Levinsohn Lessons #1

Yesterday (13/10/10) WEST were lucky enough to have Stephen Levinsohn giving both a research seminar and a two hour Greek class. What follows is a number of posts giving my understanding of what Dr. Levinsohn was saying…

Constituent Order

Simon Dik’s template applies well to Koine Greek and Ancient Hebrew. Both languages are verb-initial languages (VS/VO) – that is, the default word order is for the verb to come first. However, there are many many exceptions to this, i.e. when something other than the verb comes first. The question is why has the word/constituent order been altered?

Dik’s template suggests that there are two pre-verbal ‘positions’ which can be filled by constituents when the writer is meaning to add emphasis to that constituent. Dik’s template is: P1 P2 V X.

P1 can be occupied by topic constituents, whereas P2 can be occupied by focus constituents. Topic refers to someone or something that has already been mentioned or alluded to (or is otherwise in the reader’s mind). Focus refers to information that the writer assumes not to be in the reader’s mind (i.e. new information).

The Article

In addition to the position of a constituent in a clause, the presence or absence of the article may also give clues as to what emphasis is being given to what. Given that topicalised information is already known, it is more likely to have the article. Conversely, since focus is associated with new/non-established information, it is less likely to have the article


Diane Blakemore observed regarding conjunctions that a) some conjunctions don’t signal a semantic relation but a pragmatic one; and b) that each conjunction is associated with a particular constraint which is different from the constraint associated with any other conjunction.

Reboul and Moeschler obseved that a conjunction a) links a discourse unit of any size to its context; b) give instruction as to how to relate this unit to its context; and c) constrains conclusions to be drawn on the basis of this discourse connection that might not have been drawn had it been absent.

A good example is Romans 8:17-18. Many English translations but a paragraph break and a new section heading just before v18. However in Greek the paragraph starts with γαρ indicating that what follows is intended to strengthen the preceding material. It this conjunction were absent (as it is in English) it is very unlikely that the reader would understand this to be the relationship between the two paragraphs.


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