Philip Newton (pne) wrote,
Philip Newton

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On Greek grammar and "ACI"

I just read a page of Greek jokes, and one of them went like this:

Αν θέλεις η γυναίκα σου να σε ακούει και να δίνει την δέουσα προσοχή σε αυτά που λες τότε ξεκίνα να παραμιλάς στον ύπνο σου.

And the beginning of that made me think: specifically, the fact that «η γυναίκα σου» was in the nominative case rather than the accusative.

It sounded correct to me, though, so I took it as one difference between modern Greek and some other languages. For example, I imagine Latin would have used a.c.i. (accusative with infinitive) here: something grammatically along the lines of “If you(nom.) want your wife(acc.) to listen(inf.) to you…”. Which is pretty much how it works in English, too, for that matter! (Compare the equivalent sentence with a pronoun: “If you want her to listen to you, …” which has “her” in the objective or “accusative” case rather than the subjective or “nominative”, and has the “to” typical of English “infinitives”. [Some grammatical terms in scare quotes since they don’t fit completely for English.])

Compare also the structure in English “If you want that your wife listens to you” and the Greek (“If you want your wife that [she] listens to you”)—English puts “your wife” after “that” but Greek puts «η γυναίκα σου» after «να». (I think another way to say it would be to put the subject after the verb: «Αν θέλεις να σε ακούει η γυναίκα σου…».) German, of course, puts the verb right at the end: „Wenn du möchtest, dass deine Frau dir zuhört, …“ = “If you want, that your wife to you listens, …”.

On the other hand, the English and German on the one hand, and the Greek on the other hand, aren't really equivalent since «να» is not a conjunction: English and German is along the lines of “If you want [that [your wife listens to you]]”/„Wenn du möchtest, [dass [deine Frau dir zuhört]]“, while Greek is more like «Αν θέλεις [η γυναίκα σου να σε ακούει]» with “subjunctive” in the second clause but no explicit conjunction. If you wanted one, it would probably be something like «Αν θέλεις [ότι [η γυναίκα σου σε ακούει]], …» which is more parallel to the English and German, but the version with «να» sounds more natural to me—just as the English aci construction sounds more natural to me than the one with the conjunction. (German also has aci constructions—for example, „Ich sah ihn[acc.] essen[inf.]“ = “I saw him[acc.] eat[inf.]”—but not with “to want” as the main verb.)

Anyway, it was interesting to see how different languages work!

Tags: languages
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