Interlinears

Semantic Range, Lexicography, and other approaches to word meaning - in general, or for particular words.
Thomas Dolhanty
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Interlinears

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » January 3rd, 2015, 3:26 am

From very early on in my study of Greek, I found interlinears to be more of a distraction than a help, and as I became more familiar with the language, I found them at times to be downright misleading. From time to time, though (like over the past holidays), the topic comes up with friends who don’t know Greek, and who won’t likely ever study Greek, but who regularly use interlinears to try to get closer to the meaning of the text. I often caution them regarding some of the perils associated with the use of interlinears (advice which is not always appreciated - or heeded).

Some of the points I've made are:

• An English-Greek interlinear creates word order confusion, because it is very often impossible to create a readable English sentence following the actual Greek word order. Thus, an English word order is often imposed on the Greek, even though those who can't read Greek are unable to 'see' this.

• Interlinears necessarily involve a word for word ‘decoding’ arrangement which does violence to the richness of the Greek text, and they create the illusion that there is a one-to-one lexical relationship between Greek and English elements. In fact, this one-to-one assumption seems little more than a pretence quite often!

• Because the nuance of the Greek text is often sacrficed, semantic elements like double meanings or subtle allusions are easily lost in the transfer.

• For these reasons, and others, a good translation may actually be 'truer' to the Greek text than an interlinear.

Is this sound advice? What more (or less) ought to be said to non-Greek readers regarding the benefits or perils of using interlinears? Are there specific passages and/or structures which one can point to where interlinears actually suppress the meaning of the text rather than bring it forward?

Finally, I would be very interested In hearing your thoughts concerning whether - in the end - there is any real net benefit for non-Greek readers in using an interlinear as a tool to get closer to the meaning of the Greek text?

There have been discussions on B-Greek in the past concerning the use of interlinears, and I notice that the topic comes up regularly. I have looked back through some of those discussions, and found them interesting, and helpful. However, for the most part, earlier discussions seem to have dealt with Greek students (or would-be Greek students) using interlinears as an aid to learn Greek.
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Interlinears

Post by Stephen Hughes » January 3rd, 2015, 4:39 am

Thomas Dolhanty wrote:I would be very interested In hearing your thoughts concerning whether - in the end - there is any real net benefit for non-Greek readers in using an interlinear as a tool to get closer to the meaning of the Greek text?
When you say "interlinear", what are you imagining? How many lines are there there interlined?

A non-Greek reader will find a line with parsing details of no use, Strong's numbers are of limited value for the non-Greek readers except in the case when there is one and only one meaning of a word, the Greek text itself will be illegible, Greek transliterated into Latin characters for ease of reading is of no benefit because changing the alphabet doesn't make it sensible, and finally unsyntactically arranged (at times meaningless) English with poor grammar is something that the new wears off of really soon.

This is not a reflection of my thoughts on the benefit of interlinears to some learners in their journey, many of which have been recorded in other threads.
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Barry Hofstetter
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Re: Interlinears

Post by Barry Hofstetter » January 3rd, 2015, 9:29 am

Thomas Dolhanty wrote:From very early on in my study of Greek, I found interlinears to be more of a distraction than a help, and as I became more familiar with the language, I found them at times to be downright misleading. From time to time, though (like over the past holidays), the topic comes up with friends who don’t know Greek, and who won’t likely ever study Greek, but who regularly use interlinears to try to get closer to the meaning of the text. I often caution them regarding some of the perils associated with the use of interlinears (advice which is not always appreciated - or heeded).

Some of the points I've made are:

• An English-Greek interlinear creates word order confusion, because it is very often impossible to create a readable English sentence following the actual Greek word order. Thus, an English word order is often imposed on the Greek, even though those who can't read Greek are unable to 'see' this.

• Interlinears necessarily involve a word for word ‘decoding’ arrangement which does violence to the richness of the Greek text, and they create the illusion that there is a one-to-one lexical relationship between Greek and English elements. In fact, this one-to-one assumption seems little more than a pretence quite often!

• Because the nuance of the Greek text is often sacrficed, semantic elements like double meanings or subtle allusions are easily lost in the transfer.

• For these reasons, and others, a good translation may actually be 'truer' to the Greek text than an interlinear.

Is this sound advice? What more (or less) ought to be said to non-Greek readers regarding the benefits or perils of using interlinears? Are there specific passages and/or structures which one can point to where interlinears actually suppress the meaning of the text rather than bring it forward?

Finally, I would be very interested In hearing your thoughts concerning whether - in the end - there is any real net benefit for non-Greek readers in using an interlinear as a tool to get closer to the meaning of the Greek text?

There have been discussions on B-Greek in the past concerning the use of interlinears, and I notice that the topic comes up regularly. I have looked back through some of those discussions, and found them interesting, and helpful. However, for the most part, earlier discussions seem to have dealt with Greek students (or would-be Greek students) using interlinears as an aid to learn Greek.
My opinions on interlinears are well known on this group (and elsewhere). I think you raise excellent points. I usually state it that an interlinear is simply a poor translation which gives the illusion of getting closer to the Greek, but actually creates more problems than it solves, and you have actually unpacked some of the reason why that is so. Yes, a good, accurate translation is better than an interlinear, and such a student who wants to know "what the Greek says" is better off referring to such a translation along with a good exegetical commentary.
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Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Interlinears

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » January 3rd, 2015, 12:39 pm

Stephen Hughes wrote:When you say "interlinear", what are you imagining? How many lines are there … interlined?
I’m thinking of an attempt to match the English to the Greek word by word. I don’t think I’ve seen any other kind of interlinear, although I was just looking at the “ESV Reverse Interlinear” (http://www.esv.org/assets/blog/2006.10. ... hn.big.png) and that is a truly ugly picture I think. It is as if the Greek text was simply shredded, and the words placed under the English text in its normal order.
A non-Greek reader will find a line with parsing details of no use, Strong's numbers are of limited value for the non-Greek readers except in the case when there is one and only one meaning of a word, the Greek text itself will be illegible, Greek transliterated into Latin characters for ease of reading is of no benefit because changing the alphabet doesn't make it sensible, and finally unsyntactically arranged (at times meaningless) English with poor grammar is something that the new wears off of really soon.
Yes! And each one of these points – including the novelty of a strange English word arrangement – creates for many, I suspect, an illusory ‘aura’ of being closer to the original text!
This is not a reflection of my thoughts on the benefit of interlinears to some learners in their journey, many of which have been recorded in other threads
One benefit I have personally come across is that a very capable student studying Greek with me now, began by trying to get closer to the Greek through interlinears. Maybe frustration is the greatest benefit!
Barry Hofstetter wrote:I usually state it that an interlinear is simply a poor translation which gives the illusion of getting closer to the Greek, but actually creates more problems than it solves …

Succinctly stated, and I know this is true. I think I need to work on my ability to demonstrate it a bit more convincingly. Maybe I need to invest the time to identify specific passages which demonstrate the problems particularly well.
Yes, a good, accurate translation is better than an interlinear, and such a student who wants to know "what the Greek says" is better off referring to such a translation along with a good exegetical commentary.
I have found it difficult to convince my friends of this. Perhaps part of it is that they want the benefit of knowing Greek without the cost. Also, I think there is a certain amount of suspicion that I am flaunting my knowledge of Greek – which they don’t have! μὴ γένοιτο.
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Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: Interlinears

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » January 4th, 2015, 12:23 am

- in the end - there is any real net benefit for non-Greek readers in using an interlinear as a tool to get closer to the meaning of the Greek text?
You aren't going to find a consensus on that one. The interlinear readers and users are not going to go away.

Why don't you e-mail the people working on the STEP bible project and ask them why they are building an interlinear for bible students in hundreds of different languages? I am certain David Instone-Brewer and Peter J. Williams have though this one through. You also might want to ask yourself why so many SIL professional publications use interlinear texts rather than bare Greek and Hebrew.
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Barry Hofstetter
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Re: Interlinears

Post by Barry Hofstetter » January 4th, 2015, 2:43 am

Stirling Bartholomew wrote:
You aren't going to find a consensus on that one. The interlinear readers and users are not going to go away.
It's a bit like saying that you aren't going to find a consensus on smoking cigarettes, tobacco companies and cigarette smokers aren't going to go away. Right.
Why don't you e-mail the people working on the STEP bible project and ask them why they are building an interlinear for bible students in hundreds of different languages? I am certain David Instone-Brewer and Peter J. Williams have though this one through. You also might want to ask yourself why so many SIL professional publications use interlinear texts rather than bare Greek and Hebrew.
I have no idea why these people are doing that. It certainly is not to help people learn Greek, because interlinears don't do that. As for SIL publications using interlinears, I can only assume that they think it will somehow help people who are less than competent in the languages involved.
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Interlinears

Post by Stephen Hughes » January 4th, 2015, 4:39 am

Thomas Dolhanty wrote:
Stephen Hughes wrote:When you say "interlinear", what are you imagining? How many lines are there … interlined?
I’m thinking of an attempt to match the English to the Greek word by word. I don’t think I’ve seen any other kind of interlinear, although I was just looking at the “ESV Reverse Interlinear” (http://www.esv.org/assets/blog/2006.10. ... hn.big.png) and that is a truly ugly picture I think. It is as if the Greek text was simply shredded, and the words placed under the English text in its normal order.
Shredded Greek is strange to look at to be sure, but there is another side to the story.

With students who are poor in English listening, if I shred my English and rearrange my meaning according to Chinese word-order and with Chinese grammar patterns "encoded" in English words, they understand me much better. What could you call the language that is produced by that process? Is it English adapted to Chinese speakers or Chinese masked as English? I'm not sure, but either way it is not real English, because the grammatical system (including word-order) behind it is not English.

Once English words have been understood as pseudo-Chinese, I can then produce a standard English sentence, that is better understood than the first time I spoke it. Another way is to give phrase-by-phrase equivalents in Chinese then English - the limited number of transforms, allows an almost 100% transfer from the meaning attained in Chinese to the what is produced in English. It is very different from speaking English, then explaining it in Chinese, because the comprehension only happens some time later, and it is not applied back to the target language. I will say that this is really a last resort type of way of dealing with students who otherwise have unworkably low levels of comprehension.

In fact, last year I was directed by one school to use English adapted to the Chinese language to aid student comprehension! In my opinion that is not teaching, but something that produced a feel-good educational product, rather than an actually valuable one.

Arranging Greek in English word order actually makes more sense to me than arranging English in Greek order, which would seem (by analogy with what seems to work for me with my own students) to be the way that a Greek speaker wanting to learn English would arrange the text. Adapting Greek to English to make the Greek "easier" could work for some, but definitely adapting the English to make the Greek easier doesn't make a lot of sense.
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Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Interlinears

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » January 4th, 2015, 6:30 pm

Stirling Bartholomew wrote: You aren't going to find a consensus on that one. The interlinear readers and users are not going to go away. .
No, I didn't expect I would, nor was it what I was after. Rather, the discussion.
Why don't you e-mail the people working on the STEP bible project and ask them why they are building an interlinear for bible students in hundreds of different languages? I am certain David Instone-Brewer and Peter J. Williams have though this one through. You also might want to ask yourself why so many SIL professional publications use interlinear texts rather than bare Greek and Hebrew
STEP, as I understand it, is far more than an 'interlinear'. It is a massive data project designed to get all types of information out to all types of people. That data includes extensive maps, facile inter-language arrangements (not just Biblical), and even detailed manuscript information based on, I would guess, something like the UBS apparatus.

It is not the supplier I am so interested in, but the user. What, for example, does a person who doesn't know Greek, and doesn't intend to learn it, expect to gain from an interlinear. The answers to this are scary, from my anecdotal sampling. They go something like, "So I will know what the Greek word means." So much for semantic range or lingual uniqueness! Or, "So I can see if it is the same word here as there." Put that into your Greek grammar grinder for a while, and think about the implications!

STEP might be a great tool for seasoned and trained Bible scholars with respect to a digital apparatus, for example, but what does a person who knows nothing about source manuscripts hope to gain from that? Will that person count the number of witnesses to a text, and compare that to the number of witnesses to a variant?
Barry Hofstetter wrote:It's a bit like saying that you aren't going to find a consensus on smoking cigarettes, tobacco companies and cigarette smokers aren't going to go away. Right.
I think there's a truth here. Those who know the language, and know the misinformation that interlinears tend to promote, ought to speak up whether they are heeded or not.
Stephen Hughes wrote:Once English words have been understood as pseudo-Chinese, I can then produce a standard English sentence, that is better understood than the first time I spoke it. Another way is to give phrase-by-phrase equivalents in Chinese then English - the limited number of transforms, allows an almost 100% transfer from the meaning attained in Chinese to the what is produced in English. It is very different from speaking English, then explaining it in Chinese, because the comprehension only happens some time later, and it is not applied back to the target language. I will say that this is really a last resort type of way of dealing with students who otherwise have unworkably low levels of comprehension.
I would contend, though, that this is quite a different context than people reading an interlinear on their own, week by week, to 'get closer to the Greek'. This is one learning a language under the tutelage of a skilled teacher. It is a language LEARNER, whose instructor has chosen an unusual tool to help him/her along. Quite specific, and fashioned for a specific outcome by a skilled instructor with the intent, I trust, that the crutch will be left behind once its purpose is served.
Arranging Greek in English word order actually makes more sense to me than arranging English in Greek order, which would seem (by analogy with what seems to work for me with my own students) to be the way that a Greek speaker wanting to learn English would arrange the text. Adapting Greek to English to make the Greek "easier" could work for some, but definitely adapting the English to make the Greek easier doesn't make a lot of sense.
This just won't go down, for me. But, once again, in the context of a learning technique under the oversight of a skilled teacher, it has a whole different meaning than using a "reverse interlinear" to understand 'what the Greek really says'!
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Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: Interlinears

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » January 5th, 2015, 12:20 am

What, for example, does a person who doesn't know Greek, and doesn't intend to learn it, expect to gain from an interlinear. The answers to this are scary, from my anecdotal sampling.
Same sort of question you might put to a first year NT greek student. The answers are equally scary. I generally keep my mouth shut. You don't want to discourage people who are going to the trouble of doing "serious" bible study. There are enough defeaters out there already. People who are willing to at least put aside some time for study are rare. Last thing I would do is tell them they are wasting their time because they want to use an interlinear. I don't see interlinear use as threat. It is just a level of work about equal to word studies. I used to think the best advice you could give someone regarding word studies is "don't do them." But the bible reference book publishers have been promoting this method for eons.
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Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Interlinears

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » January 5th, 2015, 2:07 am

Stirling Bartholomew wrote:I generally keep my mouth shut. You don't want to discourage people who are going to the trouble of doing "serious" bible study. There are enough defeaters out there already. People who are willing to at least put aside some time for study are rare. Last thing I would do is tell them they are wasting their time because they want to use an interlinear.
No, I agree. I don't! I certainly don't! Your point is well taken, and I surely don't want to come across as "Greek boy" trying to discourage others from learning a little bit about the source language. And that is the reason why I too have often kept my mouth shut, or else have tread rather gingerly. I do, though, wherever there is an open ear, want to be well prepared to point to some of the perils of drawing conclusions without considering all the elements of a Greek passage.

I mentioned one of the students studying intro with me now, who began with Strong's numbers, interlinears, etc. He is a very capable and successful professional who took the first opportunity to learn the language more seriously. I wouldn't have wanted to discourage him anywhere along the way, but I certainly would want to be prepared to give him an intelligent argument as to why it is difficult to glean much real information from vocabulary glosses alone. I would like to be able to demonstrate clearly how it is so easy to draw wrong conclusions unless one is much better acquainted with the warp and woof of the language. He is one who would certainly have listened to a well reasoned argument.
Same sort of question you might put to a first year NT greek student. The answers are equally scary.
Scariest of all, maybe, is the same person a few years later, preaching and "unpacking the Greek", having even forgotten what he knew back then - and using an interlinear. :!:
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