When Dead Tongues Speak

I just finished reading this today:

I only found one chapter annoying, though I even got something out of that one. There was a lot of great advice and I have a LOT of thinking and reading to do before I teach my next Greek class here in Dallas (I’m considering doing it again in the fall). Though I have seen a number of Greek teachers in action, they all had a very similar pedagogy. This was a view into a completely different world of teaching. And since I continue to find current models of teaching NT Greek lacking (even the models I used in both classes I have taught), this is particularly important to me. If you teach ancient Greek of any form, I think you need to read this. Seriously.

I’m starting my second read through it already. I need to take notes and start tracking down some of the recommended materials.


2008-02-23 08:05:40

Have you every looked at the methodology of Randall Buth? http://biblicalulpan.org

(I haven’t read the book to which you refer. It might have some of the same ideas.)

If you aren’t on the b-greek list, you might check the archives for some of Buth’s interesting comments on methodologies of learning ancient Greek.

When I reflect on my language classes with classical Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Latin, I realize that more than 95% of the classes were conducted with English. Even when I took modern Hebrew in college, most of it was in English.

On the other hand, my French and German classes were mostly in French and German.

One of the problems, of course, is that few Greek teachers would be able to teach a class in koine Greek by using mostly koine Greek.

Randall points out that the vocabulary of the NT is quite limited and that it would also be helpful to be acquainted with a much fuller range of the available vocabulary. Other contemporary Greek authors, the papyri, etc. are helpful in this.

Buth also advocates a pronunciation that is different than the so-called Erasmian. (I see pros and cons with Buth’s scheme of sounding ancient Greek.)

Jim Davila just seems to have discovered Buth’s methodology today and blogged on it. http://paleojudaica.blogspot.com/2008_02_17_archive.html#236288784249074908 or http://tinyurl.com/yrucu3

Eric 2008-02-23 08:32:46

Yes, I am familiar with it. Every so often I consider buying his materials, but always seem to spend the money on something else, like I did a few weeks ago on Lampe :). Yes, from what I have read about it on the web and on the b-greek mailing list, it looks like a great idea. I switch back-and-forth on whether I want to go with a more modern pronunciation or Erasmian myself. Going with a more modern pronunciation definitely has some advantages. In terms of overlap, yes, Buth is doing what some in the book would certainly find commendable.

2008-02-23 09:56:15

I suspect that being in his ulpan with Greek would be quite different than using the materials.

I think that Randall and David Biven try to converse with each other in koine Greek for at least a half hour a day. Something like that would be very useful for Greek profs. However, I don’t think that there are many that would be able to do that.

Several years ago, I came across a website from a Greek prof at Oxford (?) who would translate the daily news into classical Greek. When I e-mailed Carl C. about it, he was familiar with the site but seemed somewhat skeptical about it.

One of the disadvantages of using modern Greek pronunciation or Buthian pronunciation would be its "foreignness" in the academy and its lack of use in other Greek classes when students study elsewhere.

Another difficulty would be the absence of verbal differentiation of spellings. It is a challenge for me hearing modern Greek. (But I can adjust to Zodiates’ reading NT Greek.)

But all in all, it would be nice if the Buthian pronunciation would be adopted! (I’m not very optimistic.)

Eric 2008-02-23 10:46:22

I see that I’m not the only one who thinks most vowels and diphthongs in modern Greek sound like iotas! I do suspect you are right about the difference between using the materials and taking the class, but I just don’t see myself taking a trip over there to learn Greek. But I am very curious about how he teaches. One of the arguments for including conversational ancient Greek in the book was that it helps with vocabulary acquisition tremendously. One thing that makes me hesitant about doing it is the fact whoever does it will (at least) accidentally introduce non-idiomatic Greek, and therefore the students will be learning Greek that is inappropriate. This is going to happen with this kind of teaching. But the advantages, I think, outweigh the disadvantages. Sure they learn some phrases that they will never see in real Greek. But it will also help them internalize vocabulary, many points of syntax, and a great deal of morphology. I am very bugged by the reality of the non-idiomatic Greek you would get and that we should strike to avoid that as much as possible because that is bad, but I don’t think it is as bad as the alternative.

2008-02-24 06:21:03

A few years ago Hal Ronning spoke at our church. He mentioned that the teacher in the Biblical Ulpan would start out by telling the students to do what he or she does. The teacher would say in Hebrew, "Lift your arm," and would lift it. Then the teacher would say, "Put down your arm." Working from zero knowledge of the students and just using Hebrew, the teacher would help the students to assimilate functional Hebrew. Using both expressive and receptive functional language, the student would begin to pick up a feel for the language. (I can rattle off mindless paradigms of Greek and Hebrew but that is very different "feeling" the language.) Last evening I just discovered that Randall has a blog. At http://alefandomega.blogspot.com/2008/02/intensive-koine-greek-spoken-immersion.html or at http://tinyurl.com/yu7sx5, Randall discusses the summer Greek program a little. I also noticed a mentioning again of a recent discussion on the b-greek list at http://alefandomega.blogspot.com/2008/02/teaching-dead-vs-live-language.html or at http://tinyurl.com/yojrlb. His seventh point addresses a little bit your concern about introducing non-idiomatic Greek.

AKMA addresses the issue of "decoding" Greek or Hebrew at http://akma.disseminary.org/archives/2006/03/learning_and_de.html or at http://tinyurl.com/22ssbw. I don’t read your blog real often. But it seems like you had made a comment about the decoding issue. I think that J. Spinti had blogged about it as well.

One of Al Pietersma’s students had mentioned that he had them read 10-15 pages of Josephus a day. To me that would be an excellent process for internalizing Greek. As you know, the Greek of the NT varies a lot! For me, it was nice taking a Greek readings course in the Apostolic Fathers since that gave me exposure to literature that I was not as familiar with as the NT. I’ve been working my way through the Hebrew Bible and then reading the same passages in the LXX as well as a French and German translation. But this reading of the LXX is not good for internalizing Greek since much of it is a "translation Greek". The qualitiy varies as well.

In Greek classes, do you ever try to speak "Koine" Greek in using basic greetings, asking them questions, using imperatives to get them to open their books, etc.? If students hear and pick up functional vocabulary and learn to use syntax without memorizing grammars, perhaps it will help them to internalize Greek a little more. Perhaps the problem of a teacher introducing non-idiomatic Greek is related to how well the teacher has internalized the language. On the other hand, how "idiomatic" is the Greek of Revelation? :)

Eric 2008-02-24 07:06:11

I have never heard of Ronning. As for Buth’s blog, I just recently discovered it as well. I think AKMA is right. "Decoding" is a great word for what we tend to do. Part of that has to do with not internalizing the language. A lot of that also has to do with the very small vocabulary requirement we generally have in Greek classes. My vocabulary is not nearly what it needs to be, but I am working on that right now. Next time I teach a class I currently plan on putting in oral practice. How exactly I am still figuring out. I do think it would help them internalize syntax, as well as vocabulary. Of course one of the problems with this is that I haven’t spent much time speaking koine Greek, so it will be a learning experience for me!

2008-02-24 10:17:02

Hal Ronning taught historical geography and other subjects for many years at the Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College http://www.juc.edu/about/welcome.asp) on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. I believe he did his doctorate at Heidelberg.

Currently, he runs the Home for Bible Translators, which houses translators of Hebrew Bible from around the world for a time of intensive Hebrew study at Hebrew University. http://bibletranslators.org/

He is a member of the so-called "Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research". http://www.js.org/

It seems to me that simple English glosses of Greek words are necessary and of some value. However, words have meaning in context. As a person appropriately uses words in phrases and sentences repetitively in meaningful situations, it is easier to internalize them.

It would be interesting to go through Buth’s ulpan to see how they do it!

Hobbins recently mentioned that he would commit chapters of the Hebrew scriptures to memory and that helped him to internalize the cadence and feel of Hebrew.

I usually have a chunk of Greek or Hebrew scriptures printed up in the car to meditate on when I drive. I also sometimes listen to tapes or CDs of scriptures in a foreign language in the car.

But it is probably good to read large portions of literature outside of the biblical corpus.

One of the difficulties with speaking koine Greek is finding someone with whom one can practice! Few people are interested and fewer people are competent.

I wish you well with Greek studies and teaching!

Eric 2008-02-24 10:21:51

Thanks! I just recently gave my first memorization assignment to the students I am currently studying with (from my last class). We meet in an informal setting (usually at Wingstop) and translate, compose, or talk syntax. The first text I had them memorize was from outside the NT, and I’m trying to push them an myself more in that direction for learning’s sake.