ἐκ vs. ἀπό: The history

Notes for the Greek Preposition Workshop, on June 30th through July 1st.

Already by the first century CE, ἐκ & ἀπό have experience two thousand years of history and they have already experience a bit of linguistic change. Both words can be traced to Proto-Indo-European, ἐκ from *h1ǵʰ-s ‘out’ and ἀπό from *h2epo ‘from’ (Beekes 2010). Their prototypical functions overlap noticeably. Both profile a trajector’s directional relationship with a landmark (=the preposition’s object) and implicate some form of separation between the landmark and trajector. The difference can be described in terms of the former predicating a trajector’s change of state and motion from the inside of a landmark to the outside of a landmark, while the latter predicates a trajector’s position or movement from a landmark. Effectively, ἐκ has access to the container schema in its conceptualization, where the container “exerts control” on the trajector’s point of origin and the trajector has contact “with the interior of the landmark” (Luraghi 2003, 118). Ἀπό does not; ἀπό merely uses the landmark as an orientating point of reference for the location of the trajector*

*at this point, we are agnostic as to whether or not ἀπό inherently profiles motion or whether that is something contributed separately by the verb.

In Homer, the two prepositions are not precisely in complimentary distribution. Even in the earliest Greek the set of semantic roles they express is extremely similar, with both encompassing source, location, and origin expressions. Yet each shows clear preferences for particular types of landmarks (Luraghi 2003, 95). For example ἐκ demonstrates a preference for toponym landmarks, particularly ones that can be easily construed as containers (e.g. cities). Ἐκ is also exclusively used when a ship is the landmark. Likewise, ἀπό shows a preference for motion verbs and also landmark-trajector pairs where the landmark is viewed (based on encyclopedic knowledge) as the natural or expected location for the now distant trajector (Luraghi 2003, 119). As a basic rule of thumb for Homeric usage, if the landmark can be conceived of as a container, ἐκ is going to be the preferred preposition. This guideline grows fuzzy with age, however. Moving through the Classical period, the general pattern of ἐκ and ἀπό usage evinces a progressive semantic generalization of ἀπό from being used for non-container landmarks to being unmarked for landmark structure. While this process is not fully complete in the Classical era, by the time of Medieval Greek, Bortone (2010, 211) reports that ἐκ is disappearing from the common language and that ἀπό had fully encompassed all uses. Indeed, Bortone observes that when ἐκ does appear, users demonstrate a clear lack of understanding for how it should be used, functioning as merely a formal, archaic version of ἀπό that contributes more to the status and style of a text than semantic content.

But what about the era in the middle? What is the status of these two prepositions in the Hellenistic and Early Roman Koine? Our goal is to trace the usage of both prepositions in this era, using Luraghi (2003) as a baseline/starting point. We attempt to move beyond simple semantic roles and the semantic map and also provide an account of the image schemas those semantic roles convey and the metaphoric structures that enable them. In the Koine, the original spatial prototypes for each of these prepositions continue as the most central usages. In standard linguistic fashion, we provide the most violent examples possible.

(1) The ἐκ prototype:
ἀρθρεμβόλοις ὀργάνοις τὰς χεῖρας αὐτοῦ καὶ τοὺς πόδας ἐξήρθρουν καὶ ἐξ ἁρμῶν ἀναμοχλεύοντες ἐξεμέλιζον
With joint-wrenching machines they began to dislocate his hands and feet and prying them out of their sockets, they dismembered him (4 Macc 10:5).

(2) The ἀπό prototype:
ἀπὸ τῶν τενόντων ταῖς σιδηραῖς χερσὶν ἐπισπασάμενοι μέχρι τῶν γενείων τὴν σάρκα πᾶσαν
From his Achilles* tendons they dragged iron claws across his entire body all the way up to his jaw (4 Macc 9:28).

*We take τενόντων to refer to some sinew/tendon on or near his feet, since the point of the ἀπό-μέχρι usage is to emphasize the distance across the body.

In example (1) with ἐκ, we have a container that would otherwise exerts control over an escaping trajector. Likewise, in example (2), the landmark of ἀπό functions of a directional reference point for the trajector, whose motion is conveyed, not by the preposition, but by the main verb. Such spatially oriented examples can be multiplied over and over. They demonstrate the stability of the prototype over the past several centuries.

Nevertheless, the stability of the prototype does not mean that the meaning of these prepositions has not changed. On the contrary, the semantic change is quite clear. In particular the schematic structure of ἀπό has changed quite significantly. We will be laying out the details of those changes over the next month as we prepare for our presentation of the Greek Preposition Workshop at the end of June.


Work cited:

Beekes, Robert. 2010. Etymological dictionary of Greek. Amsterdam: Brill Academic Press.

Bortone, Pietro. 2010. Greek prepositions: From antiquity to the present. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Luraghi, Silvi. 2003. On the meaning of cases and prepositions: Semantic roles in Ancient Greek. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Click below to follow us via e-mail or RSS or even Facebook (ugh, Facebook). Maybe even support us on Patreon?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: