Part twenty-four of a tour through Greek inflectional morphology to help get students thinking more systematically about the word forms they see (and maybe teach a bit of general linguistics along the way).


A Tour of Greek Morphology: Part 24 and more...

A Tour of Greek Morphology: Part 24

Part twenty-four of a tour through Greek inflectional morphology to help get students thinking more systematically about the word forms they see (and maybe teach a bit of general linguistics along the way).

Now let’s look at the imperfect forms corresponding to the active omega verbs we looked at in the present way back in part 4.

We’ll use IA-1 through IA-5 for the distinguisher patterns corresponding to the verbs that followed PA-1 through PA-5 in the present.



PA-1barytone omega verbs
PA-2circumflex omega verbs with INF -εῖν / 3SG -εῖ
PA-3circumflex omega verbs with INF -οῦν / 3SG -οῖ
PA-4circumflex omega verbs with INF -ᾶν / 3SG -ᾷ
PA-5ζάω + compounds

It is clear that the imperfect endings shown above had a theme vowel (alternating ο/ε exactly as with the present) which historically contracted with the preceding vowel (if it existed) under exactly the same rules as with the present forms (explained in detail in part 8).

 theme vowelending

Too often with paradigms we only look at the person/number alternations within a fixed tense/aspect/voice. Let’s now look at the possible present / imperfect alternations in the endings we’ve seen (ignoring the augment for now):

1SG Xον
Xῶ Xουν or Xων
2SG Xεις Xες
Xεῖς Xεις
Xοῖς Xους
Xᾷς Xᾱς
Xῇς Xης
3SG Xει Xε(ν)
Xεῖ Xει
Xοῖ Xου
Xᾷ Xᾱ
3PL Xουσι(ν) Xον
Xοῦσι(ν) Xουν
Xῶσι(ν) Xων

With 1PL and 2PL endings identical between present and imperfect.


The Normalisation Column in MorphGNT

Eliran Wong asked for a more detailed description of the “normalisation” column in MorphGNT so I promised him I’d write a blog post about it.

I first outlined the objective of the column in a 2005 blog post but enough time has passed and new work done that I thought it was worthy of a new post.

The core idea of the normalised column is to give the inflected form as it would be stated in isolation.

To use the example from the 2005 post, consider the phrase in Matthew 1.20:

τὴν γυναῖκά σου

If you were to ask someone what the accusative singular feminine definite article is, you’d expect the answer τήν and not τὴν. Similarly if you asked what the accusative singular of γυνή is, you’d expect the answer γυναῖκα and not γυναῖκά. The differences in Matthew 1.20 are contextual and, for many applications (particularly morphology) aren’t of much interest.

And so years ago, I went about adding a new column that normalised this sort of thing. Similarly μετά, μεθ’, μετ’, and μετὰ all get normalised to μετά in this separate column.

Back in the 2005 post, I enumerated the normalisations as:

  • existing text may exhibit elision (e.g. μετ’ versus μετά)
  • existing text may exhibit movable ς or ν
  • final-acute may become grave
  • enclitics may lose an accent
  • word preceding an enclitic may gain an extra accent
  • the οὐ / οὐκ / οὐχ alternation

When I published the SBLGNT analysis, another normalisation was added, namely the normalisation of capitalisation at the start of paragraphs or direct speech. The capitalisation is not an inherent part of the inflected form in isolation, only the particular context of the token, and so it is normalised.

In Analysing the Verbs in Nestle 1904 I covered some differences between the SBLGNT and Nestle 1904 analyses that normalisation would have smoothed over. Note that normalisation COULD go further (for example, spelling differences) but I chose not to do that in the normalisation column.

In brief, the things NOT normalised include:

  • spelling
  • crasis (e.g. κἀγώ vs καὶ ἐγώ)

In Annotating the Normalization Column in MorphGNT: Part 1 I started talking about annotating WHY each token was normalised the way it was and you can see some counts there for how many tokens underwent normalisation of accent or capitalisation, and how many had elision or a movable nu or sigma.

In many cases, the normalisation can be automated without any need for human intervention (by having a list of elidable words, enclitics, etc). I’ll soon publish my latest Python code for doing this. In some cases, manual checking is needed (although lemmatisation generally resolves a lot of the ambiguities). In Direct Speech Capitalization and the First Preceding Head I talked about the start of some work to go through all capitalisation and identify the reason for it. Similarly New MorphGNT Releases and Accentuation Analysis discusses work on annotating the reason for all accentuation changes.

There is still lots more work to do this for the SBLGNT but I did apply the idea when working on Seumas Macdonald’s Digital Nyssa project. For that, I produced a file the first five lines of which are:

Ἦλθε ἦλθε capitalisationκαὶ καί graveἐφ’ ἐπί elisionἡμᾶς ἡμᾶς ἡ ἡ proclitic

Here each token is normalised in the second column with the third column giving the reason for any difference between the token and the normalised form (and also indicating proclitics).

The possible annotations (and there can be more than one on a token) are:

  • grave
  • capitalisation
  • elision
  • movable
  • extra
  • proclitic
  • enclitic

I hope to eventually be able to provide the same for the entire SBLGNT (and other Greek texts).

Doing all this normalisation has a number of benefits. It makes it easier to extract forms for studying morphology, it allows searches to work more as expected (you don’t want to have to think up all the possible ways a form could actually be written in a text to search for it), it also allows much easier searching for particular phenomena (for example particular clitic accentuation).

It also allows for more rigorous validation of things like accentuation. Work in this area has already uncovered a number of accentuation errors in the SBLGNT text, for example, and could help with automated checking of OCR, etc.


First Impressions of John Lee’s Accents Book

John Lee’s Basics of Greek Accents was released today. Here are some first impressions.

Like D. A. Carson’s 1985 book Greek Accents: A Student’s Manual, Lee’s new book (based on notes from a class he taught at Macquarie University) is designed to backfill knowledge of Greek accents for those students whose beginning Greek skipped over them.

At least since Wenham’s Elements of New Testament Greek, there has been a trend in beginning New Testament Greek (and perhaps Classical Greek) textbooks to do away with instruction about accentuation. I haven’t investigated, but I suspect this correlates with a reduction in English-to-Greek exercises in textbooks too.

Lee, like Carson before him, considers an understanding of accents to be vital to learning Greek. The book, published by Zondervan, is clearly (in name and cover design) intended by them to fill the gap left by Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek.

Lee’s book is small—110 pages and about the size of a 5 x 7 photograph. It’s compact but lucid nevertheless. The modern typography makes for more pleasant reading that both Carson book and Probert’s 2003 New Short Guide to the Accentuation of Ancient Greek.

It’s a gentler introduction than either Carson or Probert. There are eight chapters or “lessons” and each has two sets of exercises (marked as “In Class” and “Homework”). All exercises involve adding accents to unaccented text. Examples and exercises are NT focused but not exclusively and the book would be more than suitable for Classical Greek students as well.

As is understandable given its goals, there are no theoretical underpinnings given and little historical explanation.

I’ve found a few places where, given it’s for beginners (albeit those who know some Greek), I wish Lee had been a little more explicit. For example he says that “Aorist active infinitives in -σαι accent on second last” but never explains when one might expect an acute versus a circumflex. A one line rule with several examples is typical. But it is rare that all the edge cases are covered.

After saying that the verb is generally recessive, he gives various forms of λύω including the subjunctive λυθῶ. He gives contraction as the reason for this one deviant form, but that is the last thing he says about subjunctives other than a remark a couple of pages later about ἀποδῷ being the pattern for compound -μι verbs.

While Lee is a gentler introduction, one thing I like about Carson’s book on accents is he’ll often be a little more exploratory, considering a new form and whether previous rules are adequate to cover the evidence, and only once motivated, introduce a new rule. In doing this, students are encouraged to think a little more about how the rules interact. In a way, Carson’s approach is more like what I’ve been trying to do with my morphology blog posts.

While there’s much to commend it as a first introduction to accents, I do find Lee often misses the forest and instead just catalogs the trees. There’s little view of the whole as a system, how the parts interact. I understand why you don’t start with that, but I feel you need to get to it eventually.

As an example, I recently summarised the first and second declension noun accents as follows:

  • by default the accent is persistent
  • however, if the ending is a different length than in the base form (nominative singular), the law of limitation may require an accent change (e.g. X́XS -> XX́L, L̃S -> ĹL, ĹL -> L̃S)
  • if the base form is oxytone, it becomes perispomenon (X́->L̃) in oblique cases (genitive and dative)
  • in the 1st declension, the genitive plural is always perispomenon -ῶν (even if the base is not oxytone)

I gave examples of contrasting pairs for every accentuation and syllable length combination in both the first and second declension, and highlighted various things like the importance of building an intuition for the L̃S ~ ĹL alternation (the σωτῆρα rule). I also pointed out that the oblique case perispomenon (XL̃) is only possible because all oblique case endings are long.

Now, I’m not suggesting that this is sufficient—it needs a certain amount of unpacking and is jargon heavy. But this, or something similar, makes a nice summary that ties multiple things together in explaining the first and second declension. It covers the fact that persistence and the law of limitation might be in conflict and how that gets resolved. It explains what happens to oxytones in the oblique cases, and gives the exception of 1st declension genitive plural, pointing out this is not limited just to the oxytones like the previous rule.

In contrast, Lee covers the relevant rules but never brings them together in the context of a single paradigm (other than θεός which hardly demonstrates most of the points). The statement about the genitive plural is 28 pages later than the statement about circumflexes in the oblique when the base form is oxytone. His examples of the law of limitation do cover a couple of direct~oblique alternations but that is isolated from the chapter on noun accentuation and is never explained in the context of vowel length patterns in the noun endings.

All in all, however, I think Lee’s book is a good first introduction to Greek accentuation and its presentation is undoubtedly cleaner than that of previous books. My main criticism is that it is incomplete and students would benefit from some consolidation of the principles taught. Some of that criticism may be mitigated in a classroom situation, for which it was originally intended. Students working alone might have more questions than the book answers. I would recommend something like Probert as a follow on (it will also make a better reference). That said, I think Lee achieves his aim in providing the “basics” and (to quote the back cover blurb) “a foundation [students] will use as they continue their studies”.


A Tour of Greek Morphology: Part 23

Part twenty-three of a tour through Greek inflectional morphology to help get students thinking more systematically about the word forms they see (and maybe teach a bit of general linguistics along the way).

Okay, so we want to contrast two forms of the indicative generally referred to as the “present” and “imperfect”.

As we always do with paradigms, we’ll keep certain things constant (in this case, the lexeme, voice and mood) and vary things along along one axis (person / number agreement) and another axis (present vs imperfect).

1SG λύω ἔλυον
2SG λύεις ἔλυες
3SG λύει ἔλυε
1PL λύομεν ἐλύομεν
2PL λύετε ἐλύετε
3PL λύουσι ἔλυον

There are numerous things which should stand out:

  • the imperfect forms all have an initial ἐ-
  • this is then followed by the same λυ root found in the present
  • this is then followed by an ε/ο “theme” vowel
  • the 1SG and 3PL are identical in the imperfect
  • the present and imperfect share the same ending in the 1PL and in the 2PL

There’s another perhaps more subtle thing you may notice:

  • the endings in the imperfect 2SG and 3SG are the same as the present without the ι

Recall also that the -ουσι ending in the present 3PL historically came from -οντι. Without the ι, that would be -οντ and given Greek words can only end in ν, ς, or a vowel, dropping the τ from -οντ would give us the -ον we see.

Furthermore, if we consider the athematic 1SG ending -μι and drop the ι, we get -μ. This is not one of the sounds a Greek word can end in and historically, this was changed to an ν. This gives us the -ον we see in the 1SG.

So it seems that historically the relationship between the two sets of endings has to do with the existence or non-existence of an ι. The only exceptions are the 1PL and 2PL. Interestingly these are the only two-syllable endings (counting the theme vowel).

It could even be stated (at least in the earlier history) as: imperfect has ἐ- but not -ι- and the present has -ι- but not ἐ-, except in the two-syllable ending cases where the only contrast is the existence or absence of ἐ-.

We’ve only looked at λύω / ἔλυον so far, so in the next couple of posts we’ll look to see how the imperfect endings work in other lexemes.


A Tour of Greek Morphology: Part 22

Part twenty-two of a tour through Greek inflectional morphology to help get students thinking more systematically about the word forms they see (and maybe teach a bit of general linguistics along the way).

I’ve deliberated for a while about whether to follow the present with the imperfect or with the aorist. I had recently elected to go with the aorist but as I sketched out what I wanted to say, I realised it would be easier if I’d said some things about the imperfect first.

And so I’ve decided to do a few posts about the imperfect.

We won’t talk about the endings in this post. I want us to start thinking about the imperfect and its relationship to the present not in terms of endings but in terms of the overall paradigm structure.

In previous posts, we saw that the present comes in two voices: an active and a middle (although we haven’t yet touched on the notion of presents coming in both versus just one of these). Within each voice, we looked at six indicative forms (corresponding to patterns of person and number agreement) and an infinitive (which effectively just has no person or number). We haven’t yet covered this, but each present voice also has imperative forms, subjunctive and optative forms, and participles in each of three genders.

The imperfect, in contrast, only has the indicative forms. No infinitive, no participles, no imperative, no subjunctive, and no optative.

We might be tempted to think of this in terms of the imperfect somehow being “defective”, as if we were doing a feature comparison like this:


But another way to think of the imperfect as being part of the “present” family and providing a contrasting set of indicatives.

So we have:

  • indicatives 1 (“present”)
  • indicatives 2 (“imperfect”)
  • infinitives
  • imperatives
  • subjunctives
  • optatives
  • participles

This model suggests that, say, the infinitive or imperatives or participles, are just as much the infinitive, imperatives, or participles of the imperfect as they are of the present.

This also leads to the need for a new name for this entire family. Traditionally it’s referred to as the “present system” because of the shared stems, but as I’ve ranted on this blog before, I think it’s unfortunate to use “present” for both the entire system and for one of the two types of indicatives within it.

For reasons we’ll touch on later, the system could perhaps better be called the “imperfective system”.

But the remainder of posts on the imperfects will focus on their endings and, in particular, the contrast with the other set of indicatives (the “present” indicatives we’ve been talking in about the previous posts).