Variation versus change: Clausal clitics between Homer and Herodotus


Enclitic distribution in Greek (and archaic Indo-European generally) is governed by a set of generalizations known as Wackernagel’s Law, according to which enclitics occur in “second position.” As has long been known, surface exceptions to Wackernagel’s Law in Homer are uncommon, but in Herodotus are far more frequent. Wackernagel himself attributed this difference to syntactic change: in Homer a single mechanism is responsible for second-position clitic distribution, while in Herodotus the old second-position rule competes with new placement rules. Although the nature of these innovative mechanisms has never been explicated, philologists have adopted this view with apparent unanimity. The central claim of this paper is that the alleged syntactic change is an illusion. What Wackernagel and others have observed in Homer and Herodotus is a difference in usage, not grammar. Specifically, Herodotus uses constructions that yield non-canonical surface patterns (i.e., the clitic is not “second” in its clause) more often than Homer. As the same generalizations capture the distribution of clitics in both Homer and Herodotus, there is no validity to the claim that Wackernagel’s Law is weaker in the classical period than in the archaic, or that there are new distributional rules at work.

Indo-European Linguistics 4:53-97