Why not start with modern Greek?

Stephen Hughes
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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Stephen Hughes » June 24th, 2013, 6:00 am

I realise that its bordering on the flippant, but I think that we start with New Testament Greek, (rather than any other related language) because we want to read the NT, or because it is required course to get through a theological degree.

Thinking along the lines of Pharr's (1925) (starting at an earlier point of the language is best preface), let me ask another related question "Why not start with LXX Greek?" seeing as the OT is usually, seen in layperson's terms, assumed to be the religious and culturally antecedent text for the NT. Now, I'm sure that a large number of forum participants could give a convincing linguistic discussions about this second question seeing as it is translation Greek, Ptolemaic rather than Imperial Koine, etc. But following Deismann and others' (re)discovery of the relatedness of our texts to the Koine mileu - and the teaching of many of the church fathers that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all religious expectations, we have another way of viewing the position of the LXX in our heritage. We are adopted / grafted into the covenant promises, so we don't need to search out all religions to find their relatedness to Christ, but if we came from them, then we would find Him there.

From the posted replies to the discussion, and most obviously because it is under discussion in a forum that assumes we can read the NT (with whatever degree of facility or fluency that we have worked hard to acquire), I think that the question could be posited as, "Why not add Modern Greek to your New Testament Greek studies at some point to increase fluency?". To understand that question and to be able to make a more educated guess at the answer, let's look at what the "Modern Greek" that you would learn is?

The easily accessible answer to the question is that Modern Greek is the successor to the Koine in all areas except Tsakonian in what used to be Sparta, Pontian - the southern Black Sea cost of Turkey and the Ukraine (especially around Maripul. But the more complex answer is really quite complex.

Until the late 19th Century, early 20th Century, there was no Standard Modern Greek (the language of a modern nation state - the Hellenic Republic), such as forum particpants here are discussing the merits of studying. The simple reason for that is that "Greeks" (properly called "Romans" were a constituent group of the Ottoman Empire) and their official language was basically "Church Greek". The primary criterion for being "Roman" ("Greek") was to hold to what we call the Greek Orthodox Church. Our present thinking of national identity as being based on language and culture wasn't really a consideration when considering whether one belonged to the Church. Converts to another religion ceased to be Greek ("Romans") and were considered Turks, even if they didn't speak Turkish, only Greek. As a result of this system of identification, currently, there are a number of (Pontic - not derived from the Koine) Greek speaking villages in Trebizond (in Turkey) who identify as Turks.

In the period before the national language, the group (Turkish "millet") was held together and differentiated from other groups on the basis of Religion. Every village spoke their own variety of Greek with dialect areas that interested parties could look into. There were even Turkish speaking villages who held to the Greek Orthodox Faith, and didn't speak Greek at home. {In this regard we could compare, the Syrian Orthodox communities who continue to immigrate from Turkey have a majority of speakers who speak Turkish rather than Western Syriac (Aramaic), while immigrants from (mainly northern) Iraq have lost their language to Arabic}. Before the 1920's the dialects were spread geographically pretty much as they had been for centuries. There are also the so called "Albanians" from various places (including some Agean islands where they were settled) who learnt Greek and whose speech is marked by very coarse pronunciation of the letter chi.

The construction of a "national" language basically followed the principle that major dialects current at the time were considered and the form closest to the Church Greek was accepted. "Turkish" words were targeted for removal and other words borrowed from an earlier period of Greek were substituted. Some "international" words (it seems to me mostly French - the then international language) were borrowed. During the population shifts in the twenties after the Great Idea (Catastrophe) of Venizelos and others, Turkish speaking Christians were settled (mostly in Western Thrace) and now participate in the standard educational system of the modern Greek state, with mixed success. Greek communities outside Greece and (post 1974 southern) Cyprus have not necessarily undergone the same process of education that has led to a loss of dialect variety. A striking example of this is the Greek speaking (and Greek Orthodox) community of the Ukraine, moved by Catherine the Great from the Crimean Peninsula in 1879-80 to the Mariupol area, some of whom were later resettled in the steppes or sent to Siberia (if they were lucky enough not to be executed) during the era of Stalin's hostile policies to minorities. The dialect of those Ukrainian "Greeks" (ethnic identification rather than nationality based identification) is called "Rumeika". It is similar in form to Pontic (not - a Koine derivative) and northern dialects (and so different from the SMG), it also contains the words that were historically used by Greek speakers and taught to their children of Turkish origin that are now seen as "Turkish", additionally because of the long period of settlement in the Ukraine they also use a lot of Ukrainian and Russian words.

The Greek speakers that you might encounter in the lands of migration, are typically the economic refugees that have fled to the west in successive waves following military and agricultural disasters, or economic mismanagement. Many are from the less educated end of the social spectrum, so it is very possible that they bring with them dialectical variations that (with the exception of some groups with strong cultural organisations) you will no longer find in the Greece proper except among the elderly in remote villages.

To state my point more obviously, Modern Greek is a comprehensive language covering all the speech needs of a diverse community. On the other hand, NT Greek represents a small portion of the speech-world of time it was written in, and deals only with a sub-set of the issues that its readers had to deal with. So the question could be re-stated, "Why not start with a selection of secular texts to see the language and then move towards this one corpus of interest?". I wonder if what is really being looked for is a wider reading (= exposure for most of us) in the "Koine", so that it can be a language, rather than a key for a corpus of texts.

The talk about "Living Koine" raises question marks for me. I am worried whether the name "Koine" has been hijacked and used for "New Testament Greek". Is the material based broadly on (Imperial) Koine texts and inscriptions including the New Testament and early fathers, or just on the New Testament?

About me personally: After studying, 2 or 2.5 years of NTG at Bible college level, I then had the idea that is being mooted here (and the other idea of looking back too), so I took a BA with 4 year major in both Greek and Modern Greek. Most of my conversational practice in Modern Greek was from talking to an "Albanian" (Αρβανίτες) and an old Cretan. My first oral Greek teacher was a (big-L) Lesbian, and subsequent teachers were mainly from Athens or Thessaloniki. A few years later, I had the privilage to study for 4 or 5 years at a Greek speaking theological college and I have a Theological Diploma studied in Australia and recognised in Greece. I've never spoken in New Testament Greek, but I suppose I could if was necessary (though I am told that my Modern Greek has NT elements from time to time), but that is really a cross linguistic interference issue.

I've never really reflected on whether learning the Modern Greek affected my reading of the NT, I suppose it did and I suppose most of the effect would have been good. You might like to realise that many of those chanting Greek don't understand it in the way that we who have studied it do, but love it anyway. The SMG δεν negative particle is not so foreign as it first seems, cf. Lk.4:2 οὐκ ἔφαγεν οὐδὲν.

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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by RandallButh » June 24th, 2013, 8:10 am

Thank you, Stephen, for a survey on the texture of modern Greek.
The talk about "Living Koine" raises question marks for me. I am worried whether the name "Koine" has been hijacked and used for "New Testament Greek". Is the material based broadly on (Imperial) Koine texts and inscriptions including the New Testament and early fathers, or just on the New Testament?
"Living Koine" probably meets your positive expectations, and that by inherent necessity. Anyone who wants to talk enough and to listen to fast enough speech and reading in order to begin to internalize the language must range through various contemporary Greek sources from the Imperial Koine era. There are too many core daily activities that are not covered in the NT that must be integrated. "Yellow" is ξανθός not GNT θειώδης "sulphurous." What does a person say when jumping down from a chair? A Greek would probably choose καταπηδῆσαι καταπηδᾶν. But in order to πέψαι/πέσσειν "cook," ὦσαι/ὠθεῖν "push," βδῆσαι/βδεῖν--παρδεῖν/πέρδεσθαι "pass gas," and ἅψασαθαι ττῆς ῥινός touch one's "nose," the wider Greek language must be used. The GNT just doesn't have a wide enough base. Want to throw a ball βαλεῖν σφαῖραν? And we want to lighten up παιδεία "discipline" with occasional "play" παιδειά. It is very difficult to become fluent in a restricted piece of a language because all discussion must be restricted to that particular set. A Living Koine, by its nature, extends beyond the restrictions of the NT, even if most persons working on that language come through an interest in the NT.

Stephen Hughes
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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Stephen Hughes » June 24th, 2013, 9:04 am

RandallButh wrote:none of us are fluently reading and won't be fluently reading until we are fluently speaking
That is a strange claim to make.

I understand that a "speaker" of a language is someone who must think ahead to the end of a sentence before saying it, and being able to think ahead to the end of a sentence before one's eyes get there is what is meant by "read fluently". But that is not necessarily by speaking.

There are many places in reading Greek where my reading speed and comprehension is comparable to my speed in English. I can compose in the language, I have reasonable (first exposure) listening comprehension (in a range of pronunciation systems), but I have never spoken Koine or Classical Greek as a language. I think that what gives rise to fluency is knowing ahead where the sentence might be going. Knowing ahead comes from a number of things.

Collocation or knowing what elements usually occur together, ie that lexical units are learnt in their contexts is the basis of acquiring good collocation structures.

Verbs especially can be learnt together with what is expected to follow them, we know that ἀκούω takes an accusative and/or a genitive so that when we see a form of that verb we expect to find the appropriate forms following it.

As for agreement (case and gender), language users go through three stages, it seems. The first is easy, they make the agreement as a matter of fixity, the user is not productive in the language. Mt.5:29 ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου ὁ δεξιὸς all agree together because they do and you can see them together, because the grammar says they do. Then in the next stage, they agree because the ending of ὀφθαλμός is fixed and δεξιὸς has to agree with it. In the fluent speaker stage they see the ὁ ὀφθαλμ- and pre-know that δεξι- is actually a δεξιός. Reading fluently can come by reading.

For agreement (number and person), fluency in forming the forms means that we don't need to read them, they appear in our imagination before they come to our eyes. The nature of the Greek language requires that we should carry certain information with us, especially for the constructions with participles (carrying number and gender) and full verbs (carrying number and person) occur together.

Fluency not only consists of carrying forward information (which even lower intermediate students are forced to do), but also anticipating it (that is something that lower advanced students start to do).

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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by RandallButh » June 24th, 2013, 10:51 am

That is a strange claim to make.
Actually not. If follows from second language reading research that talks about fluent reading at 100-200 wpm, and processing this on the fly without rereading.

Stephen Hughes
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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Stephen Hughes » June 24th, 2013, 1:46 pm

RandallButh wrote:fluent reading at 100-200 wpm ... without rereading
Yes, and?

Stephen Hughes
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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Stephen Hughes » June 26th, 2013, 7:11 am

Let me explain more fully, my, "Yes (I can read read at that speed/
with fluency), and (why is that remarkable)?" comment.

I understand that linguists come up with ideas from time to time with ideas based on their own experience or that experience of other, or by analogously applying what suits one situation to another seemingly similar situation, but making blanket negative statements is never a good way to go.

Besides not speaking Koine Greek, I don't speak any of the classical (regional or genre-based) dialects either. I had a classmate in second year (Ancient) Greek who wanted to use it to speak with me all the time, the intonation was so annoying, and he made the whole language sound like sung Sanskrit.

I have had some related learn by speaking experiences though. ((Actually, my Sanskrit teacher had lived in an ashram (religious communal village) for a few years, and he used to speak to us in Sanskrit I - his aspiration of the consonants was not so pronounced and had even learnt to wiggle his head when speaking - that of itself was okay but, I really was hoping for a PIE comparative linguistics approach. Actually, the class was run by the Indian Studies Department, and the 2 of the students were heritage learners, 2 were searching for deeper religious meaning and the other one apart from me had no particular reason for being there and just chose the course at random from a list of available courses. Another experience I had of learning by speaking was Coptic, after doing a regular academic Lambdin / Gospel of Thomas course, I was introduced by a friend of a friend of a friend to an old man who had migrated from Egypt years earlier. He had an Arabic name that he usually went by outside the home, but at home he and his family all spoke Coptic. I visited him for about a year for an hour or an hour an a half each time, and he inducted me into speaking Coptic. That was a very different experience. I would bring literary texts and he could sight read all of them, and he also pointed out which features made the texts literary, and what he would usually say as an alternative. He understood the "Greek" words in the text, but always insisted that he used the original Coptic equivalent. I understand the benefit that J-PC got from Coptic when he was working through the hieroglyphs. The basic middle Egyptian (approx. up until the time of the Exodus) form of the verb sdm-f is not so close to Coptic (e)f-sotem as the complex middle Egyptian iw-f sdm form. But once that form was introduced, the knowledge of Coptic (similar to Modern Greek in JR's seminal question for this discussion) became very useful. For lexicon, ti-hemsi hijen pi-tots (I sit on the chair) was a great way of learning hmsi in hieroglyphs. For syntax and construction pi-tots et-ai-hemsi hijwf (the chair which-I (past)-sit on him (it). Explained the idiom of the 'repeated' pronoun in relative clauses, which I had originally thought that was just somehow "semitic". Another experience that I have second had is with Latin. One of my friends came over for some reason. His English was not good, so we ended up "conversing" in Latin - as our most in-common language that we had. His way of construction Latin was from Italian through a series of intellectual transforms.))

I can read at or above 100 wpm (tried reading the Acts of Pontius Pilate and the Protoevangelium of James a few months ago), that was when I read with the text and I didn't start at the verb then decode, I do use my working memory in the same way that I do for English (more or less) and have a 'normal' interaction between my long-term and my working memory. I don't think that that is an unusually fast speed, but as I will explain further down, having the constraint of linearity stops one going faster.

While speaking a language might give some advantage in being able to think ahead and anticipate, reading fluently is very different to speaking fluently in some ways. The two are in many ways complementary, but one is not the prerequisite of the other, nor the other of the one.

I think that the major difference between reading and speaking is the attention to detail, consider this short passage: 2Tim4:9 - 15. If I was to speak this I can read out loud quickly, with feeling etc., but the most striking thing, I would say all the sounds, but in (left to right one pass only - what has been referred to early in this discussion fluently) reading it, I do something like this
2Tim4:9 Σπούδασονλθεῖν πρός με ταχέως,
10 Δημᾶς γάρ με ἐγκατ-έ-λιπεν, ἀγαπήσας τὸν νῦν αἰῶνα, καὶ πορεύθη εἰς Θεσσαλονίκην, Κρήσκης εἰς Γαλατίαν, Τίτος εἰς Δαλματίαν.
11 Λουκᾶς ἐστὶν μόνος μετ’ ἐμοῦ. Μάρκονναλαβὼν ἄγε μετσεαυτοῦ, ἔστιν γάρ εὔχρηστος εἰς διακονίαν.
12 Τυχικὸν δὲ ἀπέστειλα εἰς Ἔφεσον.
13 Τὸν φελόνην ὃν ἀπέλιπον ἐν Τρῳάδι παρΚάρπ, ἐρχόμενος φέρε, καὶ τὰ βιβλία, μάλιστα τὰς μεμβράνας.
14 Ἀλέξανδροςχαλκεὺς πολλά μοι κακἐνεδείξατο ἀποδη αὐτκύριος κατὰ τ ἔργα αὐτοῦ,
15 ὃν καὶ σὺ φυλάσσου, λίαν γρ ἀνθέστηκεν τοῖς λόγοις.

Skipping over it from significant element to significant element really does speed things up a lot. It is similar to an (expected) baby speech because it doesn't stress differentiating vowels, but it is not the same as baby speech in that grammatical elements of words are still actively imagined but not expressed in the reading.

Familiarity with forms or the declensions and conjugations and an ability to transform words between like verbs to nouns to adjectives (derivational morphological competency) are useful for this method, but what is essential is to have (rote or from experience) learnt what to expect to follow any given form or word. Like if you see an αὐτός, then you are likely to see an εἶπεν or a λέγει you only need to read εἶπ- or λέγ- (without paying attention to the vowel even), but of course with much more complexity.

In this example, the ὃν of 2Tim4:15 required a real slowdown because it needs more thought and is more vaguely assigned to a person (or thing). It seemed to be referring to God, but as that was not an easy input, but going on (not going back) the meaning becomes clear that it was the previously referred to Alexandros. The optative form ἀποδῴη while recognisible, also needed a slow down and a re-think at the end of the sentence, to consider whether Paul was taking a theistic or deistic approach to God. In consideration of the trouble and slowdown with reading the ὃν, I assume that Paul is not trying to get God personally involved, but that he sees it as a possibility or personal expectation not wish.

Now, apart from the above example of reading (in a way that is like reading aloud) those few verses in what was referred to as (true) fluency, there is another way of reading that I regularly use for the narrow column. I read in spirals (inward spiraling vortices) of about 20 words. When using this way, the elements of the sentence float freely in 3-D in working memory with the grammar loosely attached to the words, an an overall impression of meaning emerges (the meaning structures usually form constrants and continuities). Yet another way, is useful in the Gospels, where the characters are more or less fixed. It is like the theatre presentation; Jesus, the disciples, the Jews (in their various groups) are (almost always present) and other characters come 'on stage". Having the predictable elements as an unmoving base speeds up processing immensely. The meaning is understood in blocks, and the text is understood in layers of relative importance like overlays in CAD or Graphic design. The textual construction from aphorism to event with characters is like deconstructed in the reading process. Of course this method doesn't work where the gospel turns to explicate the scene (goes descriptive - for example the guy trying to get into the pool). For that we need to be flexible in following whether the text is moving from detail to generality, or from generality to detail to build up context and then whether the action / discourse occurs in the context or whether the context is an external referentiality.
RandallButh wrote:What does a person say when jumping down from a chair? A Greek would probably choose καταπηδῆσαι καταπηδᾶν.
In my ignorance, I guess that is probably a literary (narrative) form. I would guess that that in everyday speech they might say πηδῆσαι κάτω πηδᾶν κάτω. Is there any evidence either way?

Vasile Stancu
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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Vasile Stancu » June 27th, 2013, 8:05 pm

Jonathan Robie wrote: ... is there anything to be said for starting with modern Greek, then moving back in time to the Koine period? In theory, this might provide opportunities to get a sound oral foundation in one kind of Greek, then work into applying that to another kind of Greek...
It is my conviction that this approach could be a good one - not necessarily learning Modern Greek entirely, but acquiring its phonology - because, at least,

- the oral foundation set this way is a reliable one, widely employed in real communication, always at hand for reference;
- starting any other way - with a reconstructed scheme, whether classical or koine, or any other - would later lead to difficulties when the student wants to extend his/her interest from koine, for instance, to classical, or viceversa.
- this could be a solid way to finally come to a universally recognised best phonetic system, applicable to any generation of Ancient Greek.

However, the modern phonology should not be employed completely as is, but needs ammendments here and there, where it might come into collision with important aspects related to the old language; the most powerful 'internal' indicator for the various ammendments needed is probably the accentuation system

Stephen Hughes
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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Stephen Hughes » February 1st, 2015, 11:40 am

These two old books are not based on Standard Modern Greek, but on some higher register form of Katharevousa.

The preface of this work is slightly interesting (they are his opinions not mine and in suggesting this work I am not implying that I agree with them), and the Greek examples are definitely in a literary, rather than a purely Demotic form of the language.

Modern Greek Mastery A Short road to Ancient Greek. By Thomas L. Stedman,A.M.,M.D. (1896)

For anyone wanting to write about their day-to-day lives Ancient Greek, I think that this dictionary - the one used by the translator of Harry Potter into Ancient Greek is a good suggestion. The forms of the words in this dictionary is actually not always Modern, and even the choice of words for a particular thing isn't the standard Modern one either in some cases. It is, however, more extensive and more suitable for our modern world than what Woodhouse or a reverse search of LSJ offers in the way of suitable renderings for English words.

A Concise Dictionary of the English and Modern Greek Languages: As Actually written and spoken. By Antonius Nicholas Jannaris (1895), and linked to here.

Anyways, you will need to use it (and so for Woodhouse and reverse-LSJ) intelligently and patiently.

Eeli Kaikkonen
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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » September 19th, 2015, 9:16 am

I just went to a Modern Greek course in an adult education centre. It's 1.5 hours per week. It uses Greek Now 1 Plus 1 book and some other material and the teacher is a native Greek. Nothing substantial yet, we are going through pronunciation right now.

I don't suppose to get much help for Koine except the pronunciation. But pronunciation was one major reason I wanted to try.

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Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by M.M.Carter » September 19th, 2015, 12:17 pm


Knowing whether or not to start with modern Greek had been a question I asked myself before I started to learned Koine. However after spending a couple years learning it and taking a trip to Greece, I realized it wouldn't really help as much as I thought. When I spoke to some of the native Greeks they told me how they had to learn ancient Greek early on in school (in the same way we learn American history today, it is aimed at teaching them their "roots" so to say). They also told me about how it was much more difficult than we would assume since it has virtually no correspondence with Modern Greek. By the time the "average" Greek was finished with school, they would remember about as much as a first year student in America. There was one benefit for them knowing Modern Greek though; that they could pronounce and read Koine a whole lot better than us (when using a more modern pronunciation instead of an Erasmian one).
All in all, I believe it really comes down to what pronunciation you want to teach or learn. If you have the time and desire to learn Modern Greek then maybe it could help you in that respect. This is only one part of the argument though. Just because I talked to a few native modern speakers doesn't mean that somebody who doesn't know that language won't succeed at learning Koine better by picking up some Modern Greek

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