Learning a Language is Learning the Structure Signals

How do I work out the meaning of a Greek text? How can I best understand the forms and vocabulary in this particular text?
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Learning a Language is Learning the Structure Signals

Postby Jonathan Robie » June 6th, 2011, 8:27 am

Some useful advice for beginners from Funk's Grammar. I think it's relevant to the "What does this text mean?" section of the Beginner's forum.

The short version:

The grammatical structure of the sentence is the most important thing to focus on, even more important than the words. If you don't understand the grammatical structure, you won't understand the sentence. You don't know what a text means until you have grasped the grammatical structure.

Of course, beginners have not yet mastered the grammatical structure, that's what it means to be a beginner. But one of the major tasks of the beginner's forum is helping people who have not yet mastered this structure to take steps in that direction. So in "What does this text mean?", that is a major focus.

A longer version:

003. It is commonly supposed that the major task in learning a new language is learning the lexical meanings of words. This is not in fact the case. The more important as well as the more difficult task is learning the grammatical structures and structure signals (Gleason: 98).

The basic significance of grammatical structures and structure signals in relation to major vocabulary is illustrated by the following text, which has been stripped of all major vocabulary.

Code: Select all
In his _____ _____, [Socrates] was _____-ed in the
_____________ ____________ of his _______ and was ___________-ed with
___________ the _________._________ he __________-ed the ________
___________ _________ of ___________ and ________-ing. He ____-ed
the _______ with whom he _______ in _____ about the _____ _____
of ___. He was a ___ of _____ ____ and _____ _____ of
________. He was ______ _______ to ________ and
_____. In ________ he was ____-ed by a ______ _____ on the
________ of ________-ing _______ ______ and of _______-ing the
____. He was ______-ed ____ to _____. He _____-ed to _____.
_____ _____ after his _____ he _____ the _____.


The structure of sentences and word groups is clearly discernible, although the major lexical items have been omitted, with the exception of the subject of the paragraph, Socrates. For example, the sentence beginning in line 4 He ________-ed the _________ is evidently composed of the “subject” he, a verb in the past tense (indicated by the morpheme -ed), and an “object” (the ______); the object is then expanded by a relative clause, with whom …. Similarly, the native speaker of English knows that the sentence beginning in line 6 is that type of sentence in which the “subject” is identified.


For a somewhat longer version, well worth reading, check out the chapter in Funk's Grammar.
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: Learning a Language is Learning the Structure Signals

Postby jeffreyrequadt » June 6th, 2011, 9:21 am

This reminds me of learning about reading. A great book to help one understand what reading is, and which therefore can inform your Greek-reading progress, is Ken Goodman's book On Reading. It was published in 1996, but it's based on actual scientific research and accepted linguistic principles, to the best of my knowledge. One of the main points is that making sense of text (reading) involves complex control, by both readers and writers, of how language works and how texts are constructed. Our brains are these incredible, amazing things. They are hardwired to make sense. But sometimes they make mistakes. Gladly, mistakes are part of the process of learning to make sense out of print. Reading his book truly helped me as a teacher, and as a reader. Again, the book is simply titled On Reading by Ken Goodman. It's really a short and simple read, and actually a lot of fun, and it will give you an understanding of reading and language that, if you're like me, life experience and 12+ years of education just didn't get to (email me OFF-LIST--or should that be OFF-FORUM now?--if you're interested in what this has to do with hermeneutics and the word of God). And it will give you a different perspective when it comes to reading or de-coding the Greek NT.
Jeffrey T. Requadt
Tucson, AZ
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