Cognitive-Functional Grammar and the Complexity of Early Greek Epic Diction. / Kahane, Ahuvia.

The Routledge Handbook of Classics and Cognitive Theory. ed. / Peter Meineck; William Michael Short; Devereaux Jennifer. London : Routledge, 2018.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter



This chapter presents a framework for the interpretation of formal order in epic diction anchored in usage-based grammar and the study of ‘complex adaptive systems’ in linguistics.

The chapter focuses on recent studies of epic diction (Bakker 2005 / Bakker and Fabricotti 1991; Bakker 2013; Boas 2016; Bozzone 2014; Cánovas and Antović 2016;; Minchin 2016 and others; Cf. also Currie 2016 – briefly; Tsagalis 2008, 2014) that take as their starting point the substantive shift in perspective on language cognition, communication and language development by usage-based linguists. Already early work by Meillet 1912 (Milman Parry’s teacher) on grammaticalization and analogy (cf. also Kuryłowicz 1965 and later work) pointed to the fundamental flexibility of grammatical form and away from rule-based (and often universalized) conceptions of grammar (including Sausseurian distinctions between langue and parole, Chomskian generative approaches and the common paradigmatic approaches of standard Greek and Latin grammars). More importantly, later work by Givón 1984, and more recently Tomasello 2003, Goldberg 2006, Bybee 2006, Hopper and Traugott 2013, and others argued for the primacy of communicative function in language and the derivative (‘epiphenomenal’) nature of grammatical structure. Alongside with these perspectives, the chapter notes more-recent usage-based discussions of language as a ‘complex adaptive system’ (Larsen-Freeman 1997, Larsen-Freeman and Cameron 2008, Beckner and Bybee 2009, Ellis and Larsen-Freeman 2006, Kramsch 2012, etc.. Drawing on the study of complexity in the natural, exact and environmental sciences (for which see, e.g., Nicolis and Prigogine 1989, Kaufmann 1993, Byrne and Callaghan 2013, etc.), studies of linguistic complexity emphasis the systematic interaction of order and non-deterministic, non-linear phenomena and stochastic process as a fundamental characteristic of language development. Driving both pattern formation and innovation, the chapter points out, is the process of analogy, “the core component of linguistic competence”, a process discussed extensively both in contemporary linguistics and by Milman Parry himself (Parry 1971, following Meillet 1912; Blevins and Blevins 2009; etc.).

Integrating these approaches (which are, to begin with, closely related) in the context of early Greek epic, the chapter demonstrates, allows us to account much more effectively for the realities of Greek epic diction. It provides a framework for understanding a) the inherent flexibility and changes in formal structures and patterns within the otherwise rigorously ordered diction of the hexameter and b) the capacity of formal grammatical, metrical and syntactic constructions qua formal structures, to signify (rather than, as in Parryan oral-formulaic theory, to perform largely formal compositional functions). Incorporating usage-based arguments about linguistic complexity adds a critical methodical perspective that allows us c) to explain systematically (rather than ad-hoc) the relationship between, on the one hand, regular patterns and, on the other hand, ‘anomalous’, exceptional usage and thus d) to interpret ‘unique’ expressions in a methodologically rigorous way. Complexity also allows us to explain better e) the interaction between adjacent, overlapping and imbricated linguistic patterns in epic diction (for which see The Chicago Homer, Kahane, Mueller, Berry et al.) whose multiform Gestalt cannot ultimately be reduced to any mechanical or pre-determined form or function. The chapter very briefly illustrates this argument with examples from Homer (Od. 12.69, 166, 322, etc.) and the Ilias Parua (PEG F. 21 Bernabé ).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Classics and Cognitive Theory
EditorsPeter Meineck, William Michael Short, Devereaux Jennifer
Place of PublicationLondon
ISBN (Print)9781138913523
Publication statusPublished - 2018

ID: 28242154