The colon hypothesis. Word order, discourse segmentation and discourse coherence in Ancient Greek.

Frank Scheppers

Research output: Book/ReportBookResearch


Building on previous work by amongst others J. Wackernagel, E. Fraenkel and K.J. Dover, this study develops the hypothesis that a number of Ancient Greek word order rules (most notably but not exclusively Wackernagel's Law) apply to the 'colon' or 'intonation unit (IU)', rather than to syntactic units such as the clause. The study is based on an extensive corpus-database, comprising the whole Corpus Lysiacum and four Platonic dialogues (Cratylus, Theaetetus, Sophista and Politicus), which allowed for a detailed and insightful treatment of a large number of word order phenomena. In Part I of the book, based on a partly quantitative and partly qualitative analysis of this corpus, a number of word order rules are formulated, statistically corroborated and extensively illustrated.
Part II deals with the practicalities of segmenting Ancient Greek text into cola, using criteria distilled from (i) the word order rules elaborated in Part I of the book and (ii) what is known about the nature of IUs. It is shown how a systematic segmentation of Ancient Greek texts into cola/IUs enhances our reading of these texts and opens the door to discourse analytical approaches highlighting the oral character of Ancient Greek texts.
Part III addresses the issue of discourse coherence, starting from the idea that Ancient Greek discourse has the colon as its elementary unit and is structured in ways that closely remind us of spoken discourse. After a summary introduction of the 'P(ragmatic)-tree working model', offering a radically pragmatic and structural approach to discourse coherence, Part III consists mainly of a number of detailed analyses of excerpts from the Greek corpus.
Greek and English indices, in combination with extensive cross-referencing and a number of indices (including an index locorum), give the reader easy access to a wealth of detailed information concerning a number of related topics that are dealt with in the course of the exploration of the corpus, such as clisis, appositivity, the Greek particles, various lexicalization phenomena (formulas and units), sentencehood, topic, focus, 'genre' as a discourse analytical concept, etc.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages502
ISBN (Print)978-90-5487-944-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2011


  • Ancient Greek
  • Word order
  • Discourse analysis
  • Pragmatics
  • clitics


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