Academic journal article Acta Classica

Towards the Identification of Verbal Periphrasis in Ancient Greek: A Prototype Analysis

Academic journal article Acta Classica

Towards the Identification of Verbal Periphrasis in Ancient Greek: A Prototype Analysis

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Verbal periphrasis is a problematic and much discussed issue (cf. the introductory chapter by Pusch & Wesch 2003). This is not to say that there is no consensus whatsoever with regard to its general characteristics, which are summarised in recent review articles by Haspelmath (2000) and Spencer (2006). Spencer (2006:287) gives the following description of this grammatical phenomenon: 'the term "periphrasis" is most commonly used to denote a construction type in which a grammatical property or feature is expressed by a combination of words rather than a single (inflected) word form.' As an example of periphrasis in English, Spencer mentions the perfect aspect construction formed with 'have', as in 'the girls have sung'. He contrasts this with the expression of past tense, as in 'the girls sang', where the past tense form of the content verb itself is used (Spencer 2006: 287-88) (in the case of 'sang', scholars speak of a 'synthetic' or 'monolectic' verb form). Haspelmath (2000:660-61) makes an important distinction between two main types of verbal periphrasis, viz. 'suppletive' and 'categorial' periphrasis (cf. similarly Aerts 1965:3 and Evans 2001: 221), with the former filling a gap in the inflectional paradigm and the latter expressing 'some additional semantic distinction' (Haspelmath 2000:656). As an example of the latter type consider the Ancient Greek form [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Lc. 5.17) next to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Lc. 5.3), both meaning 'he was teaching'. Furthermore, both Spencer and Haspelmath argue for a number of semantic, morphological and paradigmatic criteria to identify verbal periphrasis.

Even in these overview articles, however, various problems readily surface, most importantly with regard to the proposed criteria. As Haspelmath has to admit, none of his criteria is completely unproblematic, and it is not entirely clear whether they should be considered a necessary condition for periphrastic status (Haspelmath 2000:661). That the identification of periphrastic constructions in individual languages is by no means self-evident is well illustrated by Ancient Greek (1) constructions consisting of a finite verb and a participle, which form the topic of this paper. While Porter (1989) only accepts constructions with the verb [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as periphrastic, other authors such as Dietrich (1973/1983) mention a large number of 'periphrastic' constructions with finite verbs such as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. In fact, some twenty-seven constructions occurring in Ancient Greek have been considered periphrastic by one or more authors. An overview of these is given in Table 1. As a result, there is a feeling of confusion and arbitrariness in the secondary literature, succinctly worded by Campbell (2008:32) as follows: 'verbal periphrasis in Ancient Greek is a problematic issue' (cf. similarly, Porter 1989:452, Adrados 1992:451, Evans 2001:221 and Rijksbaron 2006:127).

One important insight of recent years has been to relate the phenomenon of verbal periphrasis to the concept of grammaticalisation (3) (cf. Wischer 2008 for a recent treatment). Haspelmath (2000:661), among others, stresses that 'we need a comprehensive theory of grammaticalisation in order to understand periphrasis.' Another way to put it is to say that periphrasis involves 'auxiliaries' (cf. Markopoulos 2009:12), which Heine (1993:12) defines as 'a linguistic item covering some range of uses along the Verb-to-TAM chain.' As Haspelmath (2000:661) notes, this perspective makes it much easier to define periphrasis--'the more grammaticalised a construction is, the more it can claim to have periphrastic status'--although its precise identification in individual languages remains problematic.

What I would like to propose here is to consider verbal periphrasis as a 'prototypically organised category' (cf. a.o. Langacker 1987:16-19, Givon 1989; Taylor 1998, 2003 and Cruse 2011:57-67 for the 'prototype model'). …

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