Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Mon Aug 13 07:09:00 EDT 2001

At 3:35 PM +1000 8/13/01, B. Ward Powers wrote:
>At 08:18 AM 010812 -0400, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>>Just a quibble here regarding Ward's explanation of a supposed "elision" of
>>A in what he calls an "allomorph" -SA- in formation of the ("first") aorist
>>in Greek. As I've noted before, I don't really think elision (in the sense
>>of suppression of a vowel originally present in favor of a preceding vowel)
>>is at all what is involved in
>There is a possibility that Carl and I may have different working
>definitions of what is mean by "elision" as it applies in koine Greek. When
>a preposition ending in a vowel (other than PRO or PERI) is prefixed to a
>verb which commences with a vowel, that last vowel of the preposition
>elides before the first vowel of the verb to which it is now attached. And
>that is elision. (Are we in agreement thus far, Carl?)


>Now what I observe with the neutral morph (the -O- or -E- of ELUOMEN and
>ELUETE), and the -SA- punctiliar morph of the aorist active and middle, and
>the -KA- perfective morph of the present perfect active, is that they
>behave in exactly the same way.  That is, in these "aspect morphs", their
>vowel remains when they are "form final" (as in LELUKA) or followed by a
>consonant, but when they are followed by a vowel in the contiguous next
>morph, then that first vowel vanishes from sight. (Compare LELUKA with
>LELUKEN.) I therefore describe the observed behaviour of these phonemes as
>"elision": when followed by another vowel, these vowels elide.
>The alternative explanations often offered involve taking -KE- in LELUKEN
>as an alternative morph in this verb form to -KA- in the other verb forms,
>which is a deficient explanation because it does not account for the change
>of vowel, and also because if the -E- is taken as part of this morph, then
>all you have left for the pronoun morph is a movable nu. This is
>linguistically unsound as an explanation.

I agree well enough, and I've never argued that. Rather I've argued that
the -K- itself and the -S- itself are the original perfect active and
aorist markers respectively, and that the -A- element is a secondary
additive that does not appear universally throughout the conjugation and is
better understood not as being "elided" in forms such as LELUKWMEN and
LUSWMEN but as never having been a part of these words. As I've said, this
is a quibble. I believe the explanation Ward offers is not true--which is
not to say that it may not be useful pedagogically.

>This is how linguistic analysis works: The moment you recognize that the
>pronoun ending for the third singular in imperfect, aorist and perfect
>tenses is epsilon (with or without movable nu, i.e. you have the
>allomorphic forms -E and -EN), then you see that the perfective morph can
>be either -KA- or -K-, and similarly the punctiliar morph can be -SA- or
>-S-: and the next thing you do is seek to identify the environment in which
>it can be the one or the other. And you see that it simply depends upon
>whether the next phoneme is a vowel or not. So you suspect this is an
>instance of elision. Next you test this "theory" in other environments
>(i.e., other tenses of LUW, other paradigms). You see (as I showed in my
>previous post) that this explanation holds up in all cases. Finally you
>formalize it in the form of a "rule".
>>At 5:23 PM +1000 8/12/01, B. Ward Powers wrote:
>> >Recognizing this allows us to formulate a second rule:
>> >2. The -A- of the punctiliar morph -SA- elides before a following vowel.
>[Carl responds:]
>>When Ward brought up this explanation (cited directly, I think, from his
>Actually, no, Carl. It is indeed true, of course, that in my textbook
>"Learn to Read the Greek NT" I present the same conclusions from my
>research into linguistics and NT Greek, but what I posted to the b-greek
>list was newly written for this purpose. I had in mind to lay out this
>explanation before the list to see what helpful comments I could elicit.
>(Thank you for yours.) It is my hope, down the track a little, to put
>together some of the fruits of my research into the question of linguistics
>and Greek (including the question of the -SA- morph) and seek separate
>publication for them.

Sorry, I guessed wrong about that; although I have a copy of Ward's
textbook, I didn't have it at hand when I made that comment.

>>  back in 1979, I protested on historical grounds against this
>>explanation. I will grant quite readily that it is the sort of explanation
>>which works well enough as a pedagogical device even if it isn't an
>>accurate account of how the historical forms came into existence.
>I do not claim to be an expert in the historical development of the Greek
>language, having just a modest contact with its history while studying
>Classical Greek as a subject major in my undergraduate years. I am aware
>how much greater than mine is Carl's knowledge in this historical arena.
>But for most purposes a reference to the history of the language is not
>necessary in teaching or understanding koine Greek. This is not to say that
>it can or should be totally ignored: for example, in my Grammar I have
>quite a bit to say about the ancient letter digamma and the words it was
>in, but this is because knowing this will help us understand the behaviour
>of the used-to-be digamma words when we meet them in koine.

I'm glad you've made reference to the digamma and ways in which its
evanescence has effected/disrupted the intelligible patterns of some very
important paradigms. Personally I feel that students also do well to be
acquainted with evanescent initial and medial sigma and yod (iota
consonant) as well as several other significant phonological factors that
appear to disrupt the regular paradigms.

>For the most part, however, it suffices well if we take a synchronistic
>view ("as things are now", i.e., in NT times) rather than needing a
>diachronistic approach ("through time", looking at historical development)
>for koine Greek. It may possibly be that Carl and I have a different
>viewpoint about this point.

Yes, we do--and that's just fine. I've called attention repeatedly on this
list to reasons why I feel one cannot ignore diachronic aspects of Koine
Greek (essentially because it is a language that is far from being regular
and consistent inasmuch as it is a language in flux, a language with
concurrent alternative forms of many words and paradigms, and therefore a
language which in many respects--certainly not all respects--is better
understood by knowing something about its earlier evolution as well as the
evolution it underwent in centuries following the Hellenistic Koine. And
because I do feel strongly about the importance of diachronic "awareness"
in the process of acquisition of a mastery of Greek, I tend to protest
against what I can't help but see as pedagogical "fictions" which seem to
me to distort the facts about the paradigms we've been discussing here.

>> >But even when teaching the aorist in Biblical Greek, one must come to
>> >terms sooner or later with the fact that the language does not fit quite
>> >so neatly into the slots as one might wish.
>> >As the rabbit told Alice, those verbs are "an ornery lot" and one must
>> >really struggle with them to master them.
>As Carl says (and all of us who work with the language know well how true
>it is!), verbs do not always fit neatly into our grammatical slots. And
>indeed at times we really do struggle to master them. But there are many
>patterns - dozens and dozens of them - which can be discerned by applying
>the principles of linguistic analysis to koine Greek.
>Up to a point, linguistic analysis involves discerning such patterns, and
>then seeking to attach meanings to them in the language. And when I discern
>these patterns, I am grateful they are there, and I take advantage of them
>for the sake of my own understanding of what is "going on" in the language
>- and also for the benefits they can bring to students following behind us,
>and also struggling with the language.

This is, of course, an unending debate. Teachers of Greek will agree upon
many aspects of what is pedagogically sound practice in helping students to
a mastery of the language and they will disagree on some others. I think
that's to be expected. I don't really think there's any danger of the
emergence of a universal consensus on the linguistic nature and phenomena
of Greek.

I really see any value in continuing this exchange. I've offered my quibble
and identified it as being just that: a disagreement on principle about the
way some of the facts about Greek morphology are being presented.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
Most months: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at OR cwconrad at

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