Confidence in the Grammar

Wes Wood
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Wes Wood » January 25th, 2015, 12:00 am

Thomas Dolhanty wrote:In my world there is a very significant company of lay people who want to know Biblical Greek, and a smaller group for Biblical Hebrew. They do not want to spend years or months or even days considering the more esoteric aspects of ancient Greek, any more than they care to labour for days or weeks or months over the English of Chaucer or even over the finer points of modern English. But they are serious, capable and willing to make the investment to learn Biblical Greek. They also want to have a genuine engagement with the language, not just a gleaning of glosses.

For this group, the traditional model of “dead” language instruction won’t work. The language must be able to ‘breathe’ and have resonance and ‘taste’. I see the model of academic Latin as an encouragement, because over the centuries it certainly has been a durable language of expression and communication, capable of sutlety and able to bear the “weight” of current concepts. I also see the work of Randall Buth, Paul Nitz, and others as very encouraging, because it holds a promise of something different than the deathly dry feel of dusty libraries. Something is wanted beyond the way it has been done in the past – both as to method, and as to model. For the people I'm speaking about, there must be an approach which allows learners a far larger and more dynamic experience of the language itself before they are overcome by the 'rules of grammar'. Those rules are learned 'unnaturally' and seem hopelessly inadequate - even misleading - as the novice approaches the text itself.
I think that there are several (too?) strong statements here, but I am not intending to be argumentative over any of them. I believe that the category of "Biblical Greek" is inherently misleading. For instance, it would be difficult for me to move beyond glosses very easily without interacting with Koine literature outside of the New Testament and LXX. What I am suggesting is that "Biblical Greek" does not offer the range of forms that one would need to be familiar with to fully appreciate "Biblical Greek." Don't get me wrong, you can translate it quite well with a relatively small time investment, but truly understanding it is an altogether different animal. It has been my experience that most people who would like to know "Biblical Greek" are content with having the ability to translate.

I agree with Stephen Hughes that if I were to design an approach to learn "Biblical Greek" I would start with Koine Greek outside of the Bible itself. My primary reasons for this, and these two are by no means exhaustive, would be that you can avoid the interactions that will occur if you translate familiar Bible passages, and you can develop an appreciation for terms that have broader usage than are frequently considered while translating the New Testament as a novice.

As an autodidact I don't think I have encountered the scenario that you are describing where I have been "overcome by the 'rules of grammar'". I have been and will be confused. I have been and will continue to be wrong from time to time, but because I am "serious, capable and willing to make the investment to learn" I am enjoying the slow climb up the steep acclivity of knowledge. I think for individuals like the ones you have spoken of having access to the ideal method of learning "Biblical Greek" is less important than grit and determination.

That said, I am not entirely sure how you are intending to define several of the phrases that you have used. I am fully aware that I may have missed the target you have attempted to paint. If this is the case, please overlook my errors since I have been interested in the conversation, even if I have misunderstood the crucial aspects of it.
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Ἀσπάζομαι μὲν καὶ φιλῶ, πείσομαι δὲ μᾶλλον τῷ θεῷ ἢ ὑμῖν.-Ἀπολογία Σωκράτους 29δ

cwconrad
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by cwconrad » January 25th, 2015, 11:13 am

Thomas Dolhanty wrote:Recently in, explaining an idiosyncrasy of Greek grammar to a student, I realized that I have gone through a marked development in my own acquisition of Greek grammar rules (norms? guidelines? probabilities?). Or rather, I can see clearly my own process of developing confidence in the grammar.

I began by believing pretty much ALL of the (probably necessary) lies of first year grammar texts. However, as I got into the Greek text itself, though I held out valiantly, I eventually abandoned pretty much ALL of the rules. Vocabulary and the text itself was what I trusted – well and memory too!

Somewhere along the way, however, I realize that I have actually come to trust the basic structure and framework – yes and the “rules” – of Greek grammar, even while accommodating the exceptions. (Please don’t tell me there’s another stage! :-))
This reminds me of my own experience of disillusionment in life: my first disillusionment that came relatively late, when I was a Freshman in college, and I first realized that much, perhaps most of what I’d been taught as a child about good and evil and religion and politics was wrong, and I felt I had to figure out for myself who I was and what I really wanted to make of myself in life; A few years later I had a second disillusionment, when I realized that a good deal of what I’d been taught as a child about good and evil and religion and politics was true after all, but that reality was much more complicated than I had been led to believe. At this point I began to grasp that one has to go forward in life with a mind that is neither closed nor empty, repeatedly adjusting and reformulating one’s understanding of just about everything.

Ultimately I think that’s pretty much comparable to my experience over the long haul of learning Greek. I learned the morphology, I learned the vocabulary, and I learned the rules of syntax. But as I started to read Homer instead of the New Testament, I came to realize that glosses in little dictionaries are not adequate indicators of what words mean; lexicons with full entries and lots of examples must ultimately have one’s attention, but the words don’t really sink into usable elements until they’ve become familiar in many, many repeated instances of usage encountered — in my case, through reading, reading, reading. I learned the morphology, but it didn’t work until I reached the point of instant recognition of word roots, stems and endings and the range over which all the inflected forms can interact with other words in a syntactic group. And I learned the rules of syntax, but it took me a long time to realize that it wasn’t the rules of syntax that were telling me how to put the sequence of words in sentences into a meaningful whole; rather it was recognizing and understanding the patterns in recurrent instances of the same constructions that made me see what the rules of syntax really are: ways of talking about the structure of a text that you have come to understand intuitively. And I don’t think I understood that fact — that intuitive understanding of a text must precede analysis and explanation of its syntactic structure — until I had been teaching Greek (and Latin) — when it became evident that students could tell me what the rules of grammar were but that it didn’t make them competent to read Greek (or Latin).
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

cwconrad
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by cwconrad » January 25th, 2015, 11:16 am

Wes Wood wrote:I think that there are several (too?) strong statements here, but I am not intending to be argumentative over any of them. I believe that the category of "Biblical Greek" is inherently misleading. For instance, it would be difficult for me to move beyond glosses very easily without interacting with Koine literature outside of the New Testament and LXX. What I am suggesting is that "Biblical Greek" does not offer the range of forms that one would need to be familiar with to fully appreciate "Biblical Greek." Don't get me wrong, you can translate it quite well with a relatively small time investment, but truly understanding it is an altogether different animal. It has been my experience that most people who would like to know "Biblical Greek" are content with having the ability to translate.

I agree with Stephen Hughes that if I were to design an approach to learn "Biblical Greek" I would start with Koine Greek outside of the Bible itself. My primary reasons for this, and these two are by no means exhaustive, would be that you can avoid the interactions that will occur if you translate familiar Bible passages, and you can develop an appreciation for terms that have broader usage than are frequently considered while translating the New Testament as a novice.

As an autodidact I don't think I have encountered the scenario that you are describing where I have been "overcome by the 'rules of grammar'". I have been and will be confused. I have been and will continue to be wrong from time to time, but because I am "serious, capable and willing to make the investment to learn" I am enjoying the slow climb up the steep acclivity of knowledge. I think for individuals like the ones you have spoken of having access to the ideal method of learning "Biblical Greek" is less important than grit and determination.
God bless Wes Wood and the autodidact’s zeal to read and understand Greek — not “Biblical Greek” but just Greek — and the recognition of the importance of “grit and determination.”
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

Stephen Hughes
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Stephen Hughes » January 25th, 2015, 11:26 am

Wes Wood wrote:Don't get me wrong, you can translate it quite well with a relatively small time investment, but truly understanding it is an altogether different animal. It has been my experience that most people who would like to know "Biblical Greek" are content with having the ability to translate.
Thomas Dolhanty wrote:
Stephen Hughes wrote:You don't need to be native-speaker to teach a language, competent is enough.
Thank goodness, otherwise I would not qualify. It sure does help though, and competency in communication must surely be the goal for serious instructors. The ideal, I think most would agree, is for the teacher to be able to 'handle' the language. That is, if the teacher can communicate even simple sentences and everyday narrative competently, and can begin to teach that from the beginning, the outcome will be better than simply demonstrating one's proficiency in Koine Greek grammar. I personally know of one long time intro Greek instructor who begins each year by informing the bright-eyed hopefuls that he himself cannot communicate in Koine Greek. He has a reputation, though, of being a most exacting individual with respect to the rules of grammar. From where I sit now, that would be the point where I would ask for a refund of my tuition fees. It's no accident that when large organizations engage ESL teachers, they want native speakers. For English they want native speakers of English.
There are equal opportunity laws that require an objective standard to be used. As mind-blowing as the recognition of syntactical structure may seem, there is one further step to go, and that is to notice and be able to describe the situations in which words are used. Doing that innately is a native speaker, doing that after learning it is something like near-native speaker.

As a step in that direction, let me ask you gentlemen (and ladies) a question from my current travelling companion
Romans 12:1 wrote:δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον.
In the phrase δοκιμάζειν ... τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, was the verb δοκιμάζειν chosen as suitable because;
  1. δοκιμάζειν is used with mental processes such as θέλημα.
  2. δοκιμάζειν is conventionally used with the question τί.
  3. δοκιμάζειν is used specifically with questions about mental processes such as τί τὸ θέλημα.
  4. δοκιμάζειν is used because something (accidently in this case τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ) is tested against a list of attributes τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον
  5. δοκιμάζειν is used to describe the consideration of the question <<τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ.>>
  6. δοκιμάζειν is used to describe the process of checking something against a standard.
  7. None of the above. Please specify: ____________________.
  8. No idea.
Being able to answer those sort of questions correctly with demonstrable confidence is what I think being able to say you know the language - answering in concrete terms with examples, or with an abstracted explanation is okay either way.
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Γελᾷ δ' ὁ μωρός, κἄν τι μὴ γέλοιον ᾖ
(Menander, Γνῶμαι μονόστιχοι 108)

Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » January 25th, 2015, 2:29 pm

Wes Wood wrote: I think that there are several (too?) strong statements here, but I am not intending to be argumentative over any of them. I believe that the category of "Biblical Greek" is inherently misleading. For instance, it would be difficult for me to move beyond glosses very easily without interacting with Koine literature outside of the New Testament and LXX. What I am suggesting is that "Biblical Greek" does not offer the range of forms that one would need to be familiar with to fully appreciate "Biblical Greek." Don't get me wrong, you can translate it quite well with a relatively small time investment, but truly understanding it is an altogether different animal. It has been my experience that most people who would like to know "Biblical Greek" are content with having the ability to translate.
I know that you are correct in saying that one must go beyond “Biblical Greek” in order to fully appreciate “Biblical Greek”. I’ve said so elsewhere on this Blog, and while I’ve not gotten there yet, περιπατῶ in that direction. That one can only hope to “translate” after becoming proficient in "Biblical Greek" alone, though, I find to be a “strong statement”. If I were on a desert island, and a narrative written in a foreign langauge, that contained the volume and scope and complexity of the Bible washed up, I think I could become quite well versed in much of the range of the language bound therein (OK there was a BDAG with it too).

I also have to say that I would be selling my friends short to say of them that they are “content with having the ability to translate.” That simply is not true of them. They surely are not interested in giving all of their time to weighing the finer points of grammar – any grammar. But they are genuinely interested in learning the language of Scripture, and in understanding it as a lanugage in its own right.
As an autodidact I don't think I have encountered the scenario that you are describing where I have been "overcome by the 'rules of grammar'". I have been and will be confused. I have been and will continue to be wrong from time to time, but because I am "serious, capable and willing to make the investment to learn" I am enjoying the slow climb up the steep acclivity of knowledge. I think for individuals like the ones you have spoken of having access to the ideal method of learning "Biblical Greek" is less important than grit and determination.
You obviously have prevailed. Many, many others have not. I am simply reflecting on my own experience to see whether it can be of some help to those who have had a similar experience and have stumbled, or are in danger of stumbling.
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Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » January 25th, 2015, 3:29 pm

cwconrad wrote:This reminds me of my own experience of disillusionment in life: my first disillusionment that came relatively late, when I was a Freshman in college, and I first realized that much, perhaps most of what I’d been taught as a child about good and evil and religion and politics was wrong, and I felt I had to figure out for myself who I was and what I really wanted to make of myself in life; A few years later I had a second disillusionment, when I realized that a good deal of what I’d been taught as a child about good and evil and religion and politics was true after all, but that reality was much more complicated than I had been led to believe. At this point I began to grasp that one has to go forward in life with a mind that is neither closed nor empty, repeatedly adjusting and reformulating one’s understanding of just about everything.
Mark Twain wrote: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
Yes. It is the, “Why didn’t you tell me that!” from the person you’ve been trying to elucidate on some topic for years. No wonder the Prophet Isaiah, and the Apostle John find such resonance with their 'seeing and not seeing', 'hearing and not hearing', 'light and darkness, 'sight and blindness'.
cwconrad wrote: Ultimately I think that’s pretty much comparable to my experience over the long haul of learning Greek. I learned the morphology, I learned the vocabulary, and I learned the rules of syntax. But as I started to read Homer instead of the New Testament, I came to realize that glosses in little dictionaries are not adequate indicators of what words mean; lexicons with full entries and lots of examples must ultimately have one’s attention, but the words don’t really sink into usable elements until they’ve become familiar in many, many repeated instances of usage encountered — in my case, through reading, reading, reading. I learned the morphology, but it didn’t work until I reached the point of instant recognition of word roots, stems and endings and the range over which all the inflected forms can interact with other words in a syntactic group. And I learned the rules of syntax, but it took me a long time to realize that it wasn’t the rules of syntax that were telling me how to put the sequence of words in sentences into a meaningful whole; rather it was recognizing and understanding the patterns in recurrent instances of the same constructions that made me see what the rules of syntax really are: ways of talking about the structure of a text that you have come to understand intuitively. And I don’t think I understood that fact — that intuitive understanding of a text must precede analysis and explanation of its syntactic structure — until I had been teaching Greek (and Latin) — when it became evident that students could tell me what the rules of grammar were but that it didn’t make them competent to read Greek (or Latin).
This I find very helpful. This is ἄρτους καὶ οἶνον for one on the journey. It is ἄρτους καὶ οἶνον for me. This I have been trying to pass on to those studying with me, while learning myself. In many ways I am still at the “Peter and the Wolf” stage – read me the story one more time. And should the reader vary by just one word, he or she will be thoroughly scolded and instructed to “read it right, dad”.

I think we can do better at helping others along the way. I agree with Wes that you can’t remove all the trials and the challenges and even the disappointments, but not all are pioneers. Had I read a grammar like Funk early on, it would have been of great assistance because it points to the more elementary issues of the language, which don’t seem so important to the novice but are very important indeed, as your comments also suggest. As I was self-taught, I certainly have no one to blame, but in the end I did waste a lot of time, and far too often I majored in the minors – with much encouragement in that direction from certain popular grammar books. I also know now that far more involvement with the text itself from day one will "cover a multitude of sins". One finds energy there, and context in which to build up one's grammar. I have discovered too that oral expression of the language - even in a limited fashion - is of great benefit (surprise! surprise!). For me, at least, there are lessons here which I believe can be passed on to help others - are in fact being passed on now. Perhaps there are principles here that can be applied in a larger theatre also. There's "nothing new under the sun", and yet one's personal experience of ancient truths, can be of great benefit to the novice, and put 'flesh on the bones' of wisdom.
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Wes Wood
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Wes Wood » January 25th, 2015, 3:37 pm

Thomas Dolhanty wrote:I think I could become quite well versed in much of the range of the language bound therein (OK there was a BDAG with it too).
I am sorry for seeming combatative. I intend the following questions as points for discussion rather than counterpoints to what you have said. If you understood everything in the New Testament would you comprehend the varied uses of say an optative or pluperfect? If you had instead of the New Testament the Greek equivalent of a fifth grade literature book would mastery of the content of that book (of comparable size) lead to an adequate knowledge of Greek? How well would you do with general koine literature? Would you be equipped to handle poetry? (I don't believe that this example correlates to the New Testament neatly, for one thing the gulf is not nearly that large, but the scenario helps me to understand you better.)
Thomas Dolhanty wrote:I also have to say that I would be selling my friends short to say of them that they are “content with having the ability to translate.” That simply is not true of them. They surely are not interested in giving all of their time to weighing the finer points of grammar – any grammar. But they are genuinely interested in learning the language of Scripture, and in understanding it as a lanugage in its own right.
I did not mean to imply that I was speaking for your acquaintances. When I first started learning Greek, I was under the impression that if I could translate the New Testament I would be comfortable with Greek. I have since discovered that to be a stop along the interstate, but I am still looking for the beach. I know of others that have reached translational proficiency and were perfectly content to stay there. All I claim to know for certain is that I couldn't have said at the beginning what success would feel like.
Thomas Dolhanty wrote:You obviously have prevailed. Many, many others have not. I am simply reflecting on my own experience to see whether it can be of some help to those who have had a similar experience and have stumbled, or are in danger of stumbling.
Please, believe that I am not holding myself up as a model and would not dare claim to have conquered the language. I am rather hoping that this exchange of perspectives might help me to understand your objectives better. I have enjoyed reading your thoughts and assumed from the start that any "strong statements" that you have made were misinterpreted on my part. Written communication is a difficult medium for me.
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Ἀσπάζομαι μὲν καὶ φιλῶ, πείσομαι δὲ μᾶλλον τῷ θεῷ ἢ ὑμῖν.-Ἀπολογία Σωκράτους 29δ

Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » January 25th, 2015, 4:35 pm

Wes Wood wrote: I am sorry for seeming combatative. I intend the following questions as points for discussion rather than counterpoints to what you have said. If you understood everything in the New Testament would you comprehend the varied uses of say an optative or pluperfect? If you had instead of the New Testament the Greek equivalent of a fifth grade literature book would mastery of the content of that book (of comparable size) lead to an adequate knowledge of Greek? How well would you do with general koine literature? Would you be equipped to handle poetry? (I don't believe that this example correlates to the New Testament neatly, for one thing the gulf is not nearly that large, but the scenario helps me to understand you better.)
I assure you, Wes, I did/do not find your comments combative and take no offence at anything you've said. I do find your portrayal of “Biblical Greek” to be not quite balanced, though. No one is denying that one needs a larger experience of Hellenistic Greek to fully appreciate the Koine of the Bible. But that’s quite different than comparing Biblical Greek to a “fifth grade literature book”. Of course I wouldn’t know everything about the use of the optative, even if I memorized all 68 occurances in the GNT. For that matter, there’s a whole lot I don’t know about Elizabethan English, never mind Chaucerian. But that doesn’t mean I am serverely handicapped in my handling of English. Again, I am not arguing that you don’t need to have facility with a wider corpus of Hellenistic Greek than the Bible. I’m only saying that I think you’re overstating the case.
I did not mean to imply that I was speaking for your acquaintances. When I first started learning Greek, I was under the impression that if I could translate the New Testament I would be comfortable with Greek. I have since discovered that to be a stop along the interstate, but I am still looking for the beach. I know of others that have reached translational proficiency and were perfectly content to stay there. All I claim to know for certain is that I couldn't have said at the beginning what success would feel like.
They are interested in the beach too, though perhaps not in being oceanographers! :)
I have enjoyed reading your thoughts and assumed from the start that any "strong statements" that you have made were misinterpreted on my part. Written communication is a difficult medium for me.
I would not make such an assumption, if I were you! Strong statements are my bane, and I’m always pulling on the reins (or else falling in the hole again)! Your points are well taken, and help to advance the discussion. Thank you for them.
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Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » January 25th, 2015, 6:48 pm

Stephen Hughes wrote: There are equal opportunity laws that require an objective standard to be used. As mind-blowing as the recognition of syntactical structure may seem, there is one further step to go, and that is to notice and be able to describe the situations in which words are used. Doing that innately is a native speaker, doing that after learning it is something like near-native speaker.

As a step in that direction, let me ask you gentlemen (and ladies) a question from my current travelling companion
Romans 12:1 wrote:δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον.
In the phrase δοκιμάζειν ... τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, was the verb δοκιμάζειν chosen as suitable because;
  1. δοκιμάζειν is used with mental processes such as θέλημα.
  2. δοκιμάζειν is conventionally used with the question τί.
  3. δοκιμάζειν is used specifically with questions about mental processes such as τί τὸ θέλημα.
  4. δοκιμάζειν is used because something (accidently in this case τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ) is tested against a list of attributes τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον
  5. δοκιμάζειν is used to describe the consideration of the question <<τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ.>>
  6. δοκιμάζειν is used to describe the process of checking something against a standard.
  7. None of the above. Please specify: ____________________.
  8. No idea.
Being able to answer those sort of questions correctly with demonstrable confidence is what I think being able to say you know the language - answering in concrete terms with examples, or with an abstracted explanation is okay either way.
Of course, the development is not linear. Many of these I can 'feel' - many not. Furthermore, I've got a bit more "mind blowing" recognition of syntax to experience still. This one? Who knows. I am so familiar with the text in either language that its hard to separate predisposition from direct experience. In any case,I wouldn't consider myself 'there' until I could debate your selection. :D Soon be time for Joesphus and Philo and Epictetus!
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: Confidence in the Grammar

Post by Stephen Hughes » January 26th, 2015, 4:29 am

Wes Wood wrote:
Thomas Dolhanty wrote:You obviously have prevailed. Many, many others have not. I am simply reflecting on my own experience to see whether it can be of some help to those who have had a similar experience and have stumbled, or are in danger of stumbling.
Please, believe that I am not holding myself up as a model and would not dare claim to have conquered the language. ... I have since discovered that to be a stop along the interstate, but I am still looking for the beach.
I think that the following is an accurate evaluation of Wes's level / standard / point along the highway.
Barry Hofstetter wrote:I would place your level at advanced intermediate or beginning advanced (terms sounding somewhat oxymoronic, I know). If you were one of my students, and you turned this in on an exam as a sight translation, I would certainly score it in the A range (in an intermediate or "200" level course). Now, everybody here who has studied ancient Greek knows exactly how you feel.
In keeping with the weaknesses / habits that many language learners at or at about his level (in a range of language learning senarios) need to work on, Wes has four main weaknesses that he could work on at the moment.

Maybe "have prevailed" to this point, but the struggle is not over. There are two more stops before the first of Wes' Greek knowledges "reach the beach". He needs to be able to spot patterns/structures of usage accurately and with confidence, and to make vague and generalised statements about the context(s) of usage. At his point along the highway he will be making vague statements about structures and "accurate" statements about meaning.

Not all parts of the language will reach the beach at the same time.
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(Menander, Γνῶμαι μονόστιχοι 108)

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