TPS 115(2) – Abstract 3

Dative alternation and dative case syncretism in Greek: the use of dative, accusative and prepositional phrases in documentary papyri

by Joanne Vera Stolk (University of Oslo / Ghent University)

This article explores the evidence for dative case syncretism with personal pronouns in post-Classical Greek based on documentary papyri (300BCE-800CE). Three alternative encodings are examined for the animate goal of transfer verbs: the prepositions prós and eis (with accusative) and the bare accusative case. It is shown that the dative case and the preposition prós are in complementary distribution dependent on the animacy of the object and the conceptualization of the event. The preposition eis is only used for animate goals in the specialized meaning ‘on account of’. The bare accusative case is occasionally found as a replacement for the dative case, but not in the same constructions in which the prepositions are attested. Therefore, based on the encoding of the animate goal in Greek papyrus letters, there is no reason to assume that a change in the use of these prepositions led to the merger of dative and accusative cases.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12098

Finiteness in Greek and Latin, then and now

by Dag Haug (University of Oslo)

Finiteness is a crucial notion in modern theories of grammar.  The concept originates in the work of ancient grammarians on Greek and Latin and it has often been thought to be inadequate for other languages. In my talk, I trace a very brief history of the idea and then show that Greek and Latin themselves actually display a number of phenomena relating to the syntax and semantics of participles and infinitives that challenge this traditional idea of finiteness. Thus, there is still a lot to learn from the grammar of Greek and Latin if one is willing to dig deeper than the traditional descriptions.

A video recording of the talk can be found below.

This paper was read at the Philological Society meeting in London, SOAS Main Building, Room 116, on Friday, 13 January, 4.15pm. The slideshow accompanying the paper is available here.

TPS 114(3) – Abstract 3

Analogical Levelling and Optimisation: the Treatment of Pointless Lexical Allomorphy in Greek

by Helen Sims-Williams (University of Surrey)

Ancient Greek verbal morphology involved extensive allomorphy of lexical morphemes, most of which was phonologically and semantically arbitrary, lexically idiosyncratic, and functionally redundant. This was subsequently reduced through analogical levelling, which eliminates alternations in favour of a single phonological expression of underlying meaning. This reduction of arbitrary complexity is often observed in the development of morphological systems, which has inspired a common view of morphological change as being guided by universal preferences, nudging languages along paths which will lead them to a more optimal status. This paper applies data from the history of Greek to two questions about analogical levelling and the role of ‘optimisation’. Firstly, is levelling motivated by a universal preference for a one-to-one alignment of meaning and form? Secondly, is the direction of levelling determined by universal preferences for particular ways of marking morphosyntactic distinctions? I will argue that the answer to both questions is no: the developments observed here are remarkably well predicted by language-specific, formal properties of paradigms, without the need to invoke universal preferences. These facts are best accommodated if speaker competence includes detailed probabilistic information about the predictive structure of paradigms, which has important implications for morphological theory, as well as historical linguistics.