Intermediate Level Greek Language Learning

Intermediate Level Greek Language Learning

Postby David M. Miller » July 22nd, 2013, 6:44 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:
David M. Miller wrote:It seems to me that there is a real need for an up-to-date intermediate grammar that gets at how Greek works, and that avoids categories based merely on English translation or on context. To be sure, we need a reference grammar as well http://hypotyposeis.org/weblog/2013/01/major-desideratum.html, but that sort of thing tends to be the work of a life-time; an intermediate level textbook is a more realistic option. Who is up for the challenge?


Well, the typical approach to making intermediate grammars is to abridge earlier reference grammars, so without any recent activity on the reference grammar front, I fear that new intermediate grammars are unlikely to be up-to-date. To make an up-to-date intermediate grammar, I think one would pretty much need to do the work for a real reference, so why not go for the big ring?

But while we're waiting for one to be produced, here we can at least speculate what should go into such a work.


A few big-picture, more-or-less inchoate ideas:

(1) <i>Structure</i>: Instead of patterning the grammar around some ideal language system (e.g., the noun system, prepositions, the verbal system, discourse), the book should be student-centered. By that I mean, concepts should be introduced so as to help students who are actively reading Hellenistic Greek. I have typically had my Syntax students work through a chapter or so from Luke's Gospel during the semester, with the reading forming a syntactical sand-box. This time around, I'd like to include more reading, and focus more on reading than on the grammar. As everyone gets up-to-speed after the summer break, I plan to begin with conjunctions (drawing on Runge's chapter 2) because there is an immediate discourse pay-off. From there we might move to prepositions (cf. Nunn), since neither conjunctions nor prepositions change form. Once students have had a chance to review their rusty first-year morphology, we can return to nouns, etc.

(2) <i>Function</i>: As I read through Runge's <i>Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament</i> and Beckman's <i>Williams' Hebrew Syntax</i> at the same time this summer, I am more convinced than ever that a proliferation of categories is unhelpful. Again, the grammar should try to get at how the language works, avoiding categories that merely represent interpretive or translation options. Instead, the grammar should try to get at the "root" idea of, say, the genitive--what it is about the Greek, as Greek, that leads to the exegetical variety that we experience when we read. Students don't need to know 20 genitive categories; they do need to be able to consider the options. The grammar should also try to explain how a Greek-speaker would experience exegetical options.

(3) <i>Pay-off</i>: A grammar should emphasize substantive ways that knowledge of how the language works affects interpretation. I am finding Runge to be a stellar example of how this could be done.

As an aside, can anyone recommend a discussion of Hebrew grammar that explains how the language works at a level suitable for second-year students?
David M. Miller
Briercrest College & Seminary
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Re: A Model for a New Koine Syntax?

Postby Stephen Carlson » July 25th, 2013, 9:54 am

I'm grateful for David Miller's thoughts, and to keep the conversation going, let me be a bit of a curmudgeon and devil advocate...

I guess the need for an intermediate level textbook on Greek syntax depends on the institution where Greek is taught. At Duke Divinity, there is only one year of Greek, using a primer, and after that there are optional reading groups. For exegesis, divinity students serious about the Greek are expected to get a hold of the reference materials they will use for the rest of their careers (BDAG, BDF, etc.), and learn to use those resources. But pretty much after the first year, the expectation is self study.

So, in my admitted limited experience, I have not been at a place where an intermediate syntax fits into the program. I have consulted several such books (Brooks & Winberry, Porter, Wallace, etc.) over the years and they are all basically OK, but they often just give a list of possible categories and avoid the difficult passages (except that Wallace will try to address some of those freight with theological implications). Rather, I find myself returning to BDF and Smyth, and occasionally Robertson.

Are there other places whether an intermediate textbook fits?
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke)
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Re: A Model for a New Koine Syntax?

Postby Stephen Hughes » July 26th, 2013, 3:37 am

Stephen Carlson wrote: I have not been at a place where an intermediate syntax fits into the program.

I suppose that anyone who has done the three or four year major in Greek (Ancient) will have had need for an intermediate level grammar. In my case, (despite having done my time working with the NT at Bible College in Imperial Koine Greek), I was put into the beginner's stream simply because I hadn't matriculated with the 5 or 6 years of "schoolboy" (they were all boys) Greek that the students in the advanced stream had had.

The beginners started with the JACT course, (which I feel was encoded English), and the advanced students went straight to texts - with a choice of Smyth or Goodwin. The second year students at beginners' level shared classes with the first year Advanced level students, but we were advised to buy Goodwin rather than Smyth.

There was no specific "syntax book". It was more or less assumed that syntax would be picked up by reading and seeing things at work in a wide range of texts.

We took a two semester option of "Koine texts" in the year after "Greek dialects" (the third year of the advanced stream: my fourth year of Greek). I found it very interesting to read Koine texts (from Ptolemaic Koine to early Byzantine Koine) looking at it from the eyes of a classical model, with reference to the end state in the "Modern Greek" form of the language.

In hindsight and in the context of this discussion, what function do I think that an intermediate syntax might serve?

In short, most reference books for New Testament Greek are used as crib-notes, and the one proposed here could either be like that or it could be language orientated. That is to say that without actually reading the New Testament, and much less every reading any other works, someone who read a "syntax" book would be able to understand what type of sentence / paragraph construction was being used.

If it went the way of the exegetical / analytical, students wouldn't get, "the construction that Demosthenes is using is similar to what we saw in Lysias", but rather the construction would be given a name, and students would be able to identify which sub-variant of the construction was being used, and then they would build doctrinal significance out of the new tools.

If it was a syntax for language learners, then those who read it would be able to understand how different syntactic constructions related to each other, and what variations would have been able to have been used by various authours. Also, paraphrasing would be explained.
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Re: A Model for a New Koine Syntax?

Postby Stephen Hughes » July 26th, 2013, 3:37 am

Another issue that might want to be addressed in the design of a grammar: what is called "gender equality". I don't think that it is gender inequality as such.

I think that there are 2 types of language learners the social ones and the logical ones. Perhaps more males tend to be logical learners, having precise knowledge of some points, rules, patterns, etc. and perhaps more females tend to be social learners, taking whole sentences and not paying too much attention to the details, rules or patterns. And some like to learn with both hats on. In any case, both types of learners could be catered for, and an introduction to how to learn using the skillset for learning by the unfamiliar method might be useful.
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Re: A Model for a New Koine Syntax?

Postby Stephen Hughes » July 26th, 2013, 3:57 am

It has been suggested in another thread that paraphrase is important.

Barry Hofstetter wrote:Can you paraphrase it once you've read it? The ideal would be to paraphrase it in Greek, but even being able to paraphrase it English or answer questions based on the text would be a significant advance on the level of comprehension that most of our seminary students come away after the all too minimal instruction that they receive.


The basic skills of paraphrasing are generally learnt at intermediate level language learning. As a language teacher, I actively teach paraphrasing. If as Barry Hofstetter says, it would be a good thing to do in Greek, then those skills could be included in an intermediate level syntax.

Substituting a synonym (or a synonymous phrase), or the negative of an antonym into a sentence is a good way to start. "The house is large" >> "The dwelling is big". But there is more...

Beyond that transforming a sentence from one part of speech to another is another important skill. "I will go home and eat some peanut butter and honey sandwiches" >> "I will go home for lunch", "The treadmill helps us lose weight" >> "The treadmill helps with weightloss" It requires a full listing of forms n., v., adv., adj, conj., that cover a particular meaning (a mixture of Trenchard + EA Sophocles Rom+Byz Lex are adequate for this at present).

We do it "naturally" in our first languages, in that we naturally try to say things in different ways, but actually the acceptability of equivalences is a socially learnt skill.
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Re: A Model for a New Koine Syntax?

Postby Barry Hofstetter » July 27th, 2013, 6:33 am

Stephen Hughes wrote:Another issue that might want to be addressed in the design of a grammar: what is called "gender equality". I don't think that it is gender inequality as such.

I think that there are 2 types of language learners the social ones and the logical ones. Perhaps more males tend to be logical learners, having precise knowledge of some points, rules, patterns, etc. and perhaps more females tend to be social learners, taking whole sentences and not paying too much attention to the details, rules or patterns. And some like to learn with both hats on. In any case, both types of learners could be catered for, and an introduction to how to learn using the skillset for learning by the unfamiliar method might be useful.


I tend to call them technicians and intuitive learners, but the content is the same. I only realized sometime in graduate school that I had been more of an intuitive learner than a technician. They are different learning styles...
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Re: A Model for a New Koine Syntax?

Postby Barry Hofstetter » July 27th, 2013, 6:35 am

Stephen Hughes wrote:It has been suggested in another thread that paraphrase is important.

Barry Hofstetter wrote:Can you paraphrase it once you've read it? The ideal would be to paraphrase it in Greek, but even being able to paraphrase it English or answer questions based on the text would be a significant advance on the level of comprehension that most of our seminary students come away after the all too minimal instruction that they receive.


The basic skills of paraphrasing are generally learnt at intermediate level language learning. As a language teacher, I actively teach paraphrasing. If as Barry Hofstetter says, it would be a good thing to do in Greek, then those skills could be included in an intermediate level syntax.

Substituting a synonym (or a synonymous phrase), or the negative of an antonym into a sentence is a good way to start. "The house is large" >> "The dwelling is big". But there is more...

Beyond that transforming a sentence from one part of speech to another is another important skill. "I will go home and eat some peanut butter and honey sandwiches" >> "I will go home for lunch", "The treadmill helps us lose weight" >> "The treadmill helps with weightloss" It requires a full listing of forms n., v., adv., adj, conj., that cover a particular meaning (a mixture of Trenchard + EA Sophocles Rom+Byz Lex are adequate for this at present).

We do it "naturally" in our first languages, in that we naturally try to say things in different ways, but actually the acceptability of equivalences is a socially learnt skill.


Good observations, but I see no reason why paraphrase can't be started as soon as possible in the learning process.
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Re: Intermediate Level Greek Language Learning

Postby Stephen Hughes » July 28th, 2013, 12:35 am

Barry Hofstetter wrote:I see no reason why paraphrase can't be started as soon as possible in the learning process

I know that each person's learning style and situation is different, but some of the reasons why it took me so long to do it were the lack of resources giving any form of lexical or grammatical equivalences (because the textbooks are basically Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis based and don't arrange verbs / nouns into syntactic classes) and that I had no need to communicate in the language (to make my needs known or to get my meaning across in a meaningful way).
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Re: Intermediate Level Greek Language Learning

Postby Stephen Hughes » July 28th, 2013, 12:41 am

Stephen Hughes wrote:2 types of language learners the social ones and the logical ones

Barry Hofstetter wrote:I tend to call them technicians and intuitive learners

I picked up my terminology from Child Language Acquisition literature, the terms you are using probable comes from another part of the linguist's terminological Plain of Babel.
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Re: A Model for a New Koine Syntax?

Postby David M. Miller » July 28th, 2013, 12:06 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:I guess the need for an intermediate level textbook on Greek syntax depends on the institution where Greek is taught. At Duke Divinity, there is only one year of Greek, using a primer, and after that there are optional reading groups. For exegesis, divinity students serious about the Greek are expected to get a hold of the reference materials they will use for the rest of their careers (BDAG, BDF, etc.), and learn to use those resources. But pretty much after the first year, the expectation is self study. So, in my admitted limited experience, I have not been at a place where an intermediate syntax fits into the program. I have consulted several such books (Brooks & Winberry, Porter, Wallace, etc.) over the years and they are all basically OK, but they often just give a list of possible categories and avoid the difficult passages (except that Wallace will try to address some of those freight with theological implications). Rather, I find myself returning to BDF and Smyth, and occasionally Robertson.

Are there other places whether an intermediate textbook fits?


Well, there is a market for Wallace's textbook. At Briercrest, where I teach, undergraduate majors in Biblical Studies are required to take four semesters of Greek or four semesters of Hebrew; MDiv Pastoral Ministry students, similarly, are required to take 15 credit hours in biblical languages. The third semester Greek course is entitled Greek Syntax--hence the need for an intermediate textbook on Greek Syntax.

Last time I checked, comparable undergraduate degrees at Wheaton College, Biola University, Westmont College, and, in Canada, Providence College, Ambrose University College and Tyndale University College, required two years of a Biblical language. Seminaries (in the evangelical tradition) that require two years of Greek include TEDS (MDiv, MA NT); Wheaton (MA Biblical Exegesis); Dallas (4 year ThM); and Gordon Conwell (MA NT, but not MDiv). There does seem to be a trend away from requiring a working knowledge of Biblical languages in seminaries. Schade.
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