Prominence in Passive Construction with hUPO in Mk 1:9

Philip Graber Philip.Graber at
Thu Sep 27 14:46:15 EDT 2001

I have been following the thread about prominence and constituent ordering 
and have wanted to jump in.  I don't have the time, but I can no longer 
resist.  I'll try to make this short.

Terminology is a major problem, and I think it is useful to define terms 
very carefully.  For this purpose, it is useful to choose a theory and use 
the terms defined within it rather than to use terms like "topic," "theme," 
"focus," "prominence," "emphasis," etc. without definitions and without 
knowing what terms might be roughly synonymous and which ones are different.

In my work, I have chosen to go with Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), 
one of the theories that has grown, to some extent, out of the Prague 
School.  SFL (not uniquely) differentiates between two kinds of prominence 
(which word is not a technical term in the theory): Theme and Information 
Structure.  Theme is a kind of prominence that describes what is the 
starting point for the clause as a message.  ("Rheme" is used to describe 
the rest of the clause, that part of the message that develops from the 
starting point, or Theme.)  Information Structure is seen as an independent 
structure.  New information is not necessarily new in the non-technical 
sense, but is the focus of a message unit (that may not always correspond 
exactly with a clause).  It is often either truly new information or 
contrastive information.  In English, the default (unmarked) case is one in 
which Theme is also Given Information and New Information is also in the 
Rheme, but it does not necessarily need to be the case.

These definitions are probably not adequate, but hopefully will suffice to 
say this:  many languages use constituent ordering to mark Theme (though it 
can be marked by other means, such as morphology).  It is common, for some 
intuitively obvious reasons,  for Theme as point of departure, to come 
first in clauses in many languages, and for New Information as the point 
toward which the message is moving to come late (if not last) in 
clauses.  I have often thought that this is a hypothesis worth testing for 
Greek and, if confirmed, would explain why some scholars are inclined to 
say that both ends of a Greek clause are prominent while others say they 
are not -- if they are, the kinds of prominence are undoubtedly different.

I am reasonably well convinced through my own work (which I will not 
elaborate on here) that initial position in the Greek clause is related to 
what SFL calls Theme.  I have not done nearly enough to say anything about 
Information Structure.  I suspect that, like some other Indo-European 
languages, Information Structure was realized in the intonation.  That is 
not very helpful for ancient Greek.  Helma Dik, using Simon Dik's (no 
relation) Functional Grammar theory, has posited for the corpus of 
Herodotus that first position in the clause is Topic (similar to SFL Theme) 
and that Focus (similar to SFL New Information) defaults to SECOND 
constituent position, though it is not defined strictly by position and 
does move around.  I think there is some very fruitful work to be done here.

I hope this was helpful and/or enlightening to someone.  At least I hope it 
dispelled any notions that prominence and constituent order is a 
straightforward matter.

Rev. Philip L. Graber, Ph.D., Pastor
Ronceverte Presbyterian Church
Ronceverte, West Virginia USA

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