What should a lexicon include?

Carl Conrad has raised a valid objection to calling the cumulative vocabulary list for my online grammar a “lexicon,” and I would like to address the reasons he is right. That will also give me the opportunity to lay out my long range plan for what I have called my “online lexicon.”

What is listed in the table of contents of my online grammar as the “lexicon” is not yet truly a lexicon in the correct sense of the word. This is true for at least two reasons. First, it is merely the cumulative list of the words presented in the vocabulary lists for the lessons in my grammar. It is nowhere near a complete presentation of Hellenistic Greek vocabulary. Second, what is given for each entry in the “lexicon” is not what should be included in a work that properly deserves that title. What I have included so far is nothing more than a list of English glosses for each Greek word—a list of possible ways to translate the word into English. A proper lexicon would include discussions of the meanings of each Greek word. Traditionally, Greek lexica for English speakers have also included citations of the literature upon which the lexicon is based, and I have not done this yet.

So why have I called it a “lexicon.” Well… the truth is that I have given it an ambitious title based on what I intend for it to become over time. I didn’t want to call it a “glossary” or “word list”—which might better describe its present state—because I would have to change the title later and possibly some file names, which would complicate links within the grammar. Looking back, I realize I could have made the file names conform to the “lexicon” designation while not calling it that in my blog posts, but I didn’t think of that at the time.

Here’s what I envision the “lexicon” becoming over the next few years. First, it will become a more complete list of Hellenistic vocabulary as the grammar expands. When the last chapter of the introductory grammar is uploaded, I will not stop expanding the “lexicon.” I will begin to add words not included in the grammar.

Second, I will add proper definitions—explanations of the various meanings of each word—over time, but I will not introduce these into the current document until I have completed all or virtually all of them. Writing proper lexical entries takes time and much reading of Hellenistic Greek texts. I do not want the definitions to appear piecemeal.

Third, I will add descriptions of the argument structure of all verbs, prepositions, and deverbal nouns. By “argument structure” I mean the semantic roles these words necessitate in their complements, and the relationships between those roles.

If and when that process is completed, I hope to move on to discussions of the syntactic and semantic properties of other word types.

This will likely be a life-long project. If you have input you would like to offer on particular words or on the structure of an appropriate lexicon, I would love to hear it.

I want the lexicon, eventually, to serve the interests of beginning students, readers of ancient Greek texts who need to quickly find the meaning of a particular word that has them stumped, and exegetes engaged in serious study of Hellenistic Greek vocabulary. It clearly does not meet these goals now. They are targets for the future.

Please offer feedback. I would love to hear it.

The Lattice of Case and Agentivity, by Scott Grimm

I just finished reading the first chapter of Scott Grimm’s masters thesis, “The Lattice of Case and Agentivity,” and I’m looking forward to the rest of it!

Grimm shows a very clear grasp of the issues at stake and the limitations of several current linguistic theories. While recognizing the contributions of advances in both syntax and semantics in clarifying our understanding of Case in a number of languages, he also gives a concise presentation of the questions remaining to be answered—mainly the relationship of the oblique cases to syntax and semantics. If his analysis in the remaining chapters is equally lucid, we will have much to gain from reading it.

While it is not his primary objective to resolve the issue of case attraction in Hellenistic Greek, he does address it and propose a new way of understanding the phenomenon. I have not yet read that part, but I’m looking forward to it!

You can download the entire thesis for free.

You can also download his more recent article, “Case Attraction in Ancient Greek.” I’ll start reading that too soon!

Lesson 21: More on the Aorist Middle and Passive

I have added lesson 21 (Aorist Middle/Passive) to the online grammar. Because I am working late at night—rushing to get it up and running before I go back to work tomorrow—I’m sure there will be a few typographical errors that I will need to correct over the next few days. Still, I thought it would be best to get the text “out there” so you can have a look at it and give my any feedback you would like.

As I have done with other lessons recently, I have uploaded it without the automated practice exercises. I will get to those soon (I hope!).

Lesson 21: Verbs: More on the Aorist Middle and Passive

Progress on Lesson 21 (Aorist Middle/Passive)

I spent some very good time this morning at a coffee shop working on lesson 21. I’m writing the Reading and Translation section now. I’m working against the clock since I have to go back to work on Monday, and I’ll be out of town a good part of the weekend. As soon as I finish the lesson I’ll post a notice here.

Dissertation: Infinitival Clauses in Ancient Greek

Here’s another dissertation with clear application of a specific brand of Linguistics to Ancient Greek. Reading it requires some knowledge of generative linguistic theory.

Sevdali, Christina. “Infinitival Clauses in Ancient Greek: Overt and null subjects, the role of Case and Focus.” Ph.D. dissertation, Cambridge University , Department of Linguistics, 2007.

You can read the abstract here.

Hellenistic Greek Accent and Optimality Theory

While we’re on the topic of Optimality Theory (see “Case Attraction in Ancient Greek“), I thought you might like to know about Philomen Probert’s article on Hellenistic Greek Accents that appeared in April of this year. It’s available as a PDF download. The article discusses the way Generative Phonology and Optimality Theory handle accent, and uses Hellenistic Greek as a test case to critique and challenge those theories.

Lesson 20: The Middle Voice, The Aorist Middle

Well… After a very long wait, I’ve finally uploaded my lesson on the Aorist Middle. As I have done with a few other lessons, I’ve uploaded it without the automated practice exercises. I hope to finish those over the next few days. For now, I’d love to have your reaction to the discussion and the particular examples I’ve chosen.

Feel free to criticize, suggest revisions, etc.