RandallButh wrote:More to home, Classicist Paula Safire in When Dead Tongues Talk (or something close) said that she recognises that she does not control Greek the way that her colleagues in modern literature control their languages. She even mentioned that she could speak French much better than Greek.]
With all due respect to PS... If I said, "I know Chinese", you would expect that I could communicate, interact etc in a Chinese speaking environment and with Chinese people, listen to the radio or perhaps watch a movie. I can
do all those things, so i feel okay to say, "I know Chinese". I learnt by immersion in the midst of my daily life and interactions over the past decade. I ahve colleagues and friends who "learnt" Chinese from some course or private tutor, but really have the ear for the language and have no really mastery of it, but they can explain grammar adn they know which words are nouns or verbs and can explain various sort of grammar things that I don't even know about. I'm only a speaker / user of the language not a grammarian. I could never "teach" Chinese, beyond saying, "You should say something something something in such and so situation, because that is what people do".
But if one says, "I know Greek" it doesn't mean anything like what my "I knwo Chinese" does. In fact, if somebody asks me if I know NTG, I usually say, "Not very much." (I can read and listen okay, but only write haltingly and have never even tried speaking. I have an okay vocabulary of which I can use most of it okay.) I can use 1/10 of what I can understand in Chinese, but I can use like 1/2 of what I understand in Greek - I don't know why. I guess that is because it is a "learned" language rather than an acquired one. I don't know.
"I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel." (Good Will Hunting - 1997)