Paul Schmehl p.l.schmehl at
Tue Oct 9 20:39:43 EDT 2001

----- Original Message -----
From: "George Blaisdell" <maqhth at>
To: "Biblical Greek" <b-greek at>
Sent: Tuesday, October 09, 2001 2:38 PM
Subject: [b-greek] Re: IOUDAIOUS TE KAI hELLHNAS (Rom 3:9)
> Your idea that 'emphasis generally comes from the left' seems rooted in
> function in Greek construction of words that are stated first.  Beginnings
> are important in Greek language in a way that they are not in English.  In
> English, we tend to start out and trust that we will get around to the
> eventually.  In Greek, the point is clearly in view with the opening
> so that the 'items to the left', as you call them, have an emphasis that I
> prefer to call 'carry', for they carry over across the discourse, in that
> they so often set the theme or purpose or direction of what follows.

I have been bothered by this principle for a while, and I'd like to 1)
articulate what bothers me and 2) ask for input from the learned members of
this group.  I'm not picking on Iver, because he is not the first to
articulate this principle (nor will he be the last.)  I guess I just need
help understanding this principle better.

First, what bothers me:  In any language, *something* has to be first.  It's
simply impossible to express *anything* without putting something at the
beginning.  Therefore, when a general principle is articulated that "things
to the left are more important", my hair stands up on end.  I'm well aware
that Greek uses word order for emphasis, but all languages, I think, have
"normal" ways of expressing things and then "abnormal" ways of expression
that provide emphasis.

For example, in English we might say, "Stop that now!", and one *might*
conclude that the emphasis is on the word "now" or one might conclude that
there is no particular emphasis.  However, if I rephrased it, "Now stop
that!", one might conclude the emphasis was on the word "stop".  Perhaps one
might call the former word order "normal" and the latter "abnormal", because
 the position of "stop" has been altered.

Second, my plea for input:

Wouldn't Greek also have a "normal" word order?  And wouldn't that "normal"
word order have no particular emphasis?  ISTR that I was taught that
"normal" Greek word order is SOV, with the verb generally taking the later
position in a sentence.  So, for example, in Acts 1:1 we read, "TON MEN
KAI DIDASKEIN", which in "normal" English we might say "I wrote the first
account, beloved of God, concerning all that Jesus began to both do and
teach...", whereas the Greek has it, "The first account I wrote, concerning
all, beloved of God, that Jesus began to both do and teach..."

Now, I don't get the sense that there is any emphasis in this Greek at all.
It seems to be "normal" to me.  So the "principle" that things to the left
are emphasized seems inapplicable to me here.  Now, I *do* get the sense
that "normal" Greek word order is more "fluid" than English word order
without changing emphasis, but ISTM that arguing that "whatever is left is
emphasized" is too rigid and dogmatic.  I would prefer to see evidence that
a word order is "abnormal" before agreeing that "whatever is left is

Am I way off base?

Paul Schmehl pauls at
p.l.schmehl at

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