Posted by Eric » 5 Comments »
I’ve been doing some reading on Latin word-order lately, and most of it seems to begin from, in modern terms, a “topic-comment”/”topic-focus”/”theme/rheme” approach (three different ways of saying the same thing–that word-order is generally determined by the move from old to new information, with the “theme” or “topic” [what is being talked about, presumably already familiar to the addressee] coming near the beginning of the sentence, and the “focus” or “rheme” [new information about the theme that moves the discourse forward] coming toward the end).
I was interested to see in a BMCR review from a couple of years ago that, despite all of the newer jargon and approaches informed by modern linguistics in addition to traditional grammars, this actually can be related to discussions all the way back to antiquity. From the penultimate paragraph of Daniel Koelligan’s review of The Language of Literature. Linguistic Approaches to Classical Texts:
Casper C. de Jonge “From Demetrius to Dik. Ancient and modern views on Greek and Latin word order” (pp. 211-232) discusses the approaches of Demetrius and Quintilian to ancient Greek and Latin worder order, interpreting both as talking about pragmatic rather than syntactic categories. He points out similarities between Demetrius’ treatment of Greek word order that claims that the περὶ οὗ, what the λόγος is about, should come first in a sentence, and Dik’s definition of the topic and its usual assigment to sentence-intitial position in Greek, and finds similar distinctions in Quintilian’s Inst. Orat. which talks about de quo loquimur and quod loquimur which look much like topic and comment in modern terms, and about materia as the topic and the uis sermonis which according to Quintilian is frequently found in the verb in sentence-final position. de Jonge interprets this as meaning that this position in Latin is the focus position, and since the verb is frequently focussed it is frequently in that position.