Category Archives: Language Learning

Streett on Reading Greek

I discovered this morning not only that Daniel Streett has a blog, but that he has written an excellent post on what it means to be able to *truly* read Greek. He really rips apart the idea of decoding and translating Greek. I love it.

It looks like I’ll be adding another blog to Google Reader. There aren’t many bloggers than focus specifically on the Greek language—NT history and theology are more popular— so I’m quite excited to see another start, especially by such an excellent Greek professor and Daniel Streett. And I’m glad that we have people focused on pedagogy, too. I’m working on making my Greek fluent, but I’m not particularly pedagogically inclined. I’m more interested in discovering the structures of the language that should undergird our knowledge of the language so that we can get closer to fluency like middle voice or noun phrase structure—don’t put your quantifiers closer to the head noun than your regular adjectives and don’t put your adjectives closer to your head noun than your genitives.

HT: Nick Noreli

BibleTech:2010 More Musings

The past two days have been a rush of presentations, technology, and Greek linguistics.  It was exciting to meet some new people with similar interests, reconnect with others, and finally connect faces with names on the internet. There was some exciting talk about collaboration in Greek linguistics work, especially in morphology and syntax – not to mention exciting work in computational Greek syntax and morphology!

The central highlights for me were:

  1. Josh Cason’s work in DATR was very, very cool. He’s take a program that essentially computationally simulates prototype theory for morphological analysis and has developed it to analyze Greek noun classes. Even before he ran the program I knew he had got it right. James and I were sitting beside each other and as soon as we saw the tree delineating the relationship between noun classes we both knew how he had arranged them. Datives plurals in σιν chunked together on one side and dative plurals in ις on the other – with further divisions based on the nominative and genitive cases – and fundamentally, you only need the nominative and genitive singular to know the rest of the paradigm. I’ve been imagining pairing what he’s done with a computational syntax parser and seeing what happens.
  2. Neil Rees’ work on bootstrapping concordances was mind blowing. Rick’s summary of it can give you the idea – why reinvent the wheel by writing another summary?
  3. James Tauber’s presentations on Greek language learning and computational linguistics got me a bit fired up for things I was already excited about. I’ve been working alone on Greek morphology for some time in FLEX and the idea of actually collaborating (beyond the annoyingly dead PHLEX Koine Greek list, where nobody’s actually interested in doing actually morphological analysis…) is awesome.

As Rick mentioned, we hung out quite a bit this weekend. That was great. We’ve been working on some projects together for the past year and it was nice to talk about more than just the LXX — though I always enjoy talking about the LXX. Rick was also kind enough to let me hitch a ride with him to Seattle for the flight and send a few hours at his home on Thursday evening through early Friday morning. We kept each other awake on the way there and on the way home.

And…last of all, HUGE thanks to the friend who made this trip possible. Your generosity has both made it possible to present a paper on Greek syntax databases, but probably more long term, created a number of connections with people that I anticipate will bring fruitful development and research in Greek grammar – research which will be beneficial for all Greek students in the long run.

BibleTech:2010 in Review – Language Learning

I hope to write a couple posts this week about some of my favorite presentations at BibleTech. My own when rather well, I think — at least I liked it.

I initially had too much material ahead of time and spent last week trying to cut down to about 35 minutes so that there would be 10 minutes for questions. I ended up hitting an early 29 minutes according to my ipod, which actually worked out well because I then had time to chat and check out of my hotel room before noon.

One of my favorite presentations, was James Tauber’s critical discussion of the problems of frequency based language learning and vocabulary acquisition, which was then followed by an excellent proposal to alleviate the problem. I thought it was a nice middle ground between contemporary language learning methodology (which we’ll quite loosely term communicative) and the inadequate and traditional translation/gloss approach. In many ways, it builds on his presentation from 2008 at BibleTech.

A New Kind of Graded Reader from James Tauber on Vimeo.

I wish I could get Vimeo to embed on wordpress.

Tips for Reading Greek

When you’re practicing developing your Greek reading skills, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Read out loud.
  2. Read Greek in chunks — the larger the better, even if you don’t . If you can, start with at least paragraphs and work up the pericopes & perhaps even larger section
  3. At the end of each of those sections, pause and write down a small summary of what you did understand, as much as you can.
    — Who was in the paragraph?
    — What did they do?
    — Where were they?
    Stuff like that. But be honest, write down what you actually understood, not what you know the English says — in fact, reading less familiar or unfamiliar texts will be better for you in the long run, even if it is more difficult initially.
  4. Optimally, I’d say write your summary in Greek, but I can’t say that I can expect that of most of you.

The goal is that as you read and think about what you actually did understand without thinking in English or looking things up, you’ll find that your Greek is improving & you’ll begin to develop more and more of a natural feel for the language. Your summaries will improve in detail and understanding and you should begin to comprehend more and more over time.

Hebrew Grammar Question

My familiarity with introductory  Hebrew grammars is rather lacking, so I’m interested in some comments.

My wife is beginning first year Hebrew this next week and she’ll be using: Biblical Hebrew, Second Ed. (Yale Language Series) by Bonnie Pedrotti Kittel, Victoria Hoffer, & Rebecca Abts Wright.

Does anyone have any experience with this grammar and have any thoughts on it?

There are a variety of people I’d be interested in hearing from (John Hobbins being one of them; I also know that Mandy uses Kittel for teaching, so I’m curious about her thoughts).


Reading Vs. Analysis Question

I’m sure many of your remember my poll a while back asking whether you placed a higher priority on reading or analysis.

If you haven’t voted on it, I’d encourage you to do so. I’m interested in your view.

But now I have a follow up question that requires more than clicking a button:

Why did you choose the answer you did? In your mind, what makes reading or analysis more important for your study of the Greek text?

Please feel free to either respond in the comments below or on your own (if you have one). I’d be interested if this turned into a multi-blog discussion if possible. And I know that there are a number of lurkers around here who have never commented. I’m very interested in your opinion too.

Communicative Language Learning Quote of the Day

I began reading When Dead Tongues Speak today. The first essay was fantastic. Here’s the quote of the day. If it was legal, I’d simply quote the entire essay online. It should be read by anyone teaching or learning a “dead” language.

When I was first teaching, I was more concerned to “cover the grammar” and “finish the book,” and then, I thought, my students would know Latin and Greek. After all, time is short, so it was best, I thought, to focus on what the book had to offer. There were paradigms to be memorized, vocabulary to be studied, exercises to be completed, and passages to translate. Once my students completed these hurdles, I assumed (or at least hoped) that they understood the new grammar well enough and had learned enough vocabulary to move on to the next chapter. Somehow, I expected my students, after memorizing forms, studying vocabulary, and practicing sentences, to be able to read and understand—almost magically—Latin and Greek. And if they could not read yet, I usually gave them more of the same: exercises that focused on sentence-level syntax rather than the strategies needed for reading chunks of discourse. Instead of helping my students learn to read, understand, and interpret Greek and Latin within their cultural context, I was focusing on accuracy at the sentence level, only one aspect of what linguists call communicative competence[*]. In short, I was practicing a theory of language teaching and learning that did not fit with my goal of helping students read Greek and Latin fluently and accurately, of appreciating it as a “living” language. What I needed to do was to reexamine these assumptions in the light of what I hoped my students would be able to do after they had studied beginning Latin and Greek.

—John Gruber-Miller, “Communication, Context and Community: Integrating the Standards in the Greek and Latin Classroom,” in When Dead Tongues Speak: Teaching Beginning Greek and Latin edited by John Gruber-Miller (APA Classical Resources Series; Oxford: University Press, 2006), 3-4 (Google books: HERE).

*Note: Gruber-Miller’s use of the word “communicative” and “communicate in this essay, primarily refers to the communication of the Greek and Latin authors to the contemporary reader. This should be clear from the following sentences in the quote above.

Second Language Acquisition: Modern & Hellenistic Greek

This post provides some thoughts on a question posed to me by Daniel from Hebrew and Greek Reader.

Specifically, Daniel was wondering about my thoughts on the benefit of learning Modern Greek (or Hebrew for that matter – but this blog is about Greek) via contemporary language learning methodology such as TPR (Total Physical Response) and TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling). Their basic claim with which we all already know I disagree is that it would be better to learn the modern form of the language rather than the ancient one.

This is a difficult issue for me for a couple reasons:

1) I am definitely all for the learning of the modern form, to an extent.

2) But at the same time, I do not believe the learning of Modern Greek “communicatively” can replace the “communicative” learning of Hellenistic Greek – even if it can be used as a very helpful supplement.


Well for point #1, the words, “to an extent.” One of the big criticisms I’ve been given for my views on Greek language learning result for the impracticality of implementing such methods in the seminary. And for that same reason (and infinitely more so), I hold the very same view for the benefit of learning Modern Greek. This is not to say that scholars shouldn’t know the language, because they should. There is too much important literature on Hellenistic Greek in Greek that the vast majority of scholar cannot access (its somewhat embarrassing that most NT scholars cannot reading secondary literature that’s in the very same language they specialize in).

But scholars should also be learning Modern Greek because having a grasp of the language beyond the Hellenistic period is essential for understanding Greek in the NT. Caragounis got this point right. He overemphasized it and then beat it to death. But he still got it right. The thing is, its not something new. A dozen or so scholars from the last century, including Moulton & Robertson, said the same thing – but most NT students and scholars don’t read Moulton and Robertson all the way through. Moulton is pretty easy. His Prolegomena is a great read and it’s really not hard or very long. And as for Robertson, well, every Greek student should at least read straight through the first 140 pages. That’s the introduction and it very much sets the stage for being able to use the rest of his grammar as a reference grammar correctly. I’m currently working on reading the whole thing through cover to cover – I’m on page 303.

I’d say learning Modern Greek should be a higher priority for the NT scholar than learning German. But thjs is for the scholar, not the pastor.

Now, onto point #2 (incidentally, if this were Koine, that “now” at the beginning would have been a δέ).  has to do with the fact that language is really not divisible from culture. No this isn’t the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Think George Lakoff instead – Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things & Metaphors We Live By. By internalizing Hellenistic Greek rather than Modern Greek would give students an opportunity (that would hopefully be pounced on by the teacher) to also learn the culture as well. In my imaginary perfect world, learning about culture would be done at the exact same time as learning the language. Hitting two birds with one stone, if you like. One of the problems with current methodology, as I see it (and I hate to say it, but this includes D&T’s Hebrew syllabus) is that for some reason language teachers at least appear to think that they can successfully teach the language without at the same time teaching the culture expressed by that language.

But culture learning could be implemented into traditional methodology. Yes. I think, though, that culture learning could thrive in communicative learning. Instead of simply learning χάρις as “grace.” Students would learn it as χάρις with all the cultural ramifications of the world for a first century Hellenistic Jew. In English that sort of thing would require significantly more hoops for the student to jump through. They would first learn that the word means grace and then they would like be required to read a several hundred pages, particularly Frederick W. Danker’s Benefactor: Epigraphic Study of a Graeco-Roman and New Testament Semantic Fieldas well as Bruce W. Winter’s Seek the Welfare of the City: Christians as Benefactors and Citizens (First-Century Christians in the Graeco-Roman World). Then after all of that students would understand that grace isn’t this special theological word that means “unmerited favor,” but it specifically relates to a highly developed social system of patronage, benefaction, honor, and favor, which was then apply by the NT writers to describe what God has done (and continues to do) for us.

…or you could just learn Hellenistic Greek as Hellenistic Greek without reference to English at all – that would be faster.

But again coming to the question of how modern methodologies would work in a seminary, I cannot say. But I would suggest that keeping an eye of Bethel, Denver and Ashland Seminaries might be a good idea for those seminary professors who are apprehensive about it.

Second Language Acquisition

In light of the relatively recent discussions on the subject on a variety of blogs, I’d like to point you a recent book review on the Linguist List:

Meaning in the Second Language

AUTHOR: Slabakova, Roumyana
TITLE: Meaning in the Second Language
SERIES: Studies on Language Acquisition [SOLA] 34
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2008

The book sounds very interesting. Perhaps I’ll keep an eye out for it at the UBC library – its $100 on Amazon.

…which reminds me: I still have a half written post waiting in the wings on my thoughts on the practicality of learning Modern Greek for studying Hellenistic Greek.

I’ll see about finishing that this weekend.