Correlatives in New Testament Greek

The correlative construction, characterized by a pre-posed relative clause (RC) adjoined to a matrix clause, finds itself in all branches of the oldest Indo-European languages: Hittite, Vedic Sanskrit and Latin. Correlatives remain as a relativization strategy in Modern Hindi:

        (1)     jo laRkii khaRii hai vo lambii hai
                REL girl standing is DEM tall is
                ‘The girl who is standing is tall’
                (lit, ‘Which girl is standing, this one is tall)

Although correlatives also have a long history in Greek, they have not received proper attention in the historical or theoretical literature. In this talk, I discuss correlatives from the (relatively late) Koiné period, using the Greek New Testament (after 45 AD) as a corpus. I will show that the structure of the RC in correlative sentences is similar to that of the NT Greek wh-question, involving an articulated Left Periphery. Evidence comes from particle and verb placement, as well as case phenomena.

Meetings 2009-2010

A new (academic) year, new meetings! We’ve already got a lot of slots filled, but are always looking for more, so if you’d like to share your wisdom research with your colleagues, please contact one of the organizers. Remember, al meetings start at 16.15 sharp, unless otherwise noted!


We hope to see you all at the meetings! 


Word Order Variation in Possessive Constructions in Mundabli (Western Beboid) – a Case of External Possession?


Mundabli is a Western Beboid language spoken in the Northwest Province of Cameroon. The genetic setup and affiliation of Western Beboid are far from clear and research on these languages is still in its initial stages.


Taking a look at possession in Mundabli, we find that there are two different constructions which both involve a possessive relation between two referents. The most common construction is the simple possessive construction in which the word order is Possessum + Possessor, as in fo ŋkɯŋ ‘my cap’ or fo ŋkʊŋ ‘the cap of the chief’, without a (segmental) associative particle intervening. The alternative construction usually has slightly different (and more restricted) semantics/pragmatics. Formally, it differs from the common possessive construction in two aspects:


(a) the precedence relationship between Possessum and Possessor is reversed, so that the Possessum usually follows the Possessor (though the hypothesis is that they are no longer part of the same phrase),


(b) the pronominal Possessor does not take the form of a possessive pronoun but that of a simple pronoun.


This can be seen in the example of external possession given below:


ʃaŋ                dɯ   mɯ  wuŋ

sand loc.COP 1SG nose ‘There’s sand in my nose.’

(literally: ‘sand is me at/in the nose’; loc.COP=locative copula)


This construction seems to be semantically restricted to body parts and at least one kinship relation (child). This is typically the case for external possession (or possessor raising).

In external possession there is often a part-whole relationship between Possessum and Possessor involved. Semantically, “it often involves a significant change of state in the referent of the possessor” while “from a syntactic viewpoint, Possessor Raising [or external possession] creates an independent clausal argument out of a constituent of an NP”. (Comrie & Polinsky 1999). In my presentation I will present data collected during two field trips to Cameroon and discuss the status of the examples found. Are the described cases really instances of external possession?



Comrie, Bernard & Maria Polinsky (1999).‘Possessor raising in a language that does not have any’. In Doris L. Payne and Emmanuel Barshi, eds.: External Possession, 523–542. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


Evidentiality and Involvement in the native languages of South-America: teasing apart semantic categories

In many South American languages some kind of evidentiality is expressed. However, in the existing grammatical descriptions of these languages the category of evidentiality is not always adequately described or even recognized. One of the problems is that the term evidentiality is used both with a broad interpretation and with a narrow interpretation. In order to grasp the general nature of this category, it is very important to determine its constitutive parts and tease out the different semantic categories that are involved in the expression of evidentiality. The relationship between evidentiality and epistemic modality has been quite well studied, whereas the relationship between evidentiality and involvement of the speaker has hardly been studied at all. In this paper I will make a first attempt to first establish and unravel this relationship.

In this paper, I use the terms ‘evidentiality’ and ‘speaker involvement’ as follows: semantically, evidentiality is used in a narrow sense to mean the marking of the source of information. When it comes to the form of this marking, the use of the term is much more broad. That is, not just grammatical marking of the source of information is included in this study, as Aikhenvald (2003) defines the term; any type of material, such as morphology, periphrastic constructions, syntactic constructions etc. can be used in order to express the source of information. The term involvement (of the speaker) is used as a semantic category to express the physical, mental or social participation of the speaker in the event he or she is describing. This can also be expressed formally in many different ways.

A first indication of the relation evidentiality and involvement of the speaker can be found in what Aikhenvald (2004:219) calls the ‘first person’ effect. These effects consist of the reduced involvement of the speaker when a less direct evidential is used. This is illustrated by example (1) from Tucano. Because of the use of the non-visual form –asï, the speaker shows that he was not consciously involved in the breaking of the plate. When the speaker applies a visual evidential as in example (2), he or she is suddenly consciously involved in the breaking of the plate.

This lack of involvement is not only found with first person subjects. In his doctoral thesis, Michael (2008) shows how ‘information responsibility’ and ‘event responsibility’ are tied together in the Arawakan language Nanti. That is to say, in Nanti indirect evidential forms are not only used to express that the speaker does not have direct information, but also to express that the speaker has no responsibility pertaining to the event; he or she was not involved in the event.

Both the ‘first person’ effects of evidentials and the use of evidentials to express (the lack of) event responsibility indicate that there is a relation between evidentiality and the involvement of the speaker. This paper will address different phenomena that indicate this relation. Understanding the interrelatedness of the different semantic components which constitute different aspects of evidentiality will undoubtedly give us a tool by which we can more readily identify and analyze evidentiality both conceptually and formally.


(1) bapá bopê-asï. (Ramirez 1997:133)
     plate break-REC.P.NVIS.NON3
‘I have broken a plate unintentionally.’

(2) bapá bopê-apï. (Ramirez 1997:133)
     plate break-REC.P.VIS.NON3
‘I have broken a plate intentionally.’



Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. (2004). Evidentiality. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Michael, L.D. (2008). Nanti evidential practice: Language, knowledge, and social action in an Amazonian society. PhD Dissertation. University of Texas, Austin.

Ramirez, Henri (1997). A fala tukano dos yepâ-masa. Tomo I: Gramática. Inspectoria Salesiana Missionária da Amazônia, CEDEM, Manaus.

Double trouble? Two unusual spellings of the reduced vowel in 17th- and 18th-century letters

Please note that this meeting will start at 15.30!

More than half a century ago, W.J.H. Caron gave his inaugural lecture in Amsterdam. He talked about the history of the vowel that is now pronounced as a schwa in Dutch. He claimed that this vowel (as in the words de and te, and in the morphemes ge- and be-) was pronounced as a more palatal sound (described as a short [e]) in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century. He based this theory mainly on information from contemporary grammars. In 2007 R. Gaspar claimed to have found evidence for this theory in the form of two remarkable ways of spelling which he noticed in a collection of 18th-century private letters. The first remarkable spelling is the so-called invisible spelling (eg. d where you would expect the word de), the second is the double spelling (eg. dee where you would expect de). In this talk I will put Gaspar’s hypotheses to the test, comparing his data with what we could find in a Letters-as-Loot corpus of 17th-century (private) letters. I will show that the invisible spelling should not be linked with a palatal pronunciation of the reduced vowel unconditionally. Furthermore I will critically review Gaspar’s theory on the origin and distribution of the double spelling. In this way I hope to adress the underlying problem of linking spelling to pronunciation and to shed some light on a very small, but intriguing part of the history of Dutch.


Caron, W.J.H. (1952) De reductievocaal in het verleden: een beschouwing over mededelingen van Lambert ten Kate en Petrus Montanus aangaande de uitspraak van den zwakbeklemtoonden klinker in het Nederlands. (Inaugural lecture) Groningen: Wolters.

Caron, W.J.H. (1973) “Al tee voor Willem Pée” in Album Willem Pée (de jubilaris aangeboden bij zijn zeventigste verjaardag). Tongeren: G. Michiels.

Gaspar, R.J.G.A.A. (2007) “De reductievocaal [ə]: enige opmerkelijke verschijningsvormen en realiseringen, voornamelijk in de achttiende eeuw” in Nederlandse Taalkunde 12/1, 25-49.

Word order in Wh- questions in the New Testament

:!:Please note this session will take place on Friday 11, not Thursday 10❗  
The Greek New Testament (NT) is believed to have been composed in Koine Greek sometime after 45 AD. Word order in NT Greek is quite ‘free’ in that all permutations of S(ubject), V(erb) and O(bject) are  found in main clauses. However, compared to its Classical Greek (CG) predecessor, which has been referred to as ‘nonconfigurational’ (Cervin 1990), NT Greek shows a striking increase of SVO and VSO orders, and is more reminiscent of currently spoken Modern Greek (MG) than of CG. In this talk I will claim that the SVO-VSO alternation constitutes the basic word order of the language, and departing from this, I examine word order in Wh- questions. I will reveal an asymmetry among adjunct and argument Wh- questions; namely the former show all word order possibilities available in declarative clauses, while argument Wh- questions are restricted to Wh-VS orders. I will account for this asymmetry through the claim that adjunct Wh- interrogatives do not undergo syntactic movement, but are added (directly merged) on top of an existing proposition (Rizzi 1999, Ko 2005). Argument Wh- interrogatives, on the other hand, undergo syntactic movement. This movement process eliminates one word order possibility in argument questions, Wh-Subject-Verb, or more precisely, Wh-topic-verb. I explain this restriction in terms of a Relativized Minimality violation (Rizzi 1990). 

Cervin, Richard. 1990. Word order in Ancient Greek: VSO,  SVO, SOV, or all of the above?. Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois.
Ko, Heejeong. 2005. “Syntax of Why-in-situ: merge into [Spec,CP] in the overt syntax”. NLLT 23. 867-916.
Rizzi, Luigi. 1990. Relativized Minimality. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT press. 
Rizzi, Luigi. 1999. “On the position of “Int(errogative)” in the Left Periphery of the Clause”, Ms., Università di Siena.
:!:Please note this session will take place on Friday 11, not Thursday 10❗ 

Modal Expressions in their Natural Habitat

The description of particles is notoriously difficult, because of their polysemous character. In this presentation a first attempt will be presented to answer the following questions: How does a speaker/addressee know which interpretation to choose for a particle? Both monosemic and polysemic approaches say that context plays an important role. But what exactly should this context be in order to arrive at a certain interpretation?
One of the possibilities is that it is not the particle itself that receives this interpretation, but the combination of a collocation with the particle. We will explore this hypothesis on the basis of the Ancient Greek particle που ‘somewhere, about, somehow, methinks’.

Information Structure constraints on the realization of subject-verb agreement: the Sienese puzzle

The aim of this talk is to present some unexpected agreement patterns that are found in Sienese, an Italian dialect spoken in the Tuscan town of Siena. As opposed to Standard Italian, third person plural subjects sometimes trigger third person singular agreement morphology on the verb. The mismatch is not only affecting Number, but also Gender, which is only visible when a sentence includes a past participle of an unaccusative verb.
Gender Mismatch
 (1) É             arrivato                          la                   lettera.
be-3.Sg   arrive-Past.Part-Ms.Sg   the-Fem.Sg   letter-Fem.Sg
‘The letter arrived’.
Number Mismatch
(2) Ha              cantato   una   canzone   i                 su              amici.
have-3.Sg   sung       a        song        the-Ms.Pl   her-Ms.Pl   friends-Ms.Pl
‘Her friends sung a song’.
Gender and Number mismatch
(3) Le                 tu                   figliole                     è             venuto.
the-Fem.Pl   your-Fem.Pl   daughters-Fem.Pl   be-3.Sg   come-Past.Part.Ms.Sg.
‘Your daughters came’.
I have been looking at three factors that could possibly play a role in this context: Word Order, Information Structure, and the nature of the subjects and verbs that are found in this special configuration. Word order does not seem to directly affect the agreement pattern, for agreement mismatches arise with both SV and VS orders. There is also no asymmetry with respect to the type of subjects that are found in this configuration; both full DPs and pronouns, animate and Inanimate DPs are indeed allowed.
Information structure seems instead to play a fundamental role with respect to the realization of subject-verb agreement morphology. If the subject is marked as new information, then full agreement is replaced by some default agreement form. If the subject is instead old information, full agreement must be realized.
Subject Focalization
(4) a. Chi    ha               parlato?
who   have-3.Sg   talked-Ms.Sg
  ‘Who talked?’
b. [Le                mi    figliole]Foc            ha               parlato.
the-Fem.Pl   my   daughters-fem.Pl   have-3.Sg   talked-Ms.Sg
‘My daughters talked’.
Subject Topicalization
(5) a. Che     hanno        fatto    i                tu       genitori?
  what   have-3.Pl   done   the-Ms.Pl   your   parents-Ms.Pl
‘What did your parents do?’
b. [I                mi    genitori]Top    hanno        vinto.
the-Ms.Pl   my   parents-Ms.Pl   have-3.Pl   won
‘My parents won’.
I believe that there are at least two ways to approach these data: a more semantic and a more syntactic one. This is not surprising afterall because the data presented clearly seem to be the result of the interplay of Syntax and Semantics. I will explore both options during the talk and try to understand which one might lead to the simplest and most elegant solution of this puzzle. Unfortunately, the answer is still far from clear.