Greek Word Order & “Emphatic” Pronouns

I’ve started writing this initial post on “emphatic” pronouns at least twice now. First I thought I’d begin by dealing with the problematic pronouns themselves. Then I thought that a look at the clitic pronouns might be a better place to start.

It was during the second post that I had a true break through. Something clicked that I had been trying to figure out in Greek ditransitive clauses that simply made no sense to me at all. The good news is that what I had realized about the so-called “emphatic” pronouns is far bigger than I had initially thought. The concept

that explains their usage along with the clitic forms goes well beyond this issue of emphatic vs. non-emphatic.

The bad news is that Helma Dik is wrong about Greek word order – at least partially. There’s more to it than just pragmatics. There’s also more to it than that missing cognitive element too.

To truly understand why at times we have ἐμέ and other times we merely have με, you need to be able to recognize what these following bolded pronouns have in common:

Matthew 26:73 καὶ γὰρ ἡ λαλιά σου δῆλόν σε ποιεῖ

John 6:27 ἣν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ὑμῖν δώσει

Acts 25:11 οὐδείς με δύναται αὐτοῖς χαρίσασθαι

And then also what theses pronouns have in common:

John 6:45 πᾶς ὁ ἀκούσας παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ μαθὼν ἔρχεται πρὸς ἐμέ

Acts 7:37 προφήτην ὑμῖν ἀναστήσει ὁ θεὸς ἐκ τῶν ἀδελφῶν ὑμῶν ὡς ἐμέ.

1 Corinthians 4:3 ἐμοὶ δὲ εἰς ἐλάχιστόν ἐστιν

If you can figure it out. You will then be able to explain both the vast majority of Verb-Final Ditransitive clauses in Greek, as well as the alteration between clitic and non-clitic personal pronouns.

I’ll be posting the explanation soon.

This is the sort of thing that keeps me from accepting the idea of grammatical rules or even grammatical principles. Things like this are best explained by competing parallel constraints.

13 thoughts on “Greek Word Order & “Emphatic” Pronouns

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  1. You provide little info on which to go, especially since you are the main guy that has been obsessing about ditransitive clauses. The short forms of the personal pronouns are either established or less-focal, hence are unaccented. The lower group receive either primary (focal) accenting or secondary (topicalized) accenting. Ready to go down in flames, but that seems to be a meaningful difference in your groupings. Not sure why you did not include a 2nd person plural in the lower group. Is there one that would fit?

  2. New poster here, no formal linguistic training. I hope I don’t look like a fool here.

    The difference is subtle to me, not being training in linguistics, and it’s hard to put it into words. I’m sure I’m about to mangle some technical terms…

    με seems to constitute a more direct emphasis, a specific reference to the topic of the sentence. ἐμέ appears to shifts the primary “topic” emphasis to another part of the sentence while retaining a sort of “fixed” meaning itself.

    Said another way, με is “this as opposed to that” while ἐμέ is just “this”. For ἐμέ, “that” may not even exist.

    Matthew 26:73 is about Peter. John 6:27 is about “you”, the listeners. Acts 25:11 is about Paul.

    I don’t know whether this is incidental to your examples, but none of the με referents are “acting” in any way, but rather being acted upon (by an accent, God, and “no one”).

    John 6:45 is about “you” and the Father, but contains an indelible reference to “me” (Jesus). Acts 7:37 is about God and a prophet, but contains an indelible reference to Moses. Neither of these references is strong enough to support “Jesus-as-opposed-to-Shiva” or “Moses-as-opposed-to-Isaiah”, but they constitute a fundamental part of the meaning.

    1 Corinthians 4:3 is about Paul’s relationship to the Corinthians (and God), but not necessarily about Paul himself. The “me” reference is not strong enough to be me-as-opposed-to-him.

    1. Well, this isn’t what I was going for, but you have brought forward some of the reasons why I chose a couple examples.

      Traditionally, the non-clitic forms (e.g. εμε) have been given the rather loose label “emphatic” which has than been explained as dealing with contrast. But as you have rightly pointed out, in my examples, we have instances of contrastive clitic forms (e.g. με). If in traditional grammar “emphatic” = “contrast” then here we have conclusive evidence that what are traditionally “emaphtic” pronouns are nothing of the kind.

  3. Dover 1960: first two pages of chapter on Lexical Determinants, prefigured in most grammars and prose comp manuals?

    Sorry, I am recovering from the flu, so I may be missing the point:-)

    1. I’m sorry, Dr. Dik; I understand. I was down for a week and a half last month myself!

      This post is the beginnings of a bit of a response to a discussion I had with a Greek prof elsewhere about the so-called “emphatic” pronouns εμε/-οι/-ου vs. their enclitic forms. I hope to show in the next couple posts 1) that there are occasions where phonology trumps pragmatics in determining word order and 2) that the difference between the clitic and non-clitic forms is a result of the interface of phrasal phonology & information structure.

      Is this close to what Dover discusses? I don’t have a copy near me right now and won’t until I get to the library later this week.

      Sorry, there’s a bit of background in this post that wouldn’t be clear to everyone here. I should have explained better.

  4. Sure — the postpositives are not freely placed; the ’emphatic’ ones are. In accounting for word order in pragmatic terms, the postpositives are out of consideration since they cannot move around freely. Ditto, one would not bother to account for the position of ἄν or any sentential particles pragmatically. Then there is the rule that outlaws postpositives as the objects of a preposition, of course, but I didn’t think that was the point of the post given that you also gave a clause-initial example of a full pronoun.

    1. Both the clause initial full pronoun & the clause final full pronouns share the characteristic of being the “peak” of their respective phonological phrase. My next post is going to argue that because the clitic pronouns do not have the luxury, they’re at times forced forward before the verb for phonological reasons even though their pragmatic status does not necessarily requirement. I struggled with this phenomena in ditransitives becauseP1 and P2 are already filled by Topic and Focus assignment. There’s no pragmatic reasons for them to be preverbal. And since 1st & 2nd person pronouns are virtually always identifiable, active, and cognitively accessible referents, we need something else to explain the alternation between their preverbal & post verbal position in ditransitives — and, I’m sure, regular transitive clauses too.

  5. I guess the best thing to do is to start reading Wackernagel and on, through Adams on Latin postpositives. I think most of this has been dealt with in the standard treatments. Forgive me if I’m not seeing the point.

    1. I’m not sure that you’ve missed the point. Unfortunately, NT Greek grammarians have separated themselves from Classical studies to such a degree that probably many haven’t read Wackernagel. I don’t have access to him at my university. I have to go to the University of British Columbia library for the vast majority of Classical works or buy them myself. I’ve done the latter for a number of works — including your’s, but some things are just beyond my range: e.g. Jacob Wackernagel, Lectures on Syntax: With Special Reference to Greek, Latin, and Germanic

      This stuff isn’t discussion in most handbooks for Hellenistic Greek and it needs to be. This is true for a variety of topics. Nothing compares Rijksbaron’s The Syntax & Semantics of the Verb in Classical Greek in NT studies (not to mention Sicking & Stork’s amazing book). Nor do we have an adequate discussion of conditionals like Wakker’s book. And I could go on.

      The few places that we do okay include Information Structure & Pragmatics (where we have Runge’s forthcoming Discourse Grammar, Levinsohn’s Discourse Features of New Testament Greek and a recent dissertation: Thetic Constructions in Koine Greek: εἰμί ‘be’, γίνομαι ‘occur’, ἔρχομαι ‘come’, ἰδού/ἴδε ‘behold’, and complement clauses of ὁράω ‘see’ by N. A. Bailey; available HERE), morphology with Gerhard Mussies’ Morphology of Koine Greek (which even then has been terribly ignored by most scholars), and lexicography (thanks to Danker and a few others).

      I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to catch up in Classical studies with my Koine background and I generally find that the work in your field (Classical Greek) is simply better (and in some cases, simply exists). Hellenistic/NT Greek studies in general are stuck in the comparative philology of the past century. We still depend on Robertson, Moulton, & Blass — who are great, don’t get me wrong. But most are content with the status quo and have no interest in moving beyond Robertson, Moulton & Blass.

      All that to say, I’ll be taking a look at Wackernagel when I get a chance (it’s on order at the UBC library). In the mean time, I’d be interested in your comments on my next post about pronouns later this week. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated.

  6. What you’d need is Wackernagel’s Kleine Schriften, first article in the collection (originally from IF 1 (1892): 333ff), Über ein Gesetz der Indogermanischen Wortstellung. Then after that, Fränkel on Kolon und Satz. Dover discusses this very briefly because it’s essentially the only thing that classicists *could* agree on re: word order prior to 1960; I do the same in my diss.; Marshall 1987, Verbs Nouns and Postpositives in Attic Prose goes over all of this in mind-numbing detail.
    In an article in Mnemosyne I argue that certain instances of the ‘full’ pronoun ἐγώ are in fact postpositive; but this too was anticipated in a comment by Gildersleeve in his syntax.

    I know Bailey’s diss. advisor fairly well. Whereas I dearly wanted to have a good set of thetic statements for my Herodotus dissertation, I found little evidence in my corpus to support it as a separate descriptive category. What I found, I (pretty lamely) dealt with in a chapter on verb-initial sentences. I wouldn’t do that quite the same way now, but at the same time I would still claim that in our literary narratives sentences are usually not of the simple thetic type.

    1. I just ordered a copy of Marshall off Amazon. My German is far from good enough to go Wackernagel just yet (i.e. it barely exists at this point). Thank you for the reading suggestions.

  7. Is the difference simply that the short unstressed forms are used immediately before verbs, the verbs of which they are the direct or indirect object, whereas the longer stressed forms are used in other positions? This is the distinction found in Italian, which has unstressed mi, ti etc before verbs and stressed me, te etc in other positions, also in French where the unstresssed forms are me, te etc and the stressed ones moi, toi etc. That distinction fully explains your six examples. But surely it isn’t quite that simple in Koine Greek, or someone would have noticed it before.

    1. pre-verbal clitic pronouns are actually far less common (78 in the NT compared to 204 post verbal for the I had originally chosen the pre-verbal ones because they were less common, but I’ve now found a better variety with minimal contrast in analogous environments. There’ll be a new post either tomorrow or Thursday.

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