functional grammar

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vir litterarum
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functional grammar

Post by vir litterarum » Wed Apr 16, 2008 3:51 am

οἱ á¼±Ï￾έες τῶν θεῶν τῇ μὲν ἄλλῃ κομέουσι, á¼￾ν ΑἰγÏ￾πτῳ δὲ ξυÏ￾ῶνται. τοῖσι ἄλλοισι ἀνθÏ￾ώποισι νόμος ἅμα κήδεϊ κεκάÏ￾θαι Ï„á½°Ï‚ κεφαλὰς τοὺς μάλιστα ἱκνέεται, ΑἰγÏ￾πτιοι δὲ ὑπὸ τοὺς θανάτους ἀνιεῖσι Ï„á½°Ï‚ Ï„Ï￾ίχας αὔξεσθαι τάς τε á¼￾ν τῇ κεφαλῇ καὶ Ï„á¿· γενείῳ, τέως á¼￾ξυÏ￾ημένοι. [2] τοῖσι μὲν ἄλλοισι ἀνθÏ￾ώποισι χωÏ￾ὶς θηÏ￾ίων ἡ δίαιτα ἀποκέκÏ￾ιται, Αἰγυπτίοισι δὲ á½￾μοῦ θηÏ￾ίοισι ἡ δίαιτα á¼￾στί. ἀπὸ πυÏ￾ῶν καὶ κÏ￾ιθέων ὧλλοι ζώουσι,
Herodotus, Histories 2.36

My question concerns the word order of the sentence beginning τοῖσι μὲν ἄλλοισι ἀνθÏ￾ώποισι. It seems to me that this sentence does not follow Professor Dik's pattern of Topic, Focus, Predicate, Remaining Elements. I would call the Focus of this sentence χωÏ￾ὶς θηÏ￾ίων, i.e. that the rest of men live apart from their animals, and ἡ δίαιτα the Topic. Are my assignments of pragmatically marked elements incorrect?

modus.irrealis
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Re: functional grammar

Post by modus.irrealis » Sun Apr 20, 2008 3:15 am

I tried answering the question earlier but I realized I needed to do some reading ("Information Structure and Sentence Form" by Knud Lambrecht, if you're interested), and the first thing is that, since these terms don't necessarily have constant, widely-accepted definitions, it's important to use the term as understood in the book. I mean, one definition of topic out there is it's the first element of a sentence, and that would trivially and unhelpfully answer your question :D.

Anyway, I had a post that kept getting ridiculously long because there's a counterpoint to every point I make, and then a countercounterpoint, and so on, so to keep things short, I don't think you can tell in this case what the topic is (I agree with you about the focus, although there also seems to be some kind of contrastive focus between "others" and "Egyptians"). Both τοῖσι ἄλλοισι ἀνθÏ￾ώποισι (together with Αἰγυπτίοισι) and ἡ δίαιτα are topic-like in that the sentence could be presented as being about either one of them. Or to put it another way (since I'm more confident of being able to recognize topics in English), you could "translate" the sentence as either of:

1. Others live apart from animals, whereas the Egyptians live with animals.

2. The manner of living among other people does not involve animals, whereas the manner of living among Egyptians does involve animals.

which have different topics. The problem for me is that I can see either translation working in context, i.e. neither one sounds odd in terms of the what the topic is.

You could argue that ἡ δίαιτα is less likely to be the topic because it's part of the "new information" of the sentence and the topic is usually "old," but if there were a shift in topic here, again, it doesn't sound odd to me.

I would say that as long as the theory handles the easy cases (where it's clear what the topic is), you let it tell you what the topic is in more difficult cases. And this seems to be a difficult case -- both my English sentences above have multiple words that are stressed. But to add, it seems to be generally true across languages that the topic comes first, or at least as close to the beginning of the sentence as possible. (Personally, I think that ἄλλοισι is the topic here.)

(Although, what about the next sentence, which starts with ἀπὸ πυÏ￾ῶν καὶ κÏ￾ιθέων? I don't know if that's the topic.)

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Post by IreneY » Sun Apr 20, 2008 3:21 pm

I haven't done any reading on the subject lately, and I must admit I am not veryfond of such scholarly examination of sentences in general, but this one intrigued me.
Could we be missing the topic all together though? (I include myself since I can find arguments for different words being the topic which I myself like a lot :D ). Could the overall topic be something like "the differences between Egyptians and others" and the topic of each phrase be something like "on the matter of X, Egyptians do this, others do Y". I admit this is my "chicken out" approach of the subject but it works, kind of.

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Post by vir litterarum » Mon Apr 21, 2008 12:50 am

I think you're right, modus. Dik argues for something called "complex focus" in which more than one constituent combine to receive a quasi-dual focus. In this instance, τοῖσι μὲν ἄλλοισι ἀνθÏ￾ώποισι has contrastive topic function, and
χωÏ￾ὶς θηÏ￾ίων ἡ δίαιτα has complex focus, at least according to my understanding of Dik's theory. Sometimes I still foolishly over associate object and subject with Topic and forget to consider whether substantives in the dative case could be functioning as the topic.

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Post by modus.irrealis » Mon Apr 21, 2008 3:06 am

vir litterarum wrote:Sometimes I still foolishly over associate object and subject with Topic and forget to consider whether substantives in the dative case could be functioning as the topic.

I think that's natural. The book I mentioned in my previous post has a small discussion explaining why the subject usually is the topic for languages in general. And I think this is even truer for English. I can think of things like, when you want to make the direct object the topic, in English you often use the passive where other languages use a different word-order. It probably even explains why English has so few verbs where the "logical" subject is an (indirect) object -- I'm thinking of things like "I like X" vs. Spanish "me gusta X" or Modern Greek "μου αÏ￾έσει Χ", where me/μου are indirect objects, but word-order lets you move the grammatical subject "X" to the end, so that the word expressing the topic, which is the speaker, comes first.

IreneY wrote:Could we be missing the topic all together though? (I include myself since I can find arguments for different words being the topic which I myself like a lot :D ). Could the overall topic be something like "the differences between Egyptians and others" and the topic of each phrase be something like "on the matter of X, Egyptians do this, others do Y". I admit this is my "chicken out" approach of the subject but it works, kind of.

I think a lot of the problem is terminological. Does "topic" refer to the entity/proposition that the sentence is about, or to the word(s) in the sentence, if any, that express that entity? I'm thinking that Dik's book takes the latter approach since it's concerned with explaining word order, so you have to decide which words are the topic.

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Post by IreneY » Mon Apr 21, 2008 4:47 am

Well, in these particular, antithetical sentences we either have to accept a double topic or make the "men/de" (or, in other words, my 'chickening out' approach :D ) the topic. They are sort of two in one arent' they? Or one in two if you wish. That's what I am getting at really. In other words, I would like a translation starting with "While" :lol:


Edit: By the way, going by instinct (or, in other words, going by Modern Greek), I'd say it's indeed "the other people" and "the Egyptians".

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