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Constructions: A New Approach to Formularity, Discourse, and Syntax in Homer


This dissertation argues that formulaic phenomena in Homer are best described by using the linguistic concept of construction (borrowed from Construction Grammar). Through a series of case studies, the dissertation explores new possibilities opened by the adoption of this framework, in particular regarding the synchronic and diachronic study of the technique and the study of Homeric word order (i.e., syntax and discourse).

While chapters 1-3 lay the methodological bases for the enterprise, chapters 4-7 explore theoretical and practical issues in the workings of Homeric constructions. Chapter 1, Describing Homer's Technique, frames the goals of the work against the backdrop of earlier research. Chapters 2 (Homeric Formulas and their Definitions) and 3 (Formulas in Linguistics) discuss the topic of formularity within Homeric studies and linguistics, respectively, leading up to the concept of construction in usage-based linguistics and its application to the study of Homer. Chapter 4, Homeric Constructions at Work, explains conventions for the formal notation of Homeric constructions and discusses how constructions have semantic, syntactic, and discourse functions. Chapter 5, The Synchronic Workings of Constructions, discusses how poets acquire constructions during their training, and asks whether constructional habits can be used as diagnostics for individual style; a case study on the epithets of Here illustrates how constructions pass through a life cycle, and how we can use type and token frequency to distinguish innovative constructions from fossilized ones. A study of the famous formula ἀνδροτῆτα καὶ ἥβην `manliness and youth' shows that this formula was created using a regular and productive construction in the technique, and is thus unlikely to preserve phonological or metrical archaisms (as often argued). Chapter 6, The Diachrony of Constructions, integrates the study of how constructions change over time with previous work on the diachronic evolution of the language of Greek epic; a case study illustrates how different speech introduction constructions evolved at different speeds between the Iliad and the Odyssey, depending on their type and token frequencies. Chapter 7, Constructions and the Study of Homeric Discourse, introduces the study of Homeric discourse and covers the principles of referent management, information structure, and word order in Homer.

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