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Food for Thought: Infinitives & Accusatives

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Food for Thought: Infinitives & Accusatives

Postby Talmid » Wed Jul 25, 2007 4:28 am

We see this in our grammar books all the time:

Mr. Grammarian: "Infinitives do not have a subject."


but then...

Mr. Grammarian: "The accusative is the subject of the infinitive."


Huh?
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Re: Food for Thought: Infinitives & Accusatives

Postby annis » Wed Jul 25, 2007 3:31 pm

William S. Annis — http://www.aoidoi.org/http://www.scholiastae.org/
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Postby Talmid » Wed Jul 25, 2007 6:08 pm

Annis -

I agree that Mr. Grammarian is being inprecise.

I have more thoughts on the matter, but I'm hoping others will contribute to the discussion before I post my ramblings.
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Postby Lucus Eques » Wed Jul 25, 2007 6:21 pm

By "infinitives do not have a subject," he means to say "infinitives are not finite." Imprecise indeed!
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Postby Bert » Thu Jul 26, 2007 12:36 am

There was some discussion about this (quite)a while back.
http://www.textkit.com/greek-latin-foru ... ve+respect
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Postby Talmid » Fri Jul 27, 2007 8:21 pm

Well seeing that this thread is about dead, here are some comments by A.T. Robertson which have influenced my thinking—particularly how he identifies the error of forcing our understanding of English syntax back into Greek (or Latin for the matter). These come from his Large Grammar, pp. 489-90:

"The grammars generally speak of the accusative as the subject of the infinitive. I confess that to me this seems a grammatical misnomer. The infinitive clause in indirect discourse does correspond to a finite clause in English, and a clause with ὅτι and the indicative may often be used as well as the infinitive clause. But it is not technically scientific to read back into the Greek infinitive clause the syntax of English nor even of the ὅτι clause in Greek. Besides, not only is the infinitive a verbal substantive and in a case like the verbal adjective (the participle), but being non-finite (in-finitive) like the participle (partaking of both verb and noun), it can have no subject in the grammatical sense. No one thinks of calling the accusative the 'subject' of the participle….When the infinitive is used with the accusative, it indicates the agent who has to do with the action by the accusative, since the infinitive can have no subject in the technical sense."

In seminary I recall hearing that at best, all we can determine from the accusative with the infinitive is that the accusative is somehow associated to the action of the infinitive. We think of it as the subject of the action only because of inference, not because of the explicit statements of the text. Hence, claiming that the accusative is the subject of the infinitive does not adhere strictly to grammar.
Last edited by Talmid on Sat Jul 28, 2007 4:45 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Bert » Sat Jul 28, 2007 1:29 am

26 hours of no reply does not a dead thread make.
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Postby IreneY » Sat Jul 28, 2007 5:32 pm

Last edited by IreneY on Sun Jul 29, 2007 11:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby modus.irrealis » Sun Jul 29, 2007 1:33 am

I guess it does depend on your grammatical framework and what a term like subject means within that framework, but for me, one convenient consequence of saying that infinitives have subjects is that it gives a simple way to state the difference between an infinitive like ποιησαι and a deverbal noun like ποιησις: the former, but not the latter, is like a verb in having grammatical roles (subject, direct object, etc.) and being able to assign cases to them.

But what about an example from (colloquial?) English like "For him to leave would be a huge loss"? It seems perfectly natural to say that "him" here is the subject of "leave."
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Postby Arvid » Sun Jul 29, 2007 2:09 am

modus.irrealis wrote:But what about an example from (colloquial?) English like "For him to leave would be a huge loss"? It seems perfectly natural to say that "him" here is the subject of "leave."


But then the subject is in the "Objective" case. Does this make English an ergative language? But "to leave" isn't passive.... Could it be reanalyzed as: "For there to be a leaving (of him).... I think English has abandoned grammar in the conventional sense.
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Postby modus.irrealis » Sun Jul 29, 2007 2:24 am

Arvid wrote:But then the subject is in the "Objective" case. Does this make English an ergative language?
Well, for me, (spoken) English doesn't have case, at least not in any traditional way, but I did choose the example specifically because it resembles in some way the accusative + infinitive construction of the classical languages, so I'm not sure why that would make it ergative.

But "to leave" isn't passive.... Could it be reanalyzed as: "For there to be a leaving (of him)....
I don't know -- it seems clear that "leave" there is an infinitive and like I said, it seems natural to me to say that "him" functions as its subject.

I think English has abandoned grammar in the conventional sense.
That's an opinion I would strongly disagree with :) (unless you mean by "grammar" something very different than I do).
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Postby Arvid » Sun Jul 29, 2007 5:51 am

modus.irrealis wrote:That's an opinion I would strongly disagree with :) (unless you mean by "grammar" something very different than I do).


Well, of course, I didn't mean that (exactly.) I suppose that sounded like one of the types of comments I most hate when I hear people make them: "Chinese has no grammar" for example. Of course what they mean is that Chinese has no morphology; syntax carries almost all of the grammatical load. English has almost no morphology, but its syntax is a precision instrument, particularly the auxiliary verbs.

What I really meant is that colloquial English at least has a way of evading any rules you can possibly write down. I came to this conclusion contemplating the "intensification infix" as in abso-f***ing-lutely!

Perhaps by the stage of development of the Greek language represented in the New Testament, with so many non-Greeks learning the language and using it with structures from their own languages affecting their Greek usage, the distinction between finite and infinitive verbs had become hazy. Anybody know enough Aramaic to shed any light on this?
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Postby IreneY » Sun Jul 29, 2007 11:42 am

Why do I get the feeling that we are mixing two different discussions slash threads here? The use of infinitive gradually declined and it is in classical Greek that the usage of infinitives is most prominenet (I don't have any studies to back this up). Since the structure we are talking about and the use of infinitive predates Alexander the Great by some centruries Hebrew has little to do with whether an infinitive has a subject be it in nominative or accusative.
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Postby Bert » Sun Jul 29, 2007 1:17 pm

modus.irrealis wrote:But what about an example from (colloquial?) English like "For him to leave would be a huge loss"? It seems perfectly natural to say that "him" here is the subject of "leave."

Actually "to leave" is the subject of your sentence (of the verb "would be".)It is not a verb, but a (verbal) noun.

It is a general statement. If you want to limit this statement, you have to specify what the subject refers to.
That is done in the objective case. In Greek that is done in the accusative case. [b] It is called the accusative of reference. To leave (with reference to him) would be a huge loss.
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Postby modus.irrealis » Sun Jul 29, 2007 4:47 pm

Arvid wrote:Well, of course, I didn't mean that (exactly.) I suppose that sounded like one of the types of comments I most hate when I hear people make them: "Chinese has no grammar" for example. Of course what they mean is that Chinese has no morphology; syntax carries almost all of the grammatical load. English has almost no morphology, but its syntax is a precision instrument, particularly the auxiliary verbs.

What I really meant is that colloquial English at least has a way of evading any rules you can possibly write down. I came to this conclusion contemplating the "intensification infix" as in abso-f***ing-lutely!

Ah -- our view are pretty close then, although my emphasis would be on the fact that spoken language will always be more varied and less codified than any standardized written languages, and thus have more complicated rules than the somewhat simplified written language -- but speaking still seems like a rule-based activity. Even with your example, there must be some rule that says why you have to split the word at that point and can't at any other.

Perhaps by the stage of development of the Greek language represented in the New Testament, with so many non-Greeks learning the language and using it with structures from their own languages affecting their Greek usage, the distinction between finite and infinitive verbs had become hazy.

What do you have in mind with the distinction becoming hazy? Like Irene said, the infinitive eventually fell out of use but I can't think of something that would indicate the distinction becoming hazy.

-----

Bert wrote:Actually "to leave" is the subject of your sentence (of the verb "would be".)It is not a verb, but a (verbal) noun.

I agree that "to leave" (or perhaps the entire "for him to leave") is the subject of "would be," but I would argue that "leave" here is still verb-like even if it is also noun-like -- for one thing it can be modified by an adverb ("for him to leave quickly would be a great loss") while a deverbal noun can't ("his departure quickly would be a great loss"). That's what makes an infinitive an infinitive for me in that it can be used in places where nouns can be used but still preserves many of the properties of a verb.

It is a general statement. If you want to limit this statement, you have to specify what the subject refers to.
That is done in the objective case. In Greek that is done in the accusative case. [b] It is called the accusative of reference. To leave (with reference to him) would be a huge loss.

This is ultimately an issue of terminology and I'm just saying which terminology makes more sense to me. It does seem to me, however, that the nominative limits a finite verb in the same way that the accusative limits the infinitive and so I think it's reasonable to say that they both fill the same role in their respective clauses, namely the subject role. I don't see what's gained by saying that only finite verbs have subjects (and I presume direct objects, indirect objects, and the rest?) -- and then what's a finite verb -- some languages have verb forms that only agree with the subject in gender and number but I see no reason why we wouldn't say these still have a subject. [ETA: never mind about that last question -- I guess we could just say that a finite verb is a verb form that can form an independent sentence -- but then if all other verb forms are really nouns and adjectives, what would a non-finite verb form be?]
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Postby timeodanaos » Fri Aug 03, 2007 8:44 pm

A small sidenote on the accusativus cum infinitivo: (not having read the entire discussion here)

When I first learnt that specific construction, I thought in my grammarian raptus that there ought to be more than one kind of accusative to prevent any misconception of a sentence, e.g. Marcus videt Gaium Cleopatram basiare - although kissing of course is a two-way-act, one should be able to distinguish between the agent and the object of the infinitive clause. Something like an ending showing to what means this accusative is corresponding.
Otherwise, one could of course in this very gender-specific example have written (even here, only if prospective, so not really) Marcus videt Gaium Cleopatram basiaturum.

Mostly, I thought of this because it was my first venture into seeing that not even Latin was a perfect language - it needs more cases! It needs more participles! It needs more K's! :wink:
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Postby IreneY » Fri Aug 03, 2007 9:32 pm

Nope, it has enough cases as it is thank you very much :D Anyway, in such cases it's word order that's your friend there.
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Postby timeodanaos » Sat Aug 04, 2007 9:48 am

Speaking Danish as my mothertongue, one of the most word order dependant languages of all, I'm pretty tired of having to lock the words into specific places. Where's my linguistic freedom? I demand more cases!
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Postby annis » Sat Aug 04, 2007 1:01 pm

timeodanaos wrote: Where's my linguistic freedom? I demand more cases!


Ahh, morphology envy. An occupational hazard for classicists. I struggle with it myself. :)
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Postby mjs » Fri Jul 11, 2008 3:59 pm

timeodanaos wrote:I thought in my grammarian raptus that there ought to be more than one kind of accusative to prevent any misconception of a sentence, e.g. Marcus videt Gaium Cleopatram basiare


It is not necessary. One can specify the agent by using passive voice, e.g.
Marcus videt Gaium a Cleopatra basiari - Cleopatra kissed Gaius,
Marcus videt a Gaio Cleopatram basiari - Gaius kissed Cleopatra.

The word order is NOT enough to determine who is kissing whom here. Not in Latin.:)
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Postby Essorant » Sat Jul 12, 2008 3:23 am

I believe the accusative and infinitive are used thus because they are both the objects of the finite verb. If one says: <i>I see him go</i>, the "him" and the infinitive "go" are being seen therefore they are objects, not subjects.
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