Diachronic and Synchronic Explanations of Verbs (was Re: diachronic explanation of 1st/2nd aorist)

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Mon May 27 14:05:37 EDT 2002

This thread began two weeks ago with a question from Trevor Peterson: "But
what is the diachronic explanation for how the two paradigms (First and
Second Aorist) originated?" I attempted to answer that question originally
in my response(s) to Trevor. But the thread has had a life of its own, and
while that original subject-heading was retained up through the most recent
postings by Ward Powers and Ty Frost, the focus has shifted in these last
two posts totally over to a SYNCHRONIC perspective on Greek verbal
morphology. Ward's perspective is wholly "synchronic," focused, that is,
quite strictly upon the Koine Greek of the New Testament without regard to
the historical emergence of the elements (which he terms "morphs") and
morphoparadigms (my own coinage, so far as I know) with an underlying
assumption that the language thus described is stable and essentially
uniform. My own perspective, on the other hand, is DIACHRONIC, focused upon
the linguistic history of the morphoparadigms and their formative elements
with an underlying assumption that the Greek language of the NT is IN
FLUX--in a process of change from older standard forms and usage to other
forms and usage that are in part simpler and in part more complex than the
older forms and usage. These perspectives should not be viewed as competing
against each other as if one were valid and the other invalid, or even as
if one were more valid than the other. It just may possible be that both
Ward and I exaggerate the way we describe the facts about NT Greek from our
different perspectives: Ward emphasizes and underscores the regularity and
intelligibility of NT Greek verb morphology, while I emphasize and
underscore the anomalies and curiosities of the NT Greek verb morphology.
Ward has his three verb conjugations and his numerous "morph slots" with
variant "morphs" fitting into each slot in a manner somewhat similar to the
way we understand Homeric formulaic elements to fit neatly into the
dactylic hexameter line. I, on the other hand, am fascinated by the fact
that "Second Aorist" forms like EIDON appear almost as frequently in the
GNT as EIDA; similarly I'm fascinated by the fact that the Greek verb
AFIHMI appears in the GNT in the following variety of forms just in the
present tense (according to Accordance's analysis): AFIENAI

AFIHMI@ [VERB present active] (20 total words)
  AFIHMI  to forgive, permit, allow, free, neglect, abandon, leave = 20
    Active = 20
      Present Indicative = 11
        First Singular AFIHMI = 2
        First  Plural  AFIOMEN = 1
        Second Singular AFEIS = 1 (NOT AFIEIS, which would be more
        Second Plural AFIETE = 2
        Third  Singular  AFIHSIN = 4
        Third Plural  AFIOUSIN = 1
      Present Imperative = 3
        Second  Plural AFIETE = 1
        Third Singular AFIETW = 2
      Present Infinitive AFIENAI = 6

These irregularities can be explained only from a DIACHRONIC perspective.
In the period during which the GNT was being written the verb AFIHMI was in
the process of assimilation from the -MI conjugation to the -W conjugation
(one might, once the process of change was complete, reset the lexical form
to AFIW). Of the above 20 forms of present tense in the GNT, AFIOMEN and
AFIOUSIN display what is to be expected from an -W verb, while the
indicatives AFIETE and the imperatives AFIETE and AFIETW would have
identical forms in the -MI and in the -W conjugation, while the 1st sg.
AFIHMI and the inf. AFIENAI clearly display -MI forms. Then there's the odd
2nd sg. indicative AFEIS which superficially looks like it should be an
aorist m. sg. active ptc., but in fact it must be 2nd sg. indicative in its
context--but it's in Revelation (2:20), which is notorious among NT
documents as a repertory of grammatical anomalies and solecisms; most
likely it's a mis-spelling of AFIEIS, although the only significant MS
variant is the aorist AFHKAS.

Or there's the curious fact that the verb PARADIDWMI appears 7x in the 3d
pl. aorist active indicative in the GNT: 6x in the textbook form to be
expected from a presentation of Ward's "third-conjugation" verbs:
PAREDWKAN, but 1x only in the form standard in older Attic, PAREDOSAN. It's
hardly surprising that this is in the Lucan prologue (Lk 1:2) where the
author is deliberately imitating the style of classical Greek

Another point at which I have found myself at odds with Ward's explanation
of the verbal system has to do with his analysis of "stems" and "aspect
morphs" as related to personal (pronominal) endings.

At 8:04 PM +1000 5/26/02, B. Ward Powers wrote:
 [omitted material]
>Three clarifications re linguistic terminology.
>1. "In morphological analysis ... one divides or 'cuts' forms of actual
>utterances into minimal segments, or sequences of phonemes, to which it is
>possible to assign meanings. ... such phoneme sequences or form-segments
>are known in current usage as 'morphs'." (F G Lounsbury, "The Method of
>Descriptive Morphology", in M Joos, "Readings in Linguistics", University
>of Chicago Press). "Morph" (not "morpheme") is the correct terms for a
>meaning-segment in a word.
>2. "Morph slots" is the term for positions in the framework of a word where
>morphs can be found. There are nine morph slots in the verb in Greek.
>3. The term "stem" refers to the whole of a word except the bit that
>changes in a particular paradigm, which is the "ending". The "stem" can be
>described by what it means. Thus in EKLUQHSONTAI (Mark 8:3), EKLUQHSO- is
>the future passive stem, and -NTAI is the ending (third person plural).

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