Why not start with modern Greek?

JustinSmith
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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by JustinSmith » June 28th, 2019, 11:36 pm

Jumping in here with hopes of rekindling this noteworthy conversation. I am new to B-Greek and just joined when I saw this thread.

First, a little bit about the angle I am coming from. I spent several years hard nose GT until I discovered some of Buth's stuff. That was revolutionary for me, so ευχαριστώ πολύ, Dr. Buth. After exhausting BLC's Greek materials (though I hear exciting things are coming soon), I began seriously thinking about this topic of MG fluency as a means to KG acquisition. At a plain jane common sense level, it made perfect sense to me that a Chinese man, desiring to read Shakespeare, would have a much easier time doing so if he first became fluent in contemporary English. Similar to this thread, some said the gap was too great to really be worth the time, others said it seemed like a good idea. I could find no one who actually went out and learned MG with the goal of *actually* learning KG.

So after a semester of consistent plodding and weekly meeting with a native speaker via Italki, I took an immersion course in Athens. I am a total convert. My time in Athens was too short, and the immersion course was a bit too focused on grammar. I hope to return for a couple of years and apply Greg Thomson's GPA after finishing my M.Div. Πρώτα ο Θεός. But I have converted for the following reasons:
1. It has already helped my KG dramatically. I just spoke with a KG speaker today and I could understand 95% of what he was saying, that 5% is probably owing to pronunciation.
2. After learning a couple of basic rules (like the infinitive has been subsumed under the subjunctive and αυ- drops from αυτός-ή-ό), it really mitigates the appearance of being different. I think the appearance is what throws many people off after a short amount of studying MG.
3. I met too many natives, both young and old, educated and not, who could read and discuss much of what I put before them from the GNT.
4. One of my language teachers called Hebrews MG after I had her read a portion... <<Τι είναι το πρόβλημα, παιδί μου;; Αυτό είναι νέα ελληνικά!>>
5. I met a native evangelical pastor who was trained at Gordon-Conwell (he tested out of their Greek courses... φυσικά). After a service one evening he told me that only 95 words in the GNT are not in use in some way today. Look, "in some way" can mean a lot, but that is significant. Unfortunately, he could not produce a list of these words or tell me a written source for this figure. But he preaches expositional sermons twice a week, so I have a hunch that his sniffer for shenanigans is better than mine. By the way at about 5,400 distinct words that means over 98% are still somehow in use, albeit with some different morphology and semantic ranges.
6. Buth is right about those Mediterranean breezes and the Greek cuisine...
Would love informed feedback.
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Jonathan Haley
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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Jonathan Haley » July 1st, 2019, 8:46 am

Πιστεύω ότι έχεις δίκιο, Justin!

I’m the fellow from the previous post on this thread (3 yrs ago!), and since that time, I have taken this advice to heart, as well. My need to learn Catalan simultaneously, however, has slowed my Greek study much more than I would have wished. That said, I have now been to Greece several times for several months (doing both formal study and informal conversation), and I too, am convinced. Modern Greek, if not first, at least simultaneously or whenever one can get it! :D This, of course, will not feasible for all, as the time investment is great, nor would it perhaps be wise to suggest one “best” approach for everyone, but for anyone who is really serious about Greek – especially if they are young – I believe it will repay them in ways that can’t even be imagined. For that matter, if I had known 30 years ago what I have now experienced, for me it would have been very tempting to begin my studies in Greece with Modern Greek. This language is still living and there is much to be gained by not cutting ourselves off from its only living speakers.

So even while (temporarily) not spending more deliberate time in the Koine GNT, I can instantly tell, whenever I do pick it up that my intuitive sense of it is vastly improved. That is, I “think in Greek” much better now. It is true, as you know, and has also be commented by others in this thread, that there are some significant things that have changed in grammar, and at the level of word meanings one will encounter “false friends”, but at the moment I’m not finding these issues as problematic as I would have imagined. I think you are correct in your assessment that once you know several of basic changes that have taken place, many of the difficulties evaporate.

Personally, I’m likewise convinced that the need for any other pronunciation scheme than the one the Greeks themselves use is unnecessary. It would seem better to me to learn the handful of pronunciation changes that are relevant to older forms of Greek and keep them in mind when needed (context has a wonderful habit of clarifying doubts, and we always have the printed text before us anyway). I’m more than a little disheartened to see so many people adopting a reconstructed pronunciation scheme when, essentially, only a century later it was already the current pronunciation. I think we need to applaud the significant efforts recently to get away from the exclusive reliance on the grammar-translation approach, but until we take this next step, it still feels to me like something of an incomplete reformation.
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Jonathan Haley

Barry Hofstetter
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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Barry Hofstetter » July 1st, 2019, 10:18 am

Gentlemen, I'm glad your experience is treating you well. Having known a number of native Greek speakers who showed up in various classics courses, I will say that those who had actually studied ancient Greek did very well. Those who didn't struggled. I don't know if she remembers it, but I had a good conversation about this once with Maria Pantelia, with whom I was in grad school at the time, who essentially affirmed that ancient Greek had to be learned by modern Greeks as a second language, but that modern Greek speakers did have a good starting advantage. But it's like getting a good head start in a race -- it becomes meaningless if you don't capitalize on it and finish the race.
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N.E. Barry Hofstetter
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Jason Hare
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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Jason Hare » July 1st, 2019, 8:21 pm

It's obviously the same situation with Hebrew. Learning modern Hebrew will only assist in learning biblical Hebrew, but learning modern Hebrew is not sufficient for proficiency in the biblical language. I think we'll agree that the case is the same with modern Greek and the biblical or classical form of the language.
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Jason A. Hare
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Stephen Carlson » July 2nd, 2019, 6:45 am

I think if you're reasonably good at learning languages, learning modern Greek can only help, though not all the time spent transfers over. (Not all people are good at languages, however.) But if you're going to start with another language before ancient Greek, why not Latin? It is inflected like Greek but the vocabulary is more familiar. In a sense, it is the perfect stepping stool to Greek. And it opens up an important body of literature to boot.
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Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
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Brian Gould
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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Brian Gould » July 2nd, 2019, 7:33 am

Jason Hare wrote:
July 1st, 2019, 8:21 pm
Learning modern Hebrew will only assist in learning biblical Hebrew, but learning modern Hebrew is not sufficient for proficiency in the biblical language.
Since you live in Israel, maybe you can confirm or deny this. What I was told is that for someone who has learned modern Hebrew, reading the Bible is about as easy or difficult as reading Shakespeare is for someone who has learned modern English — i.e. difficult, but not impossibly difficult. But it doesn’t work the other way around. For someone who has learned Biblical Hebrew, modern Israeli Hebrew would be virtually impenetrable.
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Barry Hofstetter
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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Barry Hofstetter » July 2nd, 2019, 8:35 am

Stephen Carlson wrote:
July 2nd, 2019, 6:45 am
I think if you're reasonably good at learning languages, learning modern Greek can only help, though not all the time spent transfers over. (Not all people are good at languages, however.) But if you're going to start with another language before ancient Greek, why not Latin? It is inflected like Greek but the vocabulary is more familiar. In a sense, it is the perfect stepping stool to Greek. And it opens up an important body of literature to boot.
Latina lingua non regum principumque et imperatorum solum sed lingua etiam disciplinarum saeculorum est. Lingua enim non mortua est sed viva atque immortalis. Stephanus etiam rectissimus est. Latina lingua studentibus Graecam linguam magno auxilio semper fuit.

Or to paraphrase like the French subtitles when I saw "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" in Paris, oui!
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N.E. Barry Hofstetter
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Benjamin Kantor
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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Benjamin Kantor » July 3rd, 2019, 9:14 am

I agree with a lot of what has been said above, but I just want to make a few points below that I think will be helpful...
It's obviously the same situation with Hebrew. Learning modern Hebrew will only assist in learning biblical Hebrew, but learning modern Hebrew is not sufficient for proficiency in the biblical language. I think we'll agree that the case is the same with modern Greek and the biblical or classical form of the language.
Modern Hebrew is considerably more similar to Biblical Hebrew than Modern Greek is to Koine Greek. Morphology basically has 90%+ overlap (without having to convert things in your head first). Conventional pronunciations of Biblical Hebrew also follow the Modern pronunciation, so that is also not an issue.
After learning a couple of basic rules (like the infinitive has been subsumed under the subjunctive and αυ- drops from αυτός-ή-ό), it really mitigates the appearance of being different. I think the appearance is what throws many people off after a short amount of studying MG.
I agree with you here, but some of these differences are easier to adjust for linguistically minded people. I am assuming you are a "language person" to some degree. It would be interesting to note the experience of those who do not have a general aptitude for languages.
1. It has already helped my KG dramatically. I just spoke with a KG speaker today and I could understand 95% of what he was saying, that 5% is probably owing to pronunciation.
...
3. I met too many natives, both young and old, educated and not, who could read and discuss much of what I put before them from the GNT.
4. One of my language teachers called Hebrews MG after I had her read a portion... <<Τι είναι το πρόβλημα, παιδί μου;; Αυτό είναι νέα ελληνικά!>>
Let me share some of my experience interacting with Modern Greeks about my materials (i.e., videos and lectures in Koine Greek with a restored Koine pronunciation). There are a number of Greeks who comment on what I have done and say things like, "I could understand basically everything!" "This is great!" etc. However, on one occasion, I had someone respond by saying, "Whatever this guy is doing, it isn't Greek! This is terrible!"

Now how could I get such drastically different responses from Modern Greek speakers?

This last person was a heritage speaker.

This person was living in America but had Greek heritage. Do you know what that tells me? If someone doesn't grow up with the typical Greek exposure to ancient language (whether through the standard education in school or through liturgy, etc.), their ability to approach Koine simply based on spoken Modern Greek is severely diminished. This person did not even recognize it as Greek! And yet native Greeks living in Hellas have told me that they understand almost all of what I produce in Koine.

I think this heritage speaker is a good comparison for what is being suggested.

While I think that Modern Greek is certainly helpful, expecting a non-linguistically minded person to only learn Modern Greek and then transfer to the New Testament is optimistic.

Ideally, one should learn both together.

Jonathan Haley wrote:
July 1st, 2019, 8:46 am
Personally, I’m likewise convinced that the need for any other pronunciation scheme than the one the Greeks themselves use is unnecessary.
I'm not sure that is the case. While Modern pronunciation is certainly better than Erasmian--and I think those who already have Modern Greek should keep that pronunciation when they read ancient texts--it does not replicate the phonemic contrasts present in the Koine period for one only learning Koine Greek.
Jonathan Haley wrote:
July 1st, 2019, 8:46 am
It would seem better to me to learn the handful of pronunciation changes that are relevant to older forms of Greek and keep them in mind when needed (context has a wonderful habit of clarifying doubts, and we always have the printed text before us anyway).
For those who already have Modern Greek, yes that is optimal.

Jonathan Haley wrote:
July 1st, 2019, 8:46 am
I’m more than a little disheartened to see so many people adopting a reconstructed pronunciation scheme when, essentially, only a century later it was already the current pronunciation.
This is not accurate from a historical phonological perspective. There was a high degree of regional variation. If we're just talking about the vowel system, it probably did not mirror the Modern system universally until the Late Byzantine period, when υ finally merged with ι universally. What is interesting about a Late Byzantine date (perhaps 7th-9th century) for this change? Our first appearance of εσεις and εμεις instead of υμεις and ημεις appear around the 10th century. To me, that suggests that relatively soon after the vowel system became identical with Modern, the language itself began to change to accommodate this. This topic needs to be researched more thoroughly (it will take many years), but one possible interpretation of the data is that a universal Modern Greek pronunciation could not tolerate some aspects of the Koine language, such as these pronouns. The change to the Modern pronunciation system (universally) led to a change in the language.

This is not even to mention the developments in the consonantal system--which are less significant--but by no means were identical with Modern universally in the Roman period (or even the Byzantine period for some regional dialects).
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JustinSmith
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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by JustinSmith » July 25th, 2019, 7:52 pm

I am sorry for resuscitating this thread only to be so delinquent in my response! I am grateful for all of your informed feedback.

Starting from the top:

Jonathan—your testimony represents well what I have discovered in this conversation: those that have had real experience with Modern Greek are converts; those that haven't had real experience with Modern Greek are a mixed bag. Press on, brother!
Barry Hofstetter wrote:
July 1st, 2019, 10:18 am
Gentlemen, I'm glad your experience is treating you well. Having known a number of native Greek speakers who showed up in various classics courses, I will say that those who had actually studied ancient Greek did very well. Those who didn't struggled.
After speaking with numerous Greeks in Athens and presenting them with the Koine of the NT, I can't help but wonder if this isn't because of the way we determine competency. Being a native Greek speaker is perhaps no advantage for parsing via American academic standards. But in terms of actually understanding the language? Φυσικά! Granted the classics are obviously further away.
Jason Hare wrote:
July 1st, 2019, 8:21 pm
It's obviously the same situation with Hebrew. Learning modern Hebrew will only assist in learning biblical Hebrew, but learning modern Hebrew is not sufficient for proficiency in the biblical language. I think we'll agree that the case is the same with modern Greek and the biblical or classical form of the language.
Sufficient? No, pending what you mean by proficiency. But those who have learned the modern dialect can attest to the ease of transfer into another. Yes, new vocabulary and more interesting syntax and morphology, but those are not that difficult once you learn one dialect of the language. I just listened to an interesting thesis defense on dialect transfer in Arabic. One of the studies cited was a study of two groups of Arabic L2 learners. The first group did one year with MSA and another year with colloquial (while continuing MSA), and the second group did the same but in reverse order. By the end of the two years the students who began with the colloquial scored the same on MSA literacy as those who had been doing it for twice as long. Yet those who began with MSA scored significantly lower on their ability to communicate. While the situation with Arabic is a bit different from that of the biblical languages, this demonstrates the efficiency of learning a spoken dialect for literacy. Did the learners still have to study MSA? Of course, but they got to the same level in half the time. These conversations are all centered around efficiency.
Stephen Carlson wrote:
July 2nd, 2019, 6:45 am
But if you're going to start with another language before ancient Greek, why not Latin? It is inflected like Greek but the vocabulary is more familiar. In a sense, it is the perfect stepping stool to Greek.
Latin is a dead language. Greek is not. Koine Greek is a dead dialect. That is an important distinction. Greek is a living language. Modern Greek is inflected very similarly to Koine Greek (certainly more closely than Latin), so I am not sure why one would go this route. A native community far outweighs a more (perhaps) familiar vocabulary.
Benjamin Kantor wrote:
July 3rd, 2019, 9:14 am
This last person was a heritage speaker.

This person was living in America but had Greek heritage. Do you know what that tells me? If someone doesn't grow up with the typical Greek exposure to ancient language (whether through the standard education in school or through liturgy, etc.), their ability to approach Koine simply based on spoken Modern Greek is severely diminished. This person did not even recognize it as Greek! And yet native Greeks living in Hellas have told me that they understand almost all of what I produce in Koine.

I think this heritage speaker is a good comparison for what is being suggested.

How proficient was this Greek American? How do you know? There are many Greek Americans who do not know Greek. Heritage speakers rarely reach high levels of proficiency. One does not need to grow up in Greece to learn Modern Greek well enough to approach Koine. I have met expats who have never studied Koine who, after learning a decent bit of Modern Greek (upper intermediate), found the biblical text quite intelligible.

Benjamin Kantor wrote:
July 3rd, 2019, 9:14 am
While I think that Modern Greek is certainly helpful, expecting a non-linguistically minded person to only learn Modern Greek and then transfer to the New Testament is optimistic.
Helping "non-linguistically minded" people is kind of the point. I've met plenty of multilingual people who have become convinced that they are "not language people" because they have difficulty succeeding within the grammar translation model. Yet they are the ones who have actually acquired other languages. If these people can now have access to a legitimate speech community (i.e., not a synthesized community, as helpful as that may be), they can employ those same language learning strategies while interacting with native people. Again, I have met very non-academic people who can read Koine simply because they know Modern Greek. I also know many non-academic people who can read the KJV with great ease, even though they have never heard the word irrealis before.
Benjamin Kantor wrote:
July 3rd, 2019, 9:14 am
Jonathan Haley wrote: ↑July 1st, 2019, 7:46 am
Personally, I’m likewise convinced that the need for any other pronunciation scheme than the one the Greeks themselves use is unnecessary.
I'm not sure that is the case. While Modern pronunciation is certainly better than Erasmian--and I think those who already have Modern Greek should keep that pronunciation when they read ancient texts--it does not replicate the phonemic contrasts present in the Koine period for one only learning Koine Greek.
True, but Jonathan is write about context.

A video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNA34iBGJPs) was recently shared with me that applies directly to this conversation. This is the most definitive evidence I have seen for the continuity between Modern and Koine Greek, outside of going to Greece itself. The first fifteen minutes will convert you.
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Stephen Carlson » July 26th, 2019, 7:59 pm

JustinSmith wrote:
July 25th, 2019, 7:52 pm
Stephen Carlson wrote:
July 2nd, 2019, 6:45 am
But if you're going to start with another language before ancient Greek, why not Latin? It is inflected like Greek but the vocabulary is more familiar. In a sense, it is the perfect stepping stool to Greek.
Latin is a dead language. Greek is not. Koine Greek is a dead dialect. That is an important distinction. Greek is a living language. Modern Greek is inflected very similarly to Koine Greek (certainly more closely than Latin), so I am not sure why one would go this route. A native community far outweighs a more (perhaps) familiar vocabulary.
You're free to object to this very traditional proposal, but I dispute the alleged basis. Koine Greek is not a living language, and there is no native community for it. It is just as dead as Latin--indeed deader, since there is a vibrant L2 Latin community in papal universities. Yes, modern Greek is a living language but so is Italian, and they have a similar relationship to their respective 2000-year-old ancestors, except that Greek's orthography is much more conservative. (You can write Italian with Latin orthography, and it looks a lot like modern Latin.) Finally, linguists generally reject the language vs. dialect distinction as vague and unrigorous; even if the test is mutual intelligibility, koine Greek is not mutually intelligible with modern.
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