Verses with the Most Common Words

Resources and methods for teaching and learning New Testament Greek.
Tait Sougstad
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Verses with the Most Common Words

Post by Tait Sougstad » November 13th, 2014, 4:05 pm

I have been considering how to work more textual material into the curriculum of a introductory New Testament Greek class, under the theory (which I've noticed many people my share in this forum) that students can benefit from getting immersed in the actual use of the language. Feel free to dispute this idea, but even if you disagree, I would like to see if this question can be answered, so I don't end up reinventing the wheel.

Is there a list or tool that shows which phrases, verses or passages use the most common New Testament vocabulary? That is to say, has anyone ever gone through and found the best candidates for a beginner's use?

I see a few benefits for this. 1) Vocabulary learning can be tailored both to translate these verse (for early immersion in the text), while 2) vocabulary with high frequency of use makes it efficient to tap into other verses. I wonder if it would be possible to make a network of phrases, verses and passages that use overlapping vocabulary to come up with some efficient paths that expand their vocabulary at each stop.

I'm not sure how most textbooks generate their vocab list. It seems like a mix of common and uncommon words, and I don't know how much of it is arbitrary, and how much is thought out according to that foundational, pedagogical idea that more text exposure is better. Thoughts?
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Jonathan Robie
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Re: Verses with the Most Common Words

Post by Jonathan Robie » November 13th, 2014, 4:37 pm

I think a lot of people just start with 1 John or John, which are pretty straightforward. And there are rankings of books by difficulty, we've had a few here, people frequently work their way up the list of books.

Is there a need to do this by shorter passages? Would you want to rank based on grammatical complexity as well as vocabulary? These things should be possible ... I would need to play with using frequency lists together with morphological databases or syntactic databases. But is it really all that much better than listing the books of the NT by difficulty?
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

TimNelson
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Re: Verses with the Most Common Words

Post by TimNelson » November 13th, 2014, 6:27 pm

Another thing which might be relevant is "Children's Bible" Greek.

http://www.ibiblio.org/bgreek/forum/vie ... =15&t=1614

Note the link to TextKit.

Mounce generates his overall vocab list by trying to just include words that occur more than 50x, with maybe one or two select others. Wenham used a combination of a) Frequency (ie. all but 12 of the words occurring 30x or more), b) familiarity from English (παραλυτικος), and c) with particular passages in mind (I think targetting some of the passages that were popular to do early). Both then grouped their vocab according to how much grammar the students already knew. I can't speak for other textbooks.

HTH,
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Verses with the Most Common Words

Post by Stephen Hughes » November 13th, 2014, 10:02 pm

I think that vocab lists in books are a combination of the common words and the ones that happen to be used in the verses quoted in the book.

As far as pedagogy words fit into two types of categories; those with or without function (in fact all have function) and those that need to be actively learnt, and those which only need to be recognised.

Those with function means those who display a particular feature that you are teaching (or have taught). E.g. ἀκολουθεῖν and ὁμοιωθῆναι both require the dative / are constructed with the dative. If that is a feature of the language that you have taught or are teaching, you could bring attention to. Because ἀκολουθεῖν is a more common word, you are likely to introduce it with that word first.

How does function affect frequency? Considering that the accusative more commonly follows a verb than the genitive, dative or prepositional phrases that is to say that it is a common feature in the language. In effect words like ἀποστελεῖν which takes the most common case (accusative) should get a +1 in frequency because they have a common feature. [In fact they have two common features, the accusative and the infinitive - but don't go grouping this verb + accusative and infinitive construction together with with the accusative and infinitive construction used with verbs of speaking, or you will create confusion. ἀποστελεῖν invokes an infinitive of purpose, while the verbs of speaking only conventionally use an infinitive - just because it is a car doesn't mean you can have any color you like so long as it's black]. For the grammatical point you are teaching, then, certain words have relevance +1's.

Those that need to be learnt actively means two things. First, some example words for each grammatical feature that you introduce. An example that students use to make sense of, or at least recognise, other similar constructions. Second, words that can be mastered for use in conversation and or composition - both of which exercises require master of some skill rather than just knowledge about the word (the usual knowledge about the word is an English word gloss).

Following from that, then, for a student to be able to say that they know a word requires knowledge and skill. Suitable collocations expressing real meaning and the ability to use words within suitable (and correctly formed) grammatical structures.

Another thing about frequent words - a pitfall - is that the words learnt first - at the earliest stages of language acquisiton often only preserve only a beginner's understanding of the word - both phonologically and morphosyntactically. Beginners don't know how to construct phrases, so the common words often remain as strong but independent words - bright points of meaning in the readers mind, rather than part of the flow of a text (or a listening exercise). Having that depth of knowledge / familiarity is both a good thing and bad. It is a great starting point for understanding, but can also obscure the understanding of a whole utterance.

I am only an ESL/EFL teacher (with a hobbyist's knowledge of Greek), and as a teacher, it is very common for me to hear the most simple - and earliest introduced words - pronounced badly, and the most basic tenses used wrongly by intermediate level students - those who are not advanced enough to become self-critical of their language use. It is necessary, for me as a teacher to prompt the students to go back and revisit common words like ἀκολουθεῖν, because most students tend to stick to their first learnt words with a child-like simplicity that doesn't match their evolving mastery of the language and their developing ability to handle the complexity of the language. Any word that you have a strong one-word gloss for is a good candidate for personally revisiting or for supplementing the reference material with actual usage. What I am saying is that creating blind-spots during the language process is inevitable (and beneficial, because beginners can't handle complexity) and is something that needs to be looked at (corrected) at a later stage of learning, in one or other or all of a few ways.

First, as grammatical structures that an previously introduced word actually does exhibit, but for the sake of creating a manageable simplicity were overlooked, are introduced, then that knowledge can be associated with the familiar word, allowing learners to see what they already know in a new light / from a new perspective. It sounds ideal, but from the reactions I see learners having to it, it is not. Such a dynamic model of language acquisition in a second / foreign language can cause despondency and lack of interest ("Ahh. I thought I knew at least that." "Do I really know anything, if I don't know that." type statements come out). But it depends on the dynamic of the group and their appreciation of your knowledge of the language and skill as a teacher, and their trust in you as a model, even coming down to the compatibility of teacher-student personality types. Second, and to sail a little bit not-so-close-to-the wind, the limited knowledge or skillfulness associate with common words can be brought out in actual usages as time goes by. It is not a bad thing to leave learners with some deficiencies, so long as overall progress is being made. They will (eventually and of themselves) come to a point when single word glosses without grammatical or syntactical information or skill are just not enough. It seems to be okay to speed that awareness up, so long as the teacher (speaking from personal experience and the observation of colleagues) respects that the earliest appreciations of language will always be dear to a learner's heart. An approach like, "Do you remember when you first learnt the alphabet and you said, 'Abou and bulala' for apple and banana." is better than direct correction. The earlier things don't need to be "corrected" as such, because at that early stage of the learning process they were both appropriate and to some degree expected. However, of course it is better if the overall learning process has a built-in self correction for early simplifications such as basing vocabulary learning on concordance search word frequencies as you are - with sound reasons - planning to do.
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Tait Sougstad
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Re: Verses with the Most Common Words

Post by Tait Sougstad » November 23rd, 2014, 1:38 am

Jonathan Robie wrote:I think a lot of people just start with 1 John or John, which are pretty straightforward. And there are rankings of books by difficulty, we've had a few here, people frequently work their way up the list of books.

Is there a need to do this by shorter passages? Would you want to rank based on grammatical complexity as well as vocabulary? These things should be possible ... I would need to play with using frequency lists together with morphological databases or syntactic databases. But is it really all that much better than listing the books of the NT by difficulty?
Great points, Jonathan. (And sorry, everyone, for bringing up a topic and being tardy in my response!) I have thought about the common path of working through easier books, like Johannine literature. Let me answer your last question, "s it really all that much better than listing the books of the NT by difficulty?" I merely want to say: Maybe. I have not heard of a project undertaken along the lines I have proposed. It is widely accepted that the first place beginners should get into the text is <i>all</i> of 1 John because of its lexical simplicity and syntactic similarity to English. I would love to see how a professor would use 1 John from day one of class. I'm sure it's possible. But, is 1 John really the most efficient place to start? Is the lexical range there the <i>most</i> useful place to start? Does it use words that give access to other Johannine works only, or to the rest of the New Testament? I want to conduct a study to examine this.

I appreciate your comment on grammatical complexity, too. I have given this some thought, but do not have a conclusive answer. What if the "best" verses for expanding one's New Testament lexicon use obscure pluperfect tenses, or difficult participial idioms? λεγω is common enough, but does it help a student to first encounter it as ειπεν, and then be told its lexical form, or is that just discouraging?

I think the best course would be to conduct the study and then determine where to go. Who knows? Maybe it would confirm the Johannine track. But, maybe it would show some good verses or passages that would allow a student to engage texts that give access to <i>the most other texts</i>. Anecdotally, I remember memorizing John 14:6 long before taking a formal class and I never forgot "ἡ ὁδος, και ἡ ἀληθεια, και ἡ ζωη". And as I learned the rest of the vocabulary of the verse, they were much easier to place because I already have furniture for them. The verse became sort of a room in my Greek memory palace, so to speak.

Jonathan, you seem to have an idea on how one would interact with a New Testament database. Is that something I could do, or does it take some coding?

TimNelson wrote:Another thing which might be relevant is "Children's Bible" Greek.


Thank you for that link! That is a very helpful tool. I can definitely see that being used in a classroom. Have you had any experience with it in that setting, or only on your own?

To Mr. Hughes, (I'm going to make my reply a footnote, since much of it has to do with broader pedagogical subjects, and not my project specifically)

You have a lot of helpful observations, and I fully agree that learning a second language (especially one typically taught in writing only!) is a complicated affair. My classmates in my own Bible-college level classes were constantly expressing that they were overwhelmed, and some where, though many more were so because they believed they should be, which is a tragedy of self-imposed limitation. My ideal (and currently purely theoretical) curriculum would try to capitalize on any place where students can come to conclusions on their own. ie. Rather than beginning with letter names and sounds, start with reading a text together, slowly and carefully, and ask students to determine which letter is linked with which sound. Only after the student discovers the utility of the character and can use it to sound out new words does he need to be bothered with its name and placement in the alphabet, and in which case those details can be useful as mnemonics to hook them in the memory. The same with grammar and vocabulary. Rather than spend most of the class time trying to describe the meta-language, as much as possible spend time in a text and let the text be the generator of grammatical questions. I realize that this is probably the idealistic musings of someone who has never taught a second-language, but it does reflect observations from my own language-learning experience, and from the trajectory of modern language-learning research, as well as ancient language-learning methods.
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TimNelson
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Re: Verses with the Most Common Words

Post by TimNelson » November 23rd, 2014, 4:40 am

Tait Sougstad wrote: Jonathan, you seem to have an idea on how one would interact with a New Testament database. Is that something I could do, or does it take some coding?
I'm not Jonathan, but I'll make at least a partial answer to your question. Some questions you can get Bible software to ask of the text. With a more complex question like yours, it probably needs something a little more complicated than regular Bible software (from what I've seen). The recent material I've seen from Jonathan indicates that he's working with XML and XQuery. Text-representation languages like HTML and XML are the easiest languages to learn, in my opinion. The second-easiest kind of language to learn (again in my opinion) are the query languages, of which XQuery is one. Whether the whole thing can be easily done in XQuery or not is a different question, and one I'll leave for Jonathan :).
Tait Sougstad wrote:
TimNelson wrote:Another thing which might be relevant is "Children's Bible" Greek.
Thank you for that link! That is a very helpful tool. I can definitely see that being used in a classroom. Have you had any experience with it in that setting, or only on your own?
I have no experience at all with it; I just saw it recently, and though it sounded like your sort of thing. However, if you raised that question on those threads, you are more likely to get answers from people with actual experience.

:)
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Jonathan Robie
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Re: Verses with the Most Common Words

Post by Jonathan Robie » November 25th, 2014, 8:53 pm

TimNelson wrote:
Tait Sougstad wrote:Jonathan, you seem to have an idea on how one would interact with a New Testament database. Is that something I could do, or does it take some coding?
I'm not Jonathan, but I'll make at least a partial answer to your question. Some questions you can get Bible software to ask of the text. With a more complex question like yours, it probably needs something a little more complicated than regular Bible software (from what I've seen).
Precisely.

And if we could make his question more precise, I could have a go at generating a useful answer. Hence my questions. How would I identify the kind of passage he is interested in, using the kind of objective criteria a query can understand??
TimNelson wrote:The recent material I've seen from Jonathan indicates that he's working with XML and XQuery. Text-representation languages like HTML and XML are the easiest languages to learn, in my opinion. The second-easiest kind of language to learn (again in my opinion) are the query languages, of which XQuery is one. Whether the whole thing can be easily done in XQuery or not is a different question, and one I'll leave for Jonathan :).
Precisely. And I'm pretty sure it can be done, but we need to carefully specify "it" first.
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

Jonathan Robie
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Re: Verses with the Most Common Words

Post by Jonathan Robie » November 25th, 2014, 8:58 pm

Tait Sougstad wrote:Great points, Jonathan. (And sorry, everyone, for bringing up a topic and being tardy in my response!) I have thought about the common path of working through easier books, like Johannine literature. Let me answer your last question, "s it really all that much better than listing the books of the NT by difficulty?" I merely want to say: Maybe. I have not heard of a project undertaken along the lines I have proposed. It is widely accepted that the first place beginners should get into the text is <i>all</i> of 1 John because of its lexical simplicity and syntactic similarity to English. I would love to see how a professor would use 1 John from day one of class. I'm sure it's possible. But, is 1 John really the most efficient place to start? Is the lexical range there the <i>most</i> useful place to start? Does it use words that give access to other Johannine works only, or to the rest of the New Testament? I want to conduct a study to examine this.


How would you conduct the study? What are your conditions? You'd have to state this very clearly, if you do so, I think the data could be generated.

Tait Sougstad wrote:I appreciate your comment on grammatical complexity, too. I have given this some thought, but do not have a conclusive answer. What if the "best" verses for expanding one's New Testament lexicon use obscure pluperfect tenses, or difficult participial idioms? λεγω is common enough, but does it help a student to first encounter it as ειπεν, and then be told its lexical form, or is that just discouraging?


You would have to start with a research hypothesis and test it, or compare two or more different approaches by some objective measure.

Tait Sougstad wrote:I think the best course would be to conduct the study and then determine where to go. Who knows? Maybe it would confirm the Johannine track. But, maybe it would show some good verses or passages that would allow a student to engage texts that give access to <i>the most other texts</i>. Anecdotally, I remember memorizing John 14:6 long before taking a formal class and I never forgot "ἡ ὁδος, και ἡ ἀληθεια, και ἡ ζωη". And as I learned the rest of the vocabulary of the verse, they were much easier to place because I already have furniture for them. The verse became sort of a room in my Greek memory palace, so to speak.


Memorization vs. other approaches is another thing that could be studied ... but one study at a time, each study is significant effort to design and conduct and interpret ...
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

Tait Sougstad
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Re: Verses with the Most Common Words

Post by Tait Sougstad » November 26th, 2014, 12:00 am

Jonathan Robie wrote:How would you conduct the study? What are your conditions? You'd have to state this very clearly, if you do so, I think the data could be generated.
The goal is to find phrases, verses, and passages with clusters of common words. Those may be three different studies, with different scopes within which to rate the data (phrases, verses, passages), so I would start with whichever of those is easiest to set up, preferring the shorter lengths. Filter the most common words; articles, kαι, αυτος, συ, δε. Then score according to the word group's "commonness".

I'm open for suggestions, here, but here's one idea: Pull the word count data from each word, add every word in the group, divide by the number of words in the group. I'm not sure if that would skew groups so that the top verses all have really uncommon words, but a bunch of εγω ειμι and καιs.

Or, we could grade each word in categories bases on different use ranges and average those. eg. +200 uses counts as 5, 200 - 100 counts as 4, etc. I'd want to play with it a bit and see what comes out.

Another idea is to home in only on the 100 - 50 uses range, that are uncommon enough to require special attention (time outside of reading a text) to learn, but make up a lions share of the core NT vocab.

How would we set it up? What kind of software would I need to run these kinds of calculations? Thoughts? Ideas?
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TimNelson
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Re: Verses with the Most Common Words

Post by TimNelson » November 26th, 2014, 12:52 am

Tait Sougstad wrote:
Jonathan Robie wrote:How would you conduct the study? What are your conditions? You'd have to state this very clearly, if you do so, I think the data could be generated.
The goal is to find phrases, verses, and passages with clusters of common words. Those may be three different studies, with different scopes within which to rate the data (phrases, verses, passages), so I would start with whichever of those is easiest to set up, preferring the shorter lengths. Filter the most common words; articles, kαι, αυτος, συ, δε. Then score according to the word group's "commonness".

I'm open for suggestions, here, but here's one idea: Pull the word count data from each word, add every word in the group, divide by the number of words in the group. I'm not sure if that would skew groups so that the top verses all have really uncommon words, but a bunch of εγω ειμι and καιs.

Or, we could grade each word in categories bases on different use ranges and average those. eg. +200 uses counts as 5, 200 - 100 counts as 4, etc. I'd want to play with it a bit and see what comes out.

Another idea is to home in only on the 100 - 50 uses range, that are uncommon enough to require special attention (time outside of reading a text) to learn, but make up a lions share of the core NT vocab.

How would we set it up? What kind of software would I need to run these kinds of calculations? Thoughts? Ideas?
Another suggestion: generate a frequency rank for all the words in the NT (ie. ὀ = 1, καί = 2, etc, etc). Then generate 2 numbers: total of the ranks for the verse, and mean of the ranks for the verse. Oh, and a third number, which may end up being the most useful - the rank of the highest word in the verse (ie. the one with the biggest number). Actually, in retrospect, I like this third option the best.
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