In this contribution, I offer a summary of my 2015 Ph.D. dissertation from the University of Ghent on the language and metre of Late Medieval Greek πολιτικὸς στίχος poetry as they pertain to information structure.
The Late Medieval Greek “vernacular” (12th–15th c.) is one of the least studied stages of the history of the Greek language. The lack of interest by linguists can presumably be ascribed to its major source, i.e. metrical πολιτικὸς στίχος poetry. The language of this type of poetry has been labelled a “Kunstsprache”, because of its oral-formulaic character and because of its mixed idiom incorporating vernacular yet also archaizing elements. In this article, however, I demonstrate that the Late Medieval Greek πολιτικὸς στίχος poetry should not automatically be excluded from linguistic research, given that it clearly possesses a strongly vernacular, i.e. spoken, syntactic base: its underlying syntax runs in a very natural way. This is proven by the fact that we can apply the modern linguistic concept of the Intonation Unit, the basic unit of analysis in contemporary spoken(!) languages, to the texts composed in the πολιτικὸς στίχος: far from having an artificial syntax, the πολιτικὸς στίχος poetry is conceptually made up of short, simple “chunks” of information. More precisely, each verse consists of two (stylized) Intonation Units, demarcated by the fixed caesura, which can thus be equated with an Intonation Unit boundary. This thesis is supported by various arguments, both of a metrical and of a syntactico-semantic nature. Arguments belonging to the former category are the length of each half-line, the possibility of stress on the first syllable of each half-line, the origin of the metre, and especially the avoidance of elision at the caesura. In the second category of (syntactico-semantic) evidence, we can consider the tendency of each half-line for constituting a grammatical sense-unit. I also bring forward some little-studied syntactic features of Late Medieval Greek: first, I pay attention to the distribution of the archaizing “Wackernagel particles”, which do not only appear in second position in the verse, but also occur after the first word/constituent following the caesura and thus further confirm my thesis. The same holds for the position of “corrective afterthoughts”, for the verbs and pronominal objects taking the singular are consistently separated from their plural referents by the caesura. Once the Intonation Unit is thus established as a meaningful methodological tool for the analysis of the πολιτικὸς στίχος poetry, the way is cleared for more linguistic research on the Late Medieval Greek vernacular.
In this collective volume edited by Klaas Bentein, Mark Janse, and Jorie Soltic, some of the leading experts in the field explore variation and change in one of the core areas of Ancient Greek grammar: tense, aspect, and modality. The contributors investigate key aspects such as the existence of and competition between linguistic variants, the value of modern linguistic theory for the study of linguistic variation, and the interplay between various dimensions of variation. They focus on various stages of the Greek language (Archaic, Classical, Post-classical, and Byzantine), taking both qualitative and quantitative approaches. By doing so, they offer valuable insights in the multi-faced nature of the Greek verbal system, providing an incentive towards the further study of linguistic variation and change.