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Composition Help - use of 'it' and 'it is'

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Composition Help - use of 'it' and 'it is'

Postby LSorenson » Sat Apr 25, 2009 3:59 pm

Hello all,

I've been trying to compose/translate some songs into Greek and am having trouble deciding what to use for "it" in some contexts (both the contracted it's = ἐστιν and the impersonal pronoun 'it'). It seems like English likes to use the impersonal construction "it is" much more commonly than Greek. I read in Denniston's Greek Prose Composition p. 28 that "In most Greek prose-writers abstract substantives are seldom made the subject of verbs: the normal agents are human beings.

Impersonal subjects are not the same as abstract subjects, but do they fall into the same category? I know that ἐστιν is used impersonally sometimes in Greek, but it seems to me the frequency of using "it is" is much greater in English usage, perhaps on a 10 to 1 ratio (English to Greek). There are some very commonly used impersonal verbs in Greek such as δεῖ, χρή, πρέπει, etc.

For example, take Bob Dylan's Song Like a Rolling Stone http://www.bobdylan.com/#/songs/rolling-stone:

How does it feel πῶς ἔχει, (or πῶς πάσχει or πῶς σε πάσχει)
How does it feel πῶς ἔχει,
To be without a home τὸ εἶναι ἀνέστιος
To be on your own τὸ εἶναι ἐρῆμος
With no direction home μὴ ποῖ οἴκαδε, (unsure of this line)
Like a complete unknown ὡς μάλ' ἄγνωστος,
Like a rolling stone? ὡς κυκλίνων λίθος; (ὡς ἐλισσόμενος λίθος)

Or another from a modern praise song The Heart of Worship:

And it's all about you πᾶντ' ἐστὶν περὶ σοὶ (σου χάριν)
...I'm sorry for the thing I've made it λυποῦμαι ἅττα ἐποίησα

In Dylan's song, the phrase 'How does it feel', really means "How do you feel". What would be more appropriate:
πῶς πάσχει, or πῶς ἔχει, or would πῶς πάσχεις / ἔχεις be more appropriate? Would πάσχεις be more natural Greek? Or the phrase πῶς σε πάσχει making the τὸ εἶναι phrases the subject of πάσχει?

I'm totally unsure of how to translate Dylan's song. The praise song phrase πᾶντ' ἐστιν seems natural enough.

Does Greek restrict the impersonal usage to this list of verbs? Does anyone know of sections in prose/poetic composition books that speak to impersonal subjects, etc.

Any suggestions or references to prose composition books would be appreciated.
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Re: Composition Help - use of 'it' and 'it is'

Postby spiphany » Sat Apr 25, 2009 4:37 pm

ἔχω + an adverb is not impersonal: πῶς ἔχεις, how are you doing? -- εὖ ἔχω -- I am faring well.

For "How does it feel" I might use a second-person verb and a neuter accusative: τι πάσχεις (what do you suffer?)
Verbs of feeling and perceiving often take a supplementary participle, so: στηρήθεις δωμάτων (deprived of a home -- I've been reading Medea recently -- lots of words for exile, I'll have to see if there's anything suitable)

"with no direction home" -- perhaps something like οὐ ποῖ τρέπεσθε, "with nowhere to turn" (Medea 359: ποῖ ποτε τρέψῃ)

Yes, Greek does use modals (δεῖ, χρή, πρέπει) impersonally a lot more than English.
I have a suspicion that "it is" in English is often used to express something like the Greek middle voice.
Smyth has a discussion of impersonal verbs §932 ff., and quasi-impersonal constructions at §1985, but I wasn't able to find a list of common impersonal verbs.
IPHIGENIE: Kann uns zum Vaterland die Fremde werden?
ARKAS: Und dir ist fremd das Vaterland geworden.
IPHIGENIE: Das ist's, warum mein blutend Herz nicht heilt.
(Goethe, Iphigenie auf Tauris)
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Re: Composition Help - use of 'it' and 'it is'

Postby IreneY » Sat Apr 25, 2009 4:59 pm

Haven't really woken up yet, but does it have to verbatim? Don't know why but I don't feel happy with any of the alternatives for "how does it feel". How about something like "πως εστι" maybe with a personal dative thrown in for good measure. Off to get some more coffee in me.
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