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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

not a review: Discontinuous syntax: hyperbaton in Greek

Why am I not reviewing Discontinuous syntax[1]? Several reasons. First, I am not qualified. The authors are writing within a framework I have not spent a lot of time with, some latter day derivation of generative grammar. Perhaps there is a name for it, I don't know. The book was published in the last millennium. I think this is the second time I have tried to read it. The first time I just profiled it as "How Ancient Greek Syntax is Different from English" book. Generative grammar assumes a prototypical simple English clause and then talks about departures from the prototype as "movement", "dislocation" and so forth. This is an oversimplification, never the less, if there had not been an English language there would not be a generative tradition in linguistics. The latter is dependent on the former.

I picked up the book from the library yesterday. After dinner I settled down for an evening of reading. This is not a book to read late in the day. I shelved it, decided it was lost cause. This morning I was reading Michael Aubrey's comments about it. After that I brewed a strong cup of tea, opened the windows (52f outside) and decided to give the the book a serious morning's effort. It took about 90 minutes to read pages 3-5 with frequent trips to the glossary in back, but it wasn't a complete waste of time.

I am still of the opinion that this framework privileges the English language at some very fundamental level. For that reason it is not the best framework for analysis of Ancient Greek. However, once you take that into consideration, you can glean some insights from a study like this if you are willing to pay price of learning basics of the how framework is put together. As the day progressed I found that it was possible to move a little faster. I was willing to settle for fuzzy comprehension at some points so I could keep moving through the text. By early afternoon I had my fill for one day.

[1] Discontinuous syntax: hyperbaton in Greek By Andrew M. Devine, Laurence D. Stephens Oxford 1999


Anonymous Mike Aubrey said...

I read the first chapter three or four times before I grasped everything. They're working loosely in Government & Binding as far as I know. And it was also my first experience with Chomskyan generative grammar.

But the pragmatics and what not are independent of Chomsky and they do a good job with including relevant typological data -- something that Helma Dik does not do at all.

You should know though, that not all of the generative tradition believes a prototypical simple English clause. It was Kayne that made the claim that all languages are SVO underlying, but not everyone agrees with him.

4:11 PM  
Blogger C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

"not all of the generative tradition believes a prototypical simple English clause."

Yeah, well my reading in generative syntax dates from the early 1980s so you could say I am a tad bit out of touch with it. Michael Palmer pointed this out to me over a decade ago on b-greek.

9:12 PM  
Blogger mike said...

How would you feel if I told you that I was born in the early 80's?

6:06 PM  
Blogger C. Stirling Bartholomew said...


I figured that was about how old you were. That's why you can read Discontinous Syntax. Try reading something like that in 2044 and see how it goes :-)

11:43 AM  

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