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Koine and Word Order

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Koine and Word Order

Postby uberdwayne » Fri Aug 09, 2013 6:15 pm

I've been poking around on this general idea for a little bit and can't seem to find anything conclusive on the matter. Is there a "de facto" word order in koine greek? I'd love to here your thoughts and some recommendations for articles or books that cover this area.
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Re: Koine and Word Order

Postby Markos » Sat Aug 10, 2013 4:38 pm

There are some general principles. ἡ βασιλεία σου is more common than ἡ σου βαλισεία. ἐστι TENDS to come at the end of a clause. All things being equal, and all things are never equal, the subject TENDS to follow the verb. There are, of course, a few fixed rules--δέ never starts a sentence and τις ανθρωπος means "which man?" while ανθρωπος τις "a certain man." Attributive use of the article is determined by word order.

But there is so much variety that it makes as much sense to talk about "de facto" or "default" Greek word order as it does to talk about the default American hair cut. Semantic maximalists will tell you that such and such a word order departs from the default and is therefore "emphatic" or is the "focus" of this or that, but this strikes me as very subjective and runs the danger of reading things into the text never meant by the author. Rather, I think Greek word order, from Homer through Koine, is largely based on euphony and variety for variety's sake.

You also have, in certain Koine writers like John and Chariton, an attempt to create an anti-Attic word order which is more simple and logical. Plus you have, of course, in certain Koine authors word order that is influenced by the Semitic languages.

The best way to get a grasp on Greek word order is not to read secondary literature, but to write a bunch of conversational Greek yourself and then compare what you write to what you see in actual Greek texts as you do your reading.
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Re: Koine and Word Order

Postby uberdwayne » Sat Aug 10, 2013 8:44 pm

The best way to get a grasp on Greek word order is not to read secondary literature, but to write a bunch of conversational Greek yourself and then compare what you write to what you see in actual Greek texts as you do your reading.


I find this rather difficult as there seems to be no determinate factor as to normal greek word order! Is the order really that open that anyone can place the nominative wherever their style pleases? As a native english speaker, I would be naturally be inclined to place the subject before the verb, then the dative after, then the accusitive after that. Μαρκος εδωκεν εμοι βιβλιον.

In my own reading, going through Κατα Ιωαννην, I see a nominative follow the verb often, then before I say, maybe thats it, I see it appear elsewhere.

ἡ βασιλεία σου is more common than ἡ σου βαλισεία

This is true, In general, Although I've seen the possessive genitive come before the head noun in other phrases and that really messes me up. sometimes they are even separated by a linking verb such as ειμι.
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Re: Koine and Word Order

Postby Markos » Mon Aug 12, 2013 11:36 pm

uberdwayne wrote: Is the order really that open that anyone can place the nominative wherever their style pleases?


Yes, I think so. With every sentence, the Greek faced the decision, though I am sure it was largely unconscious, of what words would come first. Before this choice, there was the choice of which connectives to use. I'll give an example. On another forum, I wanted to congratulate a guy for completing three quarters of an audio project. I wrote this:

τρία μὲν τετέλεσται, ἕν δὲ μέρος προσδοκῶμεν.
three parts have been completed, and we look forward to one (more.)



using in this case a SV, OV word order. Now I can tell you, since I wrote the sentence, that meaning had nothing to do with the word order. It was not that I was trying to emphasize one thing over another. Nor can "information theory," explain my choices. I could just as easily have written, with no difference in meaning

τετέλεσται μὲν τρία μέρα, προσδοκῶμεν δ' ἕν.


which would have been VS, VO.

But the latter strikes me, based on my individual style, as somehow less balanced, a little clunky and less euphonic. I have to be careful here. I'm sure the Greeks had a totally different ear than I do; for all I know they would disagree with my sense of euphony. I don't claim, not at all, to have mastered the art of producing or even recognizing Greek euphony, but I'm saying it was there, while at the same time saying that it varied from writer to writer, across and even within genres and epochs. I am saying that euphony, not semantics, more often drove word order choices, as well as other things like the tenses and which connectives were used. It may be impossible for moderns to ever get that same ear; I would like to try to do so. Or at the very least get my own Greek ear.

In my own reading, going through Κατα Ιωαννην, I see a nominative follow the verb often, then before I say, maybe thats it, I see it appear elsewhere.


Sure, absolutely, and then you may have noticed that the manuscripts have all these variant readings where the word order is switched. Now, why is this? Why did the scribes feel it was okay to change things like word order and καί versus δέ, but they rarely made significant changes in substance which affected the meaning of the text? I think it is because Greek word order was highly subjective, variable, loose, and incapable of explanation based on semantics or rules.

As a native english speaker, I would be naturally be inclined to place the subject before the verb, then the dative after, then the accusitive after that. Μαρκος εδωκεν εμοι βιβλιον.


Part of the reason why it is so hard for us to learn Greek is that English is a language where word order is very strong in establishing meaning and Greek is one where it is not. My teacher gave this example. When we hear the sentence

Me bit the cat.


it is almost impossible for us not to hear this as "I bit the cat," even though this is a. ungrammatical and b. makes no sense. In fact, "me, the cat bit" (that is, "the cat bit me") is both technically grammatical and makes sense, but so strong is our rule of the SVO word order that we almost cannot hear it any other way. I've been reading Greek almost every day for the last seven years and I still often misconstrue sentences because I take something as a subject just because it comes first.

Let me, though, say one thing about Μᾶρκος ἔδωκεν ἐμοὶ βιβλίον. I won't deny, of course, that depending on the context, the word order could be shifted to emphasize one element or another. Nor would I deny that statistically one order would be more common than another. I would guess that this order might be V(I.O.)SO ἔδωκεν ἐμοὶ Μᾶρκος βιβλίον. But again I would say that based on what connectives are used, based on a desire to avoid stylistic monotony, based on a largely subconscious impulse to produce a certain number and sound of syllables right at this moment, the word order is free to vary all over the place.
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Re: Koine and Word Order

Postby uberdwayne » Tue Aug 13, 2013 4:18 am

I suppose this is the beauty of the language, which, due to my disability called "English", I can't quite fully appreciate! It has been, and I bet, will continue to be a pitfall to my Greek understanding. I like your bit about about the cat. It really demonstrates how deep this affinity to word order goes for the english mind.

I'm reminded of a Serbian Co-worker/friend of mine who is a native Serbian speaker (Serbian is inflected like greek and is also loose with its word order). He created a binder with instructions of all the jobs we currently run on the printers, and he titled it "Binder of currently jobs we run." Its comical how he misses the placement of "Currently" likely because of this looseness in Serbian, Whereas "currently" should have be placed directly before the verb. All this to say that it appears this issue runs both ways!

With your example,
τρία μὲν τετέλεσται, ἕν δὲ μέρος προσδοκῶμεν.
three parts have been completed, and we look forward to one (more.)


It could be said that the first words in your sentance were what you were initially thinking about when you composed it. Not that you wanted to consciously throw τρία forward, but when you construed the response it could've came out that way because it was the first idea in your mind. Not that I'm trying to tell you what you were thinking! lol
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