What does it mean to be a beginner and what kinds of questio

The forum for those who still struggle with morphology, syntax, and idiom, or who wish to discuss basic questions about the meaning of Greek texts, syntax, or words.
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What does it mean to be a beginner and what kinds of questio

Post by cwconrad » September 27th, 2015, 12:00 pm

Elsewhere in the Beginners Forum, a recent discussion raised the issue of appropriate questions for a beginner to ask. Here's my view on that issue:
... a good question: what does it mean to be a beginner and what kinds of questions should a beginner ask?

My answer would be, first of all, ask questions about the Greek language that you are in the process of learning; if you want to discuss the Greek text of Biblical passages, such as ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν in 1 Cor 15:29, analyze the elements: preposition ὑπὲρ, gen. plural of the noun phrase ὁ νεκρός; don’t start with how translators render that phrase into English; rather, start with what the lexicon tells you about each of the words in the phrase and with what the textbooks from which you’re learning grammar tell you about prepositions and the cases which they govern. As for the Biblical text, don’t make assumptions about what the text cannot possibly mean, especially theological assumptions. Rather, raise questions about what kinds of interpretation are allowed by the Greek grammatical construction and the Greek words that you find in that text. Beginners’ questions really ought to be about things in Greek that beginners are concerned with: forms of words (morphology), meanings of words (lexicology), and grammatical constructions (syntax). We have a subforum in the Beginners’ Forum termed “What does this text mean”; quite often the questions raised in that subforum really go beyond the kinds of questions that belong there and might better fit in one of the subforums in “Greek Texts.” But the real meat and potatoes of the Beginners Forum is questions about morphology, lexicology, and syntax that are encountered in beginning textbooks and first-year courses in schools.
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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)

Jonathan Robie
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Re: What does it mean to be a beginner and what kinds of que

Post by Jonathan Robie » September 28th, 2015, 11:04 am

Very well said, but I fear that a lot of real beginners might not know how to follow that advice.

I do think it's OK to notice how translations render something, e.g.
Sample Beginner wrote:In Second Opinions 3:16, most translations render ὑπὲρ as "for the sake of". I don't get it. I would have thought it meant "above". What am I missing?
Of course, the first response might tell you how to read about prepositions in a lexicon. That might be the first thing this sample beginner needs to learn. I'm guessing that many people who are just starting out don't even know what the words morphology, syntax, and lexicography mean. That's OK, we can help guide beginners in that direction. And most of the lexicography people need here amounts to looking up a word in a lexicon and figuring out what it means.

On the other hand, it's really important that beginners respond to that guidance if they want to participate here.

And a word to those who respond to beginners: please keep it simple, easily understandable, and oriented toward guiding beginners in this direction. Before you hit [submit], please read it and think about things like:
  • Is this understandable for a beginner at this level?
  • Does it give the beginner concrete guidance for how to take the next step, or open up huge areas that even the experts have not fully explored?
  • Does it focus attention on the basics of how to learn morphology, read upon syntax, and use a lexicon intelligently?
There are times that I look at a response to a beginner and think, "I'm not sure what that means, but I'm pretty sure it would require one or two doctoral dissertations to fully explore the questions raised here." I don't think that helps beginners. I may start editing or deleting posts that strike me that way.
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;

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