AUTHOR: Luraghi, Silvia TITLE: Ancient Greek SERIES: Languages of the World/Materials 213 PUBLISHER: Lincom GmbH YEAR: 2005
Anne Mahoney, Department of Classics, Tufts University
This small volume (just 101 pages) gives a description of the Greek language as it was used in the fifth and fourth centuries BC. Its intended audience is linguists who want typological information about Ancient Greek, or who will be reading papers by Hellenists, but who are not deeply familiar with the language. All the Greek examples are given in the Roman alphabet. After some introductory remarks, the chapters cover phonology, morphological processes, morphosyntax, and syntax. A short bibliography includes the basic references.
Although Silvia Luraghi is the major author, Anna Pompei and Stavros Skopeteas are also credited, working on the sections on subordination and on phonology and morphology, respectively.
Any description of Ancient Greek is complicated by the need to determine exactly what variants of the language will be included. The language is first attested as early as the 12th century BC, in a variety called Mycenaean Greek and written in a syllabary conventionally called Linear B (see p. 10). The canonical works of archaic and classical Greek literature date from roughly the 8th century BC to the first two centuries AD. Many important prose works are written in Attic, the dialect of Athens, while others are in Ionic, a dialect very similar to Attic, originally used in the Greek cities of the coast of Asia Minor. Dramatic verse is in Attic Greek, while lyric verse conventionally uses two or three other dialects. Inscriptions from the Greek world attest all these dialects and others besides (p. 8-12; see further Buck 1955, Meiggs and Lewis 1969).
As Alexander the Great and his successors spread Greek administration through the eastern Mediterranean, during the third century BC, a ''common'' variety (in Greek, ''koine'') came into use, and this is the main ancestor of Medieval and Modern Greek (p. 8; see further Horrocks 1995).
Luraghi sensibly restricts herself to the language of classical prose and drama, Attic Greek of the fifth and fourth centuries, but occasionally compares other varieties, particularly as used by Homer and Herodotus.
The first chapter, on phonology, details the vowels and consonants, syllable structure, and accentuation. Linguists who primarily work on living languages may be surprised at the amount of detail available about the sound system of a language that has had no native speakers for over 2,000 years. Evidence for reconstructing Ancient Greek phonology comes from the writings of native-speaker grammarians, from spelling variation in ancient texts, from loan words to and from other languages (particularly Latin but others as well), and from comparison with other Indo-European languages and with later stages of Greek. The standard reference is Allen (1968).
The next chapter is a brief review of the available morphological processes: affixation, reduplication, apophony (or ablaut), and accent movement. There is also a section on derivational morphology and compounding. Luraghi points out that ''the general property of the Ancient Greek affixes is their highly fusional character'' (p. 23): internal sandhi and other phonological processes can make it impossible to say where one morpheme ends and the next begins. As a result, the examples in the book are not segmented into morphemes, though the glosses do account for all of the morphemes.
Chapter 3, ''Parts of Speech and Grammatical Categories -- Morphosyntax,'' is the longest in the book at 45 pages. Luraghi covers the formation and use of the five noun cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, and vocative), with three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter) and three numbers (singular, plural, and a dual that is becoming obsolete by the period of interest). The definite article, pronouns, and adjectives come next, with discussion of agreement rules. Numerals appear as a separate class; cardinal numbers behave like adjectives but only ''1'' through ''4,'' hundreds, ''1000,'' and ''10000'' have case forms. Ordinal numbers (''first, second,'' and so on) are simple adjectives. Ancient Greek also has productive numeral adverbs (''six times'' and the like) and a variety of other derived number words (''fourfold,'' ''four times as many,'' and so on), for which see p. 47.
General adverbs and adpositions are discussed next. In Greek almost all adpositions are prepositions, and in the earliest stages of the language these words could be prepositions, preverbs, or adverbs.
The largest section of the chapter discusses the luxuriant morphological system of the Ancient Greek verb. Finite verb forms have person and number to agree with their subjects, tense (seven possibilities), mood (four finite moods), and voice (three possibilities), though not all of the conceivable combinations of these categories exist in the language. Non-finite verb forms include infinitives and participles, plus some derived adjectives. These forms are created by means of suffixes, as many as four for a given form, and in some instances also prefixes. The chart on p. 52 gives a useful overview of how verb forms are made, showing the order in which suffixes appear and the ways they are combined.
As in other Indo-European languages, in Ancient Greek tense, aspect, and mood are closely linked. Forms from the present system, the ''first principal part'' of a verb in standard lexica and grammars, have imperfective aspect; forms from the aorist system have punctual or perfective aspect. The perfect system is stative or resultative, and forms in the future system usually do not distinguish aspect at all (details p. 55 and following). In classical Greek, past indicative forms are marked by a prefix, called the ''augment,'' just as in Sanskrit; this prefix is not used in other moods, and was not consistently used in Mycenaean or Homeric Greek. Luraghi's examples here are well chosen to demonstrate the contrasts between forms.
After sections on conjunctions and negation, the third chapter ends with a discussion of one of the most characteristic features of Ancient Greek, the ''big number of discourse particles, that serve text cohesion and interclause linkage'' (p. 69; the standard reference is Denniston 1959). Idiomatic Greek prose uses one or more particles at the start of nearly every sentence to indicate its logical connection with previous sentences. While at one level these particles are easy, since they do not have inflectional forms, they do not govern other words, and they do not entail particular forms for the verbs in the clauses where they appear, they are nonetheless difficult because the choice of particle can make fairly subtle differences in the meaning of a sentence.
Chapter 4 is on syntax. Ancient Greek has free word order (p. 73-75) and allows omission of subjects (p. 75). Subordination can be expressed with various kinds of clauses containing finite verbs and introduced by subordinating conjunctions, or with phrases using participles or infinitives (p. 80 and following). The sections of this chapter treat sentence types, parts of the simple sentence, interclausal coordination, and subordination. Although some of the more arcane details are necessarily left out, this brief overview covers all the major constructions and sentence structures.
This is a succinct, efficient introduction to Ancient Greek which should serve its intended audience (non-classicist linguists) very well. It will also be useful for beginning graduate students in classical philology, who know Greek and are learning to approach it as linguistics.
Several of the explanations and charts are particularly good, and I expect to use them as supplements even in beginning Greek classes. The chart showing the possible morphemes in a verb form and their order (p. 52) is elegant. The summary of conditional sentences (p. 89- 90) nicely shows the major types, imposing order on what is too often presented as a list of arbitrary rules to be memorized. The overview of word order (p. 73-75), with particular attention to the position of verbs, is a good introduction.
The bibliography includes pretty much all the standard works, with entries in English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish. The only arguably significant omission is the work of A. M. Devine and L. D. Stephens (for example 1994). After working through the present volume, readers could continue with Rijksbaron (2002) or Horrocks (1997), depending on their particular interests or needs.
A few small errors or infelicities should be noted. First, there is a long- standing tradition in classics of referring to authors and works by standard abbreviations and citation schemes, as ''Ar. Lys. 714,'' ''Th. 8.44.1,'' or ''Hes. Th. 22'' (all from p. 33). This efficient system is universally understood by classicists, but a non-specialist may not realize that the above examples refer to ''Aristophanes, Lysistrata line 714,'' ''Thucydides book 8, chapter 44, section 1,'' and ''Hesiod, Theogony line 22'' respectively. See the Oxford Classical Dictionary (Hornblower and Spawforth, 2003) or the Lexicon of Liddell, Scott, and Jones (1996) for the key to the abbreviations.
Next, there are occasional typographical errors, though they rarely interfere with comprehension. One that will cause confusion is on p. 16: ''In the earlier Attic inscriptions a special symbol koppa (*) is used as an allograph of 'K' before 'O'.'' The symbol is supposed to appear where I have written an asterisk, but what appears instead is a half- bracket. Koppa looks something like a lollipop: it is a circle with a descender, and in the Roman alphabet it develops into the letter ''Q.'' The only other really misleading typo is on p. 86, where the translation reads ''... for a of miserable man'' and should presumably read instead ''... for a miserable man'' or ''... for the sake of a miserable man.''
Finally, the translations of the examples are always accurate, and generally graceful in English, but occasionally so free as not to show off the grammatical feature being demonstrated. For example, on p. 33, sentence 9 is glossed as ''do not hide a crisis that affects us,'' but this does not account for the accusative pronoun that is the reason for quoting this line; a gloss like ''do not hide from me an evil that we suffer'' would make the point clearer. Or on p. 95, example 131 is glossed as ''to the Euphrates river, the width of which was four stadia.'' Although this is the best way to express this idea in English, it does not show how the participle works in the Greek; an ungraceful ''translationese'' gloss like ''to the Euphrates river, being of four stadia in respect of its width'' might facilitate understanding the Greek.
These are fairly small points, however, and do not detract from the value of the book. Linguists wanting an overview of Ancient Greek will find this an excellent starting point.
Allen, W. S. (1968) Vox Graeca: A Guide to the Pronunciation of Classical Greek. Cambridge U. Press.
Buck, Carl Darling. (1955) The Greek Dialects: Grammar, Selected Inscriptions, Glossary. U. Chicago Press.
Denniston, J. D. (1959) The Greek Particles, 2nd ed. Oxford U. Press.
Devine, A. M., and Lawrence D. Stephens. (1994) The Prosody of Greek Speech. Oxford U. Press.
Hornblower, Simon, and Antony Spawforth. (2003) The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd ed. revised. Oxford U. Press.
Horrocks, Geoffrey C. (1997) Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers. London: Longman.
Liddell, Henry George, and Robert Scott, revised Sir Henry Stuart Jones. (1996) A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed. with revised supplement. Oxford U. Press.
Meiggs, Russell, and David Lewis. (1969) A Selection of Greek Historical Inscriptions to the End of the Fifth Century B.C. Oxford U. Press
Rijksbaron, Albert. (2002) The Syntax and Semantics of the Verb in Classical Greek: An Introduction, 3rd ed. Amsterdam: Gieben.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Anne Mahoney teaches in the classics department at Tufts University. Her research interests include Greek and Latin meter and poetics, Indo-European linguistics, and language pedagogy.