Thetic Constructions in Koine Greek: with special attention to clauses with εἰμί ‘be’, γίνομαι ‘occur’, ἔρχομαι ‘come’, ἰδού/ἴδε ‘behold’, and complement clauses of ὁράω ‘see’

N.A. Bailey

    Research output: PhD ThesisPhD-Thesis – Research external, graduation internal

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    This study investigates how theticity interacts with a selection of linguistic issues in Koine Greek, especially in the New Testament. Following Lambrecht (1994, 2000), the term ‘thetic’ refers to a sentence that serves primarily to introduce an entity or state of affairs into the discourse (what is also called ‘presentational’ function) and that is prototypically expressed cross-linguistically by ‘sentence-focus’ constructions (i.e. where the subject is in some way marked as non-topical).
    One well-known issue for grammarians of Classical and Koine Greek is the relatively free order of words and clause constituents (subject, object, verb, etc.). Several recent studies have attempted to explain the different constituent orders in terms of ‘topic’, ‘focus’, ‘discourse (dis)continuity’, and other discourse-pragmatic categories. One even finds occasional comments on the constituent order of ‘existential’ clauses employing εἰμί ‘be, there+be’, many of which are thetic. But no systematic study has yet been made for either Classical or Koine Greek that considers the relationship of theticity to constituent order or that considers theticity in general terms. So, one goal of the present study has been to discover how theticity interacts with constituent order, and to relate those findings to other Greek constituent order studies. One important finding is that theticity in Koine Greek is compatible with both Subject…Verb and Verb…Subject orders, and that factors other than theticity and focality are responsible for most (if not all) kinds of constituent order variation in thetics. Thus, there is not a single position for focal thetic subjects in relation to the verb. Still, for some syntactic contexts and discourse contexts, certain orders are pragmatically unmarked and systematically motivated.
    Besides constituent order, this study investigates several other issues in terms of theticity:
    • the meaning and use of εἰμί ‘be, there+be’ and γίνομαι ‘occur, happen’
    • possessive constructions with εἰμί and either a dative or genitive possessor
    • the periphrastic εἰμί+participle construction
    • the indefinite pronoun τις ‘a certain’
    • perception reports, especially as objects of ὁράω ‘see’ and ἀκούω ‘hear’ (including constituent order issues)
    • sentences with ἰδού/ἴδε ‘behold’ (including constituent order issues)
    Translation issues involving thetic sentences are frequently touched on. Since theticity is not consistently encoded in languages to the same degree and in the same ways, certain types of cross-linguistic mismatches occur. Moreover, some languages, including written Koine Greek and written English, make use of information structure ‘abbreviations’ (informationally ‘heavy’ sentences) that are unacceptable in other languages.
    Finally, this study touches on the phenomenon of ‘grammatical constructions’ as defined in Construction Grammar. Most of the constructions studied here are thetic, and many of these thetic constructions share certain linguistic features. Given the functional similarity among these constructions, we can explain why their subject constituents tend to occur in certain positions in the clause. But there are also many differences among the varieties of thetics studied here. Parts of this study are devoted to contrasting similar constructions where one is a prototypical thetic and the other is not. In particular, we compare copular and non-copular uses of εἰμί ‘be’, noting that it is only a subset of the non-copular uses of εἰμί that are thetic. Similarly, different uses of ἰδού ‘behold’ sentences are compared, including both thetic and non-thetic uses, as well as different uses of participial object complements of perception verbs, which often have thetic function.
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
    • Vries, Lourens, Supervisor
    • Allan, RJ, Co-supervisor
    Award date7 Dec 2009
    Publication statusPublished - 2009

    Bibliographical note

    Naam instelling promotie: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


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