development of a copula from the verb 'to come'

Paul Hopper hopper at CMU.EDU
Sat Dec 26 12:47:52 UTC 2009

If this thread is moving towards a general discussion of copular/
existential predicates, it's time someone mentioned John Verhaar's series
'The Verb 'Be' and its Synonyms' (Dordrecht: Reidel), which came out in
about six or seven parts in the 1970s. One volume of this, by Charles Kahn
(I think), was devoted entirely to an extensive monograph on COP/EX in
Classical Greek. In other volumes in the series, there are article length
studies of COP/EX in a variety of languages.

- Paul

On Sat, December 26, 2009 00:48, Nick Bailey wrote:
> Dear Sebastian,
> I realize this is coming rather late in the discussion but perhaps the
> following details about Koine and Classical Greek might be of interest to
> you.
> In Koine and Classical Greek, the verbs εἰμί EIMI (be) and
> γί(γ)νομαι GI(G)NOMAI (become/happen/come), which may both be
> used as copulas, share much semantic turf while also retaining their
> independence in certain areas. EIMI is generally reserved for static
> states of affairs and GI(G)NOMAI for dynamic ones (i.e. ones involving a
> change of state). In fact, in certain constructions, GI(G)NOMAI can
> substitute for a motion verb and in English at least be translated as
> "come".
> But the details of when eimi is used as opposed to ginomai are actually
> pretty messy. For example, on the one hand, in the future tense in Koine
> of the Bible at least, one hardly ever finds γί(γ)νομαι; rather
> the future of EIMI (ESONTAI) tends to be used. On the other hand, there
> are certain situations where one uses ginomai where I might have expected
> instead eimi. I have noticed for example certain cases of existential or
> presentational/thetic uses of ginomai (which are properly speaking not
> true copular uses of these verbs, at least from an information structure
> perspective) where ginomai occurs for something like "There was a
> man...". In the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible one
> actually finds that in one manuscript one has eimi but in another
> ginomai.
> So it appears that for at least some ancient authors or some varieties of
> Koine and Classical Greek, there is some weakening in the eimi (static)
> versus ginomai (dynamic) distinction, that is at least in some
> semantic/pragmatic domains, such that in some areas ginomai can
> apparently be used for static states of affairs.
> I don't know what happened to either of these verbs in later stages of
> Greek. But perhaps others on this might.
> Nick

Prof. Dr. Paul J. Hopper
Senior Fellow
Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies
Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
Albertstr. 19
D-79104 Freiburg
Paul Mellon Distinguished Professor of Humanities
Department of English
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

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