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Particles

November 17, 2009

I have recently picked up H. D. F. Kitto’s The Greeks and read this interesting insight into the nature and differences between the Greek and Latin languages.  Speaking of the Greeks, Kitto notes that:

When they descended from the northern mountains they brought no art with them, but they did bring a language, and in the Greek language — in its very structure — are to be found that clarity and control, that command of structure, which we see preeminently in Classical Greek art and miss in the earlier.

. . . it is the nature of Greek to express with extreme accuracy not only the relation between ideas, but also shades of meaning and emotion.

. . . It is the nature of the Greek language to be exact, subtle, and clear.

. . . That is to say, both languages have a markedly architectural quality.  But there is a significant difference between them.  The Romans seem to have achieved the periodic style by sheer determination and courage: the Greeks were born with it.  Not only has Greek many more ways of slipping in a subordinate clause . . . but also Greek is well stocked with little words, conjunctions that hunt in couples or in packs, whose sole function is to make the structure clear.  They act, as it were, as signposts.  (emphasis mine)

 As I teach composition and read several student essays — and even reflect upon my own writing — I see an abundance of these “little words,” words that some grammarians refer to as particles.  Too many particles in a sentence, paragraph, or composition can take on the grammatical function of “space fillers,” and in doing so, detract the attention owed to the concrete embodiment of ideas formed in nouns and verbs.  What I appreciate from Kitto’s comments, and at the same time challenged with is the acute precision of words in the Greek language in accordance with their function and relation.

The use of a particle is not haphazard, or even casually administered.  A particle must be purposefully written and/or spoken.  It is a “signpost” iluminating form in its service to order.

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