LINGUIST List 30.1650

Tue Apr 16 2019

Review: Greek, Ancient; Indo-European; General Linguistics; Historical Linguistics; Sociolinguistics: Giannakis (2014)

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Date: 16-Oct-2018
From: Jesse Gates <>
Subject: Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Georgios K. Giannakis
TITLE: Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics
YEAR: 2014

REVIEWER: Jesse Gates, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, EHESS


Since Ancient Greek has enjoyed more research attention than perhaps any language on earth, why is there a need for such a tome as the 3 volume, nearly 2,000 page Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics (EAGLL henceforth)? Editor Georgios Ginannakis’ answer to this question, in his introduction to EAGLL is that there is a need because modern linguistics has brought to the table “…new analytical tools and methodologies, theoretical advances and treatments…” Using Kuhn’s (1962) concept of paradigms shifts in science, we might suggest that modern linguistics has brought a new paradigm by which we can look afresh at Ancient Greek and thus in turn produce new and interesting research.

EAGLL contains over 500 articles. Although the articles are organized alphabetically, there is also a thematic table of contents with 17 themes. These themes are: Ancient Grammatical Theory, Dialects, Epigraphy and Papyrology, Greek and Other Languages, Historical Linguistics and Diachronic Changes, History of Teaching of Ancient Greek, History of Translation, Lexicography, Lexicon, Literary Diction, Style and Genres, Metrics, Morphology, Phonetics/Phonology/Prosody, Sociolinguistics, Syntax and Semantics, Theoretical approaches, and Writing. There are balanced perspectives that often include arguments for two sides of an issue that is in dispute, e.g., whether or not Ancient Greek has a verb phrase (see Napoli’s article “Verb Phrase”). In the online version, there are helpful hyperlinks, as is expected. Brill has recommended resources at the bottom of the online page of each article.

In EAGLL we get a taste for how Ancient Greek has influenced on the world. Whether one views it as a good thing or not, the Septuagint and the New Testament have had more, and continue to have more, influence on the entire world than any other oeuvre. Porter’s article “New Testament” is a particularly helpful overview of New Testament and spends some time discussing the Semitism often found in Biblical Greek. Or observe the contribution Greek speakers have had on philosophy (see Lampe’s article “Greek Philosophy, Translation”), literature (e.g., Armstrong’s “Homer, Translation”), and linguistics itself. Many linguists assume that the categories the Greeks came up with, e.g., the concepts of verb (rhema) and noun (onoma) (as discussed in the article “Verb (rhêma), Ancient Theories of” by Wouters & Swiggers) are universal categories for all languages. (For evidence against the universality of noun and verb see LaPolla 2014.)

Those interested in pragmatics will find this EAGLL relevant. The search function of the online version of this publication yields twenty articles including topics such as interjections, topic, politeness/courtesy expressions, prepositive, information structure and Greek, functional grammar and Greek, grounding of information, conditionals, Greek translation philosophy, direct/indirect speech, deixis, and text linguistics. An example of the importance of pragmatics can be found in Celano’s article “Word Order.” Celano argues that “[t]he interaction between pragmatics/information structure and prosodic/intonational phonology emerges as the core feature of Ancient Greek word order.”

EAGLL covers ‘Ancient Greek’ which is defined as everything from Proto-Greek to Hellenistic Greek (Koine), so although out of convenience we call this the ‘Ancient Greek language’, this is not to ignore the historical and dialectological variation that makes Proto-Greek and Hellenistic Greek in many ways a collection of different languages. As a dialectologist, I was pleased to see a historical dialectological perspective integrated into EAGLL, including several lengthy articles devoted to historical linguistics and dialectology. In fact, a common theme throughout the encyclopedia is diachrony.


EAGLL is friendly to linguists who are not specialists in Greek and are looking for quick explanations for some of the more obscure and often idiosyncratic jargon (e.g., ‘improper prepositions’) that enshrouds millennia of Ancient Greek scholarship. Students of Greek will find the clearly written entries helpful. Although textbooks have their place, they can sometimes befuddle the student with lengthy explanations, while the student may just wish to know, for example, “What is an ‘augment’, and why does it show up in front of these verbs?”. A whole article by Rose is devoted to this and other questions surrounding the augment, appropriately titled “Augment”. Or if one wants to learn about palatalization in Greek one may go to the article under than name, and also be directed to the article “Yodization” by Alonso Déniz. A minor detraction is the use of Roman script instead of the Greek alphabet throughout. I would have preferred if the encyclopedia would have used the Greek orthography.

The emphasis on dialectology, sociolinguistics, and variationist linguistics is evident by the inclusion of articles like Conani’s “Ancient Greek Sociolinguistics and Dialectology,” and through a number of other articles on topics such as accommodation, code-switching, code-mixing, etc. Articles on dialects e.g., Achaean and Doric give a realistic picture of the way languages work—plenty of variation and no clear standard in an age before the standardization of languages. Thus EAGLL generally avoids the common mistake of thinking that Ancient Greek at any one point was something like today’s RP English, Russian, or Mandarin Chinese—a unified ideal or standard language. This isn’t to say that there were no prestigious dialects, e.g., the Achaean League’s adoption of a 7-vowel system, nor that certain dialects did not have influence on dialects with which they had contact, e.g., Attic-Ionic Koine’s influence on Achaean.

However, EAGLL is a little disappointing from a communication theory and text translation perspective in that relevance theory is not mentioned in the entire encyclopedia, given the importance of concepts set forth in Sperber & Wilson (1986/1995).

Wakker’s article “Text Linguistics and Greek,” although a good overview, did not provide any critical commentary on Levinsohn and Longacre’s application of text linguistics to the New Testament. The perspective of text linguistics, (grounded in a code model of communication) claims that the discourse patterns of a certain genre observed in a few texts hold for that genre throughout the entire language (not admitting the often idiosyncratic and stylistic nature of such functions). These discourse patterns are then claimed to be essential for clear communication. This text-linguistics perspective tends to treat discourse functions deterministically. Relevance theory, alternatively, claims that communication comes from the relevance of the information, and thus is non-deterministic.

I want to push back on Levinsohn’s discourse rules for discourse referents in New Testament Greek (in Welo’s article “Null Anaphora”). Welo writes, “Whenever a discourse referent is realized by more coding material than would be expected from the rules, Levinsohn has two solutions: either the speaker signals the beginning of a new narrative unit, or the discourse referent in question is highlighted in some way. These additional assumptions are not in themselves implausible, but their validity depends on whether independent criteria can be found for identifying narrative breaks and/or highlighted elements. Again, further research is needed.” The problem with Levinsohn’s analysis, which Welo partially addresses, is that it is not possible to objectively separate narrative breaks from content.

One oddity about the article “Discourse Analysis and Greek” is that although the discussion focuses on cohesion, there is no mention of the “Null Anaphora” article, by Welo, also in EAGLL. In “Null Anaphora” Welo states, “The discourse motivation for null anaphora in Anc. Gk. is in general well understood” and yet he mentions twice that more research is needed in this short article. It is also interesting that no examples are given above the sentence level in the article, since the focus is on discourse.

There are some rather novel analyses given in EAGLL. In the article “Abstract Nouns,”Civilleri draws from her own recent research demonstrating the tendency (while acknowledging exceptions) for a semantic basis underlying grammatical gender in deverbal nouns. Civilleri’s analysis reveals that there is a continuum of abstractness to concreteness: feminine deverbal nouns are the most abstract (event, process, state), neuter deverbal nouns are the most concrete (inanimate arguments), and masculine deverbal nouns are more concrete than feminine and more abstract than neuter (animate arguments).

In “Alphabet, Descendants of” (by Ferrara) we are reminded that no alphabet has had influence on the orthographies of the world like the Greek Alphabet. This article considers some of the influence of the Greek alphabet on ancient scripts such as Etruscan, Old Phrygian, Thracian, Greco-Iberian, Lycian, Lydian, Pamphylian, Sidetic, Pisidian, Gaulish, Coptic, Gothic, Armenian, Glagolitic, and Cyrillic.

Below I offer some specific criticism of EAGLL:

The closing remarks in the article “Alphabet, The Origin of the Greek” by Swift could also include the question: “Why was there a 400-600 year gap between the usage of Linear B and the Greek Alphabet of Semitic origin?”

The article “Vowels” by Goldstein focuses nearly exclusively on the vowel system of the 5th century BC. Ideally, other time periods would have been integrated into this article (even though there are other time periods discussed in other parts of EAGLL, such as in “Vowel Change” by van Beek).

Some typos in the online version:
todrink > to drink (in “Adjuncts” by Crespo)
skilful > skillful (in “Adverbial Constituents” by Crespo)
ek > ek- (hyphen missing) in “Word Formation (Derivation, Compounding)” by Wouters et al.

“In view of the long-standing central position of the parts-of-speech system in grammatical and linguistic description, the ‘WP’ model must be considered an important scientific and cultural achievement in the Western approach to language” (“Word Classes (mérē toû lógou), Ancient Theories of” by Wouters & Swiggers). There is no mention though of how WP (Word-and-Paradigm) often prevents linguists from finding the categories that exist in non-Indo-European languages, which has been critiqued by linguists such as Croft (2001).

In Staab’s article “Ancient Prose Rhythm” as well as Ercoles’ article “Ancient Meter” there is not even a passing reference to the literature concerning prose and poetic rhythm in the New Testament and LXX.

EAGLL highlights areas that are still in need of more comprehensive research. These include more insights into morphological compounding (see “Word Formation (Derivation Compounding)” by Wouters et al.), discovering phonetic motivations behind Wheeler’s Law (“Wheeler’s Law” by Gunkel), and clarifying Wackernagel’s Law, to name a few areas.

Overall EAGLL will be a valuable reference for years to come, as the ancient Greek languages and dialects will inevitably provoke debate for years to come.


Croft, William. 2001. Radical construction grammar: Syntactic theory in typological perspective. Oxford University Press on Demand.

Khun, Thomas. 1962. The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

LaPolla, Randy J. 2014. Constituent structure in a Tagalog text. Language and Linguistics 15(6). 761-774.

Sperber, Dan & Deirdre Wilson. 1986/1995. Relevance: communication and cognition. Oxford: Blackwell.


Jesse Gates is a PhD candidate at École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in conjunction with Centre de recherches linguistiques sur l'Asie orientale. For his dissertation he is writing a descriptive grammar of the Mazur dialect of Stau. His research interests include Rgyalrongic languages, Tibeto-Burman linguistics, morphology, dialectology, historical linguistics, pragmatics, philosophy of language, automated transcription, and a hobby level interest in 1st century Koine Greek.

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