stems/roots

How can I best learn new vocabulary items? What aids are there and what pitfalls should be avoided? How does a beginner learn to use a lexicon?

stems/roots

Postby Jesse Goulet » October 15th, 2011, 3:43 pm

In Mounce's Basics... grammar, he states that it is the stem that carries the basic meaning of the word. However, when it comes to memorizing basic vocabulary, we are taught the "lexical form" of each word. For nouns, this is the nominative/singular form (some people are also taught the genitive singular). For verbs, this is the 1st person/singular form.

But since we are all taught the various noun and verb inflections separately, then what is the point of memorizing vocabulary by only its lexical form? If it is the STEM or ROOT of a word that carries the basic meaning, and since vocabulary studies are done to learn what the basic meanings are, then logically shouldn't you just be learning what the stems are? We are all taught the various inflectional patterns anyway, so there shouldn't be too many problems recognizing the nominative/singular forms anyway.

Also, in a given sentence, you hardly come across a noun in the nominative/singular, since most sentences contain the subject already in the main verb, or use the nominative/PLURAL instead of singular, and the rest of the nouns in the sentence are usually in the genitive, dative, and accusative cases functioning as objects and modifiers. So it also does not seem that practical to memorize the form of a word that is not even used that often in an actual New Testament sentence.

Mounce, and also my Greek prof, said that we learn the lexical forms because that is how they appear in lexicons. But learning language is not supposed to be about looking up words in lexicons, it's supposed to be about recognizing things in the actual text itself. Plus, as I just mentioned, if lexicons list nouns by their nominative/singular forms, then if you have the stems memorized as well as the nominative/singular forms memorized, you should be able to do the simple math to arrive at a noun's nom/sg form and have no problem finding that form in a lexicon.

What I especially find is unnecessary is when it comes to 3rd declension nouns. For 3rd declension, we are taught both the nominative and genitive singular forms, because the nominative forms are often irregular, while you discover the stem by taking the case ending off of the genitive form. But since you have learned the 3rd declension inflectional case endings separately anyway, why not just memorize the single noun stem? You already know how the nominative/singular case endings attach to its root, like how the sigma contracts with a stem that ends in a kappa to produce the xi, and other simple contraction rules or simple things like how tau drops off if it is at the end of a word; and plus you would only have to memorize one thing (the stem) instead of two things (the nominative AND genitive/singular forms).

Am I making any sense?
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Re: stems/roots

Postby Mark Lightman » October 15th, 2011, 6:51 pm

David asked: Am I making any sense?


Hi, David,

Yes, you are. You make a number of good points. I suppose people will object to learning words that don't actually occur anywhere, χαρατ instead of χάρις, λαβ instead of λαμβάνω, βασιλεϝ instead of βασιλεύς. The way we learn Greek now, these people will say, is already artificial enough.

But I say that learning Greek is so hard that anything is worth a try. I find your approach intriguing.
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Re: stems/roots

Postby Jesse Goulet » October 15th, 2011, 7:42 pm

Mark Lightman wrote:
David asked: Am I making any sense?


Hi, David,

Yes, you are. You make a number of good points. I suppose people will object to learning words that don't actually occur anywhere, χαρατ instead of χάρις, λαβ instead of λαμβάνω, βασιλεϝ instead of βασιλεύς. The way we learn Greek now, these people will say, is already artificial enough.

But I say that learning Greek is so hard that anything is worth a try. I find your approach intriguing.


First, I'm totally scratching my head and also chuckling regarding how you got the name David confused with Jesse. Unless you are thinking of King David and his dad :lol:.

Second, it just seems to be the most logical thing to just memorize the stem. Because after that all you gotta do is just attach the noun and verb endings that you memorized onto them, maybe have to do a little ablaut or contracting but that is hardly a problem and you have to memorize many of the contractions anyway. So recognizing the nominative/singular form of any verb shouldn't be too difficult, meaning that finding words in their nominative/singular form in lexicon should be pretty simple.
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Re: stems/roots

Postby jeffreyrequadt » October 15th, 2011, 7:57 pm

Jesse/"David":

I especially like that you are trying to do things that actually make sense rather than just doing whatever people have told you to do. I think your idea makes sense as long as you make sure that learning the roots (rather than the lexical forms) allows you to more fluently read what your eyes see in a Greek text. Of course, the way Greek works you will never see a bare root sticking out of the ground. You only see it attached to branches (prefixes and inflected endings). But I can see how learning the root instead of the lexical form might allow you to more quickly recognize the word in any form. Basically, the aorist and present tense-forms of two different forms of the same verb, but learning the first person present form reinforces the notion that καλέω is the verb and ἐκάλεσα is an aorist form of that. The opposite it just as true (or false).

Just make sure you get used to seeing the different forms rather than just memorizing the root. If it doesn't help you read more efficiently and accurately, then try something else.

Also, Jonathan Robie has a great method of finding a bunch of sentences from the New Testament (possibly other texts as well) that contain a certain word/form combination. I haven't used it, but mostly because I'm not actively trying to learn more vocabulary or fluency. In the event that I start to become serious with Greek again, I would definitely do that. I would probably combine that with what you are trying to do, perhaps finding sentences with a variety of forms of the the word, or perhaps sentences that different synonyms, etc.
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Re: stems/roots

Postby Jesse Goulet » October 15th, 2011, 8:29 pm

jeffreyrequadt wrote:Jesse/"David":

I especially like that you are trying to do things that actually make sense rather than just doing whatever people have told you to do. I think your idea makes sense as long as you make sure that learning the roots (rather than the lexical forms) allows you to more fluently read what your eyes see in a Greek text. Of course, the way Greek works you will never see a bare root sticking out of the ground. You only see it attached to branches (prefixes and inflected endings). But I can see how learning the root instead of the lexical form might allow you to more quickly recognize the word in any form.

Well yeah, I think it might because when you learn the lexical form, when it comes to recognizing the form in an actual sentence your mind has to essentially drop of nom/sg (nouns) or 1st/sg (verbs) off to get the stem, and then add/contract whatever ending you're looking at in the text. But if you just learn the stem, then you erase that first step of dropping the nom/sg or 1st/sg ending.

But Conrad just reminded me in another thread that if you just memorize the stem then you won't be memorizing the gender or what declension that particular word follows. Although I think you can solve that problem by just mentioning the declension and gender on the back of your flashcard in addition to the lexical gloss. I use a computer flashcard program where you can create "3-sided" cards too. So imagine the "front" lists the stem, the "middle" lists the lexical gloss, and the "back" lists the gender and declension. Might be worth a try.

Basically, the aorist and present tense-forms of two different forms of the same verb, but learning the first person present form reinforces the notion that καλέω is the verb and ἐκάλεσα is an aorist form of that. The opposite it just as true (or false).

I'm actually not following here. The opposite of what?

Just make sure you get used to seeing the different forms rather than just memorizing the root.

I think that as long as you do your rote memory work (stems, inflections, contractions, etc.) along with some actual reading where you pick out words and parse them and figure out how that word came to be formed the way it is, I think one would be fine. I believe that memory work should be done in conjunction with actual reading anyway.

Also, Jonathan Robie has a great method of finding a bunch of sentences from the New Testament (possibly other texts as well) that contain a certain word/form combination. I haven't used it, but mostly because I'm not actively trying to learn more vocabulary or fluency. In the event that I start to become serious with Greek again, I would definitely do that. I would probably combine that with what you are trying to do, perhaps finding sentences with a variety of forms of the the word, or perhaps sentences that different synonyms, etc.

So what is his method then? You got me curious now!
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Re: stems/roots

Postby Stephen Carlson » October 15th, 2011, 10:27 pm

It's not actually easier, for the stem won't tell you the declension. If you have to add a code for the declension, then you're memorizing two items of information (stem and declension), whereas the other way you had to memorize ... two items of information (nom. and gen. forms).

So the memorization is about the same, but the difference is that the nominative and genitive will actually appear in a Greek sentence while the stem and declension code won't. I think it's better to memorize something you'll see in your than something you'll never see in your reading.

Also, all the lexical tools are keyed to the nominative. There is much to be said for being adapt at these tools.

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Re: stems/roots

Postby Jesse Goulet » October 16th, 2011, 1:32 am

Stephen Carlson wrote:It's not actually easier, for the stem won't tell you the declension. If you have to add a code for the declension, then you're memorizing two items of information (stem and declension), whereas the other way you had to memorize ... two items of information (nom. and gen. forms).

So the memorization is about the same.

Actually three--you forgot the gender as indicated by the article :D.

That might be true about memorizing the same amount of stuff, in that case I wonder if my ideas here are of more practical help, regardless of the amount of steps involved. When I personally do vocab I never really think much about the declension or even the gender of the word indicated by the lexical form anyway, because I'm focused just on the meaning of the lexical forms. That's why I think it might be better to have the stem on the front of the vocab card, with the meaning, gender, and declension on the back. This way you are forced to recognize the meaning of the stem, as well as recognize and remember the stem's gender (since nouns are often anarthrous in the actual text, meaning you have to recall its gender without the help of the article) and remember the declension since in an actual sentence you will have to recall declension anyway.

Maybe this is all just a matter of personal choice then *shrug*

But the difference is that the nominative and genitive will actually appear in a Greek sentence while the stem and declension code won't. I think it's better to memorize something you'll see in your than something you'll never see in your reading.

The thing is that the stem DOES appear in the text...just with endings added/contracted onto them :D. And you need to recall the stem anyway because once you recognize and parse the case ending of that noun, you then gotta figure out what that case ending is attached to in order to recall the lexical meaning of that noun anyway. And as I pointed earlier, the nom and gen are only 2 out of 5 forms, and then you also got the plural of all 5 forms. So memorizing nom/sg and gen/sg is only 2 out of 10 forms you will see in the text. If you come across a dative/plural form of a given noun, you still gotta recognize what that dat/pl ending is connected to in order to get the meaning of that noun. It just seems like it would be easier to just recall the stem that you memorized rather than having to recall the stem and two forms of that word that aren't even in the text you are looking at.

Unless I'm mistaken in my tracing of the thought process somewhere. It just seems that when you train your eyes to recognize the stem and in your mind you attach a lexical meaning with a gender and a declension number to it, then it seems you are doing the exact reversal of what happens in your mind when you read an actual passage. It seems like less hoop-jumping than training the eyes to recognize two forms plus gender and attaching them in your mind to a stem and a lexical meaning. Unless, again, I'm mistaken somewhere.

Also, all the lexical tools are keyed to the nominative. There is much to be said for being adapt at these tools.

I addressed this earlier too, where I said that it shouldn't be difficult to take a stem and attach that to the nom/sg form to arrive at the lexical form.

I just remembered, though, that memorizing lexical forms comes in handy for irregular words such as μέγας, μεγάλη, μέγα whose stem is μεγαλο, in which case just learning the stem and its declension would not help you recognize the irregular nom/sg forms for the masculine and neuter. But then again, that's the nature of irregular words in any language isn't it? Where you have to learn a couple extra things separately from the normal way that things usually work?
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Re: stems/roots

Postby David Lim » October 16th, 2011, 5:10 am

Mark Lightman wrote:
David asked: Am I making any sense?


Hi, David,

Yes, you are. You make a number of good points. I suppose people will object to learning words that don't actually occur anywhere, χαρατ instead of χάρις, λαβ instead of λαμβάνω, βασιλεϝ instead of βασιλεύς. The way we learn Greek now, these people will say, is already artificial enough.

But I say that learning Greek is so hard that anything is worth a try. I find your approach intriguing.


Hi =) Shouldn't it be "χαριτ" for the stem? "χαρατ" sounds shiny. ;)
Anyway I kind of agree that if we want to learn a particular form of a word we might as well learn the root first and then how it becomes all the various declined forms, especially since they will be more transparent this way. It is like starting from the root of a tree and proceeding to the branches rather than at a leaf and backtracking. I do this myself and it seems to work fine for me.
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Re: stems/roots

Postby cwconrad » October 16th, 2011, 6:35 am

David Lim wrote:
Hi =) Shouldn't it be "χαριτ" for the stem? "χαρατ" sounds shiny. ;)
Anyway I kind of agree that if we want to learn a particular form of a word we might as well learn the root first and then how it becomes all the various declined forms, especially since they will be more transparent this way. It is like starting from the root of a tree and proceeding to the branches rather than at a leaf and backtracking. I do this myself and it seems to work fine for me.


I'm one that does indeed believe that learning the roots is of fundamental value when learning vocabulary, but one still needs to learn the basic lexical data for each word (e.g. nom. sg., gen. sg. gender as well as root); BUT in order to make use of the roots learned, one must also grasp (1) the formative elements (prefixes, infixes, suffixes, etc.) for all inflected word-forms, (2) the conjugational and declensional patterns of of every type of nominal and verbal category, and (3) the phonological principles governing the conventional orthography of ancient Greek. I don't know of a single beginning textbook in ancient Greek that explains all these elements (and I'm dubious as to whether it's all in the new Porter-Reed-O'Donnell primer of which it is said by one reviewer that it gives more information about the language than a beginning student can digest). I was blessed with a marvelous teacher who taught ancient Greek phonology and word-construction in the regular course of everyday introduction of new morphology patterns and I've tried to teach it to my own students over the years. All that one needs to know about these matters is set forth clearly and intelligibly in Smyth's grammar, which also refers back to the phonology in the presentation of every nominal and verbal mophological paradigm. I've referred to that information in Smyth's grammar many times over the years in response to questions raised in this forum and its predecessor mailing list about precisely such matters as why the genitive of χάρις is χαριτος or why the genitive of βασιλεύς is βασίλεως. I've made a very brief handout on ancient Greek phonology available at my web site and included it in my Supplement to Reading Greek on a page listing my old course handouts:
http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/current.html
Carl W. Conrad
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Re: stems/roots

Postby Stephen Carlson » October 16th, 2011, 9:00 am

Jesse Goulet wrote:
Stephen Carlson wrote:It's not actually easier, for the stem won't tell you the declension. If you have to add a code for the declension, then you're memorizing two items of information (stem and declension), whereas the other way you had to memorize ... two items of information (nom. and gen. forms).

So the memorization is about the same.

Actually three--you forgot the gender as indicated by the article :D.


I didn't forgot the gender, but I ignored it because the memory load is the same.

Jesse Goulet wrote:That might be true about memorizing the same amount of stuff, in that case I wonder if my ideas here are of more practical help, regardless of the amount of steps involved. When I personally do vocab I never really think much about the declension or even the gender of the word indicated by the lexical form anyway, because I'm focused just on the meaning of the lexical forms. That's why I think it might be better to have the stem on the front of the vocab card, with the meaning, gender, and declension on the back. This way you are forced to recognize the meaning of the stem, as well as recognize and remember the stem's gender (since nouns are often anarthrous in the actual text, meaning you have to recall its gender without the help of the article) and remember the declension since in an actual sentence you will have to recall declension anyway.

Maybe this is all just a matter of personal choice then *shrug*


It probably is. It's hard to generalize to all learners. Those who memorize the actual forms will need to learn how to get to the stems, and those who memorize the stem will need to know how to form the words. Personally, I prefer memorizing real forms. (That's why I loathe the uncontracted lexical forms ποιέω etc. -- you won't really find them in the text, unless it's Herodotus.)

Jesse Goulet wrote:
But the difference is that the nominative and genitive will actually appear in a Greek sentence while the stem and declension code won't. I think it's better to memorize something you'll see in your than something you'll never see in your reading.

The thing is that the stem DOES appear in the text...just with endings added/contracted onto them :D.


Yeah, but not as such. There are many changes in some words.

Jesse Goulet wrote:Unless I'm mistaken in my tracing of the thought process somewhere. It just seems that when you train your eyes to recognize the stem and in your mind you attach a lexical meaning with a gender and a declension number to it, then it seems you are doing the exact reversal of what happens in your mind when you read an actual passage. It seems like less hoop-jumping than training the eyes to recognize two forms plus gender and attaching them in your mind to a stem and a lexical meaning. Unless, again, I'm mistaken somewhere.


People learn in different ways. You may be different from others. If you're learning a group, it's best to follow along with everyone else because you all will reinforce each other. But if you're learning on your own, learn whatever way that maintains your enthusiasm for the language. For self-learners, it is only through enthusiasm that you'll put in the time, and it is only by putting in the time that you will acquire facility in the language.

Stephen
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