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date: 27 March 2023

Ancient Greek Views on Greek and Other Languageslocked

Ancient Greek Views on Greek and Other Languageslocked

  • Toon Van HalToon Van HalDepartment of Comparative, Historical and Applied Linguistics, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

Summary

The Ancient Greeks came into contact with possibilities and problems related to ‘language’ in several respects. The earliest epics contained implicit etymological explanations, and both the pre-Socratic philosophers and the sophists were intrigued by the link between the form of words and the meaning they carried. The adaptation of the Phoenician alphabet was an additional stimulus to start reflecting on language. ‘Letters’ became the smallest unit of inquiry in Greek language thought. Of the other units, the word was seen as the most significant level. Elaborating on the philosophical foundations laid by Plato, Aristotle, and early Stoic thinkers, Alexandrian scholars started shaping a philologically oriented tradition of grammar, which was largely oriented to the study of the eight parts of speech and directed at young students of Greek literature. Within the frame of grammar, less attention was paid to the level of the sentence, which explains why syntactic issues were not intensively explored. At its inception, Greek lexicography was an ancillary tool for understanding Greek literary texts too, directed at an audience of native speakers of Greek. Hence, lexicographical projects limited to including difficult or special words. Only once Romans began to delve into the study of Greek did the composition of general lexicons become more urgent.

Subjects

  • History of Linguistics

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