The Techne Grammatike
(better spelled Tekhnê Grammatikê
, or "Art of Grammar
") is traditionally considered the oldest grammar book of a Western language, although its antiquity is still thought suspicious. While the name of the author, Dionysius Thrax
, was well known in antiquity, it isn't clear that the essay we have today was written by him.
Grammar in Western languages takes this text as its first comprehensive source, although grammatical discussion and analysis is known to have gone on long before. Many of our modern grammatical terms are first attested in the Tekhnê for all that they may be much older. The work has 20 parts of unequal length, listed at the end of this write-up. It covers most of the rudiments of traditional grammar including spelling but excluding syntax.
Stoics were active in the study of grammar as a branch of philosophy at an early date. The Alexandrian scholars to whom the Tekhnê is attributed, however, were interested in literature, and especially in the preservation of earlier Greek literature. They were aware that they were studying a written language that differed from their own, and tried to determine formal rules for it. Dionysius Thrax is supposed to have been a pupil of Aristarchus of Samothrace (c. 216-144 B.C.E.), a student of Homer in the Alexandrian School.
The antiquity of the book is still doubted because it seems to be composite. For one thing, the work itself doesn't closely follow the layout described in Part 1. For another, none of the material in Parts 6-20 is attested anywhere else until the 5th century C.E., while Parts 1-5 are attested by the 2nd century. Part 5 actually does not deal with grammar at all, but with a type of literature. So it appears that what we have is a composite of several different things, only a small portion of which may actually go back to Dionysius Thrax and the Alexandrians of the early 3rd century B.C.E..
Below are the 20 sections of the essay we possess today:
- Definition of Grammar and layout of the essay. "Grammar is the practical study of the normal usages of poets and prose writers."
- Reading. "Faultless pronunciation of the works of poets or prose writers."
- Punctuation. Three punctuation marks are listed.
- Stoikheion ("component elements"). This is a detailed description of the sounds of the letters of the alphabet, with some consideration of their incidence in various parts of speech.
- Syllable. Defined as the combination of consonants with one or more vowels.
- Long syllable. Syllable length is important in prosody, hence its discussion here.
- Short syllable
- Common syllable
- Word. A word is defined here as the basic unit of the sentence. A sentence is defined here as a combination of words "conveying a meaning which is complete in itself". The Tekhnê names eight parts of speech found in sentences, and devotes the remaining Parts 12-20 to them (verbs are treated in Parts 13 and 14).
- Nouns are said to have five attributes: There follows a long classification of these attributes.
- Verbs are said to have eight attributes:
- Conjugation. Three types of verbs are described:
- barytone verbs are said to have six conjugations
- circumflexed verbs to have three
- verbs ending in m to have four
- Participle. Alan Kemp notes that by Medieval times, the participle had come to be seen as part of the verb, rather than a separate part of speech.
- Articles are said to have three attributes:
- Pronouns substitute for nouns and indicate definite persons. They have six attributes:
- Preposition. "A word placed before all parts of the sentence." Eighteen are listed.
- Adverb. "A part of the sentence which is uninflected; it qualifies verbs of is added to verbs." There are said to be simple and compound types, and there are comments on 26 varieties of semantic quality.
- Conjunction. "A word which acts as a link for the meaning, giving it order, and filling up gaps in the expression." Conjunctions are classified asThere is also discussion of "disjunctive" conjunctions, an eighth class, and "adversative" conjunctions, a ninth.
The content in this node is based on discussion accompanying a complete translation by Alan Kemp (The History of Linguistics in the Classical Period
, ed. Daniel J. Taylor, Amsterdam/Philadelhpia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1987, pp. 169-189).