One more day for Greek

It's a cold, snowy day.

I’m happy to have most of the day tomorrow to work on Greek. It’s beautiful outside, and even more beautiful now that it’s confirmed I have the day off tomorrow!

I hope to make some progress on my introductory grammar. I’ve been polishing the HTML for the past few days, fixing links, cleaning up the look of the pages, etc.

Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar

We could speak about the scope of a grammar of an ancient language in several ways. We could talk about what issues belong in a beginning grammar, what in an intermediate, and what in an advanced or reference grammar. Perhaps I will write about that at a later time. The issue of scope that I have in mind now is the documentary scope. What documents should serve as the basis for the grammar. What documents should the grammar enable its users to read?

This is an important question for Hellenistic Greek in particular because the answer has seemed obvious for so long, but there is reason to question the traditional answer. The majority of grammars of Hellenistic Greek deal either exclusively with the New Testament or are limited to the early Christian Literature. While the traditional reference grammars give passing attention to the wider Hellenistic literature, beginning and intermediate grammars in the past fifty years have seldom ever referred to anything outside the New Testament.

The early Christian literature is, of course, extremely important, and is what the majority of students of Hellenistic Greek most want to read. But do we not risk misunderstanding by failing to examine a wider range of literature? Here are a few ways in which a wider range of literature could make understanding of the biblical texts more accurate:

  • Grammatical structures that appear infrequently in the New Testament can be understood more clearly by comparing them to a wider range of examples.
  • Questions about the meaning of particular words and phrases that appear infrequently in the New Testament could by more clearly defined by considering a broader range of usage.
  • Comparison with texts outside the Christian tradition can clarify what common discourse structures looked like in Hellenistic literature at a broad range of levels. This would enable us to see what is truly unique in the early Christian literature and would also allow us to see how people outside the early Christian movement would have understood the earliest Christian texts.
  • I am attempting to move in the direction of including a broader range of Hellenistic literature in my own beginning grammar. While it is still heavily dominated by the early Christian literature, I am reading as much as possible outside that tradition to make sure that what I have to say in the grammar is actually true to a wider range of texts.

    Here are some of the texts I have been reading:

      Epictetus, Discourses (ΑΡΡΙΑΝΟΥ ΤΩΝ ΕΠΙΚΤΗΤΟΥ ΔΙΑΤΡΙΒΩΝ)
      Arrian, History of Alexander and Indica (ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ ΑΝΑΒΑΣΕΩΣ, ΙΝΔΙΚΗ) [Deleted on 1/26/2011]
      Diodorus Siculus, Library of History (ΒΙΒΛΙΟΘΗΚΗΣ ΙΣΤΟΡΙΚΗΣ)
      Chariton of Aphrodisias, The Story of Callirhoe (ΤΑ ΠΕΡΙ ΚΑΛΛΙΡΟΗΝ ΔΙΗΓΗΜΑΤΑ)

    These texts represent a fairly wide range of styles and literary levels, though not as wide as it might appear at first glance. The Discourses of Epictetus, for example, were actually written by Arrian. Epictetus did not write down his own teachings. The relationship between him and the document that bears his name is similar in some respects (not identical) to the relationship between Jesus and his words as presented in the Gospels. Jesus did not write them. In fact, he may have spoken in Aramaic, and the Gospel writers had to translate what was remembered of his words. Arrian wrote from notes, violating the intention of his teacher who thought true philosophy should be oral, not written.

    I would love to hear from you about what you see as the ideal documentary scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar.

    See also, “Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar II: Jewish and Early Christian Literature.”

    Aktionsart and Aspect

    A number of years ago–May 4, 1997 to be exact–I offered a clarification of the terms Aktionsart and Aspect on the b-Greek discussion list. I have decided to post here the essence of that discussion because even this late, both terms are still being used in Biblical Studies, often without a clear distinction between their meanings.

    The original post to b-Greek can be found at

    Here’s a very slightly edited version of what I had to say then. My additions are included in square brackets [ ]. Deletions are indicated by elipsis (…).

    The older grammars use the term ‘Aktionsart’ in a way that is not synonymous with its use in modern linguistics. As Mari [Olsen] stated in her recent note, many linguists use the term as a synonym for ‘lexical aspect.’ Others (especially in the study of Slavic languages) use it to mean ‘aspect which is expressed explicitly through derivational morphology (See R.L. Trask’s A Dictionary of Grammatical Terms in Linguistics for examples.)

    A.T. Robertson and company use the term in neither of these senses. They use it in a very broad sense covering both lexical and grammatical aspect as well as both the writer’s *perception* of an action and the writer’s *portrayal* of that action.
    . . .
    We can distinguish between (1) the way an action really is (out there in the real world, independent of the way we talk about that action), (2) the way that action is perceived by a language user, and (3) the way that same language user decides to portray that action.

    In the traditional grammars the term ‘Aktionsart’ is used for a bewildering mixture of these three.

    In modern linguistics, those linguists who use the term at all (It is interesting that the term did not even appear in David Crystal’s Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, Blackwell, 1991.), tend not to ever use it to represent (1). Many use it to cover both (2) and (3) when they are tied to *lexical aspect* (as Mari stated).

    We might also distinguish between ‘Aktionsart’ and ‘lexical aspect’ taking ‘Aktionsart’ to refer to (2) while ‘lexical aspect’ represents only (3). On this view, however, we may want to reject Aktionsart, seeing it as beyond the scope of what we can legitimately know. In biblical studies, for example, I might argue that all we can know is how Paul [or any other writer] chose to portray an action (3), and that we can never know for sure how he perceived that action (2). If I take Aktionsart to refer only to (2), I would then reject the term, and say that linguistics is legitimately concerned only with aspect–not aktionsart. Much of the discussion in the traditional grammars does take ‘Aktionsart’ as referring to (2).

    Linguists who see ‘Aktionsart’ as Mari does, clearly have no reason to reject the term. Since in our context (biblical Greek studies), however, the term ‘Aktionsart’ carries the baggage of the confused discussion in the traditional grammars where it often covers (2) and even sometimes (1), I do not use the term ‘Aktionsart’ as Mari does when talking about biblical Greek. I prefer the term ‘lexical aspect’ for what she means by ‘Aktionsart.’ When I do use the term ‘Aktionsart’ I try to stick as closely as possible to what the Greek grammars mean by the term–where it is usually identified as ‘type of action’ ((1) and possibly (2)), not ‘type of presentation’ (3), though I doubt the authors of those grammars seriously considered the distinction between type of action and type of presentation).

    I hope this old post proves useful to some of you. Feel free to comment, challenge, ask questions as you like.

    Levinsohn's, "Toward a Unified Description of οὗτος and ἐκεῖνος”

    Steve Runge notified me a few days ago that Levinsohn’s paper, “Towards a Unified Linguistic Description of οὗτος and ἐκεῖνος,” is now out in print. You can find it in The Linguist as Pedagogue, a volume from Sheffield, edited by Porter and O’Donnell, 2009. I have not seen the volume, but Steve assures me that it contains a number of good papers, including Pennington’s chapter on deponency.

    Thanks Steve.

    More Additions to the Bibliography

    Here are two more books that I have recently added to my Greek Linguistics bibliography at

    Runge, Steven E. Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009. Price and purchase information

    Danove, Paul. Grammatical and Exegetical Study of New Testament Verbs of Transference: A Case Frame Guide to Interpretation and Translation (Library of New Testament Studies). T & T Clark International, August 18, 2009. Price and purchase information

    Additions to Bibliography

    I added two items to my Comprehensive Bibliography of Hellenistic Greek Linguistics today. Both address the use of Greek demonstratives. The paper by Runge is available online (as a PDF download).

    Levinsohn, Stephen H. “Towards a Unified Linguistic Description of οὗτος and ἐκεῖνος.” Paper presented at Biblical Greek and Linguistics Section of the SBL Annual Meeting, Atlanta, GA. 2003.

    Runge, S. E. “The Exegetical Significance of Cataphoric Pronouns in Luke’s Gospel.” Paper presented at the ETS Northwest Regional Meeting, Salem, OR. 2007.