I recently got an e-mail notification that Robert Beekes’* (2010)  Etymological Dictionary of Greek has received quite a dramatic price drop on its Logos.com prepublication page (link).

Going from over $500 downs down to a much more comfortable $105. This price change on the part of Logos.com moves their pricing from that of the hardcover edition’s $550 (Amzon for reference) to just under the softcover pricing of $120 (Amzon for reference).

Beekes Logos

That puts the price on par with most other Greek lexicons. And it’s a lexicon that is definitely worth the time of anyone studying Ancient Greek. Those us of who study the Greek of the Hellenistic and koine period of the language need to stop pretending that diachronic linguistics doesn’t apply to them.

Syncronic analysis is essential and important, but language does not exist in a vaccuum. Syncronic language systems do not just ex nihilo. They came from somewhere. Of course, Saussure’s chess metaphor tells us that we do not need to know the history to analyze the current state of the game. That is still true. In choosing chess, Saussure certainly knew that the paths a game can take are regular and even predictable. We may not need to know the history, but the history has much to offer in terms of insight into why the syncronic system is what it is. Moreover, when it comes to language, there is no true syncronic system. At any given point, there is a multiplicity of them, from person to person, from speech community to speech community, and from region to region. Each is affected by the language’s history in ever so slightly different ways.

In light of that, Beekes’ dictionary is probably the most important Greek reference work in the past ten years. LSJ etymologies are, at best, many decades old without correction. At their worst, they literally centuries old, and pre-laryngeal theory** (Brief overview here: The Laryngeal Theory***, or see Wikipedia).

Coming back to the price change, this is an excellent move. In print, both the hardcover and paperback editions are massive, but only the the hardcover has a binding designed to handle the weight of the text block. The paperback is effectively a throwaway print-on-demand copy. That’s frustrating given its high price. The new pricing of the digital edition solves that problem while also providing a lot more functionality at the same time.


*for reference to my non-Dutch readers (probably the majority), the correct pronuncation of Beekes in IPA is: [ˈbeːkəs]

**fun fact: While NT scholars love proclaiming the rise of syncronic language study by pointing to Saussure, most of them do not realize that Saussure is of the great giants of Proto-Indo-European studies and the laryngeal theory is predicated on his groundbreaking work.

***it’s probably worth a moment, additionally, to give a shout out to the excellent library of online editions of Winfred P. Lehmann’s books on Indo-European linguistics and language typology, provide by the University of Texas at Austin’s Linguistics Research Center: Indo-European Languages and Historical Linguistics.

Martin Haspelmath has an interesting piece about the intersection between grammar writing and typology on his website, responding to a recent article in the journal Linguistic Typology:

Should descriptive grammars be “typologically informed”, and what does this mean?

The thrust of the post is probably this quote here:

“While the language documenter’s and describer’s work is no doubt “greatly enhanced” by knowing about typology, are description and comparison also part of the same enterprise? I have argued that they are not, even though they are of course mutually beneficial (Haspelmath 2016). The difference is that description relies exclusively on language-internal distribution (Croft 2001), while comparison relies on substantively defined semantic and/or formal concepts.”

As someone currently working on a grammar project, this is food for thought. It seems to me that there’s a case to be made for a greater inclusion of typological information in a grammar depending on the intended audience. The intended audiences of writing a grammar of a well-known language vs. the writing of a grammar of a heretofore undocumented language are going to be different.

(also: Happy Easter!)