relates to other constructions (e.g. how the structure of the NP relates to the structure of the clause) and especially when looking at how languages differ. And it’s also beneficial for work across a corpus, which is what those of us who are interested in linguistics & “dead languages” really need. But you already know that, since you’re working with Perseus on Greek tree-banks — there are dozens of questions I could ask about what that’s going to look like. I’m extremely curious. I’m working on my own database (for my own thesis project) in FLEx building a morphological parser as well as a tree-bank for the NT, Apostolic Fathers, Josephus, & perhaps the LXX (though translation Greek is another issue, particularly in obnoxiously literal books like 1-2 Reigns).

          It’s unfortunate to hear that Xenophon is treated that way — though, if one could show that same word ordering and information structure principles are at work in both Xenophon AND Herodotus together, that might get people (Classicists) talking. And I have no doubt that such a thing would easily be possible (communication wouldn’t be possible otherwise).

          As for the NP in the Hellenistic Period, I’ll be reviewing Stephanie Bakker’s book here on my blog in the coming months looking at her model (which I’m assuming is based on Rijkhoff, who I really like) and it’s relevance for 1st century Greek (using the same corpus mentioned above).

          One more question though (hopefully you’ll see this comment), do you have a digital copy of your review of DS? My university doesn’t subscribe to CW and I’ve had trouble finding it. Could I e-mail you?

    1. Re: Xenophon and Herodotus (and Thucydides for my part).
      There is a longish article by Dejan Matic on word order in Xenophon. It takes my clause structure and builds it into a myriad scenarios depending on context to describe what kind of word order patterns show up in Xenophon. I guess it depends on what kind of descriptive preferences you have whether that is a satisfying approach. But hey, I would be happiest if this became simply mainstream unattributed knowledge as opposed to ‘Helma Dik’s claims’ about Greek word order. 🙂 I’m happier about Kenneth Dover agreeing with it than I’m unhappy about syntax-oriented types who want trees and a syntactic analysis 🙂 As you can tell, I’m more than a little ambivalent about trees.
      The CW review is a very short one, and does not give much more detail about my criticism than what I wrote originally. I’m afraid I don’t have a copy anymore but perhaps I can dig something up.

      1. Hmmm, my descriptive preferences… I do like the model you’ve proposed (Setting, Topic, Focus, V, Remainder) for the most part, though I have wondered whether you would consider the possibility of post-verbal Focus with phonological stress. Beyond that, I can’t say enough about — though I’m coming from NT Greek studies where most word order studies continue to be obsessed with statistics.

        I’m not sure that I would say that everyone who prefers trees is a “syntax oriented type,” (assuming that you means people who view & treat syntax autonomously from everything else). Generally, I prefer trees as more readable than other representations, e.g. RRG’s semantic & logical represenations give me a headache:

        [do’ (w, Ø)] CAUSE [do’ (x [α)’ (x,y)]) & BECOME be-LOC (z, x); where α = y

        Yuck. Somehow that’s the best way in RRG to represent verbs of running.

        As for the article, don’t worry about it if it’s much of a hassle. I’ll visiting another university library in about two months a couple hours from me for research purposes and will look for it then instead, but I do thank you for the offer.

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