PhilSoc Master’s Bursary Report

written by Greta Galeotti (Harvard University)

I was about twelve when I first came in contact with the study of an ancient language, through a Latin workshop offered at my middle school. In hindsight, this encounter proved to be fatal: I went on to join a high school with a curriculum focused on the Greek and Latin languages and literature (as it is not uncommon in Italy) and, to the surprise of exactly nobody among my friends and family, I went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Classics. However, another two encounters during the early stages of my Bachelor’s have shaped the direction of my later academic studies in a more specific direction: in the first semester of the first year, with General Linguistics, and at the beginning of the second year, with Greek Dialectology. Within the first two classes I had decided that that was what I wanted to pursue further.

The discovery of the study of language per se and its evolution felt like the most natural evolution of my interest on textual analysis, and the study of ancient dialects particularly resonates with me given the complex dialectal mosaic of my home country. Completely fascinated with the idea of language reconstruction from an Indo-European perspective, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to puruse these interests in a program that would allow me to study both general and historical linguistics, and maintain a focus on Greek: the Master of Philosophy in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology at the University of Oxford. The contribution of the PhilSoc Master’s Bursary to this end has been decisive and something I am most grateful for.

It has allowed me to complete a program where I was able to explore numerous interests and build a background in both general and Indo-European linguistics. Within the program, I have focused on Greek as my major, and gained not only a comparative linguistic perspective but also a new languages by choosing Sanskrit as my minor. I was able to take advantage of the University’s many other opportunities and so to enrich my curriculum and not neglect languages slight more commonly spoken, such as Modern Greek. I refocused on my passion, Greek dialects, during my
final Master thesis, through a study on their disappearance and the emergence of the Ancient Greek koine in Delphi, analysing a corpus of about four hundreds decrees and relating the use of dialect and koine to their formulaic nature.

I am lucky to have been offered the opportunity to continue on this path of research by by being offered a place in the PhD program in Classics at Harvard University, which I have been part of since September 2019. The Classics department maintains tight ties with the Linguistics Department on the floor above, and felt like the perfect opportunity to bring together my interests in Classics and the study of literature with those in linguistics, allowing me to maintain the various interests developed in Oxford, such as Sanskrit, with my main focus on Greek dialects. The background I have built in my MPhil I feel has been instrumental in bringing me to my current place, and I remain extremely grateful to the PhilSoc for having enabled me to pursue my passion through the Master’s Bursary scheme.

Anna Morpurgo Davies Bursary Report

written by Roxanne Taylor (University of Manchester)

I was generously funded by the Anna Morpurgo Davies bursary through PhilSoc, financial support which was of great help in the completion of my MPhil General Linguistics and Comparative Philology. Having graduated with my BA from Oriel College, Oxford, in 2017, I took up a place at Wolfson College, Oxford in the same year to commence post-graduate study.

As part of the masters programme, I undertook training in various aspects of general linguistic theory, including syntax, phonology, phonetics and morphology.  I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to study aspects of modern linguistics like phonetic transcription which are otherwise alien to those who study ancient languages. I chose to continue my study of Ancient Greek, as well as studying the history and structure of Old English. The combination of Old English and Ancient Greek is certainly unusual, and has raised eyebrows! I encountered Old English through my undergraduate study of Medieval literature, and I was grateful to be able to explore the language from a different perspective, guided by the expert staff based at Oxford. Weekly tutorials during my masters encompassed a wide range of topics, from Greek accentuation, and aspect, to Siever’s Law,  and the metrical phonology of Old English poetry.

Part of what attracted me to the Oxford MPhil was the requirement for a 25,000 word thesis. My thesis was supervised by Professor Philomen Probert, and addressed the “semantics and syntax of non-finite expressions of purpose in the Greek of Herodotos’ Histories”. The thesis explored the use of participial phrases and prepositional phrases as means of encoding a relation of purpose. The different strategies for encoding purpose relations were found to be semantically differentiated: for example, the future participle was found to be used in contexts in which the destination of some motion and the purpose intended are closely associated.

My thesis also had a syntactic dimension, using the framework of Lexical Functional Grammar. The category of participial phrases was considered, alongside the mechanics by which future participles show case and gender features.  Future participles expressing a purpose are analysed as VPs, with their own subjects (Haug, 2017). The analysis of adverbal Greek participles offered in the thesis is similar to that of Lowe (2015) for the same construction in Sanskrit. I presented aspects of my thesis research at the PhilSoc’s own “Early Career Forum” in March 2019, and also at the University of Göttingen at Christmas.

In September 2019 I embarked on an AHRC-funded PhD in Linguistics at the University of Manchester. My doctoral research focuses on the Old English noun phrase, examining argument realisation and argument structure. The research uses quantitative and qualitative methodology, and the theoretical analysis is couched within LFG, which I first encountered at Oxford. I hope to continue in academia once my PhD is completed. Some of my ideas for post-doctoral study include the left periphery of the Ancient Greek noun phrase, applying the precepts of construction grammar to poetic formulae, and charting the expansion of the “of”-genitive in the long twelfth century and Early Middle English in terms of the specific relations which the “of”-genitive can be used to express.


Haug, Dag T.T. (2017). ‘Backward Control in Ancient Greek and Latin Participial Adjuncts’. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 35(1):99-159.

Lowe, John (2015), Participles in Rigvedic Sanskrit: The Syntax and Semantics of Adjectival Verb Forms, Volume 17 in the series Oxford Studies in Diachronic and Historical Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ancient Greek enclitics: some new light from ancient grammarians

by Philomen Probert (University of Oxford)

Ancient Greek is a language rich in enclitics (little words forming some sort of prosodic unit with what precedes), and ancient grammatical texts give us important information on how an enclitic affects the accent or stress of the preceding word. But in some situations we struggle to understand what ancient authors are telling us. For example, what happens when enclitics follow one another in sequence? Some ancient texts tell us that every enclitic except the last gets an accent on its last syllable, while others present us with the same idea plus a series of apparently unlikely exceptions. This talk will argue that the ancient grammarians are consistently getting at a recursive rule, but that they deploy ingenious strategies for not talking about recursion.

The Syntax and Semantics of the Perfect Active in Literary Koine Greek

by Robert S. D. Crellin (University of Cambridge)

trps_oc_mockup1_Layout 1The semantics of the Ancient Greek perfect active, morphologically directly inherited from the Proto-Indo-European form of the same name, has long been a matter of scholarly contention. What makes this verb form semantically so interesting is that for most of the duration of Ancient Greek it seems to combine several tense-aspect and diathetical features, namely anteriority, resultativity, stativity, and detransitivisation in causative predicates, which are in many languages conveyed by separate morphological means. To put this in concrete terms, in Ancient Greek you would use a perfect active form to render both English ‘I have made a chair’ and ‘I stand’. This has led to a variety of approaches to analysing the perfect’s semantics, to varying degrees either positing lexicalisation of apparently aberrant readings, or generalising a particular aspect of the semantic behaviour of the perfect, but beyond what the data as a whole can support.

My recent monograph, The Syntax and Semantics of the Perfect Active in Literary Koine Greek, seeks to address the question of the semantic description of the Greek perfect head-on, on the basis of the plentiful but understudied corpus of literary post-Classical Greek (c. 300 BCE – 300 CE). After some theoretical preliminaries, the study first assesses the full range of behaviours of the perfect in this corpus according to verb and predicate type, before building up a semantic description of the perfect from which the perfect’s diverse interactions with different predicate-types can be derived. This is achieved by adopting insights inter alia from Tenny’s Aspectual Interface Hypothesis (Tenny 1994) as well as the generative tradition, to provide an account of the perfect’s semantics which thoroughly integrates its argument structure relations with its tense-aspect denotations. It is demonstrated that it is possible to formulate a semantic description by which one may predict, with a predicate of known semantic properties, how the perfect will be read. Specifically, the perfect derives a homogeneous atelic eventuality from the predicate which it heads.

The simplest case is that in predicates which are themselves homogeneous and atelic, such as states, the perfect may simply derive another state from the predicate:

trépetai katà stenōpòn ēremēkóta
turn.PRS.IND.N-ACT.3SG PTCL down corridor.M.ACC.SG be_quiet.PRF.PART.ACT.M.ACC.SG
‘He turned down a quiet narrow passage…’ (Jos. AJ 19.104, monograph p. 50)

However, since the negative of a state may also be said to have the same event structural properties, a cancelled state is also a valid reading of the perfect, e.g.:

Phregéllai… pólis… tàs pollàs tôn
Phregellai city.F.NOM.SG ART.F.ACC.PL many.F.ACC.PL ART.GEN.PL
árti lekhtheîsōn perioikídas próteron eskhēkuîa
just_now say.AOR.PART.N-ACT.GEN.PL dependent_town.F.ACC.PL previously have.PRF.PART.ACT.F.NOM.SG 
‘Phregellai… a city… which previously had the majority of the places just mentioned as dependent towns.’ (Strabo 5.3.10, monograph p. 236)

Indeed, it may be said more generally that the negative of any eventuality is homogeneous and atelic (see e.g. de Swart 1996: 229 who, following Verkuyl 1993, takes such predicates as states). This allows the perfect to derive such an eventuality from predicates where the subject is not presented as entering into a state, by instantiating the predicate and locating the subject in the homogeneous and atelic post-situation e.g.:

hóper kagṑ nûn pepoíēka
‘… which is exactly what I have now done.’ (Jos. AJ 12.213, monograph p. 17)

The relationship between argument structure and tense-aspect denotation becomes clear in labile change-of-state predicates. Here the perfect active may have resultative or anterior semantics according to its syntax. Read as detransitivising, the perfect is read as resultative, whereas when the predicate is transitive, it reads as an anterior. In each case, the perfect is seen to derive a homogeneous atelic eventuality and predicates this of the subject:

heistḗkei dè… hupestalkṑs tôi skótōi.
‘[Claudius] had stood… taking cover in the darkness there.’ (Jos. AJ 19.216, monograph p. 190)
ho Phílippos… hupó tina lóphon
hupestálkei toùs Illurioùs…
‘But Philip… had sheltered the Illyrians behind a hill…’ (Plb. 5.13.5, monograph p. 190)

The monograph is a development of my PhD thesis, completed with AHRC funding at the Faculty of Classics, Cambridge, in 2012, which looked at the same question. The latter, however, is more empirically focused, using large datasets to generalise about the behaviour of the perfect from the macro-perspective. The present work presents a counterpoint to that project, by taking the micro-perspective, and seeking to establish, by delving into the underlying structure of the Greek language in this period, the semantic basis on which this form’s rather idiosyncratic behaviour might be described.


Crellin, Robert. 2012. The Greek Perfect Active System: 200 BC – AD 150. PhD Dissertation. University of Cambridge.

Swart, Henriette D. E. de. 1996. Meaning and Use of not … until. Journal of Semantics (13). 221–263.

Tenny, Carol. 1994. Aspectual Roles and the Syntax-Semantics Interface. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Verkuyl, Henk. 1993. A Theory of Aspectuality: the Interaction between Temporal and Atemporal Structure. Cambridge: CUP.

Robert Crellin’s book, The Syntax and Semantics of the Perfect Active in Literary Koine Greek, is freely accessible to members of the Philological Society via the Wiley Online Library and their membership number. Members are asked to contact one of the Society’s secretaries with any questions in this regard. Full members are entitled to a print copy of this volume, which may be requested using this online form.

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.