Greek Verb Phrase?

I would like to thank Michael Aubrey for his comments on the the lack of usefulness of the category VP (Verb Phrase) for describing Ancient Greek. In particular, he challenged some comments that I made in Levels of Constituent Structure for New Testament Greek (1995).

This is, of course, the way to advance the field. As we each examine the claims of our colleagues and submit them to scrutiny, we move the discussion forward.

The comments I made about the Greek VP in 1995 were part of a larger argument for the existence of phrase-level categories in general. While I am still firmly committed to the usefulness of the syntactic category Phrase in general, I have never been particularly committed to the usefulness of VP in particular for addressing the phrase structure of Ancient Greek.

In the years since 1995 I have come increasingly to view the syntax of Ancient Greek as determined by the argument structure of verbs—verbs and the phrases demanded by their lexico-semantic properties. This view does not necessarily require the category Verb Phrase, though postulating the existence of such phrases may eventually prove useful.

As for Aubrey’s objection that the subject appearing between the verb and one of its subsequent arguments (specifically a PP in the examples he cites), the objection works only if you discount the possibility of verb movement. He is probably right, but it’s not as obvious as it might seem.

Thank you, Michael, for your thoughts and research on this issue. I look forward to reading more.

7 Comments on “Greek Verb Phrase?”

  1. Its true, my objection is based on my theoretical background since I’m working within a theory that only uses surface structure and thus rejects movement from the outset. From a Principles & Parameters or Minimalist Program perspective, I have absolutely no problem with a VP internal subject – though my familiarity of Chomskyan theory is much more limited than I would like to admit.

    As I’ve said on my blog, different linguistic frameworks are good for different things and have been designed for different purposes. So I could accept a Greek VP with the caveat that we make clear our frame work and presuppositions.

    But I wish I had known sooner that you had begun a blog…

    • Thanks Mike. I regret that I remembered the theoretical framework you are using only shortly after I posted this entry. The work you are doing has a great deal of promise, and it may well be the best path forward. If we can find an explanation of Greek phrase structure that does not involve movement, it will be a wonderful thing. That kind of approach will be much more readily adaptable for use in a reference grammar understandable by people who don’t have a strong background in linguistic theory.

      My understanding of the model you are using is not particularly strong yet, but I hope to learn more from you. If you know of a good primer, I would be glad to buy it and read it.

      • Yehuda Falk’s Lexical-Functional Grammar: An Introduction to Parallel Constraint Based Syntax is good introduction that assumes knowledge of Principles & Parameters as its basis, though its weak on issues of discourse functions, which are important to Greek.

  2. Thanks Mike!

    I just placed an order for the book.

    It sounds like a good starting point for me. I can move on to the discourse issues once I’ve read it. . . Or maybe ask a few questions along the way!

    • I have a rough proposal for a syntax database that I had considered submitting to Logos Bible Software that I could send you that outlines my ideas about clause structure from an LFG perspective. Steve Runge had suggested I write it back when Logos was debating whether they wanted to contract for the creation of a brand new database or buy a snap shot of one already in existence (which incidentally, uses a VP).

      My proposal didn’t get very far, the economic downturn changed things a bit. I need to revise a few bits, but right now, it consists of a heavy critique of and then the structural proposal itself.

      If you gave me a few days, I could clean it up and send it to you.

  3. I would absolutely love to see your database! In addition to the chance to see how you are thinking about the challenge of representing Greek syntax in a digital medium, it would give me a very practical application to have one hand while reading Falk.

    Thank you.

    • The database itself is somewhat lacking right now. I’ve changed my software a few times and restarted twice. I was initially using Linguistic Tree Constructor (, but then consider the possibility of doing something more automated. So then I looked at SIL PC-PATR (, but that turned out to be well beyond my computer skills.

      So now I’ve put that on hold for a bit. I had already been working on a morphological parser in SIL’s FLEx (, which is moving along rather nicely and should be running relatively effectively by the end of the year. And SIL plans on building syntactic analysis into the program beginning with the next stable release in August, so I’ll be hoping to get back to syntax then. But I don’t know what syntax will look like in FLEx, so the question of formalism is a bit of a mystery right now in that respect.

      But the paper itself, I do have and will send to you in a couple days.

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