Book Review: (Brill’s) Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics

eagllTitle: Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics

Editor: Georgios K. Giannakis

Bibliographic info: 1846 pp. (in three volumes)

Publisher: Brill, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon or at Brill.

With thanks to Brill for the review copy!

Starting in 2006 Brill started publishing comprehensive language encyclopedias. First was the Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics (5 volumes; 2006-2009), then the Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics (4 volumes; 2013), and now Brill has released the next in this series, the three-volume Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics (EAGLL). Each of these encyclopedias is also available in an electronic version accessible on-line, and it is the electronic version of the EAGLL that I have had access to for this review. The EAGLL is available online here. The online interface is very well put together and easy to use, including extensive cross-referencing and advanced search capabilities.

NB: when I mention “Ancient Greek” I am referring to the period of the language spanning from Proto-Greek to Late Antiquity (i.e. Hellenistic/Koine Greek). The EAGLL occasionally makes forays into Medieval/Byzantine Greek and even Modern Greek, though when this does happen the focus still seems to be on how it is relevant to Ancient Greek.

Greek is a language with one of the longest recorded histories and because of this Greek has also been one of the most studied languages, with a mountain of specialized works devoted to studying the most obscure aspects of its history, grammar, structure, and so forth. The EAGLL is a massive undertaking which brings the study of Ancient Greek into line with the field of linguistics. This is helpful to those of us who learned Greek during our time pursuing academic studies in subjects like classics, biblical studies, or theology. I say this because learning Greek in such programs tends to convey very little actual linguistic analysis because, of course, the subject matter of linguistics, (e.g. phonology, morphology, syntax, lexis, semantics, pragmatics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics), is very different from learning a specific language.

With a combined total of nearly 2,000 pages, including over 500 entries, the EAGLL is a comprehensive reference work on the ancient Greek language and its linguistics description. The arrangement of the entries in the EAGLL is a straightforward alphabetical order organized by short titles. Each entry tackles the subject-matter in-depth, has extensive cross-referencing (via hyperlinks) to the other entries, and each entry finishes with a specialized bibliography. From the entries I have read so far, they vary in length from about 200 to over 5,000 words (I would estimate about 100 of the entries exceed 5,000 words). There were a couple entries I found–“History of Teaching of Ancient Greek in Germany” and “Archaisms in Modern Dialects”–that ran over 9,000 words.

The use of the Greek alphabet in the EAGLL is (somewhat surprisingly) kept to a minimum with the contributors employing transliterations instead (except when it seems indispensable to use the Greek language, e.g., when discussing phonetics or Greek writing). Translations are also provided for the transliterations, making each entry more of a breeze to read through.

Both tradition grammatical and philological approaches are utilized, as well as modern linguistic theories and schools such as generativist, minimalist, functionalist, neogrammarians, and so forth. Concepts covered in this encyclopedia range from sociolinguistic issues, historical issues, epigraphy, papyrology, dialects, structure, style, lexicography, phonetics, syntax, morphology, semantics, and much, much more. There are also numerous entries on the relationship between Greek and other languages and language groups.

Some concepts are discussed in several entries, but each time it is from a different perspective. For example, when it comes to the idea of tense there are the following entries: “Tense (khrónos), Ancient Theories of”, “Tense and Aspect from Hellenistic to Early Byzantine Greek”, “Tense/Aspect”, “Verbal System (Tense, Aspect, Mood)”, “Present Tense”, and “Aspect (and Tense)”. Another example is dialects, for which there are the following entries: “Aeolic Dialects”, “Ancient Greek Sociolinguistics and Dialectology”, “Archaisms in Modern Dialects”, “Dialectal Convergence”, “Dialectology (diálektos), Ancient Theories of”, “Dialects, Classification of”, “Dictionaries of Dialects: From Antiquity to the Byzantine Period”, “Magna Graecia, Dialects”, and “Sicily, Dialects in”.

Entries I saw that are specifically on biblical-related matters are: “Bilingualism, Diglossia and Literacy in First-Century Jewish Palestine”, “‘Christian’ Greek”, “Christian Greek Vocabulary”, “Jewish Greek”, “New Testament”, and “Septuagint”.

The entries in this encyclopedia are at a technical level that is appropriate for graduate and postgraduate level research and would be a great resource for those who teach Greek classes at the intermediate and advanced levels. The EAGLL is a high-quality and authoritative reference work for both students and researchers involved in the study of Ancient Greek, and while the high cost is very prohibitive for individual ownership, it is a must for any academic institution that has a serious undergraduate or graduate level program in ancient Greek or related disciplines like (Indo-European) linguistics, biblical studies, and so forth. Institutional access is a must!

2 responses

  1. Pingback: The Biblical Studies Carnival – December 2014 | Daniel N. Gullotta

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