Book Notes: Levels of Constituent Structure in New Testament Greek by Michael Palmer

Characteristics: (where 1 is bad, 3 is average, and 5 is superb)

  • Interestingness: 4
  • Subject Matter: 4
  • Organization: 3.5
  • Binding: 3

Generally languages can have different levels of structure. Take a typical sentence, like "Eric reviewed a Greek book in his study because he read it." It is fine sentence, is it not? This sentence can also be broken down into smaller pieces, including two clauses, one independent "Eric reviewed a Greek book in his study" and one dependent "because he read it". From there the first could be broken down into a (single-word) noun phrase "Eric", and a verb phrase, "reviewed a Greek book in his study". Of the course that verb phrase could be broken down further, and we have not even started on the dependent clause.

In a very simplistic description, one could say that this is broadly what the study of constituent structure is about. There is obviously a lot more detail to the subject, but that will give you the gist. This particular book applies some of the linguistic work on constituent structure to the Greek of the New Testament. In older grammars of New Testament Greek, word-level analysis was the norm. Thankfully, linguistics has started pushing the grammarians further include phrase-level analysis. Palmer tries to argue that a third level, between the word and full phrase levels, is necessary for us to adequately explain some of the phenomena that we see. Along the way he gives an overview of how this topic has worked itself out in the history of Greek grammarians, as well as a general discussion on how constituent analysis works in the context of New Testament Greek, and a justification for doing such work.

I am not sure about his argument that another level of constituent analysis is needed. It is going to require more thought. If you are interested in the topic generally, I think the book is worth its price for the fourth chapter alone on "syntactic structure". If you are a Greek syntax and linguistics junkie, I highly recommend this book.