LINGUIST List 29.4024

Wed Oct 17 2018

Review: Greek, Ancient; Latin; Historical Linguistics; Linguistic Theories; Pragmatics: Denizot, Spevak (2017)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 02-Jun-2018
From: Katharine Shields <>
Subject: Pragmatic Approaches to Latin and Ancient Greek
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Camille Denizot
EDITOR: Olga Spevak
TITLE: Pragmatic Approaches to Latin and Ancient Greek
SERIES TITLE: Studies in Language Companion Series 190
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2017

REVIEWER: Katharine Shields, University College London


This volume, arising from the workshop “Pragmatics and classical languages” at the 48th Annual Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europea in Leiden in 2015, contains six chapters about Latin and six about Ancient Greek, divided into three sections on speech acts, word order, and discourse markers and particles. An introductory chapter explains why a pragmatic approach is useful for studying Greek and Latin phenomena for their own sake, not only as part of ‘historical pragmatics’, and provides general background to establish a framework each of the three sections. In the first section, ‘Speech Acts’, there are chapters on ‘ὤφελον’, illocutionary force and modality, Latin ‘em’, the vocative, words meaning ‘please’ in Latin questions; in the second section, ‘New insights into word order’, chapters treat directives with stative verbs, the right periphery in Greek, and the Latin and Greek versions of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti (henceforth RGDA); and in the third section, ‘Pragmatic interfaces’, topics include the case of ‘particles’, conclusive markers in Plato’s Theaetus, the Latin question particle ‘-ne’, Greek καί, and adversative particles in Greek. Given the range of material in this volume, it seems appropriate to give here a summary and brief discussion of the contents of each chapter:

Chapter 1: Pragmatics in Latin and Ancient Greek: An introduction. Olga Spevak and Camille Denizot. 1-13. This introductory chapter gives some general theoretical background for the volume, arranged in three sections corresponding to the sections of the book. It situates the chapters within existing literature, primarily that on Latin and Greek rather than within pragmatic studies in general, but nonetheless providing a coherent framework for the rest of the volume.

Chapter 2: Illocutionary force and modality: How to tackle the issue in Ancient Greek. Antonio R. Revuelta Puigdollers. 17-43. This chapter first discusses methodology for investigating modality and illocutionary force: internal analysis of Greek data, typological parallels and comparative material, and the works of ancient grammarians. The second part of this chapter is a study of the development of ‘ὤφελον’ from a verb to an illocutionary particle. This analysis is heavily dependent on the explanation in Allan (2013), but stage IV of the development as proposed by Allan is expanded by Revuelta Puigdollers into three separate stages, and significant new evidence of these later phases of grammaticalization from the choice of negation, combinations with desiderative particles and from the remarks of ancient grammarians is put forward.

Chapter 3: Pragmatic functions of the Latin vocative. Michal Ctibor. 45-62. This chapter argues for a greater variety of functions of the Latin vocative than the traditional CALL and ADDRESS. The distinction made between vocative-construction and vocative-utterance (and the subsequent Saussure reference) at the start of the chapter seems quite unnecessary for the rest of the otherwise very clear explanations; the discussion of CALL and ADDRESS and their definitions in previous studies, particularly Levinson (1983) and Dickey (2002), is very useful. Ctibor adds to these the vocative as a marker of discourse structure (with an extensive quote from Sallust in English translation as an example), of sincerity and guarantee, and the “reduplicated vocative of discontent.” There are many helpful parallels with English and other modern languages.

Chapter 4: Discursive and pragmatic function of Latin em: Grammaticalization, pragmaticalization… interjectionalization? Luis Unceta Gómez. 63-82. Unceta Gómez proposes a pragmatic and discursive function for the particle ‘em’. Its primary function is presentative, but it can also have a discourse deixis function: this is well demonstrated through the examples. ‘em’ also becomes a secondary interjection, expressing subjectivity or emotivity of the speaker. This last point is not entirely convincing, given the restrictive definition of interjections the author gives: the examples are all asides in Plautus and Terence, where it is claimed the addressee is eliminated (and presumably, therefore, ‘em’ cannot perform any of the discourse functions described in the previous section), although it is conceded that the audience might be a ‘non-addressed recipient’ (p74n18). However, it seems to me that, regardless of the emotional content, these examples could all be interpreted on the level of textual cohesion, as reference to the previous discourse segment, showing the audience that this is commenting on the previous segment. More discussion of this point would be desirable.

Chapter 5: Quapropter, quaeso? ‘Why, for pity’s sake?’ Questions and the pragmatic function of quaeso, obsecro, and amabo in Plautus. Chiara Fedriani. 83-109. This chapter explores the functions of ‘quaeso’, ‘obsecro’ and ‘amabo’ in questions in Plautus, beyond their use as politeness markers. Fedriani describes these words as ‘Pragmatic Markers’ (PMs). Speech Act theory is discussed more explicitly in this chapter than the others in this section, and the examples are divided into three types of question: referential, directive and expressive. The secondary values of these PMs (exasperation, urgency or impatience; as a floor-yielding device; involvement or surprise; with negative reactions or echo-questions) occur sometimes in the first and usually in the third type of question, where they are related to personal stance, but in directive questions they function (as with imperatives) as politeness markers.

Chapter 6: Constituent order in directives with stative verbs in Latin. Concepción Cabrillana. 113-35. This chapter combines approaches to constituent order with stative verbs like ‘to be’, and constituent order in directives. Monovalent and bivalent structures are analysed by speech act subtype. Consideration is given to lexicalised expressions and they are justifiably included in the analysis. The effect of focal quality on constituent order is also considered. Cabrillana concludes that the type of speech act is relevant for constituent order, as well as modality. In bivalent structures, modality affects word order less than in monovalent structures.

Chapter 7: The right periphery in Ancient Greek. Emilia Ruiz Yamuza. 137-58. Polybius books 1-5 are the material for investigation of Right Periphery (RP) in Ancient Greek. The types of syntactic structures which appear in this position, and the functions of the RP elements in the information structure, text structure, and the interaction between speaker and hearer are discussed. The table on p151 shows the different structures that are used for the RP element when it has different functions.

Chapter 8: Res Gestae Divi Augusti: Word order and pragmatics of the Latin original. Esperanza Torrego. 159-79. And chapter 9: Res Gestae Divi Augusti: Pragmatic Structure and word order of the Greek translation. Jesús de la Villa. 181-210. These two chapters discuss the word order of the RGDA. As they point out, most previous studies of both Greek and Latin word order are based on literary texts (Dik 2007 for Greek and Panhuis 1982 and Spevak 2010 for Latin are the main studies used for comparison), so these studies are useful for comparisons between literary and non-literary texts. Furthermore, the comparison of versions of the same text in different languages can provide evidence for differences in word order. The highlight of these two chapters is the discussion of the points where the Greek text differs from the Latin model, given in chapter 9 (p190-208): while those which involve a significant change in syntactic structure don’t provide useful information for comparing word order, different pragmatic interpretations can provide indirect evidence for Greek word order. There are also cases where there is no pragmatic motivation for the difference, but the difference appears to be the result of differences in the basic word order pattern of each language. The political motivations for particular pragmatic interpretations by Greek speakers are given consideration. de la Villa concludes that the Greek text shows a preference for the basic template (as for literary texts described by Dik 2007), and patterns that deviate tend to follow the Latin. These two chapters together make an excellent case for the usefulness of research into word order in non-literary texts, as well as those outside the Classical period: at several points, the author stresses that firm conclusions about the reasons for deviation from the standard pattern in Greek cannot be made since there is not yet enough evidence for word order in non-literary texts or post-Classical Greek, while this work is starting to fill that gap.

Chapter 10: On the distribution of some interactive/conclusive discourse markers in Plato’s Theaetetus. Liana Tronci. 213-34. This chapter expands on previous work on particles in Plato (des Places 1929, van Ophuijsen 1993, Sicking 1997) by taking account of the formal and morpho-syntactic features of ‘ἄρα’, ‘οὐκοῦν’, ‘οὖν’, and ‘τοίνυν’ (primarily position in the sentence/discourse and verb modality), which correlate with the pragmatic function of the particles: each particles is discussed in turn, and a summary of the data for this is clearly presented in a table on p230. The function of these particles under Anscombre and Ducrot’s argumentation theory (not in the bibliography) is briefly discussed in the final paragraph. While the conclusions about the pragmatic functions of the particles follow the previous studies, this chapter makes a good case for the value of investigating the combinations of formal features with which particles appear as an explanatory tool for their pragmatic functions.

Chapter 11: Polar questions in Latin with and without the enclitic particle –ne. Josine Schrickx. 235-55. In this chapter, building on the author’s work on ‘-ne’ for the Thesaurus linguae Latinae, Schrickx asks firstly, what are the pragmatic functions of polar direct questions, and secondly, whether there is a difference between those with ‘-ne’ and those without a particle. An overview of ‘-ne’ in Latin until Apuleius shows that it is more frequent in direct than indirect simple questions, and in alternative indirect questions than simple ones. It is also more frequent in Plautus and Terence than any other author, and consequently these make up the corpus for the rest of the chapter. Questions without a particle are more often related to the speech situation, and certain words are more likely to occur with ‘-ne’ attached. A convincing case for the etymology of ‘-ne’ as affirmative rather than negating is put forward, based its function emphasising the host word.

Chapter 12: A unitary account of the meaning of kaí. Emilio Crespo. 257-72. This chapter argues for a unitary meaning of ‘καί’, “of accompaniment, addition and combination which is realised with several values depending on the context” (p271), with examples of the uses of ‘καί’ as a coordinator, adverb of addition or of emphasis, and its function when at the beginning of a sentence.

Chapter 13: Ancient Greek adversative particles in contrast. Rutger J. Allan. 273-301. This chapter aims for a contrastive semantic description of the most common adversative particles, ‘ἀλλά’, ‘καίτοι’, ‘μέντοι’ and ‘μήν’. The extensive theoretical section covers “intersubjective coordination” (Verhagen 2005), Functional Discourse Grammar, the Invited Inferencing Theory of Semantic Change (Traugott 1999), and the polysemy approach to semantic theory (as proposed by Mosegaard Hansen 1998 for particles), which explains developments as extensions from a prototype. A detailed ‘typology of adversativity’ is also given. Allan discusses under this framework in turn, and summarises the different adversative functions in a table on p. 298. In the conclusion, this is convincingly used to argue for the explanatory power of a polysemy approach.


Although it would be possible to read each chapter individually as a stand-alone study (with the exception of Chapters 8 and 9, the two studies on the RGDA), repeated use of similar text corpora (in particular Plato for Greek, and Plautus and Terence for Latin in Chapters 4, 5, and 11), and the engagement with existing scholarship on Greek and Latin pragmatics feeds threads of ideas which run through the book: topics which are treated multiple times include the multifunctionality and polysemy of particles, questions, grammaticalisation, and diachronic developments. The main strength of this volume is the stimulus it provides for future research. A number of chapters explicitly identify large existing gaps in scholarship (for example, Chapter 9 on non-literary, post-classical Greek word order), and even more suggest further areas for research in their conclusions.

Most of the data on which the analysis is based are presented fully, but at times the arguments would be clearer if the tables were presented earlier in the chapter, not just in the conclusion; at other times claims are made about, for example, a word being more or less common with a particular enclitic, but the numbers are not provided to back this up (or to show how strong this inclination is), although the author presumably had them available, and such vagueness has a tendency to undermine the points being made. Some chapters cover the theoretical material much more thoroughly than others.

Greek texts quoted are provided in the original alphabet along with an orthographic transliteration, and a table on pxvi. shows the transliteration along with the C5th/4th pronunciation (including digraphs). A foreword gives a brief summary of each chapter. Bibliography is provided at the end of each chapter, and there is both an index locorum and a general index at the end of the book.

The aims for the volume are set out in the editors’ foreword (viii) – firstly, new insights into pragmatic phenomena, and interaction between Latinists and Hellenists. On the latter point, Chapters 8 (Torrego) & 9 (de la Villa) on word order in the Latin and Greek versions of the RGDA is an excellent example of the benefits of this interaction, but one might question whether there are many other texts where this would be so useful. Nonetheless, this volume will be valuable for researchers of both languages, and Hellenists will be interested to read at least the more theoretical sections of the chapters on Latin, and vice versa. Further, the approaches in this volume could more generally be useful for research on other corpus languages, since similar problems of text types (p2-3) apply to, for example, Coptic or Syriac.

Overall, this book provides useful insights for readers interested in the specific Latin and Greek phenomena which are discussed, and a stimulus for further research on the pragmatics of corpus languages.


Allan, Rutger J. 2013. Exploring Modality’s Semantic Space Grammaticalization, Subjectification and the case of ὀφείλω. Glotta 89. 1–46.

Dickey, Eleanor. 2002. Latin forms of address: from Plautus to Apuleius. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dik, Helma. 2007. Word order in Greek tragic dialogue. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Levinson, Stephen C. 1983. Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mosegaard Hansen, Maj-Britt. 1998. The function of discourse particles: a study with special reference to spoken standard French. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

van Ophuijsen, Johannes M. 1993. οῦν, ἀρά, δή, τοίνυν: The linguistic articulation of arguments in Plato’s Phaedo. In C. M. J. Sicking & J. M. van Ophuijsen (eds.), Two studies in Attic particle usage: Lysias and Plato, 67–164. Leiden: Brill.

Panhuis, Dirk G.J. 1982. The Communicative Perspective in the Sentence: A Study of Latin Word Order. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

des Places, Édouard. 1929. Etudes sur quelques particules de liaison chez Platon. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

Sicking, Christiaan. 1997. Particles in questions in Plato. In C. J. Ruijgh & Albert Rijksbaron (eds.), New approaches to Greek particles. Amsterdam: Gieben.

Spevak, Olga. 2010. Constituent order in classical Latin prose. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Traugott, Elizabeth. 1999. The role of pragmatics in semantic change. In Pragmatics in 1998: Selected Papers from the 6th International Pragmatics Conference, Vol. 2, 93–102.

Verhagen, Arie. 2005. Constructions of intersubjectivity discourse, syntax, and cognition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Katharine Shields is a PhD student at University College London, working on the linguistic features of Greek and Hittite law codes and legal texts. Her research interests include the other languages of ancient Anatolia and digital humanities.

Page Updated: 17-Oct-2018